LIFE OF THE EON:
A woman sent her ten year old son into the grocery store with five dollars to purchase some nacho cheese. With a five dollar bill in hand and a mission from Mom, Johnny felt like a big boy, venturing into the store all by himself. He went into the dairy section and peered among the cheeses for his prize. He found cheddar cheese, swiss cheese, and mozzarella, but no nacho cheese. Beginning to lose hope, he remembered seeing some other cheeses in the deli section and took off running in that direction. In the deli too, Johnny was disappointed. He found feta cheese, blue cheese and a dozen others, but no nacho cheese. Slowly the young man began heading for the entrance. He had not fulfilled his mission. He had let down Mom. He had no nacho cheese.
As he neared the entrance though, he spotted a block of cheese on the top of a crowded grocery cart. Reaching out his hand, Johnny hoped beyond hope that here at last, he had found nacho cheese. The basket owner cried out, "Boy, put that down! That's not yo cheese!" Elated, Johnny shouted, "I found it! I found it! Nacho cheese, at last!"
Sometimes the words we hear are not what they sounded like in our ears. In the New Testament, six out of eight apostles wrote words which sound to us like "eternal life." Yet not all of these six apostles meant what we keeping hearing in the words "eternal life." The Apostle John especially stands out, both by the frequency in which he used those words, and by the unusual meaning that he poured into them. Compare how often the apostles wrote "eternal life":
- Matthew - 3 times1
- Mark - 2 times2
- Luke - 5 times3
- Peter - 0 times
- James - 0 times
- Jude - 1 time4
- Paul - 10 times5
- John - 23 times (in just 2 books)6
MAINSTREAM ETERNAL LIFE
Paul wrote half of the New Testament books, so his ten uses of the term are infrequent, just like every apostle except for John. The apostles almost always wrote about "eternal life" in the same way that most Protestants think of it. That is to say that in almost every case the apostles other than John clearly used the words "eternal life" to reference life which comes after death and never ends. For example, in Mark 10:30, Jesus promised that those who left loved ones for His sake would receive:
". . . now in this time - houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions - and in the age to come, eternal life."
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Jude always wrote "eternal life" in similar terms. They left us no question about their meaning.
PAUL'S ETERNAL LIFE
Not only did Paul write "eternal life" in rarity, but in most cases, he used it like the above apostles. In Romans 2:7, "eternal life" is granted at the end of this age in the day of judgment. In 1Timothy 6:12, the timing of "eternal life" may seem less clear. Seven verses later though, he positioned "eternal life" squarely in "the time to come," in contrast with the "present age." In Titus 3:7, Paul penned "eternal life" again as being in the future, something believers "hope" for or anticipate and will inherit. In these four out of his ten uses, Paul clearly employed the mainstream meaning of the term.
In Romans 6:22-23 and 1Timothy 1:16, "eternal life" is the end of serving God. Yet Paul here penned eternal life as the end of God's slaves in the same way that death is the end of those enslaved to sin. We may read these "ends" as coming to mankind at the end of life, or we could read such "ends" as outcomes in this lifetime. Sin pays her slaves with death right now, if death is understood as current corruption and current disconnection from God, who is life (John 14:6).
Paul wrote "eternal life" just three more times: Romans 5:21, 1Timothy 1:16, and Titus 1:2. If it were not for John's unusual use of the term, I submit that we would only read these three verses along with Romans 6 in the mainstream vein too. Yet Paul penned these three remaining verses with a degree of ambiguity, so that he may have had in mind John's deeper meaning for the term.
JOHN'S ETERNAL LIFE
In just two books, John recorded the words "eternal life" twenty three times: seventeen in his gospel and six in his first letter. In John's gospel, Jesus differed starkly from the mainstream use. He described "eternal life" as something believers have in the present age rather than in just the age to come. In John 3:36, Jesus said that those who believe in Him have (present tense) eternal life. We might wonder if Jesus used the present tense in a prophetic sense - as having now, something we will only possess in the future. Yet in John 5:24, Jesus referred to our obtaining of eternal life as a completed action. He said the one who believes not only "has" eternal life, but "has passed from death to life."
John caught Jesus not just referring to "eternal life" as a present possession. He also recorded Jesus as redefining "eternal life." In John 12:50, eternal life is the command of the Father. Then our Master said in John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." So by John's gospel record, both God's commandment and knowing God are eternal life.
If we ask John to explain these twists on our understanding of eternal life, then perhaps John will answer us in his epistle. We do not wait long for his reply. Just two verses into his letter, John is already using the term "eternal life," and enlarging our understanding of it. He refers to Jesus as the Word of life in verse one, then speaks of that life itself in verse two: "the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us . . ." As John revealed to us, the Word of life is Himself "eternal life." If 1John 1:2 left any ambiguity, John showed us even more clearly in the next to last verse of his letter: ". . . and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." The Son of God is the true God; He is also the eternal life.
- Eternal life is the possession of believers (Jn 5:24)
- Eternal life is the command of the Father (Jn 12:50)
- Eternal life is knowing God (Jn 17:3)
- Eternal life is our Master Jesus Himself (1Jn 1:2; 5:20)
In this vein, we can understand how eternal life is the Father's command. For the command of God is the Word of God, and the Word of God is Himself eternal life. Likewise, we can better understand 1John 5:12-13, which states, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. . ." The burden of John's letter was not to convince people that they would live forever, but to convince those who trust in the authority of Jesus that they possess Him or that they must possess Him; for eternal life is Jesus Himself.
"Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." 1John 5:15
LIFE OF THE EON
I submit for consideration that we should often translate "ζωην αιωνιον" not as "eternal life" which bears a limited meaning for the modern believer. In light of John's twenty three uses of ζωην αιωνιον, we should translate the words literally. Αιωνιον is an adjective describing the noun that it accompanies. Αιωνιον indicates that ζωην or "life" bears the attributes of an eon or an age. In modern English use, an eon encompasses multiple ages. An age is a vast expanse of time.
We must stop viewing Jesus as simply the door to life after death. He is life, true life, life with the Father, and life towards the Father. To dwell in Jesus is to truly live. We settle today for living in the world, living of the world, and living for the world while believing doctrines about Jesus. The Master Jesus Himself commanded us instead to live and "abide" (or remain) in Him:
"Abide in Me, and I in you." John 15:4a
If doctrines have let us down and this world is exhausting us, then we are not fully embracing true life itself. Better said, we are not embracing true life Himself. Jesus is the opposite of this eon, this worldly age which is puffed up against the Father and operates without the Father. Paul called our arch enemy in 2nd Corinthians 4:4 " the god of this eon."7 Our Master Jesus as the Life of the eon is the Life of a different eon than the eon in which this world abides.
Some will wonder how to possess and dwell or "abide" in the true eon. Those who wonder should absorb and embrace the third teaching of the apostles .
- Matthew 19:16, 29; 25:46
- Mark 10:17, 30
- Luke 10:25; 18:18, 30; Acts 13:46, 48
- Jude 1:21
- Romans 2:7; 5:21; 6:22-23; Galatians 6:8; 1Timothy 1:16; 6:12, 19; Titus 1:2; 3:7
- John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2-3; 1John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20
- Author's translation