JOHN 3:16? WHAT IS ETERNAL LIFE?
Whether you grew up in church or not, there is a good chance you can quote John 3:16 from memory. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Like most of us, you probably think that this “eternal life” is a synonym for “going to heaven when we die.” But that would not be the truth.
Let’s look at the word eternal for a moment. It is the word “aionios.” Helps Word Studies defines it like this: Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn (“an age, having a particular character and quality”) – properly, “age-like” (“like-an-age”), i.e. an “age-characteristic” (the quality describing a particular age); (figuratively) the unique quality (reality) of God’s life at work in the believer, i.e. as the Lord manifests His self-existent life (as it is in His sinless abode of heaven). It (aiṓnios) does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (165 /aiṓn) it relates to. Thus believers live in “eternal (166 /aiṓnios) life” right now, experiencing this quality of God’s life now as a present possession. (Note the Gk present tense of having eternal life in Jn 3:36, 5:24, 6:47; cf. Ro 6:23.)]
The word “eternal” actually refers to an age, or a quality experienced in an age of history.
But that word modifies another one, the word life, or “zoe”:
Original Word: ζωή, ῆς, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Phonetic Spelling: (dzo-ay’)
Short Definition: life
Definition: 2222 zōḗ – life (physical and spiritual).
So eternal life, which we thought meant going to heaven when we die, actually means, the life of the age and was being experienced already by believers in the NT.
You will not find a verse that says “eternal life” and “heaven” are the same thing. It is just not there.
On a quick note, remember that from the cross to AD 70 is a transition from the Old age of Law to the New Covenant age of the Kingdom. The end of the age, was the end of the Old Covenant age when Rome destroyed Jerusalem 40 years after the cross (within one generation).
WHAT IS PERISHING?
Well, let me define one more thing please, because there is a huge misconception about “perishing”. We again are reading into a text what Evangelicalism has taught us. We think “perish” means “hell”. (see Will God Destroy One’s Soul in Hell)
The word “perish” isn’t a spiritual term, but a literal term to describe the death associated with those Jews who would die in the fires of AD 70 if they didn’t trust Christ and abandon the Old Covenant Law before it was too late.
Notice Jesus words to them (not us) warning them of perishing in a literal death just like the others: Luke 13: 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell YOU, no; but unless YOU repent YOU will ALL LIKEWISE perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless YOU repent YOU will ALL LIKEWISE perish.”
We see the same thing in Mark 4:38 when the disciples were frustrated with Jesus because they feared they would die. There is no sense here of them going to a place called hell. They feared drowning: and he himself was upon the stern, upon the pillow sleeping, and they wake him up, and say to him, ‘Teacher, art thou not caring that we perish?’ (YLT)
So what is this PHYSICAL and/or SPIRITUAL AGE of LIFE?
It is the age after the Law, after AD 70. The believers before were already experiencing it as they abandoned the end of the age of the natural Jerusalem and natural priesthood, and tasted the powers of the “AGE TO COME” (Hebrews 6:5). We live in the period of history now where “they will all know me crom the least to the greatest”.