By Ryan Bridgeo
The most famous verse in the Bible is probably John 3:16. We see this verse posted on billboards and signs at large sporting events. But many people, even in the church, do not understand what it really means.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Many have been taught that the reason Jesus came to this earth was to die for their sins so that they could go to heaven after they die. This is true; He did die for our sins, and believers will go to heaven when they die. But this is only part of the story and only part of the verse. It also says: whoever believes in Him should not perish but have [or receive] everlasting life [bracketed words added]. Some translations say “eternal life.”
What does this mean? Does this mean that if we receive Christ, we will never die? Obviously, we know this is not the case. Even the great Apostle Paul died a physical death. Besides that, Hebrews 9:27 says, “And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment …” Unless we experience the rapture of the church, we will all die eventually.
So, what does “everlasting life” or “eternal life” mean? If you remember, in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned, they were eternal, meaning they would live forever. They would still be around today if it was not for the fall. There was no such thing as death. Death was not a part of God’s original design and plan.
God told Adam that if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would surely die. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they stopped being eternal. Death entered them, and they started to die physically. It took many years, but they gradually died. Eternal life was gone. Adam and Eve actually experienced two deaths. They physically died over time, and they spiritually died instantly. When they ate from the wrong tree, sin, and death entered the world and would impact every person who would ever live.
Not only did Adam and Eve die physically and spiritually, but they gave their dominion and authority over the earth to the devil. When they ate, all authority they had received from God was transferred to the devil. We can see this in Luke 4:5-6, “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish …” All authority that belonged to Adam and Eve was delivered over to Satan when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and obeyed the devil.
Now, if you remember, the Tree of Life was another tree in the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life is a type of Christ. When God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden, He placed an angel to block the way back to the Garden and eternal life. This was actually an act of mercy because God did not want them to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in their fallen, sinful condition. Death was, in fact, an act of mercy until sin could be officially taken care of.
John 3:16 reintroduces the thought of everlasting life that has been forgotten about since the days in the Garden. But what is everlasting life, and when does it begin? Does it begin after we receive Christ or after we die? To answer this question, let’s first define “eternal life.” Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life is not living forever on this earth, or even in heaven. Real eternal life is knowing the only true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. This is not a “knowing” like you would know of a famous person or having intellectual knowledge of something. This is knowing in the way Adam knew his wife (see Genesis 4:1). This is an intimate knowledge of Father God and Jesus Christ. We now have the privilege of intimately knowing God.
So, when does eternal life begin? Is it after we go to heaven or right now? According to John 3:16, when we believe in Christ, we receive eternal life. Eternal life is knowing God. Since Jesus paid the penalty for sin, those who have faith in Him for their salvation have eternal life. Life begins the moment we place our faith in Christ. We read in 1 John 5:11-12, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Praise the Lord! Christ died not only to forgive us of our sins but to bring us back to the Tree of Life, back to the place of intimate fellowship and relationship with Him, back to the original place where there is no death but only life in Him.
Ryan Bridgeo is the Pastor of Plumtree Church in Avery County, NC. If you would like to know more or how you might become involved in this ministry please reach out to Pastor Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-765-6919.
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