Eternal life needs closer definition. Most of us think of eternal life as living forever in the presence of God. That is a true and valid concept, but it is not the essence of what eternal life is. The standard classical Greek lexicon derives the word from a word that means “age,” and thus defines the adjective as “lasting for an age.”
Years ago, I heard a Jehovah’s Witness speak on the idea, and he made the same point. I bristled at what he was saying. Long after, I have come to accept his point of view, with severe qualifications. [If you have not canceled your subscription yet, keep reading; it comes out well in the end.]
Eternal life, I am now convinced, should be defined as “the life characterized by a certain age.” But what age? Given the connections that we identified in the previous post, from Mark 10, we should identify the age as the age of the Kingdom. Since the Kingdom is endless (Isa 9.7), then the life characterized by the Kingdom is endless. So, eternal, or better, everlasting life is the right way to think.
We can, however, say more. In Romans 5.21 Paul reintroduces the phrase that first appears in the book in 2.7. He explains it in Romans 6. The chapter has inherent difficulties in interpretation, but on this point it is clear. Grace does not and cannot foster sin, because by God’s grace we have been united with Christ in His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection life. Paul is very careful to avoid associating resurrection with our present condition (finally making that connection in chapter 8).
Then, what is “everlasting life”? It is the life of the Kingdom. As God’s children we have the privilege and enablement to to live the life of the Kingdom now. This is not merely, or even particularly, an individual privilege. It has corporate dimensions. One goal of church life is to implement Kingdom living, the kingdom quality of life, in the community of the King’s people.