Have you ever thought about it?
In Sunday school, I was taught that “eternal life” was life after death – a kind of immortality imposed on those who believed in Jesus. The Free Dictionary online agrees with this definition, calling it “life without beginning or end“.
Yet, the more I study and read the Gospel text, that definition of “eternal life” just doesn’t fit…
Since when were the Jewish people concerned with living forever? No where in the Old Testament (at least as far as I can tell) does the mention that we would be immortal… Live for hundreds of years, yes. But not immortal.
Immortality was more of a Greek thing – a way to become a ‘god’ and cheat death. Since the Greeks took over Middle East a few hundred years before Jesus, it may be that their priority on cheating death had creped into the Jewish way of thinking.[@more@]
But then we are right back were we started in that the context of the Gospel does not seem to fit with the idea of cheating death and living forever, even if it was a “life-after-death-immortality”.
The phrase “eternal life” is used interchangeable with the phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven”. Those phrases we know refer to God’s rule and reign – or in other words, the coming of the Age to Come into this Present Age. The prophets of old called it the Day of the Lord, when the God Almighty would come in judgment and mercy.
With that context in mind, allow me to propose something:
What if the phrase “eternal life” was referring to the life of the Age to Come? So when Jesus is saying that we would receive “eternal life”, he was not referring to immortality, but to the mercy, salvations, justice and glory of the Day of the Lord coming in and upon us today in this Age, right now.
Using this interpretation, the verses of the Gospels – shoot of the entire New Testament – come alive with new meaning. No longer is Jesus, Paul or the other writers mainly concerned with cheating death. Instead they are begging us to enter into the victory and power of the Age to Come – when the Spirit of the Lord would be poured out upon all mankind; when those who are sick would be healed and those held captive will be set free.
What an amazing concept!
A side note: hmmm… I wonder how this would affect the idea of “eternal damnation”?