Eternal Life

Concise Bible Dictionary:

See LIFE, ETERNAL.

From Anstey’s Doctrinal Definitions:

In the synoptic Gospels, the term refers to having divine life from God on earth in the millennial kingdom of Christ (Matt. 19:16, 29; 25:4616And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matthew 19:16)
29And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. (Matthew 19:29)
46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:46)
; Mark 10:17, 3017And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17)
30But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. (Mark 10:30)
; Luke 10:25; 18:18, 3025And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)
18And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 18:18)
30Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. (Luke 18:30)
, etc.). This was promised in the Old Testament (Psa. 133:33As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalm 133:3); Dan. 12:22And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)) and will be realized by the remnant of Israel (Rev. 7:1-81And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. (Revelation 7:1‑8)) and the believing Gentile nations (Rev. 7:9-109After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9‑10)) in a coming day.
Eternal life has an altogether different meaning in John’s Gospel and in the New Testament epistles—where it is presented as a heavenly thing. In this Christian aspect, eternal life has to do with possessing divine life according to the relationship that Christians have with the Father and the Son. The Lord defined it as: "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:33And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)). This is a distinctly Christian blessing possessed "in Christ" (Rom. 6:2323For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23); 2 Tim. 1:11Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, (2 Timothy 1:1)). F. G. Patterson said, "Eternal life is the Christian term for what we possess in Christ; by it we are brought into fellowship with the Father and the Son, and thus have a nature suited to heaven" (Scripture Notes and Queries, p. 112). (Everlasting life” and “eternal life,” as translated in the KJV, are the same thing, and should be translated “eternal life” or “life eternal” throughout the Word of God.)
Contrary to what many Christians think, “eternal life” is not a description of the length of divine life, but rather a description of the character and quality of divine life. Hence, “everlasting life” (KJV) does not mean “life that lasts forever.” Since all human life goes on forever—regardless of whether a person is saved or not—the term surely must mean more than an endless duration of life. H. Nunnerley said, "Much misapprehension has arisen as to eternal life by confining its meaning to the endless duration of existence and the eternal security of those who possess this life" (Scripture Truth, vol. 1, p. 195). A. C. Brown said that eternal life “does not mean merely that we have life that lasts forever. Nor does it particularly refer to our first meeting with the Saviour, as stressed by some evangelists” (Eternal Life, p. 4). H. M. Hooke remarked, “Very few of us take the pains to sit down and think what eternal life is. I remember once asking an old saint if she would kindly tell me what eternal life was. ‘Oh, yes!’ she said, ‘perpetuity of existence.’ ‘Then,’ I said, ‘you have nothing more than the devil has—for he has perpetuity of existence!’ I believe that what she said is a common idea. Even the lost have perpetuity of existence; for they will spend eternity in the lake of fire, but they don’t have eternal life” (The Christian Friend, vol. 12 [1885], p. 230).
Many confuse eternal life with being born again, but these terms are not synonymous. Both have to do with possessing divine life, but eternal life is to have divine life in its fullest sense, which necessitated the coming of the Son of God. The Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly” (John 10:1010The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)). Prior to His coming into the world people did not know this character of divine life. It is not that there are two different kinds of divine life. The life given in new birth and eternal life are the same life in essence. It is the very life of Christ—in fact, He is called “That Eternal Life” (1 John 1:22(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;) (1 John 1:2)). The difference is that to be born again is to have divine life in embryo, so to speak; whereas eternal life is to have that life in its fullness. The same could be said of the life in an apple seed as opposed to the life in a full grown apple tree. Both have the same life, but one has not been developed.
The possession of eternal life in its Christian sense involves four things:
1) KNOWING GOD AS FATHER (John 17:33And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)). This required the coming of Christ into the world to reveal the Father (John 1:18; 14:6-1118No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18)
6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? 10Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. (John 14:6‑11)
). J. N. Darby said, "The revelation of the name of the Father brings eternal life with it (Notes and Jottings, p. 102). H. Nunnerley said, "Eternal life is a life of communion, a participation in divine relationships, an experimental knowledge of the Father and His sent One" (Scripture Truth, vol. 1, p. 197). ("Father"
