The Agora
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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).
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