…the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us… – 1 John 1:2 ESV
There is a certain sense in which the Christian church has turned eternity into some kind of a reward to be had. We have too often offered salvation based on the promise of eternal life or the threat of eternal separation in hell. In doing so, we have turned Jesus into little more than a ticket to a preferred future. But John would have us understand that Jesus is not just the means by which we get eternal life – He IS eternal life. Throughout his gospel and letters, John would have us understand that Jesus is to be the focus of our desire, not eternal life. If we make eternity the object, we are guilty of turning Jesus into little more than a tool to get the reward we want. But in John’s estimation, Jesus IS the reward. In one of His confrontations with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus made the sobering statement, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40 ESV). Jesus was accusing these men of making eternal life the focus and in so doing, walking right past the very one who was eternal life. Like the Pharisees, we can become so obsessed with eternal life that we miss out on the relationship Christ has come to offer us with Himself. In His High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus makes the statement, “Now this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent” (John 17:3 ESV). In Jesus’ own estimation, eternal life is about a relationship with God and Himself. It is about intimacy with God and His Son – something that would be impossible without Christ’s work on the cross. Eternal life WITHOUT fellowship with God and His Son would not be a reward, but a punishment. That is the essence of hell. All men will experience eternity. The question is whether they will experience it in intimate fellowship with God and His Son, or without them.
We know from John 3:16, that the gift of eternal life is based on belief in God’s Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). But again, it would be so easy to turn that verse into a formula for eternal security. Belief + Jesus = Eternity. And while that would be partially true, it misses the whole point. This isn’t about getting what we think we want (eternal life). It is about getting what we need (Jesus). He is eternal life. That is why John seemed to teach that eternal life was not some future promise, but a present reality for those who believed in Jesus. Jesus said, “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life” (John 6:47-48 ESV). He then compared Himself to the manna that was provided by God for the Israelites, so that they might eat and not die. It was a temporary solution that forestalled death from hunger while they wandered in the wilderness. But Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51 ESV). Jesus is the source of eternal life. It is a relationship with Him that gives us life. Listen to His words: “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 ESV). Jesus is the reason we need not fear death. We don’t have to worry about future judgment or condemnation. We already have eternal life because we have Him. He is eternal life. He is ALL we need.
But too often we live as if something is missing. We exist as if the best is yet to come. And while it is proper and right to long for Christ’s return and to desire a time when sin will be no more, it is essential that we understand that eternal life is not some future commodity to be had, but a present reality to be enjoyed. John reminds us, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This one is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). Jesus isn’t the golden ticket to the prize of eternal life. He IS eternal life. He is the prize. The point of heaven is not to escape hell, but to experience an intimate, unbroken relationship with God and His Son forever. And that relationship begins the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and see Him as our source of eternal life.