What is eternal life?

In the New Testament, the Greek word most often translated as "eternal" is aionios. It means unending, but also focuses on the quality or characteristics of that which is age-long or eternal. Combined with the Greek zoe for "life," which indicates not only biological existence but a fullness or genuineness of life, "eternal life" includes both the ideas of quality and quantity of life. Eternal life is not simply life that never ends, but a fullness of life that is unending. In fact, in many ways, eternal life really has nothing to do with time as it can be experienced apart from time as well as within time.

The Bible tells us that everyone will exist eternally—it is the quality of that existence that separates us. For those who accept the give of salvation, "through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23), that quality will be with God—amazing! It will be true life. For those who reject God's way, stay in rebellion to Him, that eternity is described as "death."

Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) and that life is eternal and perpetual. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). Notice how the eternal life for a believer is present (the Greek tense also indicates a present life)—it occurs now, today. Eternal life does not start when we die, but as soon as we put our faith in Christ. Though it does include our future in heaven, eternal life does not refer exclusively to it; eternal life is something believers in Jesus currently possess (note similar indications of this in John 5:24 and John 6:47).

In Scriptures, eternal life is strongly connected with Jesus Christ. It is only through Him that we experience and receive eternal life. John 17:3 puts it this way: "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." The Bible makes it clear that to know God, you must know His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 9; Luke 10:22).

So, to have this eternal life with God, you must know Jesus. To know Jesus, the Bible says to first confess your sin (your disinterest, rebellion, or disagreement with and of God), then accept God's arrangement for your salvation. "For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on Him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'" (Romans 10:11–13).

Jesus came to earth to live a sinless life, die in our place, and then rise from the dead in power over death. When we believe this, we are saved (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9–10). First John 5:11–12 says: "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."

Belief in Jesus is not just an intellectual knowledge, but a more personal, faith-based reliance. The Bible says some people will say they know of Jesus, but He will say He doesn't know them (Matthew 7:23). Salvation, receiving forgiveness of sins and eternal life, is not about intellectual assent, but about relationship with God. We should strive to follow Paul's example. He said, "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10–11).

Paul doesn't study some instruction sheet, but wants to know Jesus personally. This is possible because God has given us access to Himself. In eternity, God establishes a new place where those who have put their faith in Jesus will dwell, called the New Jerusalem. There, John describes seeing the tree of life that was the centerpiece of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24; Revelation 22:1–2).

Access to Jesus and the salvation He offers for eternity is open to everyone. All are invited to have eternal life. "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone, and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11–12).

Related Truth:

Eternal death – What is it?

Is salvation about more than just the afterlife?

What is the abundant life Jesus promised?

How can I be saved?

Is there really an afterlife?

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Truth about Eternity

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