When does eternity begin?
von Janos Hench, Pastor CityLight Hamburg
They say that in the light of eternity everything appears differently. But if that is so, how does that change my life in the here and now? What is the consequence for my deeds, my relationships, my personality? To answer that I have to face the big questions of life. Who am I and where am I going?
To get to the bottom of these things, I want to take a deep look into the Bible. The book that has more to say about eternity than any other and holds a mirror up to me as I try to examine it.
The Bible uses different words to talk about life. For example, there is the word “bios” which speaks of my daily life. The things I do to ensure my survival and to shape my life. Jesus uses this word bios, for example, when he explains the parable of the sower and says that the seed of God’s word also falls among thorns. He explains that there are some who do hear the Word of God and that a plant of faith sprouts, but then that little plant is choked by cares and riches and pleasures of the “bios” life.
In contrast, however, the Bible uses another word to talk about life. Namely, the Greek word “zoe.” This word speaks of eternal life. Jesus speaks of a narrow gate and a narrow way that leads to “zoe” life and that it is only a few who find it (Matthew 7:14).
So I would like to answer the question where the “Zoe” life begins and what it means. Because I realize that this life spoken of in the Bible with the word “Zoe” is so much more important than my everyday “Bios” life. But I also notice that this transient life occupies me much more than eternal life. But what is the reason for that?
So I try to find more verses that talk about the “Zoe” life. I’m struck by John 10:10 where Jesus says, “I have come that they may have ‘zoe’ life and have it abundantly.” Jesus is not only talking about life after death here, but about my life on this side of eternity as well.
So could this mean that eternal life begins today? In John 6, I find what I am looking for. Here Jesus does the miracle of feeding the 5,000. Many people now follow him, but he doesn’t seem at all pleased about it. Quite the opposite. He says things in this chapter that cause many to turn away from him. Jesus knew that people were following him only because he was doing miracles. He had given them bread, which they desperately needed to live. But that was not enough for them. They wanted more. When Jesus realizes this, he warns them and urges them to care not only for perishable food, but for food that will last into eternal life.
This strikes a chord with me. How often do I worry about the things that are perishable? Where are we going on vacation? What school should my children go to? What do I think about current political developments? But all too often I forget to take care of the things that will last forever.
But why is that? As a Christian, I know that eternity is a reality and therefore inevitable. Just like death. Hmm, that’s interesting, because death is another thing I don’t like to think about.
I’m beginning to think that I don’t often think about eternal life because I don’t like to remember the reality of death. Eternal life for me has always been something that awaits me after death, not something that is abundantly available to me here on earth. Perhaps I need to stop thinking of eternity as my future and start embracing it as my present, living in the light of eternity even now. Perhaps this will also change the way I look at the transient things of life.
But what is the food that endures into eternal life that Jesus speaks of? As I read on in John 6, I notice that Jesus says that he himself is the bread of life. And, of course, he uses the word “zoe” again here. He says that if we receive him into us, we will have eternal life.
As a result, many of his followers in John 6 leave him, saying that what Jesus is asking of them is hard. They don’t mean that it was hard to understand, but it was hard to implement. Jesus points out to the people that they followed him for the wrong motives and that eternal life is not to be found in it.
When I think about my own life and about our churches and communities, I wonder how many people strive for eternal life, that is, for “Zoe”, but then settle for “Bios”. One of the great messages of the Bible is that Jesus came to transform “Bios” life into “Zoe” life. I need to question myself where I am excluding Jesus from my daily life or where He is not first.
Jesus also wants to warn us not to follow him for the wrong motives. Not to think that just because I go to a church, I automatically have a ticket to eternal life.
No, I realize that eternal life is more. It starts here and now. And it means putting Jesus first in every area of my life.