Say, “The Fountain of Youth!” and Juan Ponce de León comes to mind, along with every other conquest for famed objects of legend and myth such as the “Holy Grail.” Without the Indiana Jones theme infecting your brain, let me clear up the matter of what Christians mean by “eternal life.” In short, biblical Christianity differentiates between physical immortality and eternal life. In the theological senses, which Christianity employs, these terms are not synonymous. That being said, I will begin with Aristotelian ethics before I explain the theology of it all.
Not all beauty is youth and not all youth is beauty; and what good is living longer if one lives a cursed life? Is it safe to say the Western world is obsessed with the beauty of youth, with augmentation and outer improvement, and physical preservation? I assume the reader knows I speak of obsession with physical appearance, otherwise known as vanity. In contrast, the only real attractiveness to aging is one’s gain of wisdom and understanding. There are beauties to virtue. Ask Aristotle, who writes that the essence of virtue is a correct aiming at what is beautiful (kalos). As long as a society preoccupies itself with the beauty of things physical and material, she will not pursue or aim at the beauties of moral virtues. Without a culture’s promoting wisdom and understanding as well as respect of elders, that society declines into the egocentric and the pursuit of all things superficial. Then, said people loses its moral and ethical compass as a pattern. Eventually law is no longer king, justice takes off her blindfold, and each does to others what he never would have done to himself.
There is something admittedly twisted about the grab, scrape, climb, take, “look-out-for-number-one” mentality, which evidences itself in our lives. It is both natural and unnatural to us. It is natural in that it comes easily; but, it is unnatural to the awakened moral conscience—when one comes (for example) to the middle of his life and to a crisis of meaning and purpose. Perhaps he looks from his vantage only to see a wake of destruction and abuse in tow. Feelings of hollowness, regret, emptiness, and of “deadness while living” may ensue. Why such angst?
First, allow me put this in word pictures. Please employ imagination; go with it. The book of Revelation (4:7, cf. Ezekiel 1:10) states that there are living creatures before the Throne of God. Other works agree that these angels were created to represent or reflect aspects of God’s nature. Scripture describes these angels as having unique faces, one a lion, one an eagle, one an ox, one a man. The lion is apparently fearless, courageous, terrifying and yet regal at the same time. The eagle is observably majestic, swift, ruler of the heights and well-sighted. The ox, well, the ox is a servant, able to bear great burden with a lowliness about it. And, man? What is man? Puzzling, no? Hebrew tradition as well as Christian scholarship might bear out that the face of mankind always should have reflected God-like nobility and wisdom and pure love. This reflection is the result of God’s being directly involved in the creation of mankind (Gen. 1-2) and the subsequent Imago Dei which cannot be fully erased (Gen. 9). As one may read from Sin and the Unpardonable Sin, when humanity had its chance to self-determine the inner nature by which it would function, we federally chose a nature (essential experience of reality) contrary to God’s nature. Thus, our natures are perpetually flawed, and the Imago Dei within is irreparably marred. When mankind fell from his original purity, choosing his own way and the nature which is more like Satan’s than God’s, his inner make-up “forgot” true love and pure light and abundant life.
The Gospel of John complements the other Gospels by introducing Jesus Christ in abstract terms, such as Life and Light. The beloved Disciple, no doubt, alludes to the Hebrew Scripture which, in the context of lament over the human condition, foretells the coming Messiah with the following words (Psalm 36:9): “with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Did you catch that? The fountain of life (of youth, if you will) is Jesus Christ Himself. Furthermore, John presents Christ as the Reason or Communicative Expression (Word) who came down from the very realm of God to take on the fleshly existence of mankind, yet without the flaws of human nature, for the purpose of redeeming mankind from his fallen nature and to provide pardon for the many affronts we each make against God (John 1-3). Thankfully, John 1 further reads that “in [Christ] was Life, and that life was the light of mankind.” The Koine Greek word translated there as “life” denotes “the inherent capacity for producing (and maintaining) living beings; especially understood as a life characterized by healthiness, happiness, exuberance, energy, vitality and the like.” This evokes meanings such as “the epitome of human nobility,” or “the fullness of virtue,” which should have originally belonged to mankind.
