Life Everlasting (Apostles’ Creed)


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” is the famous verse in John 3 (verse 16) that gives Christians hope for eternal life.  The Apostles’ Creed renders this phrase as “life everlasting” in the last phrase, but what does it really mean?

Eternal life does not just mean that we will live forever, but that we will experience the life we were designed to have — not just quantity (forever) but quality (relationship with God)! A key reason it is not about the length of life is  that some experience eternal life while others experience everlasting punishment (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:47-48; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10,14-15). Therefore, eternal life is not tied to a life that continues even after death, but rather the kind of life that one has. Existence, not experience, is at the root of eternal life.

The Heidelberg Catechism highlights that eternal life is not just something we look forward to (when we die or when Christ returns), but something we can experience now in anticipation of a fuller experience in the future: 

Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever (Q & A 58).

Let’s consider both the immediate and future elements of the idea of eternal life.

Eternal Life in the Present

The Bible gives an interesting definition of eternal life in John 17:3:And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” This definition of eternal or everlasting life means that eternal life is not something that begins once we die, but when we are brought into relationship with God through Christ. Elsewhere Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Note it is not that the believer will pass from death to life, but already has passed from death to life. The next verse also highlights how life is here now: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25, emphasis added). When we are brought back into relationship with God, we are experiencing the quality of life that we were designed for; we are made alive and have eternal life. But we still experience the attacks of our flesh, the world, and the devil that draws us away from God and keeps the world away from God’s design for it, so there still remains another hope. Jesus points to this in John 5 when he says that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

Eternal Life To Come

While we experience eternal life in the present, there is also a greater experience of this in the future. The Apostle John points this out in his first letter: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). While in one sense, the nature of this hope cannot be fully expressed in words or even comprehended by humans (as seen also in 1 Corinthians 2:9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”), the root of this hope is made clear in Scripture. While popular discussions of our future state often highlight the reunion with loved ones who believed in Jesus and the glorification of our mortal bodies in the resurrection, the focus of the future hope is found in the fact that we are with God and in His presence. Revelation 21:3-4 highlights that God dwells with His people, and as He dwells with us, there is no longer any of the pain or sorrow from this world:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” 

The Heidelberg Catechism notes the praise that comes at this moment and time; our everlasting life is found in the presence of God and leads to a welling up of praise to the one who has made us and saved us — not just from our sins, but for the life He created us for, the life in Him. Our hope is found in that we get to see God’s face (Revelation 22:4), which should be our longing in life (Psalm 27:4). May our worship of God now point us to our eternal state.

Balancing our Hope

We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Therefore, we believe that we will not exist as disembodied souls floating on clouds, but also that our hope is not just a renewed world, but being in the presence of God as we were meant to be. May this hope give us comfort now and also drive us to share this good news with those around us, as we live in a world that needs hope and comfort.

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