Featured Post

Introduction to Personal Bible Study - Videos (2007)

4 short introductory video studies First recorded in 2007, posted to GodTube in 2010  These short videos were made nearly 14 years ago. ...

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Rightly Dividing Eternal Life in Matthew and John

We've previously touched on the place of "eternal" life in a POST from last October. There we looked at the English words "eternal" and "forever" (etc.) and how they obscure the original languages. Today, I'd like to come at it from a more hands-on angle and concentrate on its use in Matthew versus its use in John.

We've previously noted that God's plan (His purpose for the ages) permeate both scripture's prophetic words and scripture's doctrinal words. It should be clear from even a cursory reading of scripture that God dealt with men (and angels) differently in different ages and that God has plans for this age and the ages (plural) to come.

Biblical ages are not tied to time as much as they are connected to conditions. 

Scripture speaks of

  • the age
  • the ages
  • the age of the age
  • the age of the ages
We see a similar pattern with the word "Day." Scripture speaks of "the day of Man," "the day of the Lord" ("the Lord's day), "the day of God," the day of Christ." These are also tied to conditions rather than to time.

The distinctions among the different application of "age" and "ages" are lost in the English use of "eternal" and "forever and ever," etc. We noted in the previous study how Young's Literal Translation sheds light on the word (we give the NKJV for a comparative). 

The Lord shall reign forever and ever! - Ex 15:18 [NKJV] 
Jehovah reigneth -- to the age, and for ever!' - Ex 15:18 [YLT]

We noted in our previous study how confusing the English translations can be.

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 as well as to the ethereal idea of "eternal.".
When the translators couldn't use "forever" or "eternal" they resorted to other words. We are always aware that context plays a part in our understanding of a word and its use, but we lose quite a bit when "since the world began" is seen as "since the age began," our understanding becomes clearer. 

But let us leave that there and focus in on "eternal/everlasting" life in Matthew and John.

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have [aionios] eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 
-Matt 19:16-17

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal [aionios] life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting [aionios] life.
-John 3:15-16

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting [aionios] life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
-John 5:24

We first note that all four words translated "eternal" or "everlasting" come from the same Greek word, "aionios." We pull back the lens and make the comparison. The Lord states in John that "aionios life" ("life age-during" [YLT]), is a gift by grace which is secured by faith. Period. Yet in Matthew, the "age-life" there is the result of keeping the commandments. We know that keeping the commandments (works) was never the path to the free gift of resurrection life. That idea is dismissed as impossible in the book of Romans and elsewhere.  

We should also see that "keeping the commandments" would have been impossible to men like Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. As the Ten Commandments were not given until the time of Moses. In fact, Israel was redeemed out of bondage to Egypt (a type of the world system) before Moses was give the Ten Commandments. The commandments given to Israel in Exodus 20 are specific to that nation, for a specific purpose: that she would be a kingdom of priests for the nations (Ex 19:5-7).

We turn back to Matthew to see that the "commandments" in Matthew 19:17 are a reference to a part of the Ten Commandments.

‘Which ones?’ he asked. ‘These ones,’ Jesus answered: ‘ “don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t tell lies under oath, respect your father and mother”, and “love your neighbour as yourself”.’

-Matthew 19:18-19

Now to those who try to use the words of the Lord here to teach salvation (resurrection life) by works or salvation by the Law or salvation by the Ten Commandments, they must follow through the entire passage.

‘If you want to complete the set,’ Jesus replied, ‘go and sell everything you own and give it to the poor. That way you’ll have treasure in heaven! Then come and follow me.’ When the young man heard him say that, he went away very sad. He had many possessions.

-Matthew 19:20-22

There are thus two things to contend with for the seller of works salvation. He must not only square that doctrine with the scriptures we have noted already, but he must define what the "treasure in heaven" is. Even in Evangelical circles the "reward" is equated with resurrection life in heaven somehow. This is another result of the dangerous heaven/hell and saved/lost approach to all scripture.

So how do we combine Matthew and John? The simple answer is that we do not.

Matthew concerns himself only with Israel. The Lord forbade the message of the Kingdom to be preached to anyone apart from to Jews (Matthew 10). He states that he was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15). We know that the New Covenant and the Feasts are given ONLY to Israel (Jer 31; Heb 8; etc.). 

John's gospel (written in a the Post Acts age) was for the whole world. The free gift of resurrection life (life from the curse of death) is now, and has been since Adam, by grace alone through faith alone. John does not concern himself with the "Last Supper," nor does he speak of the "new covenant/testament." These are earthly and not related to his ministry to the world. 

When we recognize the words "age" and "ages" and "age-enduring" and "age of the age" and "ages of the ages," the Lord's focus becomes clearer. The Lord was sent to Israel to proclaim the promised kingdom. All the promises to the fathers from Abraham to David (Rom 15:8) will be fulfilled, on earth, in the land of Israel. There will be a "kingdom" age, a "millennial" age. 

There are ages past. There are multiple ages future. The Post Acts epistle of Ephesians speaks of "every family" of God (3:15). Just as there are many ages, there are many families of God. These are words which encompass many things, but clearly show us delineations. 

Among the redeemed there are different hopes. Some will inherit the earth. Some will be in the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven to Earth. Some will have a "better resurrection" than others. Some have their hope in the far above the heavens

Matthew is speaking to those with the earthly hope of a place in the Kingdom. Even among his disciples, there is a question as to whom will sit at his left hand and his right hand in that earthly kingdom. We know the 12 are promised to sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel. This is Matthew focus.

We read of "sons of the kingdom" and "his servants" who will be "cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." Is this the loss of a free gift? Of course not. One cannot lose a free gift. The Lord warns the heirs of the earthly kingdom that their place in that Kingdom is based on obedience to his commands (see The Parable of Talents). Scripture speaks of Israel as his "servant" and individual Israelites as his "servants."

So, the "life of the age" the Jews sought in Matthew is life in the Kingdom age to come. The "age-enduring life" to which John refers is spiritual life in resurrection. There is also a judgment for our works, but the hopes and rewards and crowns are different. Whereas Israelites are looking for a place in that earthly kingdom age, and a place in the "New Jerusalem," we long for a special resurrection "out from among the dead," along with a Prize and other rewards and crowns for our faithfulness in this age.

But our obedience starts with this command in Paul's final epistle:  

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.

-2 Tim 2:15-16

If we don't want to be ashamed before him, we must "mark the things that differ" (Phil 1:10) and draw straight lines in scripture. One of the things which "differs" about which we must draw a line between is the use of "eternal life" in regard to Israel's Kingdom and the promise of resurrection life.