AFTERLIFE: What does it mean to have “eternal life”?

This is one thing that makes Christianity so different from other belief systems. When the Bible speaks of “eternal life,” it doesn’t just mean life after death. The “eternal life” we read about in the New Testament is less a reference to a period of time than it is a descriptor of the nature or quality of life with God, both here and now and after our physical bodies die, and ultimately, are resurrected.  The eternal life that Jesus spoke of wasn’t just about living forever. The Bible teaches that everyone lives forever, either with God (heaven) or without him (hell). Instead, it is about living—both now and after death—with the life that only he can bring: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing God through Jesus Christ is eternal life.


What is that life with God like?  The eternal life that Christ promises is abundant. It has a richness and fullness about it. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[1] Life with God is full—not necessarily with earthly riches or power, but with joy, with strong support, and with real peace. King David the psalmist wrote, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[2] And until Christ returns, he has promised those who are his the strong support and help of God the Holy Spirit:  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus also characterized life with God as being full of a different kind of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”[3]


The eternal life that Jesus offers us is here and now and forever. It begins when Christ comes in. Joy Lewis, wife of C. S. Lewis, was a Jewish atheist before she found herself alone in a desperate situation with her first husband, Bill. Her life was falling apart; she was helpless to help herself or her two small sons. She described what happened next in a letter to a friend:


“For the first time in my life…my pride was forced to admit that I was not, at all, ‘the master of my fate’ or ‘the captain of my soul.’ All my defenses—all the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I had hid from God—went down momentarily—and God came in…


There was a Person with me in that room, directly present to my consciousness—a Person so real that all my previous life was by comparison a mere shadow play. And I myself was more alive than I had ever been; it was like waking from sleep.”[4]

[1] John 10:10

[2] Psalm 16:11

[3] John 14:27

[4] Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman, Don W. King, Ed., (Eerdmans, 2009), p. 94.


Supporting Scripture  

John 10:10

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.


Revelation 21:1-4

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”



Notable Quotes

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell, choose it…no soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce


“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” ~ C.S. Lewis


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