Getting past the simple understanding of eternal (which is actually too complex)
Hopefully, at this point, we should know to test the traditions in Christendom. We must test the things that differ. We have seen the dangers in the simple dichotomies of saved/lost and heaven/hell. We have noted that certain common doctrines are not found in scripture, but rather are mythologies molded to fit scripture (and vice versa).
We noted in a recent study how scripture deals in terms of time. This is a necessity as we are creatures of time and we have great difficulty understanding concepts outside of time. Evolutionists cannot grasp the existence of matter with no beginning and no end so they simply ignore the problem of the "no start / no end" within the construct of time.
Carl Sagan, in his "Cosmos" series, places the "Big Bang" at about 15 billion years ago. He offers the question in regard to what happened before that and concludes it's not worth asking. This is a necessary backwards period for Sagan as the problem would never end. Matter would have to have always existed, organizing and disorganizing itself endlessly for no reason according to no physical laws except those it would violate. It is assumed there is no beginning and all things continue as they always have. Time has n meaning, yet they are bound by it in a purely physical universe.
We worship a God who is outside of time, but we're not
This is a high concept and our limited minds fail us as we try to process the thought. However, we are not bound by the laws of time in our interpretation of God. When we understand that time is the stage upon which scripture is revealed, however, we must limit our interpretations, then, to time. We can leave intelligence beyond scrutiny. We can assume intelligence and understanding as part of the creation as we readily observe it. We can conclude it exists beyond matter-only, whereas the slave of the matter-only universe must answer the question in terms of time.
Further, he has to explain his very thoughts and emotions in purely physical terms. Every thought must be the result of some random chemical reaction (emphasis on random). To suggest there is something beyond random chemical reactions is to admit to the existence of that which is beyond the physical and to that which is not random.
We must not confuse things bound by time with things not bound
We will leave that quandary there and move back to Christendom and its attempt to frame things not subject to time in terms of time. Rather, insisting that we see words which suggest a limitation in time and forcing them to fit the false heaven/hell dichotomy.
Our English bibles use phrases such as "forever and ever." This is a nonsensical phrase if we apply the common understanding of these core words. This is not a study simply about the word "eternal" per se, but "eternal" has a similar problem for the English reader. Even without the addition of "and ever," the word "forever" is often misunderstood when we equate it with "endless" in terms of time. "Eternal" is lumped in with these as well.
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. -Jude 7Obviously, Sodom is not still burning. We see a similar pronouncement concerning the gentile nations who come against Zion in a coming age. The smoke of their destruction is said to rise "forever" (Is 34:10). Both of these thoughts suggest that the destruction and punishment are without change. They shall last throughout time without revision. But they certainly do not mean that the suffering in Sodom and the smoke rising from the nations are, as God, without end into a timeless future.
Ages and beyond
Young's Literal often gives us "age-enduring" instead of "forever." As for the confusing "forever and ever," let's look an example.
The Lord shall reign forever and ever! - Ex 15:18 [NKJV]Jehovah reigneth -- to the age, and for ever!' - Ex 15:18 [YLT]
Even here, Young gives us a more reasonable concept. The God of Israel will reign to the end of the age and from there on out. This is better application to the earthly kingdom expected and promised to David and Israel. But even Young falls short here, I believe. He leaves us with an undefined concept in "for ever." We cannot apply that to the examples we just reviewed. Of course, it can be argued that the context gives the meaning, but I know of no English speaker who would accept different meanings for our word "forever."
In the Greek, we see the words "aionios" and "aion" translated as "forever and ever." But when they used separately, "aion" is given a variety of translations: “world”, “course”, “age”, “eternal” as well as being part of "since the world began." It is a word well-connected to earth and time s well as to the ethereal idea of "eternal.".
Such translations of a word that can range from a “world” which had a “beginning” and will have an end, to “eternity” which confessedly has neither, are too wide to be of service, especially when the choice depends largely upon the theological views of the translator. (Excerpt - Berean Expositor, Vol. 42)
The Hebrew equivalent is "olam." Staying with Mr. Welch's examples, let's look at the diversity of use in Ecclesiastes.
In the book of Ecclesiastes the word olam occurs seven times, and is translated in the KJV as follows:
- “The earth abideth for ever” (i. 4).
- “It hath been already of old time” (i. 10).
- “No remembrance . . . . . for ever” (ii. 16).
- “Set the world in their heart” (iii. 11).
- “It shall be for ever” (iii. 14).
- “A portion for ever” (ix. 6).
- “Man goeth to his long home” (xii. 5).
