“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3
Our concept of what is eternal life may actually fall short by a considerable margin. It is possible that we mention eternal life as a substitute word for salvation. In 1 John 5:11 we read, “God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” Our concept is that having received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour we have also inherited eternal life. It is helpful for us to give considerable time and meditation as we read the Bible as to what that actually means. It is not synonymous with salvation or a change in our way of life but it is an integral part of salvation.
In the verse at the head of this article and reading it in the context of Jesus’ prayer to the Father for Himself, His disciples and all those who will believe in Him, we have a more clear expression of what eternal life is. It is not just about going to heaven and it is not just about being saved from sin and its consequences. It is what Paul refers to as being made alive to God (Ephesians 2:1) which means that we are now able to having a living relationship and fellowship with God.
In this prayer Jesus is not praying for our salvation. The subjects of this prayer are already forgiven and saved. He is praying that they would have the same intimate relationship with the Father as He does and with Himself also. As we read the Gospel accounts we may be inclined to be a little jealous of the disciples who saw and spoke with Jesus every day. They saw the miracles and they heard His teaching first hand. However, though He is not physically present with us, as He was with them, He is none-the-less present with us every moment of every day.
Eternal life is the experience of living with Jesus and the Father day by day. In 14:23 John records Jesus saying, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My word; and My Father will love him and make Our home with him.” This is the closest personal relationship that we can experience in this earthly life.
In the later years of his life after all the other apostles have been killed and long gone, John writes, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Eternal life is a Gift in Christ, not apart from Christ, but it is not just a ticket to heaven that we keep in our pocket ready for future inspection. Eternal life is living in fellowship with Jesus Christ and the Father by the Holy Spirit here and now and forever. The potential has been ours from the moment we first believed. We now have the opportunity of nourishing it to maturity in readiness for that great day when we see Jesus face to face.