Now, these descriptions of love and light and life are pregnant with philosophical and theological meaning. But, simply put, the Life of Christ—his very nature, his way of thinking, acting, responding, seeing the world, interacting in relation with others—was the incarnate, living, breathing, exact-expression of God in Heaven (Heb. 1:1-3). He embodied what humanity should have known and should have been from the beginning. He was sent so that mankind might have life and have it more abundantly than imaginable to a fallen mind (John 10:10). Mankind’s heart, being darkened by a fallen nature, needed a luminary, a “light.” He came as a light (an illuminator) full of grace and truth to us, to show mankind what God designed (and always desired) us to be and enjoy. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” says Christ, and then heals our sight (John 9:5). His mission was to provide what the ancient Greeks sought (John 12:21)–the Way for us to become both whom God originally designed us to be and to know the fulfilling goodness/wholeness He originally desired us to enjoy. Consequently, the Lord Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the way, the truth, the life; no man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Without his living example, none could rightly understand God (so darkened are our hearts), let alone what mankind should have been or should be (Rom 3:11). Yet, as alluded to already, the Lord Jesus was not sent merely to show us what we are not. That would be a taunt. Rather, Christ Jesus came in order to be the supply of our need for regeneration (re-birth of nature) through his atonement on the Cross. He came to give his Life for us, so that he may give his Life to us, so that he may live his Life through us. In turning the non-believer to Himself, Christ returns humanity to true life and to light and to love. Anyone who understands this truth also knows what it means to repent of the kind of life which has “self” at its source in order to exchange it for, or accept, the Life of Christ. Thus, the Christian believer can rationally and reasonably claim to have eternal life–never to pass into judgement, because God both provided and promises such a quality of life to those who desire Him, instead of their “own way” (John 3:16-21; Romans 10:13; Acts 16:30-31; 1 John 5:12-15; ). Do you want self life or eternal life? That is the question.
To clarify, when a Christian claims to have eternal life, he does not mean “escape from physical death.” (Please see The Enigma of Deterioration for further explanation). Rather, when a Christian claims to have eternal life through the grace afforded him by trusting in Christ, he refers to a quality of life, a kind of existence–one full of life at its best, full of virtue (or, as the Hebrew text 2 Chron 20:21 puts it, “the beauty of Holiness“). It is true that biblical Christianity holds a “resurrection of the dead” just as it holds Christ was raised by the power of the Spirit and according to the will of the Father from the dead. Moreover, the resurrection of those “in Christ” will not result in any subsequent form of death but will be the beginning of immortality in the common sense of the word (1 Cor. 15). Therein, the Christian claims immortality in so much that the sting of sin—death—has been conquered by the Christ.
In the meantime of awaiting a resurrection, Christianity proposes a quality of life, which can be called “eternal.” The label eternal applies, because this type of life finds its source in God; and his Life, being outside of time & space, and being impeccable to the nature which taints humanity, can only be properly defined by the term eternal. (please see Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature) It has no taint of what is “fallen,” nor any stench of corruption nor effect of death to it. It is pure Life, noble and whole and entire, nothing lacking or mixed in. There is no dark in it. Therefore it is “pure Light.” One sees that mankind is in need of infusions of this eternal life as described, if he is honest.
Again, do you want self life or eternal life? God, through Jesus Christ, offers His own eternal quality of life for the present as well as after an awaited resurrection from the dead for endless ages. I maintain this postulate though some may have erroneously taught that eternal life is tantamount only to “going to Heaven” after earthly life. Having examined Christ, here are the words of the Apostle Paul on that matter, which assert that immortality is different than eternal life, but that, Christ affords the believer both:
Romans 2:7 (ESV) – “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;”
2 Tim. 1:10 (NASB) – “but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”
With such a universal and comprehensive offer of abundant life at the expense of Christ, it is hard to imagine anyone would reject it. However, the Lord Jesus not only knew some would reject him, he declared there is a judgment or condemnation that accompanies that decision. He did not state this in a vindictive or vengeful way. We know his attitude, because only syllables before, Jesus said that the Father sent him into the world in order to save the world, not to condemn it. The Prince of Peace is stating a revelatory fact and an according warning. He was matter-of-factly revealing the reason why some of humanity reject him. “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19).
As much as Christ is the Light that illumines every man who enters the world, he can be rejected; but seeing he died for our sins and was raised for our judicial clearing before God; and seeing He only intends to restore to mankind what humanity ruined, then why not just accept him as Life–eternal life?