is used a few times in the Old Testament in reference to God, but it is denoting His care for His people as a father guides and cares for his family; it is not used as a name of God revealing His Person as such, as it is revealed in the New Testament. A few examples are: Isaiah 63:16; 64:816Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Isaiah 63:16)
8But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
; Jeremiah 3:44Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth? (Jeremiah 3:4).)
4) HAVING THE INDWELLING HOLY SPIRIT (John 4:1414But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)), which brings the believer into a relationship with the Father and the Son. F. G. Patterson said, "We have eternal life in Christ—Christ lives in us; and this eternal life brings us into fellowship with the Father and the Son, which could not be until the Father was revealed in Him and the Holy Ghost given, by which we enjoy it" (Words of Truth, vol. 3, p. 178). A. C. Brown said, “Eternal life refers to the life of God enjoyed in communion with the Father and the Son by the indwelling Holy Spirit" (Eternal Life, p. 4).
Thus, while the Old Testament saints were definitely born again (and thus had divine life), they couldn't have had eternal life, simply because the Lord Jesus had not yet come to reveal the Father, nor had He been revealed as the Son of God, nor had He accomplished redemption, nor had He ascended on high to send the Holy Spirit. H. M. Hooke said, “I have been much struck in looking through the Old Testament Scriptures to find not one single instance of its being mentioned of an Old Testament saint that he had eternal life; it was not known” (The Christian Friend, vol. 12 [1885], p. 230). J. N. Darby was asked: "Ques. Had not the Old Testament saints eternal life? Ans. As to the Old Testament saints, eternal life formed no part of the Old Testament revelation, even supposing that the Old Testament saints had it" (Notes and Jottings, p. 351). He also said, "Knowledge of God, even of the Father and the Son, the Spirit of sonship, consciousness of being in Christ and Christ in us, communion with the Father and the Son, are that which the Old Testament saints did not possess" (Collected Writings, vol. 10, p. 26). F. G. Patterson said, "It could not be then said that they [Old Testament saints] had eternal life. It was only brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:1010But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2 Timothy 1:10); Titus 1:22In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2), etc.)." (Scripture Notes and Queries, p. 66).
Teaching that the Old Testament saints had eternal life blurs the distinction between the two Testaments and the blessings and privileges that distinguish the Church from Israel. It is an error of Reformed (Covenant) Theology, which sees Israel and the Church as one people with equal blessings.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There are two aspects of eternal life in its Christian sense. It not only refers to a character of divine life in the believer as a present possession (John 3:15-16, 3615That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15‑16)
36He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36)
), but it also refers to a sphere of life in which the believer is to live in fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 17:33And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3); 1 Tim. 6:12, 1912Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)
19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:19)
). We use the word “life” similarly in describing an element in which a person dwells—e.g. “country life,” “city life,” etc. In this latter sense, eternal life is an environment of life wherein all is light and love, and where fellowship with the Father and the Son is everything. By virtue of the indwelling Spirit, we can live in that element now while we are here on earth (John 4:1414But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14); 1 John 5:11-1311And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11‑13)). Hence, someone aptly said that eternal life is "an out-of-this-world condition of things," in which the believer lives by the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul refers to this aspect of eternal life as something into which we will enter in the future, when we are received into heaven in our glorified state (Rom. 2:7; 5:21; 6:22, 237To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: (Romans 2:7)
21That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
22But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. 23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:22‑23)
; Gal. 6:88For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Galatians 6:8); 1 Tim. 1:16; 6:12, 1916Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:16)
12Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)
19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:19)
; Titus 1:2; 3:72In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2)
7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7)
). This does not mean that we cannot enjoy this life now. We can certainly enjoy it now by the Spirit, but then we will be in that life in its fullest sense. On the other hand, the Apostle John speaks of eternal life in the believer as a present possession (John 3:1515That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:15), etc.), though he does speak of it in its future sense as well (John 4:36; 12:2536And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. (John 4:36)
25He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:25)
).