This past summer, because of the generosity of friends in our church, my wife and I were able to spend a week together in Cozumel, Mexico. It was a wonderful trip. Our resort was on the beach. The food was excellent. The water was a beautiful shade of blue I’d never seen before. But best of all, I was able to have uninterrupted enjoyment of my bride of twenty-five years. One day, late in the afternoon, when we were sitting on the beach reading, without a care in the world except for when we were going to get ready to go to dinner, I looked over at Kristy and said, “This is the life!”
Life is a prominent theme in John’s gospel. The Greek words translated by the English terms “life” and “live” occur more than sixty times in John. The most prominent of these are in reference to the life that God gives through Jesus Christ, sometimes called “eternal life.” Human beings long for immortality, and they seek it in a variety of ways. But Jesus says that the one who believes in Him for salvation has eternal life. John tells us that his purpose in writing his gospel is that his readers will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they “may have life in his name” (20:31). As we’ll see, “life” in Christ and “eternal life” are essentially synonymous.
To help us understand this, John sets his entire gospel in the context of creation. Why creation? Because at creation, God created all life. John’s opening line echoes Genesis 1: “In the beginning was the Word.” John goes on to reveal to us that the “Word” is Jesus Christ, and that Christ is the creator of all things (vv. 2–3). Then John makes this statement: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John is telling us here that if you want true life, you can find it only in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Creator of all life. Jesus later says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). Here’s the first important point: we never truly “live” until we know Jesus Christ. He is the One who gives us life.
More than that, the life that Jesus gives is “eternal life.” Simply put, eternal life is life that does not end. But “eternal life” in the Bible refers to more than the fact that it never ends. Once again, the creation account helps us understand this. Adam and Eve were created with the possibility of immortality. God placed them in a lush and fruitful garden. They enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. And they enjoyed the blessing of work and the fruit of their labors. Yet there was one tree whose fruit they were not to enjoy, namely, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned them, saying, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
Interestingly, when they did eat of it, they did not die physically that day. Yet to be sure, sin and death entered the world because of their sin (Rom. 5:12). They would eventually die physically; however, on the day they ate, they died spiritually. Their unhindered fellowship with God was broken. They experienced shame and alienation, receiving God’s curse and not His blessing, and being cast out of God’s original earthly dwelling place. True “life,” the “eternal life” that Jesus gives, means being restored to the state of knowing and communing with God. It means that we can enjoy our work for the glory of God and experience the joys of God’s blessings. Later in John’s gospel, Christ Himself prays to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3). Because sin has broken our fellowship with God, we must be “born again,” as Jesus said to Nicodemus earlier in John 3. That is, the Spirit must come and give us new life and make us a new creation by His regenerating power.
In John 11, after the death of Lazarus, Jesus says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” When we who trust in Christ and know Him die, we have the hope of a resurrected body, a glorified body that enables us to commune with God for all eternity in a deeper and more intimate way. At the same time, those who trust in Christ “shall never die.” They simply enter a new phase of knowing God. The Apostle Paul said something similar when he wrote to the Philippians: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). If life is Christ, physical death means infinitely more of the life we have in Him, and in a new and even better way. This is the abundant life that Jesus came to give (John 10:10). This is eternal life. In short, this is the life.