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HOW TO LIVE FOREVER - A THEMATIC STUDY IN GOSPEL OF JOHN
by Louise Lee
12/21/2013 / Bible Studies
The desire to live forever is in the hearts of all mankind. Humanities studies and ancient civilization had testified to this. While "living forever" is still an unattainable myth among the Gentiles, God revealed the "how" to His people more than 2,000 years ago. Among the books of the Bible, Gospel of John contains the most material on "how to live forever" and is most explicit in its presentation. In this regard, this study seeks to explore the development of the major theme of "eternal life" in the Gospel of John in its meaning to the intended readers, giving attention to two chiastic passages (1:1-18 & 11:1-4), and conclude with application for today's readers.
The phrase "eternal life" first appears in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemis (3:15), which had only been used once in Daniel 12:2 in the Greek Old Testament. The idea of eternal life is implied by the prophets in their pictures of the glorious future promised to God's people. This phrase brings home the concept the Jews had in mind - the righteous will rise ONLY in the Last Days. However, there was no specific way of obtaining it revealed in the Old Testament; this forms a gap in the understanding of "how". John bridges this gap by firstly refuting their wrong concepts among the Jews and at the same time introducing Jesus Christ as the only way from the introduction (1:1-18) to the actualization in Jesus' death and resurrection (18-20:29), and in conclusion (20:30-31). Jesus is being presented as the "life" itself, which is obtainable in the present life.
DEVELOPMENT OF "ETERNAL LIFE" THEME
Life and eternal life are used interchangeably in John's gospel, with the later, fuller expression predominating (16 times in John's gospel) and the term "life" typically serving as shorthand for eternal life. "Life" is the subject virtually in every chapter in the first half of John's gospel. "ζωη" is the Greek word used for life in John, denotes God-kind of life, originated from God. John emphatically equates Jesus with this life from his introduction (1:4).
Separately but interwoven, John presents Jesus' word-pictures concerning the eternal nature of this life: the living water that is a spring welling up to eternal life (4:10-14); living bread as compares to "manna" that endures to eternal life (6:27). John takes the readers further to Jesus' words of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to live forever (6:54). It is not by studying the Scripture, but coming to Jesus himself (5:39); not by obeying the Laws, but by obeying the Father's command and come to the eternal life (12:50).
These natural things deployed are for pointing readers to the spiritual fulfillment in Jesus. The simple truth to the readers then was: having faith in Christ's death and resurrection brings eternal life (cf. 6:63) and (later) bodily resurrection (cf. 6:39-40,44).
TWO FOCAL PASSAGES
John highlights the key to "how" this life can be obtained in the focal points of two chiastic passages: In the 'Introduction' passage 1:1-18, v.12 "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God ", and in 'Raising Lazarus' passage 11:1-43, v. 25-26 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." NIV
Again, the qualifying factor is clear: believe in Jesus and you shall have eternal life to all who believes for the Jews as well as for the Gentiles. "Believing" is here a Greek participle construction in the present tense, meaning that a believer is characterized by his continuing trust.
As Gentile readers of John's gospel today, "eternal life" message gives assurance to us that salvation is for all of mankind and the world, not just for the selected ones or the Jews. John 3:16 explains that God initiated His salvation plan by love, through sending His Son, and that we are not condemned if we believe in His name. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; He is also the resurrection and the life, we could live forever by having faith and trust in His name today. The message of "How to Live Forever" is not meant to be kept as secret, but to be shared to the world.
(My first illustrated book Psalm 23 for Kids is now available at amazon.com)
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