Eternal life now?
Eternal life is not -- literally -- a present possession; this
is a plain Bible teaching: Mat 19:29; 25:46; Mar 10:30; Joh 12:25; Rom 6:22; Gal
6:8; Tit 1:2; 3:7; Jud 1:21.
But... "eternal" life could be, either: (1)         a life that never
ends, or (2)         a mortal life taken up with eternal things. If I spend my life
thinking about eternal things, and living AS THOUGH I were in the presence of
God, and AS THOUGH I were in His Kingdom already (because it is so real and
meaningful to me, even now), and living in faith that that day is coming... then
that is the sense -- admittedly a limited and imperfect sense, but real
nonetheless -- in which I have an "eternal" life even now!
This is what may be called the present aspect of eternal life;
and may help in appreciating the fullness of some passages in John's writings:
ie, Joh 3:36; 5:24; 6:47,54; 10:28; 17:3; 1Jo 5:11,13.
In this sense, "eternal life" may be thought of as a
continuum: a widening experience, beginning in the present death-prone world,
but leading on to a fullness of personal knowledge in the age to come.
"In Christ eternal life, the life of God Himself, was brought into the
experience of men that they might know it and share in it themselves -- in some
measure here and now, perfectly and everlastingly in the day 'when he shall
appear' and when by God's grace 'we shall be like him'... It is a truth to
ponder upon, to weigh in the mind, to carry with one through all the
complexities and uncertainties of this mortal life, to call to remembrance in
moments of crisis and decision, to rest upon in the less dramatic routines of
daily living" (MP).
"On the other hand [after having stated the obvious Bible teachings about
eternal life NOT being a present possession!: GB], what are we to make of those
other passages which speak of eternal life in the here-and-now? We cannot, and
must not, ignore them. Some endeavours have been made to reconcile them by
saying that in these texts eternal life is being spoken of prospectively, so
that when we are told we 'have eternal life' it really means 'you will have'.
You have become 'heirs of eternal life', and though not possessing it now, you
will do so in the Kingdom Age. There are certain texts which could be said to
support this view (eg Tit 3:7 and Heb 1:14), though they do not seem to me to
completely answer our problem. However, I believe it is possible to see a
balance which would take in both aspects of eternal life, without violating
either the Biblical view of human nature or the rules of common sense
interpretation. The Greek word for 'eternal' has the meaning of 'belonging to
the age' (aionios). The basic idea is not so much the quantity as the quality of
life. The Kingdom Age will be ushered in by the coming of Christ in glory, when
the qualities of God's world will be brought to the world of men in the Earth.
The Kingdom of God will embody all the principles of His nature, and His will.
The glory of that age will be the glory of God Himself, represented in the very
person and presence of His Son. So that 'the glory of God will fill the earth as
waters cover the sea' (Hab 2:14). To live in that glorious age the believers
will be raised from the dead and receive the gift of immortality. This is 'the
promise which he has promised us'.
"In the present life, however, the aionian life, 'eternal life', is that new
relationship with God into which the believer enters at baptism. It is, in this
sense, living in anticipation of the life of the Kingdom NOW. The new life in
Christ is 'eternal life' in terms of quality rather than quantity. By 'eating my
flesh and drinking my blood', Jesus declares, 'you have eternal life'. In other
words, we become related to the quality of spiritual life which is even now seen
in the Lord Jesus Christ, and which will one day be manifested in all the world
in glory" (BtB 82,83).