What is Eternal Life?
"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)
10/9/2018 01:03:07 pm
Great lesson, I especially liked the part of eternal life including a quality that comes with experiencing Jesus Christ and not just a matter of time.
6/17/2020 05:40:47 am
9/29/2020 10:08:29 pm
jesus is the resurrection and the life and that life is eternal
4/1/2022 05:05:27 am
Thank you for the clarity on eternal life.
I'd never thought about the fact that once we put our heart faith in Jesus, that eternal life began for me that day. "No man comes to the Father but by me" is clear. It's becoming more clear that during this eternal life portion on earth that I'm learning more daily about the character of God; but it wasn't until this article that more scales fall away for me to see that we (Christians) must prepare to meet God & Jesus face to face, & prayfully be shown all His kingdom of heaven. In the here & now, one wouldn't travel out of the country without learning before hand about what one would see when one got there. Maybe one would brush up on the customs, expectations, rules, & language of the land which one plans to travel. Likewise, we need to prepare. Scripture even tells us to prepare for the bridegroom, to prepare for Jesus's 2nd coming. But, preparing to meet Him...God...The Great I Am...Yahweh. I know The Holy Spirit has uttered prayers for me when I'm without the words, that Jesus is my High Priest who brings my prayers, petitions, intercession, praise, & thanksgivings to my Father God; but, it will be me standing (floating?) before Him when He asks, "Why should I allow you to enter my borders?" And I'll be on my own to answer my creator what He will know before hand to be the truth or a lie. I give thanks to God for giving all of us on earth more time to prepare, for others to accept His gift, for Christians to share His message.
5/13/2021 08:02:02 pm
5/22/2021 04:32:13 am
So, precisely & clearly given. I was so useful as I am teaching this topic to person searching God & having doubt. Thank you very much.
7/1/2021 06:30:55 pm
Thanks for the wonderful explanations of eternal life. We know we have a physical body an we have a spirit when we die the physical body dies forever. Does the spirit lives on into eternity with Jesus if we die in union with him?
7/1/2021 08:54:03 pm
1/2/2022 05:31:26 pm
Thank you for your response to Julian...it helps me to better understand its (Eternal life’s) meaning. My question is, as our spirit lives with Christ after our physical death, do we continue as some other “being” or a “presence” to help others still living? Thank you
K. Terry Doughman
10/28/2021 12:11:34 pm
Very clear and true to the amazing wonderful Word of God.
1/3/2022 09:33:23 pm
5/5/2022 08:05:36 am
Eternal life is just having the believe of him who sent Christ , and obeying, practicalizing his words
5/5/2022 09:40:03 pm
Fridah Mwansa C
6/9/2022 04:58:35 pm
I have really learnt a lot about eternal life i didn't know anything .Thank you .
8/10/2022 09:11:13 am
Praise the lord.....
8/10/2022 08:26:53 pm
3/6/2023 02:06:43 pm
When does eternal life begin?
3/7/2023 08:47:40 pm
4/5/2023 10:34:33 am
If we use the dictionary definition of eternal we get “no beginning and no end “. Based on that definition the only thing eternal is the triune God. This has always been confusing to me when studying the Bible. Somewhere in the course of human history the definition was changed from the Greek word aionios.
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Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
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