"I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus said (Jn. 14: 6). Jesus is "the life" in the sense that he is the author and source of life (Jn. 5: 40, 6: 51, 1: 4). On one occasion, Jesus said: "I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (Jn. 11: 25). Jesus also spoke of "eternal life." Hear him, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt. 25: 46). The modifier "eternal" (aionios) is an interesting word. Age-lasting is the inherent meaning. Aionios (eternal) is used 71 times in the Greek New Testament. W. E. Vines comments thus on "eternal," "describes duration, either undefined but not endless or undefined because endless" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Scholars site three instances in which aionios is used with limited duration in mind (Tit. 1: 2; Rom. 16: 25; 2 Tim. 1: 9). Hence, 68 times aionios is used of eternity, as we understand eternality. Consider Jesus' use of "eternal" (aionios) in John 3: 16. Jesus said regarding the believer, "should not perish, but have everlasting life." Here, Jesus uses "perish" as an opposite of "eternal." Materialists often misuse the antithetical relationship of perish and eternal. Vine comments on perish (apollumi) as follows: "The ideal is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being." Paul used "temporal" and "eternal" in contrast (2 Cor. 4: 18). Things that are temporal are momentary, but the eternal is enduring (see context). Eternal life is of the greatest urgency. The young ruler asked of Jesus, "Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19: 16). Let us now examine more the concept of eternal life.
Eternal life, generally viewed. In a sense, all will have eternal "life" (more in a moment). However, "eternal life" refers not just to perpetual consciousness but to a quality of consciousness. Jesus equates "eternal life" with "treasure in heaven" (Matt. 19: 16; 21). The tree of life will be in heaven (Rev. 22: 1, 2). The tree of life is the source of perpetual life (cp. Gen. 2: 9). To prevent man from living endlessly, cherubim and a flaming sword were placed "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3: 24). In view of the tree of life being in heaven, "there shall be no more death" (Rev. 21: 4).
Beloved, eternal life, strictly speaking, will be enjoyed in heaven, not now. Jesus said "in the world to come eternal life" (Mk. 10: 30). As a consequence, Paul used such language as "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Tit. 1: 2). Nonetheless, some are confused about the time of the actual acquisition of eternal life. It is true that John wrote of eternal life as being now obtained (I Jn. 5: 13). John used the figure of prolepsis, a matter that is so certain that while yet future, it is spoken of as a present reality. Eve was said to be "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3: 20). However, strictly speaking, at that precise point in time, she was not. However, the future certainty caused her to be so called at the present. Concerned reader, the saved can forfeit the right to eternal life by falling from grace (Gal. 5: 4). Moreover, if the Christian fails to grow and mature, they will not be allowed entrance into the everlasting (aionios) kingdom where eternal life will be experienced (2 Pet. 1: 5-11).
In the broad sense, all will continue forever. As noted, the saved will have aionios (Matt. 25: 46). Jesus said, though, "these shall go away into everlasting (aionios) punishment" (Ibid.). We read of aionios (everlasting) fire and aionios (eternal) damnation (Matt. 18: 8; Mk. 3: 39). In the intermediate state of hades (where the spirit goes before judgement), both the saved and unrighteous are seen in a conscious state (Lk. 16: 19-31). However, the saved have quality of life while the lost are in "torments" (Lk. 16: 23-25).
Some false sources of eternal life. Jesus said to some of the Jews, "Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me" (Jn. 5: 39, ASV). The scriptures are our authority in religious matters and are very important (I Pet. 4: 11, 2 Jn. 9-11). However, these Jews had a problem, they claimed to cling to the scriptures, but they rejected the essential message of the scriptures, the Messiahship of Jesus. The Bible is just an instrument to lead people to Christ. When it is viewed as the end rather than the means to the end, it becomes a false source of eternal life.
There are many false sources of eternal life today. The creeds of men, the Pope, parents, husband, wife, etc. when viewed as the source are false and a failure (Mk. 7: 1-13; Matt. 15: 13, 14, etc.).
Some are ordained to eternal life. "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed," we are told (Acts 13: 48). The Greek word translated "ordained" means to be arranged or disposed and thus appointed or ordained. These Gentiles were disposed in that when they heard the gospel, they gladly accepted it (cp. Acts 2: 41; 18: 8). The ordained to eternal life are people, then, who accept the Lord's teaching and favorably respond to the gospel call (Jn. 6: 44-47; 2 Thes. 2: 14). We must maintain an open and receptive mind to the gospel, the seed of the kingdom (Lk. 8: 11).
Eternal life is a gift of God. Paul taught, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6: 23). The only thing man earns is death, salvation cannot be earned. If eternal life were earned, it would then be a payment, Paul reasoned (Rom. 4: 4-7). Even "works of righteousness" are not the primary source of our salvation (Tit. 3: 5). After saying this, allow me to point out that implicit obedience to the word of God is absolutely required in order to go to heaven. Of Jesus it is said, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5: 8, 9). Man's humble obedience to God's terms of accepting his grace is not tantamount to earning salvation.
Those who have and do not have eternal life. There is no mystique associated with the ones who will enjoy eternal life and those who will not. Calvinistic predestination is not the answer, however. There also is no secret code "written in the stars" (astrology). Consider Paul's teaching:
"6: Who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: 8: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9: Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10: But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: 11: For there is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2).
The words of eternal life. In a study of eternal life one would be remiss if one did not mention the biblical expression "words of eternal life." John tell us regarding Jesus' disciples, "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (Jn. 6: 66). Jesus then asked the twelve, "Will ye also go away?" (vs. 67). Peter replied thus to Jesus' question: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (vs. 68). The significance of "words of eternal life" is appreciated when we realize that the word of God is the instrument used by God to teach people about eternal life and to communicate to them the means of attaining eternal life. James wrote, "Wherefore, lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas. 1: 21). Regarding the gospel, Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians, "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain" (I Cor. 15: 1, 2).
In closing, let us recall the words of Jesus relative to the Judgment Day: "And these shall go away into everlasting (aionios, dm) punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (aionios, dm)" (Matt. 25: 46). Jesus calls everlasting life "the joy of thy Lord" (vs. 21, 23). Everlasting life will be a place and time of God's presence, no tears, no death, sorrow or pain (Rev. 21: 3, 4). There will be no more curse "but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him" (Rev. 22: 3).