Mr. Welch (ibid):
Such variety provides no connected thought, but a consistent translation of olam reveals a definite line of teaching. Olam in Ecclesiastes.
A | i. 4. The earth abideth to the age.—The passing generation.
B | i. 10. It hath been already in or to the ages.— Nothing new under the sun.
C | ii. 16. No remembrance of the wise more than of the fool to the age.— Forgotten in the days to come.
D | iii. 11. He hath set the age in their heart.— Beginning to end of God’s work past finding out.
C | iii. 14. Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be to the age.— God’s work remains.
B | ix. 6. Neither have they any more a portion to the age.— No portion under the sun.
A | xii. 5. Man goeth to his age home.—The passing generation.
We start to see a more consistent understanding of the word. We something similar in Ephesians with aion, but we shall leave that there. So, as we start to limit our "forever and ever" to the boundaries of time, we start to see that "eternal" is more of a heavenly experience than a timeless concept.
A quality and not a quantity
We see that "eternal" is more of a quality of something rather than a quantity. When we understand that, we can apply it to "the gift of eternal life." We can have eternal life now, yet we can each experience it in different ways in this age. That is, while all believers have eternal life now, some will "lay hold" of it in the current age and in our current fleshly life while others will not.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. -John 5:24When we believe we have "everlasting life" as a current possession.
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. -John 17:1-3In the true "Lord's prayer" of John 17, we see the nature and quality of "eternal life." It is a gift and it consists (in this age) of knowing "the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Paul prays for believers that we may have a "knowledge of him" (Eph 1:17). In Colossians, he emphasizes that Christ is the eternal life which is hidden in God awaiting revelation.
For when Christ shall appear, your life, then also ye shall appear with him in glory.So, we have "eternal life" now, but we shall experience in full at His appearing.
Lay hold on eternal life now
In this life, we can experience some of the quality of that life in the inner man. The gift is unconditional, while the experience is conditional.
But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life [laying hold on the life age-during - Young's Literal], to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. -1 Tim 6:11-16This is parallel to the gift of resurrection (wherein we experience and "put on" immortality). Resurrection is assure the believer. It is a gift. It is true life. However, there are ranks in resurrection (1 Cor 15:22-23) and there is a special "out from among the rest of the dead" resurrection to which we may attain. As with eternal life, there is the free gift and the reward via obedience.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the [out] resurrection [Gk: exanástasis] from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead... -Phil 3:8-13We may also have a harvest [reaping] of eternal life as a result of our walk.
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. -Gal 6:8Since we are stuck, as it were, in time, in ages, we can only speak of life in terms of time. So, we have "eternal life" and we can "lay hold of eternal life" and we may "reap eternal life."
Let us now put all these thoughts together:
- Eternal Life is found in the Son of God
- Eternal Life is a free gift
- Eternal Life is something we have now
- Eternal Life may be grasped and lived in now
- Eternal Life is the result of investing our energy into the new nature
So, how can something that is a free possession also be something that must be grasped and something we reap from the life we lead? This can only be understood if we see "Life" in terms of quality and not in quantity. I can live in "endless time" now. I cannot grasp "endless time" now. I cannot earn "endless time" in addition to "endless time." Life cannot be a free gift from which I have already passed into from death and also something I must earn
We must understand it to be a quality of life in and outside of time. And we must never forget the first point and the hope in Colossians; Christ IS our Life!
For when Christ shall appear, your life, then also ye shall appear with him in glory.-Col 3:4
And this is the testimony: that God has given us [free gift] eternal life, and this life is in His Son. -1 John 5:11
For the wages of sin is death, but the [free] gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Rom 6:23In young's Literal translation of Romans 6:23, he renders it, "the gift of God [is] life age-[en]during in Christ Jesus our Lord." The context of Romans 6 is life we are living now. The free gift of life will not suffer any threat in the age or ages to come.
Do we have any suggestion of life beyond time? I think we do see this idea in two passages. In 1 Cor 15, when we have received our new tents in resurrection, we see the idea of men finally becoming "immortal." But before that in the chapter, we see the end of death itself and a condition wherein God is all in all.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. -1 Cor 15:20-28Eternal Life is experienced in time and outside of time. It is part of the "ages." It has different applications in different ages. It must also be rightly divided. The rich, young ruler asked how he could have eternal life. The answer he received (keep the commandments) is different than the answer we have, but not altogether different. There was a condition for him to enter fully into blessings promised to Israel. For us to enter fully into the blessings in our hope, we must also "walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called."
But if we stay in the saved/lost or the heaven/hell dichotomy, we will never be able to reconcile these things. We will never enter into the deeper things of God.