The Life Eternal
By God’s grace, we shall live for ever. We need to regularly think of it… the life eternal, endless, infinite, without end, on and on and on and on, a line without end. Yes, we need to close our eyes and willfully think of this until the mind trips, and we are left with a breathless sense of wonder. That I, the little boy from a south London suburb, with glasses and a mole on my lip… shall never die. For salvation, as Robert Roberts said so long ago, is personal. You, me- we, shall live for ever. There are times when a man comes down very small before God- and such moments of realization are one of those times. And the art of spiritual life is surely to live daily life, hour by hour, in the spirit of those moments of realization, of feeling so very small before our maker and our saviour. For life lived in this spirit, of humility, of smallness before God, is perhaps what He seeks from us above all things.
The eternity of the life ahead dwarfs all daily problems, the crises of life and death, into very small size. Hovering over all those worries is the fact that all this shall not last long, in fact it lasts only a moment- in the spectrum of infinity. “For our slight momentary affliction accomplishes for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison; whilst meantime we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17,18). God doesn’t have long to prepare us for eternity- even a lifespan of 100 years is nothing compared to infinity. He therefore is very intensely at work in our lives to prepare us for the eternity ahead. Although day follows day and even year follows year in an apparently similar, repetitious style- through all that, He is very intensely at work. We may not always be able to attach meaning to event, but rest assured that there is huge significance to every moment and every event in daily life. It’s a sense of meaninglessness, of insignificance, that is the root of so much depression. But for us, we are freed from that by realizing the brevity of our lives compared to the eternity ahead; and reflecting that therefore every incident now is of eternal moment and intense significance. We will not focus upon [the idea behind the Greek translated “look at” in 2 Cor. 4:18] the temporal things, but upon the things of the life eternal.
But every human being fears death. Everyone lives their lives in fear of death to the point that they are in bond-slavery to it; yet in Christ we have been delivered from that slavery (Heb. 2:15). Whilst we may fear the process of death, just as the Lord did in Gethsemane, we are free from the fear of death which enslaves other human beings throughout their lives; it’s rather like being unable to enjoy a holiday because from day one, you are fearful about the holiday coming to an end. But the believer lives without this fear of endings, this unspoken angst about death itself. Like David, we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear (Ps. 23:4). Our interest in spiritual things and in the Gospel doesn’t just give us knowledge of the possible chance of eternity. The good news of the Gospel is that we have been given it, that we will be there. Otherwise the message of the Kingdom is hardly Gospel, good news, if we have no guarantee that we shall be there. To be freed from the fear of death… this is good news so dramatic as to radically transform human life and thinking in practice, and turn the world around us upside down.
Living Eternal Life Now
But the life eternal is not only ahead, at some point further up the road; it’s not all jam tomorrow. The Lord was asked what to do, “that I may have eternal life” in the future (Mt. 19:16). His response was (as so often with Him) to attack the terms of the question and invite the listeners to redefine them. His response speaks of how “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments… [then you will have] treasure [right now] in Heaven…. Follow Me” (Mt. 19:17,21). The Lord is effectively saying that our life of obedience now to the commandments, our following of Him today, is already entering into the life eternal. Instead of seeing ‘life eternal’ as some far future experience, He speaks of how we are to start living today the kind of life which we shall eternally live. We shall live for ever in obedience to God’s principles / commandments- and we are to seek to live like that today. We will spend eternity following the Lamb wherever He goes- and we are to start doing that today. This is precisely the way John’s Gospel uses the idea of “eternal life”. We can right now start living the life eternal; we shall die, but the gift of the Lord Jesus is the empowerment to live today the kind of life we shall eternally live. In this sense we “have eternal life” here and now, in our mortality. And a glance at the Greek confirms this approach- the life aionos is the life of the aion, the age- the Kingdom age. In this sense we “keep” our present spiritual life “unto life eternal” (Jn. 12:25). Eternal life therefore ‘abides in’ we who live in love and have the spirit of Jesus (1 Jn. 3:15).
The Lord Jesus was the essence of Kingdom life, the life we shall eternally live. “The kingdom of God” was amongst Israel in the sense that He personally stood amongst them (Lk. 17:21). The parables of the Kingdom had their living exemplification in Him, the word of the Kingdom made flesh. “The life” is a title of Him (Jn. 14:6) because His character and being were the definition of the type of life we shall eternally live. Whoever, therefore, eats His flesh and drinks His blood, absorbing the essence of Him into themselves, has eternal life now as well as the guarantee of bodily resurrection at the last day, when this will all be articulated in material, physical, literal, bodily terms: “Whoso eats My flesh and drinks My blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:54). Eternal life is not, therefore, the reward for simply getting straight ‘A’s in our Bible study. The Lord criticizes the Jews for thinking that their searching of the Scriptures would give them eternal life, rather than coming to Him to find that life eternal which is in relationship with Him (Jn. 5:39); and it would seem Peter had the same mistaken thinking when He said that Jesus had the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68). Indeed He does, but the life eternal isn’t a future reward for having got our theology and Biblical interpretation correct. “This is life eternal, that they may know” [in an ongoing sense, the Greek implies] the Father and Son (Jn. 17:3). Life eternal isn’t a reward for simply figuring out that God is one not three. It is about knowing the Father and Son in terms of having a relationship with them. It starts right now, insofar as we find and know Him, and the spirit of His living becomes absorbed into our own. We express this in physical symbolism when we take the bread and wine and those symbols of Him become absorbed into our own bodies. Living “in Christ”, seeking to think as He would, act as He did, feel as He does, is to live the eternal life (1 Jn. 5:11,20). And if we do it now, there will be a seamless continuance of that life when He returns… for ever and ever and ever, world without end.