Eternal Life Encyclopedia

Eternal life.

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 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 the Christian possesses 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 the possession of divine life in 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).1 Old Testament saints had divine life, but not in the character of "eternal life" because they did not know God as Father, since the death and resurrection of Christ was not complete (John 20:17). 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). All that God is as light and love are enjoyed by the believer, who is brought into fellowship with Divine Persons through the indwelling Spirit, such that he enjoys common thoughts and feelings with God! In 1 John we find that Christ Himself personally is that eternal life. He is also the perfect expression of that life; the Word of Life. 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 it cannot be possessed apart from Him, and that "he that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12).2

In scripture, eternal life is an advance on the life saints in Old Testament times possessed. 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.
The Promise of Eternal Life. We read of the "promise of life, the life which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:1), and the "hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2). This shows us that a promise was made concerning eternal life before the world began! It would indicate that the Father, who always enjoyed eternal life, made a promise to the Son before the world was made that He would share that life with others; i.e. bring intelligent beings into that circle of fellowship (see John 17:2). As a glorified man in heaven, Christ began that blessed work of giving eternal life to His elect, so fulfilling that eternal promise. Its complete fulfillment will be manifest in a future day, we all the saints will enjoy that life in its fullness, in the presence of Him who is its source. This promise is brought before the saints in days of decline as it is something that cannot fail!
"In Him and in you". The Apostle John writes of the Eternal life that was manifest in the Person of Christ on earth:
“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
God, willing to make Himself known as Father, sent the Son into the world. Here below, the Son made the Father perfectly known. For this reason He is called the "Word of God", because He is the expression of who God is. John said of the Person of the Son, “in Him was life.” John and the other apostles had watched the Lord walking through this pathway, and they had seen a man living a lifestyle that was utterly beyond anything they had seen before. It was a life of love, holiness, peace, and joy; lived in the power of the Spirit of God, and full of the conscious enjoyment of the Father's presence. The apostles had "heard", "seen", and actually "handled" the Person of Jesus, who was the perfect manifestation, or "Word" of Life. But then, by getting to know the Lord, and through enjoying communion with Him, they were able to share in that special fellowship. It was “out of this world” as to its character; therefore called "eternal" life. John writes to us that we might share in the enjoyment of that fellowship, with the Father, the Son, and all the other children in the Family of God, and that our joy might be full. In ch.2, John says that this "thing", is "true in him and in you" (1 John 2:8). We now share that same eternal life! The Son "is eternal life" in His Person (1 John 5:20), and therefore "he that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12). Christ has that life intrinsically in His Person, we have it in a derivative sense.
The Need for Eternal Life. The third chapter of John takes up man's need, not only for New Birth, but also for Eternal Life. Man has not really lived, until he has been given eternal life. In John 3:12, the Lord said that He had been speaking of “earthly things” when He spoke of New birth. New birth was necessary for the earthly restoration of Israel, and it was contained in Old Testament prophecy (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 11:19; 36:24-32; Hos. 6:2; and Isa. 44:2-3, etc.). Jesus went on to say that He had been sent from the Father to reveal heavenly blessings never known in the Old Testament. He went on to explain that these "heavenly things" (referred to as "eternal life"), would be given to whoever believed on the "only-begotten" Son of God. It is really the possession of eternal life that gives the believer assurance that his sins are gone, and puts him into communion with the Father and Son by the indwelling Spirit of God. It is all on the basis of the Son of man being "lifted-up" in death on the cross. In John 14:18-20 we find that the communication of Christ's risen life to the believer is required for us to have fellowship with Him (not be left as "orphans") in the time of Jesus' absence. 
Resurrection Life, or Abundant Life, or Life in the Son. Christ's death and resurrection is what made it possible for us to have eternal life. This life is not a totally different life from the life we have by new birth. It can be thought of as an "upgraded life". Similar to upgrading software from Version 1.0 to 2.0, Eternal life has all the characteristics of Divine life, but much, much more. The disciples received this life on resurrection day (John 20:22), and therefore we call it "Resurrection Life".3 This life is of the highest character.4 It is beyond the tomb, and can never be touched by sin or death. John referred to it as “life in the Son” (1 John 5:11). It is called "Abundant Life" in John 10:10, where the aspect emphasized is the fullness of our enjoyment of its characteristics and relationships on the other side of death.
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.
Eternal life in Johannine and Pauline Writings. There are a few differences between eternal life in John’s ministry and Paul’s ministry. One is that John shows the character of the life in itself (“in the Son”), whereas Paul is occupied with the position of the believer, the place where we have that life (“in Christ”). Another difference is that John always refers to Eternal life as something that the believer possesses now on earth. Often, John will say; such and such a person "has eternal life", present tense. Paul often presents it as a future thing to be enjoyed in heaven; and he will say "unto eternal life", future tense.
