What Is Eternal Life?

What is eternal life? The Bible says that those who believe in Jesus have it, but it doesn’t stop to explain what that means.

The Greek words here are zoen aionion. Zoe means “life” generally. Aionios is more important for us. It usually means “eternal.” Understood this way, the idea is “eternal life.” On the other hand, it can also mean “age.” In Jewish thought, there was a distinction between “this age,” which is characterized by sin and death, and “the age to come,” which is characterized by righteousness and life and is to be inaugurated by the Messiah. It can thus be called the Messianic Age.

The Jewish concept of olam - "beyond the horizon," and thus, ancient or eternal

Though “eternal life” is an appropriate translation, the idea of the Messianic Age is not far removed. Even in Jewish thought, aion was important in discussions about time and eternity. It translates the Hebrew word olam, “eternity,” which sometimes was used to describe God. Thus, He is the eternal God (Gen. 21:33; Isa. 26:4). Yet this eternal God created time and all that is in it. In this sense, aion (and olam) refers to the duration of this world. The Greeks spoke of a succession of aiones (as do most pantheistic worldviews even today), but the Bible does not. It sees an absolute beginning and an absolute end to creation. Thus, in the biblical worldview, the idea of a coming aion is both inevitable and inconceivable. It is inevitable because this world must end (thanks to the presence of sin), and yet God’s children have been promised an everlasting future. It is inconceivable because if time ends, it cannot be temporally related to a future time. The resolution to the apparent contradiction lies in two facts about the Messianic age.

First, the millennial reign of Christ is really the Messianic Age in every way. Yet it will be firmly a part of this world’s existence, so there is a real sense in which the age to come will be actually related to this age. Second, the millennial reign will end with the Great White Throne Judgment, at which time the New Heaven and New Earth will be created and the age to come will be consummated. These two facts are related in that Christ will reign absolutely in both; thus, even the Millennial Kingdom in all its glory is but a type of the eternal kingdom which is to come.

In a very real sense, those who have eternal life do not merely have life that lasts forever. Eternal life is quantitative and qualitative. It is quantitative in that it never ends. It is qualitative in that it has the characteristics of the Kingdom of God (i.e., righteousness). That believers experience that life right now is one of the blessings God has provided in His Son. We do not have to wait for our resurrection to begin experiencing on some level the glory He has in store for us.

Do you, then, have eternal life? Jesus says that everyone who believes in Him has it right now in the present. If so, you are guaranteed to never perish (which provides a solid proof that one’s salvation cannot be lost, for to lose life and die again would mean that such life was never eternal to begin with!). But it also means that your life can be full of grace, peace, and hope today.

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