The term "eternal life" is commonly translated “everlasting life” or “life eternal”. The term is used in two different ways in scripture. In the Old Testament (e.g. Psa. 133:3; Dan. 12:2), and in the synoptic gospels (e.g. Mark 10:30), eternal life refers to the Millennial kingdom. But in the other New Testament books, and especially John's writings, "eternal life" refers to a life we can possess now. The word “eternal” does not define the duration of the life, but it defines the character of the life; "the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). It couldn’t be the idea of "living forever" because eternal life pertains to believers, and even the unsaved live forever in eternal fire. What is implied in "eternal life" is a lifestyle characterized by love, holiness, peace, and joy. Above all, eternal life is characterized by communion with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit; "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). Eternal life is the highest character of life that one can ever know, because it is the same life that the Father and Son enjoy together (1 John 1:3), and which had existed from eternity to eternity (John 1:2). In 1 John we find that Christ Himself personally is that eternal life! He is the perfect expression of that life; the Word of Life. In His ineffable grace, God purposed in His eternal counsels that the fellowship of the Father and the Son would be shared with the sons of men! Read John 14:18-20. We are brought into this fellowship through the gift of eternal life. It is the greatest blessing that God can bestow on man, as it is the very same life of Christ! This eternal life, which He shares with others, is "in His Son" (1 John 5:11) meaning you can't have it apart from Him, and that "he that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12).1In scripture, eternal life is contrasted with new birth. In the Old Testament times, God imparted Divine life through New birth, but Eternal life - a higher character of Divine life - was only possible after the cross, after the resurrection, and after the Spirit of God was sent down.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3
Eternal life for the believer is to share the very life of the Son of God, to enjoy communion with Him and with the Father, to understand the things of God, and to walk in the enjoyment of it all in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“’The law of the Spirit of life’ is the phrase of the apostle Paul. This is the very life, as John tells us, that was here given. If in being born again (John 3) one was born of water and Spirit, much more was it here the Holy Ghost received; but it was the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Life. It was not the Spirit of external power… What the Holy Ghost then did was simply communicating life according to its resurrection power and character through Jesus Christ, the Second man risen from the dead." 5
"The Spirit as the power of life in Christ Jesus (the last Adam breathing upon them, as God once breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, would suggest strongly this connection with life) -- of life now theirs (the same life as before, but) in a wholly new position in a risen Christ." 6
“The truth of risen life in Christ and the coming of the Holy Ghost are distinct; but now that both are fulfilled the divine order is the knowledge of the remission of sins and receiving the Holy Ghost, and thus the two are inseparable. Then I know, or may know, that I am in Christ; whereas the forgiveness known before by the gospel is of past sins – what my conscience needed. The life we receive is in Christ risen, but I am not consciously -- much more than knowledge – in John 20:22, now that the Holy Ghost is come, till I receive the Holy Ghost. Rom. 8 puts them inseparably together.” 7
“Such then is, we apprehend, the truth of this scene and action. What the disciples received in this way was the Holy Spirit as the power of life, corresponding with what we find in Rom. 8:1-11; to receive the indwelling Spirit as power, as the anointing, as well as the earnest, the seal, and the Spirit of adoption, they had yet to wait until the day of Pentecost. And hence it was not until Pentecost that they were brought into the full Christian position.” 8
- A deeper blessing it is impossible for God to bestow or for man to receive; for it is exactly what characterised the Lord Himself, Who is the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us. Only Christ could be said to be that life; we as believers are not, but we have it in Him; and as by faith alone it is received, so in faith it is exercised, sustained, and strengthened. - Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- Note that the term “Resurrection Life” is not found in scripture, but the principle is. The same is true of the term, the “new nature”, the "rapture", and many other terms.
- “But the state of that (resurrection) life is modified by the consciousness of that place into which it is, in all its relationships, brought -- where Christ is, which affects it in all its thoughts and affections, according to the power of the Holy Ghost which is in and with it.” – Darby, J.N. Letters of J. N. Darby: Volume 2, number 271, 1877.
- Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John. p.369
- Kelly, William. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Lectures on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Lecture 5. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.
- Trench, J.A. Life and the Spirit. Words of Faith 1884, p.197-221.
- Darby, J.N. Letters of J.N. Darby: Volume 3, number 321. Philadelphia, 1875.
- Dennett, Edward. Scripture Notes. The Christian's Friend, 1888.