The Present and Future Aspects of Eternal life. When eternal life is looked at as a present possession (usually in John's writings), it is something that we enjoy now by the Holy Spirit, and it cannot be taken away (John 10:28). When eternal life is looked at as a future possession (usually in Paul's writings), it is something we will enjoy when we get to heaven. Both are true! A nice illustration has been given for these two different aspects. In the old days of deep-sea diving, a diver would wear an iron helmet connected to an air-supply at the surface by a strong hose. A pump would flow fresh air from the surface down to where the diver was, perhaps hundreds of feet under water. The diver pictures the Christian, in our present life on earth. The air in the helmet is like Eternal life as a present possession. The Christian walks through an evil word, but he can still enjoy eternal life because he is connected to the mother ship. If he does not remain connected, he will begin to fade. Side note: this is why we need to "abide in the vine" (John 15). When the diver comes back to the surface, he takes off the iron helmet, and is greeted by a gust of cool, fresh air! This air is like Eternal life as future possession. It is the same air the diver was breathing when he was submerged, but now he is breathing his native environment! The same is true for us; we enjoy Eternal life now in a measure, but soon in its fullness when we are with the Lord!
One Plant (“One kind”) with the Son. Before the Lord died and rose again, He abode alone. The disciples were “born again” before the Lord died and rose (John 13:10), but it says He “abode ALONE”. This shows the life we have by New Birth is not exactly "life in the Son". On account of this, the disciples did not form “one plant” with Christ before the resurrection, nor did the Old Testament saints. Eternal or Resurrection life is what makes us "one plant" with the Son. We are all "one kind"; i.e. we have essentially the same life as Christ. In rising from the dead, Christ as Firstborn became the Beginning of the Creation of God (Rev. 3:14). The corn of wheat, having fallen into the ground in death, has sprung up again in the unparalleled power of resurrection and has borne "much fruit." The grains of wheat (individual Christians) have the same life as the risen stalk. Hebrews, looking at it as a future thing, says "we are all of one [kind]", and speaks of Jesus as "bringing many sons to glory." He is the head of a New Creation. An example of “oneness of kind” might be in Genesis 1:21-25, where Eve was the only creature of whom Adam could say, "THIS is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh."
One Plant vs. One Body. In John 20, the disciples received the Spirit, not as the Pentecostal gift to unite them to the Head in heaven as one body, but as the power of resurrection life and in connection with Christ as "one plant" in the risen stalk. There were two different events:
  • In John 20 they became one plant with Christ (the risen stalk). As such, the disciples were "one with Him."
  • In Acts 2 they became one body with Christ (the risen head). As such, the disciples were "united to Him."
When John speaks of oneness it is not to be confused with union in the sense of the unity of the body of Christ. He is talking about our oneness with Christ by the resurrection life that we have in the Son. On resurrection day, the Lord breathed into the eleven apostles resurrection life and said “receive ye Holy Ghost.” They were now one with Him in resurrection life, but the Church had not been formed yet! The baptism of the Spirit came fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost when the 120 believers were united by the Holy Ghost to one another and to their Head in heaven. The action on Pentecost formed the body of Christ. Christ is both the Beginning (or Head) of the Creation of God, and the Head of the Body. One aspect is John’s ministry, the other is Paul’s.
One Family of God. Another oneness has been formed, not a oneness of kind, and not the oneness of the Body, but a oneness of those who enjoy the relationships of Eternal Life. We are in the family, and we know it! We have the same interests, and goals, because the Holy Ghost is within us, a “well of water springing up” in worship to the Father, and also "rivers of living water" flowing out to in blessing to the world. The Son's desire is: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21). Sharing Christ's life, we are now given to share all His relationships, although we will never be the "only-begotten". What grace! “As he [Christ] is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Lord after His resurrection, and carried from Him the message with this blessed truth: "Go tell My Brethren, I ascend unto My Father and YOUR Father, unto My God and YOUR God." To summarize; the family of God is composed of all those who share Christ's relationships, and eternal life is the enjoyment of those relationships.
What actually happened in John 20:22? Many think this was either a “second quickening” or a “preliminary indwelling”. Neither are true. John 7 tells us that the Holy Ghost would be given after Jesus was glorified, not before. It is important to see that when Jesus breathed on them saying “Receive ye Holy Ghost”, they were not receiving the Holy Ghost personally as on the Day of Pentecost. The definite article ("the") isn’t there. As another has said, they were receiving “the energy of His own risen life”.5 Christ was bringing the life they already had by new birth into identification with His risen life, so forming “one plant”. This is not the indwelling of the Spirit, and that is why the apostles didn’t have external power for signs and miracles until Acts 2. In fact, they were told by our Lord to wait in Jerusalem “until ye be endued with power from on high”. The two events were separate in the experience of the disciples, and they are simultaneous for us who are saved after Pentecost. But the separation of the events helps us to understand the difference between the Spirit’s role as the power of our life in the Son (John 20) and the indwelling of the Spirit (Acts 2).

“’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." 6

"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." 7

“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.” 8

“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.” 9

  1. Another has stated that eternal life is... "the possession of divine life in fellowship with the Father and the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit." - Anstey, B. The First Epistle of John.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. “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.
  5. Kelly, William. Exposition of the Gospel of John. p.369
  6. Kelly, William. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Lectures on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Lecture 5. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.
  7. Trench, J.A. Life and the Spirit. Words of Faith 1884, p.197-221.
  8. Darby, J.N. Letters of J.N. Darby: Volume 3, number 321. Philadelphia, 1875.
  9. Dennett, Edward. Scripture Notes. The Christian's Friend, 1888.
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