What is eternal life? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘eternal’ in the New Testament is a word that means: “1) without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2) without beginning 3) without end, never to cease, everlasting.” Using those definitions, we can readily see that number one and two apply to God and definition number three is applicable to eternal life as it refers to the prospective fate of saved humanity. But as we read the Bible, we discover that definition is not so cut and dried as it seems. For instance, in the book of Revelation, there is a descriptive scene in which the devil, the false prophet, and all those whose names were not found in the Book of Life, will be cast into the lake of fire and tormented forever. Now, the last time I checked; forever and everlasting were terms that meant basically the same thing! Hence there must be more to eternal life than just living forever, because, according to the Bible, everyone; the saved and the lost, will live forever! The question is where?
Another wrinkle in the equation comes from the revelation in the Bible that eternal life is not something that believers get when they die! The Bible teaches; eternal life is a present-possession of the believer! Jesus said, in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (ESV) Note the use of the past-tense; ‘has eternal life’ and ‘has passed from death to life.’ The beloved Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:14-15: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (ESV) Again, note the verb tense; eternal life is not something that is awarded to the believer at death, eternal life is a present-possession!
Therefore, since there is more to eternal life than just living forever and eternal life is something that believers presently possess, then apparently eternal life must also have something to do with the ‘quality’ of life! Jesus gave an insightful definition of eternal life in John 17:3. In his high priestly prayer in Gethsemane, on the eve of his passion, Jesus said to the Father: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (ESV) According to Jesus, eternal life is knowing the only true God and knowing Jesus Christ who was sent by the only true God!
Now, this ‘knowing’ the only true God and ‘knowing’ Jesus Christ, who was sent by the only true God, is more than just an intellectual knowing. In the Bible, the terms; ‘know’ and ‘knowing’ are often used as euphemisms for intimate sexual relations. In the Genesis 4:1, we read: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” (ESV) It is obvious from the context, that the birth of Cain did not happen simply by Adam finding out all he could about Eve! No! The phrase; “Now Adam knew Eve his wife” meant Adam had ‘carnal knowledge,’ Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve and as a result; Cain was produced! In John 17:3, of course sexual intercourse is not in view, but rather an intimate spiritual relationship is suggested! Eternal life is an intimate spiritual relationship with the only true God and an intimate spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ, who was sent by the only true God!
Of course, the primary way to facilitate this spiritual relationship, from the human stance is to begin with intellectual knowledge. But, isn’t that how all relationships begin? People who are married, and even those who aren’t, didn’t become sexually intimate at first sight! (At least, they shouldn’t have, but it’s a different world these days!) No! Usually couples get to know one another first! And how do they get to know one another? They do so by the exchanging of ideas and thoughts through verbal and written communication. They talk to one another and they write notes and letters to one another! Well, in the same way, God speaks and communicates to humanity through His love letter; the Bible! In the Bible, we can read about what God is like, what God likes and what God dislikes! In the Bible we discover God’s character and attributes. As we respond to what we read in God’s love-letter to us, we follow God’s instructions and dictates and begin to communicate (pray) with Him. As we comply with God’s terms of the relationship as expressed in God’s love-letter, God gives us His Spirit to live within us and the relationship deepens to the level of spiritual intercourse through worship. Just as you can’t really make love (you can only have sex with) to a person you don’t know; we can only praise and worship God as we get to know Him. The acts of praise and worship (including prayer and the various other spiritual disciplines) strengthen and intensify the spiritual relationship that promotes and fosters, what Jesus called: eternal life!
As a result of eternal life, the believer lives a life that is qualitatively different and superior to the unbeliever who does not have eternal life. This eternal life is characterized by love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) The believer consistently experiences, from day to day, God’s supernatural favor and grace in ways that cannot be rationally explained! Eternal life is not just a ‘retirement plan’ for life in Heaven nor just ‘fire insurance’ to insure against life in Hell; eternal life is the Kingdom life God originally intended and created man to have on earth, as outlined in Genesis 1:26-28. Because of sin, death (the physical separation of the body from the spirit/soul) is the experience of all men! However, eternal life provides the means and assurance of victorious living in the present and in the future; eternal life is now and later!