By Allen Brooks
Statement: The term “Eternal Life” used by Jesus in the New Testament is a relational term. It is not a term used to describe one’s afterlife in heaven or hell.
What is Eternal life according to Jesus in the New Testament? Let us look at John 17:3, “and this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent”. These are the direct words of Jesus Christ! Eternal life is to know God and Jesus. To know means be in an interactive relationship with someone. To know means intimacy. The term eternal life, abundant life, and everlasting life [when used together] should be characterized as “an abiding fellowship with Jesus or God”. (See Webster’s Dictionary)
These are relational to God and fellowship with God terms for our immediate, biological lives on planet earth. These are present tense terms and not future terms about our afterlife.
Due to a change of covenant, a person can now have a personal relationship, or fellowship, or eternal life (abiding fellowship) with God because ALL of the OLD COVENANT (TESTAMENT) has been fulfilled. One can now know God personally.
Another way to state this is that a person cannot have a personal relationship or eternal life (abiding fellowship) with GOD unless ALL of the OLD TESTAMENT (COVENANT) is fulfilled. This includes all of the minor and major prophetic books as well.
Let me use the Old Testament book of Leviticus to explain the atonement process in the Torah which was the shadow of good things (ie: the atonement made by Christ)
I will paraphrase the process and then correlate it to the New Testament fulfillment.
Once each year the High Priest would perform the rite of atonement. This earthly ritual forgave ALL Israel’s sins for one year. Remember the Law was given only to Israel and not to Gentiles. Israelites were biologically born into that covenant (See part one).
The rite of atonement was the shadow on earth of the atonement that Christ would perform once and for all.
Let us look at the process.
The High Priest would purify himself.
The High Priest would kill a lamb or goat without blemish and put the blood in a bowl.
The High Priest would enter the Holy Of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant stood.
The High Priest would apply the blood of the lamb with a hyssop branch on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.
God would come (presence or coming) in the form of smoke and accept the sacrifice of blood.
The High Priest would return to the waiting congregation to show them that the sacrifice was accepted by God.
The whole of Israel would throw a huge party in celebration of sins forgiven and of God being presence (coming (parousia,gk) in the New Testament gk) in their midst.
We must stop and ask a few questions about the process before we proceed.
Did the High Priest act on behalf of ALL the people of Israel? Yes.
Was the slaying of the unblemished lamb the complete atonement? No.
Was the High Priest entering into the Holy of Holies the complete atonement? No.
Was the giving of the lamb’s blood on the mercy seat of the ark the complete atonement? No.
Was accepting of the blood of the lamb by God the complete atonement? No.
Was the return [coming] of the High Priest to the waiting congregation the sign of the completed atonement? YES!
Was the atonement (forgiveness of sins, restoration, reconciliation, resurrection, fellowship) universal for all Israel for that one year? Yes.
This was the process in the Old Testament. Please read Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus in your Bible. ALL steps of the rite had to be performed in order for atonement to take place. We should remember that this is about a change of covenant.
The book of Hebrews explains this same process that Jesus would complete acting as High Priest for All humanity. But we must analyze the steps in the New Testament.
ALL elements of the rite of atonement had to be completed in order for salvation [atonement] to be fully delivered to the children of Israel! We should also note that the book of Hebrews plainly states that the earthly rituals were the patterns of things in the heavens! The earthly atonement ritual showed exactly what was going to happen in the heavenly atonement ritual.
Let us ask the same questions about the atonement provide by Jesus.
Was Jesus our High Priest? Yes. (Hebrews 8) Jesus became our High Priest after there was a change of law. Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah and the Law stated that the High Priest had to be from the tribe of Levi. For a testament (covenant) is of force after men are dead. For where a testament (covenant) is there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.”
Was Jesus the unblemished Lamb of God? Yes. John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Was Jesus giving of His own blood on the cross (crucifixion) the completed atonement? No! His blood was not yet sprinkled on the mercy seat yet. Hebrews 9:8, “The Holy Spirit this signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest while as the first tabernacle [earthly temple] was yet standing.” It was destroyed in AD70 by the zealots, Titus, and the Roman armies.
Did Jesus have to sprinkle His own blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in heavenly places? Yes. But the way into the Holy of Holies was not yet made available.
Did God accept Jesus’ blood as forgiveness of sins? Yes. How do we know? We know by the return of the High Priest to the waiting congregation.
Did Jesus as the High Priest have to return from the Holy Of Holies to the waiting congregation in order to let the people know that God had accept His sacrifice? Yes. Hebrews 9:26-28, “For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of the world(age, aion in gk) hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” If our High Priest has not appeared from the Holy of Holies without sin, we are still in our sins! He appears at the end of the world. The correct greek word for world is aion which means age. He appeared at the end of the OLD Covenant age as evidenced by the destruction of the temple, the end of the Mosaic Covenant, and the destruction of earthly Jerusalem.
The manner and timing of Christ’s coming (gk, parousia or presence) is the confusion of today’s church. (See my comments on the comings of God in the Old Testament and how they relate to and explain Jesus’ coming in the New Testament.) If so when did this happen? Luke 21:22,32, ‘ For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written (Old Testament) may be fulfilled.” Verse 32,“Verily I say unto you (the disciples), This generation (genea in greek for Jesus’ generation) shall not pass away, till all [everything in the prophets and the Psalms] be fulfilled.” If not, then atonement (forgiveness of sins) has not happened.
