The apostle John made certain that eternal life was a consistent and significant theme in all of his writing, regardless of audience or occasion. Over half of all New Testament references to eternal life are found in John’s gospel and first epistle. One should not begin to think that this concept of eternal life was fabricated by John since many of the times that he mentions eternal life they are citations of the words of Christ. Clearly, this truth impacted John, and he found it necessary to include it in his teaching to others both within and without the church.
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69
John 6 captures a vivid snapshot of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This chapter alone includes many aspects of His time on earth; miracles, crowds of intrigued followers, religious debate, misunderstandings, rejection from men, and His attention to detail in training the 12 disciples. Towards the end of the chapter Jesus asks the Twelve if they want to leave as the crowd just did. Peter answers with the reason that he would not leave Jesus, and his answer is astonishing. At the core of his response was a faith that believed Jesus knew how mankind could attain eternal life and that he also had the ability to share it and give it to those who believed on Him. Peter recognized that this is what set Jesus apart from any other man, and this certainly meant that he was God in the flesh.
The fact that Jesus is the only person to have walked this earth and have these words of eternal life is of immense importance. Up to Jesus’ time on earth, nobody had ever been genuinely able to offer eternal life to anybody. Sure, many could claim to, but nobody could deliver. Men spoke of eternity in the Old Testament (Ps. 73:23-26, Ezek. 43:1-12, Dan. 12:1-3), but as they did, the authority that they spoke on was God’s authority. The prophet’s message always began with, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” indicating that their words were not their own, they were God’s. In Jesus, this whole system is flipped on its head. Earlier in John 6, Jesus stated that he is the way to eternal life (Jn. 6:27-35, 40, 47, 53-54), and he said this on his own authority, for he was divine. Peter had correctly identified Jesus as the only man to be the source of these words of eternal life.
To know that Jesus has the words of eternal life is foundational, but it does not explain to us what eternal life biblically means. If the definition of eternal life is only the sum of the meaning of the words “eternal” and “life,” then it simply means living forever. This definition doesn’t entirely enlighten the term as we know that every person will live forever, whether saved or unsaved. To say that eternal life means living with God forever is a step in the right direction but it is still insufficient according to how it is used in the Bible. As Christians, we do not need to fret as Jesus, the one with the words of eternal life, defines eternal life for us.
Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:2-3
Eternal life is much more than living forever with God. Although that is a part of it, eternal life is everlasting, unbroken and unhindered fellowship with God. This relational prize is given to those who know God and Jesus Christ, the one whom He sent. Our ability to begin to know God only comes through the gospel. Without saving knowledge of the gospel, no one can even begin to have fellowship with God. One can know facts about God, but no one can know God without a personal encounter with Him in the gospel. Therefore, eternal life only comes to those who know God, and we can only begin to know God through knowing and believing the good news of Jesus. The term “eternal life” describes our unending fellowship with the Lord, this we attain as a spiritual blessing when we call on His name.
Jesus words of eternal life have ramifications for the daily life of the believer here and now. While the full blessing of eternal fellowship with God is still waiting to be completely unfolded, Christians do experience eternal life daily through their communion with God and growth in the gospel. For us as Christians, the journey of getting to know an infinite yet personal God stands before us. This God has revealed Himself generally through the world He created and also specifically through the Bible. The observations we make in both arenas, alongside a life of prayer will push us along this path that will never end. In fact, even at the end of 10,000 years our knowledge of Him will still be incomplete. This ought not to leave us with a sense of futility but rather a grand sense of awe and wonder at such a great God.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jer. 9:23-24