David Arscott reminds us that eternal life starts now and we’re involved in it all the time. Whenever we point someone towards God, or help them see or understand Him more clearly.
Eternal life. That’s the pie in the sky when you die, isn’t it? It is living forever in heaven with Jesus and all the believers. I used to think so but now am not so sure. We know the phrase from the famous verse John 3:16 when Jesus uses it and says: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
I had to preach recently on Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. It contains this verse which puzzled me: John 17:3; ‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’
There it is: eternal life. That suggests life with the quality of being eternal, going on forever. Isn’t that right? Well, does not seem to be what Jesus is saying.
A bit of research helped. Apparently the Greek phrase is zoe = life and aionios which means, essentially, not just eternal. It is much richer than that and it is this richness that Jesus is talking about. According to NT Wright aionios suggests ‘the life of the age to come’ – the life of the new world order which early Christians believed had already begun although somehow the old age was also continuing.
So when we talk to people about Jesus, about being a Christian and having eternal life we are not talking about something that happens when you die. Eternal life begins here and now and what these words of Jesus emphasise is that it is about us getting to know God – and God graciously revealing himself to us. We start to touch eternal reality, including all sorts of goodies too numerous to mention here, but we cannot grasp it all at once. I think that to fully know God would genuinely blow our minds. He is so far beyond our comprehension and imagination, but he comes to us in the form of Jesus who is more understandable. Hence eternal life being about knowing him as the one God sent. Paul suggests something about this in 1 Corinthians 13 when he talks about knowing in part now, but knowing fully in the future.
Sharing something of God’s reality with someone is helping them take their next step into eternal life. It may be encouraging them in the good they are doing or warning them about the consequences of sin. It may be praying for them or with them or sharing a helpful Bible story or verse. It may be modelling Christ in our loving service. It is anything which points them towards and helps them to ‘know the one true God’.