The Apostle Paul in AD 60 stated in Romans 13:11, that “his salvation was nearer now than when he first believed”. This was after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Paul knew that salvation (deliverance from the law and sin death) could not be fully delivered until all of the OLD TESTAMENT (covenant) was fulfilled! In AD 60 Peter wrote, 1st Peter 15, ‘Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” 1st Peter 1:13, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. The end is the end the Mosaic system or the OLD COVENANT! It was the end of that world (age) system of salvation for the Jews and the Gentiles.
Paul and Peter knew that at the end of the OLD Covenant, salvation would be delivered because then the New Covenant would be fully in place. This was the transition time.
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 24, Mark13, and Luke 21 that the destruction of the temple, the end of the Law (old covenant), and the destruction of Jerusalem would be the sign of his coming (means presence in greek), the end of the Mosaic age (world, age, aion in greek), and the full inauguration of the New Covenant.
Did Jesus atonement restore humankind back into God’s presence so that they could have eternal life (abiding fellowship [or resurrection from sin –death] with God)? Yes.
In John 17:3 Jesus states that life eternal is to know the one true God and Jesus Christ!
One cannot know God or Jesus unless they are here on planet earth and present.
My point in sharing all of the above with you is to explain to you that eternal life or abiding fellowship with God is not possible unless all of the Old Testament (covenant) is fulfilled and secondly to show that eternal life is relational to God is this life.
Now, the question becomes, what does that mean to us today and do all folks today have abiding fellowship (eternal life) with Jesus or God?
When God through the work of Jesus created a New Covenant which forgave sin and iniquity, this New Covenant tore down the veil or wall of separation between God and Mankind. This covenant delivered salvation. Salvation is freedom from the strength of sin (the law) and the effects of sin (death or separation from God).
Now because the Old Covenant has been abolished and a New Covenant established by the work of Jesus, mankind is back in God’s presence. God now dwells among men. (Jeremiah 31:33, “ I will dwell with my people. I shall be their God and they shall be my people.”) Some folks say that God cannot dwell among men on earth. If this is true I would question why they think the Holy Spirit dwells among men on the earth. Is not the Holy Spirit God? Jesus said where two or three are gathered that He would be in their midst. Is Jesus not God? The work of the Spirit and the work of Jesus is finished. Now God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is all in all. God dwells among us. Wonderful! Hallelujah!
Since God dwells among us, we can now have abiding fellowship with God if we choose.
This eternal life is a relationship with God. We can now love God, know God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is the fulfilling of the law and love works no ill toward his neighbor.
We can walk with God, talk with God, ask God questions, be led by God, and be embraced by God. We can be transformed by God on a minute by minute basis. We are always in God’s presence. We don’t have to go to a church building or to a mountain to find God and fellowship with Him. God is everywhere and always present with each individual. The separation has ended and God is here. God bids us to fellowship and have a relationship with Him. This is the eternal life, the abundant life, the everlasting life Jesus spoke about. God loves us unconditionally and accepts us just like we are. But there is more.
Now, we can co-create a new world where God is working with us to make this a better world. We can end world hunger, we can end wars, we can end homelessness, we can end earthly pollution and global warming. We can end discrimination and hatred. We can end murder, rape, stealing, cheating, lying, and all the evil that befalls mankind. We can do this by loving our neighbors as ourselves and as God has loved us!
We can wake up each day with hope fulfilled and know that God is not going to destroy planet earth. (For a Biblical understanding, see my commentary on ‘The world will last forever!)
God’s presence with us can transform each of us into being the kind of people that God wants. His will can be done on earth as it is in heaven because His kingdom has come.
To live our lives in relationship with God and to be transformed by His presence and love is to have eternal life (abiding fellowship with God). It is not about living forever in heaven or hell. The afterlife was never the issue with God, but our relationship with Him was the issue. This is why Jesus came to do the will of the Father and put mankind back into God’s presence. Jesus completed that work by changing the covenant.
Does that mean that everyone has eternal life? No, because even though a New Covenant was created and God is now present, everyone does not have a relationship (eternal life) with God.
They either don’t know that they have been saved (delivered from the strength of sin (the law) and from the effects of sin (separation from God) or they don’t want to have a relationship with God.
Most if not all evil in this world is caused by mankind, not God! Where does this evil or sin come from? It comes from the devil right? NO, not according to the Bible!
James 1:13-14, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil neither tempteth he any man; But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin, and sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death.”
James 4:1-2, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not” ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.”
Most evil in this world comes from mankind’s greed (lusts) and mankind’s greed causes us to kill, fight, steal, rape, murder, cheat, lie, hate, commit adultery, you name it. Our most recent economic troubles have been caused by mankind’s greed. Wouldn’t you agree? One’s lusts or greed is the result of one’s selfishness and one NOT LOVING THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF!
Only when one understands his New Covenant standing and that one can have eternal life (abiding fellowship) with God, can one be transformed and love thy neighbor as thyself.
Jesus said, a new commandment I give unto you: Love God and love thy neighbor”. This is the essence of abiding fellowship with God.
There are many folks who are not “Christians” who have an abiding fellowship with God and their lives of loving thy neighbor validate that. On the other hand, there are many “Christians” who do not have eternal life (abiding fellowship with God) and the way they live their lives and treat their neighbors validate that as well. Jesus said very plainly in the scriptures, “if you love not those whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?”
I have presented a different perspective of salvation and eternal life than most people know or understand. I think our understanding of scriptures in this light became something else due to the westernization and neo-plutonian influence during the rise of Christianity after AD 70. Man’s attempt to control people with fear of hell, restricting the reading of the Bible, and propagating the institutionalization of the church were the leading factors in placing the emphasis on the afterlife rather than this life. Jesus came to give abundant life, eternal life in the here and now. He did or He didn’t, that seems to be our choice.