What was the Gospel Jesus preached? Part 2 – Eternal Life

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By Rob Lampard

General Introduction

This brief paper follows on from that titled ‘The Gospel of the Kingdom’.  In that we looked at the good news (= gospel) which Jesus proclaimed as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Our question remains the same: What was the gospel Jesus preached?  Herein we are going to see what answer we find in the book of John.[1]

John states his purpose for writing as follows:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:31)

The Meaning of ‘Life’

The word ‘life’ is apparently a simple, everyday one, so that we’d think its meaning was obvious.  However, a closer look at its many uses in John reveals that this is not so.

First, we note that John uses the noun ‘life’ about 50 times.  This is the same as the total number of uses in Matthew, Mark and Luke combined, in which two main meanings can be discerned:

 

  1. i) Physical life in this world, eg:

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

  1. ii) Eternal life in the age to come, eg:

No-one who has left things of this world to follow me will fail to receive … in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:30)

These two meanings are also present in John:

So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (11:53)

“Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:14)

 

However, there are also multiple sayings in John which talk about eternal life as a present blessing:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (5:24)

“I have come that they may have life, life in all its abundance.” (10:10)

Up to twenty sayings with a similar thrust could be quoted.  Ladd concludes: “While eternal life is eschatological (i.e. belongs to the Age to Come), John’s central emphasis is not to show men the way to life in the Age to Come, but to bring them a present experience of this future life.  The life of the Age to Come is already imparted to the believer.”[2]  This is clearly good news.

The Essence of Eternal Life

Towards the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus makes this statement:

“Now this is eternal life: that they may be knowing you, the only true God.” (17:3)

To truly know a person means not simply to know about them, their characteristics and abilities, not even to just know about their personality.  It means also to experience through personal interaction all the things we have just listed, and to enjoy being with them, indeed to delight in doing so.  This is relational language.  And it is in full accord with the teachings of the Old Testament.

The theme of delighting ourselves in God finds clearest expression in the Psalms of David:

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (16:11)

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (27:4)

 

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (36:7-9)

 

Life in relationship with God is also the theme of a large part of the book of Deuteronomy:

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (30:19-20)

It is this same goal of which Jesus proclaims the ultimate fulfilment:

“The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

In John 17 he goes on:

I pray these things while I am still in the world, so that they (i.e. his followers) may have the full measure of my joy within them.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (17:13, 24)

Here is good news.  Indeed here is the ultimate wow factor!  What could be better than this?

 

[1] This is not to suggest that the different New Testament books record different gospels.  It is simply to note that the different books focus on and emphasise different aspects of the same gospel.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Lutterworth Press, 1981, p 257.

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