"He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." (John 1:10)
This lesson is the first in the series on "Christians and the World." This lesson explains the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words for "the world" in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Consider. What does the expression, "the world," mean to you? Do you think of just the physical earth which God created? Or, do you think about the people of the world? Does the world described in the Bible include people who know Christ as well as those who do not know Christ?
"The World" - Old Testament Definition
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used most often for "the world" is tebel (pronounced as tay-bale'). "The world" (tebel) is the earth as moist and therefore inhabited (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Ref. 1). So, the word for "the world" in the Old Testament refers to the earth and by implication to the inhabitants of the earth (Ref. 1). The first mention of "the world" (tebel) in the Old Testament occurs in 1 Samuel 2:8. Tebel occurs 36 times in the Old Testament (Ref. 1).
The Old Testament describes "the world" in these four main ways:
"The World" - New Testament Definition
In the New Testament, the Greek word used most often for "the world" is kosmos. Kosmos means an "ordered system" (like the universe, creation) (Ref. 7). Kosmos also refers to the inhabitants of the world and to worldly affairs. Kosmos occurs 186 times in the New Testament (Ref. 7). "The world" (kosmos) occurs more often in the Gospel of John than in any other New Testament book (more than 70 occurrences in John).
The New Testament writers use "the world" (kosmos) in three main ways:
The Hebrew and Greek words for "the world" in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible include not only the physical world which God created but also the people of the world. Even though God loves all the people of the world, some people know and love Christ, and others do not know Christ. Some people are hostile to Christ and to those who follow Christ. I plan to discuss God's love for the world in the next lesson in this series.
Apply. John, Jesus' disciple, wrote about Jesus, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him" (John 1:10). If you do not know Jesus Christ, put your faith and trust in him. Ask him to forgive your sins, and he will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Ask Jesus to come into your life. You and he will begin a new relationship, and you will know him better each day. If you already do know Jesus, ask him to show you what steps you can take to help other people know him as their Savior and Lord.
"The Holy Spirit Whom the World Cannot Receive" (John 14:16-17)
"Do Not Love the World" (1 John 2:15)
"The World Hates Jesus and His Disciples" (John 7:7, John 15:18-19)
"God's Offer of Salvation and Eternal Life" (John 3:16-17)
"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)
"Life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ." (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Ref. 1)
This lesson describes the biblical definition of eternal life. This lesson primarily uses the Scriptures about eternal life in the Gospel of John. In the next lesson in the series, we will focus on who receives eternal life and how to receive eternal life.
Consider. Think for a moment. How would you define eternal life? How would you explain eternal life to an inquisitive unbeliever, or to a new Christian? For believers in Christ, eternal life certainly includes living with God after our physical death (John 11:25-26). However, the Bible has much more to say about the characteristics of eternal life.
Eternal life is a free gift of God to believers in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul states, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In this verse, the Greek word for gift is charisma. Charisma means a gift of grace, an undeserved favor (Ref. 2). Thus, eternal life is not something we deserve or earn. Eternal life is an undeserved gift of God's grace and favor. "In spite of your sanctification as Christians, still you will not have earned eternal life; it is the gift of God’s grace" (Ref. 3).
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28).
For the believer, eternal life begins in the present, the here and now.
Jesus described eternal life in the present tense. Thus, eternal life is not just in the future, but is a present possession of the believer which continues into the future.
John 3:36 - "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 5:24 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
John 6:47 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life."
In John 5:24, note the importance of hearing Jesus' words. Jesus said, "He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life."
For believers in Christ, eternal life continues with God after our physical death.
Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26).
To the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).
Jesus said to his disciples, "In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3).
Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God experientially.
"Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:1-3).
In John 17:3, the Greek word for know is ginóskó. Ginóskó means to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance) (HELPS Word-studies, Ref. 4). Knowing God experientially requires knowing Jesus who is the truth (John 14:6), as well as knowing and living the Word of God on a daily and life-long basis. "This life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ" (Ref. 1).
Eternal life is a quality of life, not just the duration of life.
The Greek word for eternal is aiónios, which means perpetual, unending, age-long (Strong's Concordance, Ref. 5). Aiónios includes the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting (Ref. 5). "Aiónios does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age it relates to. Thus, believers live in eternal life right now, experiencing this quality of God's life now as a present possession" (Helps Word-studies, Ref. 5).
Summary. Eternal life is a free gift of God to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Eternal life begins when we put our faith in Jesus. As believers in Christ, eternal life continues with God after our physical death. Eternal life is the quality of life that results when we know Jesus Christ by experience, on a first-hand basis.
Apply. Think for a moment. In your own words, how would you describe eternal life? Write down your description of eternal life in a few sentences. What Scripture verse would be your key reference?
"Paradise, Jesus, and the Penitent Thief" (Luke 23:42-43)
"What is the Tree of Life in the Bible?" (Genesis 2:9, Revelation 2:7)
"Made Alive Together with Christ - A New Quality of Life" (Ephesians 2:4-5)
"Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life (Job's Question, Jesus' Answer)" (Job 14:14, John 11:25-26)
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