eternal life starts here and now

All four Gospels frequently have phrases in them such as “everlasting life,” “life eternal,” “eternal life,” etc. However, John’s Gospel uses such phrases very differently from how they’re used in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke). The Synoptics consistently use these phrases to refer to a quantity of time. They consistently have the meaning “living that doesn’t stop” in mind.

Not so in John’s Gospel, though! There, such phrases have an entirely different meaning. Just as the word “bark” can mean ‘the stuff on a tree trunk’ in one context and yet mean ‘the sound a dog makes’ in another, so it is with the phrase “eternal life’ in the Gospels. John clearly defines his terms when he says “eternal life” is “knowing God” (John 17:3). For John, “eternal life” is not so much a statement about “life that keeps on going,” (a quantity) but is about “a life that knows God” (a quality).

Both aspects are true, of course. Jesus does offer life of a totally different, superlative quality starting here and now (as John uses the phrase “eternal life,” etc.). And he also offers this life in such a way that “it keeps on going forever” (as the Synoptic Gospels use the phrase “life eternal,” etc.).

Here are the seventeen references to eternal life in John’s Gospel: 3:15,16,36 / 4:14,36 / 5:24,39 / 6:27,40,47,54,68 / 10:28 / 12:25,50 / 17:2,3. Read them all, one right after another, and at least three things will become immediately obvious. First, eternal life is about “knowing God” (17:3). Second, eternal life is often linked with “believing” (3:15,16,36; 5:24; 6:40,47); this is a trust relationship. Third, eternal life is often spoken of as something we possess in the here and now, and is not merely something given to us in the then and there (i.e. – 5:24 & 6:47: “has eternal life,” not “will have eternal life;” 6:47 10:28 – “I give them,” not “I will give them,” etc.).

As a Christian, you enjoy knowing God. This is eternal life. As you grow in your knowing God, you are living out the life eternal God had given you. You have a glorious hope for the future of life everlasting, but that life has already begun right here in the present as you have come to know him. So think of your life not so much as a seed waiting to bloom someday, but as a rose already growing, as a bud beginning to bloom even now and growing only all the more beautiful in him with each passing day! Praise be to God!

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