Read John 17:1–5.
Before I stumbled into a career as a writer, I worked for a company that audits magazine circulation. I was part of a small army of number checkers and postal receipt reviewers dutifully making sure the magazines waiting for you in the airplane seatback and the waiting room at your doctor’s office had been properly accounted for—all to help advertisers know what they’re really buying when they buy ad space. And yes, it was about as thrilling as it sounds.
One day, my boss’s boss called me into his office and invited me to have a seat. At first, I thought I was in trouble, but my fears soon retreated when he told me he’d noticed the quality of my work and had a special assignment for me. One of our most important clients had brought an allegation of fraud against one of its competitors, another client of ours. My boss wanted me to get to the bottom of it. There was only one problem: I had no idea what magazine he was talking about.
During our meeting, he kept using an abbreviation for the magazine in question, one that was unfamiliar to me. I could have—and probably should have—asked him to clarify, but the longer the conversation went on, the more it seemed inappropriate, like I’d be acknowledging that perhaps I wasn’t quite as on top of things as he had assumed. So, I just kept nodding in agreement, hoping our meeting would end soon.
For the next few weeks, whenever I’d see this senior VP in the break room or at the copier, he’d ask me how the “CCJ project” was coming along. I’d respond with something vague but positive like, “I’m sure it’s getting ready to break wide open,” or “Lots of information to gather.” The truth was, however, that I didn’t know what “CCJ” stood for and, therefore, hadn’t done a thing. I felt a bit like George Costanza in an episode of Seinfeld.
Eventually (and somewhat by accident), I did figure out what magazine I needed to investigate and got to work, but not before wasting a tremendous amount of time. These days, I’m much more assertive; if I don’t understand something, I’ll ask for more information. I’ve learned that understanding can make all the difference in everyday life, and it matters a great deal more when it comes to the things of God.
Take, for example, eternal life. Most people think that when the Bible mentions eternal life, it’s primarily concerned with the afterlife—the heavenly life we’ll enjoy with God after we die or when Jesus returns. Certainly, that‘s part of eternal life, but that can’t be all there is to it. We know this because Jesus Himself offers us a definition of term, one that is deeper and wider than anything we might have imagined.
It comes in the middle of a prayer, smack dab in the center of an intimate conversation between the Son and the Father. Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come.” He’s talking about His impending sacrifice on the cross. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). There is no greater moment of divine glory in the whole of Scripture than the moment the God of the universe delivered His own Son to die for the sinful people He loves, that same instant when the Son willingly took those sins upon Himself in perfect obedience to the Father. “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him” (v. 2, emphasis added). This was the purpose for which Jesus died. But what exactly is eternal life? If the prayer had stopped here, we might assume it’s simply life after death—and that would be a wonderful thing indeed—but Jesus tells us it’s much more than that: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (v. 3).
Eternal life is knowing God the Father and God the Son, and that starts right here and now—as soon as a person repents of their sins and receives the good and free gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit takes up residence within that person, and intimacy with God becomes possible. Life from that moment on is to be lived in relationship with the Lord. “Eternal” does not simply refer to the length of time, as though it were just a synonym for everlasting. Rather, “eternal” describes the nature of this life. It’s the life that exists in eternity, the life of the kingdom, the life of heaven in the presence of God. We are invited to partake of this good and abundant life in the present. There’s no need to wait.
Sadly, many people don’t grasp this important truth and are content to let eternal life fade into the background as a nice idea for the future, a hope and a dream that will never materialize in this life, because it doesn’t really belong here. But the good news of Jesus Christ is better than that. You and I have been invited—nay, called—to walk in step with the rhythms of eternity today and tomorrow and the day after that. The life of heaven comes to us as we enjoy the presence of the Father and Son here and now.
But this should not surprise us. The story of redemption is all about the future rushing back into the present. The judgment comes at the end of the age, and yet Jesus took our punishment upon His shoulders two thousand years ago (Isaiah 53:5). The resurrection is our future hope, yet we have already been raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1). Eternal life is our inheritance in Jesus, and yet it is ours today. We just need to take hold of this life by faith.
Talk to the Lord. Listen for His voice. Immerse yourself in His Word. Obey His commands. Have faith for the sorts of things only He can do. Live as though you are connected to Him at all times, because, through His Spirit, you are.