“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3).
Jesus had come to the end of his ministry on earth. The very night on which he spoke these words he would be taken by the Jews, turned over to the Roman authorities, mocked, scourged, tried and on the next day, crucified. These words are the beginning of what is commonly known as his “high priestly prayer.”
Perhaps the most familiar part of that prayer concerns his desire for unity among those who believe in God through him (John 17:20-23). But it is interesting – and significant – that unity was not the thing he first prayed for. His first interest was that the Father might glorify him that he might glorify the Father since he had been given authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all the Father had given him. These were his disciples – the ones to whom he had revealed the Father and ultimately to you and me. It was through their knowing the Father and the Son that they would have eternal life.
Eternal life is of tremendous importance. Man was made to live eternally. We were not made to die. It was through denial of God’s rule over them that Adam and Eve sinned and brought death into the world. Jesus came to destroy death – to triumph over it as a vanquished enemy. It was through his death and resurrection that death would be destroyed.
“…who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
It was God’s purpose “before the ages began” – from eternity before time began – to give immortality, eternal life, to man. The life God would have us live and eternal life have been “brought to light” through the gospel. We cannot know eternal life is there for us nor how to possess it without the gospel.
But how do we come into possession of eternal life? People have long thought that man must do something to earn eternal life. They are like the rich ruler who came to Jesus…
“And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18).
He said he had kept the ten commandment law and asked Jesus what he still lacked. Jesus told him to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor. Would that have bought him eternal life? No. Jesus was testing the man’s heart for him to see where his affections lay. He was a very rich man who because of his love for riches went away sorrowful. He chose riches over eternal life. He could have had eternal life.
The way we obtain eternal life is through faith in the Son of God.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36).
Believing in the Son means that we trust him to the point of obeying him. If we really believe in him we will do whatever he says for us to do.
There is a sense in which we presently have eternal life. Jesus spoke of eternal life as a present possession.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47).
The apostle John said the same thing. He said we not only have eternal life but we can know that we presently possess it.
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:11-13).
God gave – past tense – eternal life. You have – present tense – eternal life. How do we know this? We know because we “have” the Son and are in the Son. We know because we believe in the name of the Son of God. We know because we know the Father. To be “in his Son” is to have a relationship with him. It is to be near him, to love him and to obey him.
There are people who doubt that we have eternal life here and now. There is a fear that if we believe in present possession of eternal life that we will be seen by some as leaning toward the Calvinistic doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy. In running away from one extreme they have gone to the opposite extreme of practically denying something that is plainly taught in the scriptures. The result of this is that there are people who are very insecure regarding an eternal reward.
We can know that we have – present tense – eternal life. How can this be? The answer to that lies in the fact that the term “eternal life” is used in more than one sense in the New Testament. Our usual thought when we hear the words “eternal life” is that of unending existence with the Father and the Son. But the word is used also to refer to a quality of existence that we can and indeed do share in in the present. It is wonderful quality of life that is enjoyed by being in fellowship with the Father and the Son. It is a life of joyous praise, thanksgiving and of glad and willing service. If one does not love this kind of life he won’t enjoy what lies ahead in eternity!
The future possession of eternal life is based on the promise of God. God’s promises are sure. When God promises it is as good as done. He will not go back on his word. To have God’s promise is as good as having the thing promised as far as the sureness of possession.
“And this is the promise that he made to us— eternal life.” (I John 2:25).
We don’t have to guess about whether we will have eternal life. Paul said he was an apostle “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).