Eternal life and the kingdom of God belong together, and you can experience them right now.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus at night and complimented him saying that Jesus was sent from God. That is clear enough from the signs which he had been doing. Jesus deflected the praise from this man and told him what he needed to hear.
“Truly, truly I say to you if anyone is not born again, he is unable to see the kingdom of God … If anyone is not born of water and the Spirit, he is unable to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5, my tentative translation, and yes, other translation say “unless he is born again”). Matt. 25:34 and 46 says that the righteous will enter the kingdom prepared for them before the creation of the world (v. 34) and they will enter eternal life (v. 46). So why do I bring up these seemingly disparate Scriptures? They link the kingdom of God with eternal life.
Let’s look at more Scriptures.
Being born again means that the person has believed in Jesus, and they shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Matt. 19:16-30 links eternal life and life in the kingdom. A rich young ruler asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus cited some verse in the Ten Commandments, and the young man claimed he had kept them. Then Jesus shot in the one thing the man had been missing: Surrendering his money because his money had him. All his loyalties must be focused on Jesus. He went away sad. Then the disciples asked who could enter the kingdom. Peter added that they had left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus said that if they have done that, you will have eternal life (v. 29). Once again the kingdom and eternal life are linked. Eternal life, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven (same as the kingdom of God) all belong together.
However, all of these verses make it seem like the kingdom and eternal life are in the future. True? Yes, eternal life does belong to the future. When we inherit the kingdom, we will put off our mortal or physical bodies, which are dying right now, anyway, and we will live in transformed bodies (1 Cor. 15:50). On our being born again, our bodies are dying. So eternal life involves the redemption of our bodies in the future. Therefore the kingdom of God and eternal life belongs to the future. We will belong to him and be trouble-free from the cares of this world.
But does eternal life (and the kingdom) belong to us now?
Yes. Jesus said that he has come that we may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10). So Jesus came to give us eternal life (and the kingdom) right now. So the Age to Come has invaded our living in our mortal bodies and our lives, while we live in this present evil age. If anyone believes in the Son or she had eternal life (John 3:36). Anyone who hears Jesus’s words and believes in the one who sent him (the Father) has eternal life … and has passed from death to life (John 5:24). We have eternal life (and the kingdom) right now; it is our possession. The Age to Come belongs to the future, when the kingdom and eternal life—our life then—will be fully manifested. Our bodies and our minds will forever healed and whole, never getting worn down. Yet the Age to Come has entered This Age. We can now experience the blessings of eternal life now.
So what is eternal life?
First, John 17:3 says that eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent. So eternal life is knowledge, but this knowledge has to be directed towards two persons: the Father and the Son. It cannot be open ended knowledge. We must know God through his Son, and we must have fellowship with him. We must experience the Father in Jesus’s name. Knowledge means a personal relationship with him, not merely a set of beliefs that define Christian theology. This knowledge goes beyond quoting a Bible verse or the Apostles Creed. I can know a personal intimately and not just read a biography of him. I can have friendship with God. Eternal life means we have been brought into fellowship and personal relationship with God. Eternal life means we have become his people now. Eternal life means that we know the truth and it impacts our life. Eternal life means that the future has become present.
However, this knowledge is partial. We know in part and see in a mirror dimly, Paul said (1 Cor. 13:12-13). In Roman times a mirror was polished metal, and it was not perfect or complete. The could see themselves, but not clearly. So we should approach our knowledge of God and the Scripture with humility and love.
The second meaning of eternal life is that God’s Spirit lives in us. A person must be born of Spirit, and the Spirit blows where he wills (John 3:5, 8). Our bodies will be raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42-44). A spiritual body is one that is energized by the Holy Spirit. Mortality will be swallowed up by eternal life (2 Cor. 5:4). God has given us the earnest or down-payment of the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:5). Further, Eph. 1:13-14 Paul writes: “In [Christ] when you have heard the word of truth, the good news of your salvation, when you have believed in him, you were sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, which is the down–payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of those who have acquired it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14, my translation, emphasis added). The words “down payment” can also be translated as “guarantee,” “first instalment,” “deposit,” or “pledge.” The Spirit, therefore, is the deposit of our ultimate inheritance of our now-redemption, an inheritance we will fully receive in the Age to Come.
So what is a guarantee or deposit or first instalment? Let’s say you want to buy a house. The seller will not complete the transaction if you just give him your word. He won’t give you the title or the keys if you bring your friends with you, who vouch for your integrity. So what will cause him to complete the sale? A down payment of money, and a substantial amount, at that. We can experience life in the Spirit right now, in the present evil age, but this is only a partial experience. We will fully experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Age to Come. Until then, the Spirit is our down payment.
So how does this post help my growth in Christ?
Eternal life and the kingdom of God belong together. They are both in the Age to Come and in This Age. We can experience them both right now, but we will experience them more fully in the future. In Rom. 8:23, Paul says the Spirit is the firstfruits of our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies. So what is firstfruits? Let’s take the example of a fruit tree. Is the blossom firstfruits? No. There is no fruit. Are the leaves? No. Are the little green fruit that appears? No. That’s much too early. The first fruits are ripened fruit, and the harvest begins. Then you can bite into the fresh fruit and enjoy the juice and flavor. That the firstfuits—the beginning of the harvest. It is a time of great celebration. But it is more than the promise; we can taste them now; it is reality; it is possession. And so it is the Spirit. We can have the Spirit now and we can experience the eternal life and the kingdom now.
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES
7 Life of the Kingdom
At that link, look for Ladd.