Eternal life is scary.
At least it was to me as a child. Every time I pondered for any amount of time about being somewhere forever, an incredible aching formed in the pit of my stomach. An aching that would persist to the point of either nausea or panic attack, until I drove all thoughts of immortality out of my mind for the moment. I understood heaven was preferable to hell as far as eternity went, but I couldn’t fathom being anywhere for forever, no matter how celestially blissful it may be. Even Earthworm Jim gets old after you’ve beaten it for the seventeenth time, right? According to my concept of heaven, after a couple of years the monotony would be mind-boggling. We get to run on streets of gold. But then what? We get to swing on gates of pearl. But then what? We get to hang out with our deceased grandparents, Moses, and maybe one of the band members from Creed. But then what? It all seemed a bit…..boring after awhile. As an atheist coworker told me recently, “I don’t want to imagine being anywhere forever. I’d die of boredom being in one place forever. Especially if there are no dogs there.” Nine year old Bryan would have wholeheartedly concurred with that statement (the man who made the statement is nearly fifty years old!).
This sentiment of fear was held way before I came to the realization that eternal life and the book of Revelation was Christological and God centered; and nothing like anything I knew on earth (Revelation 1:1). In a word, the prospect of eternal life was frightfully boring to me before I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. After that happened, I learned eternal life did not primarily consist of an infinite quantity of time, but an intimate quality of relationship.
It was Jesus Christ Himself who graciously gave me a wholly adequate solution to my childhood dilemma in (John 17:3):
“This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God and the Son whom you have sent”
Here I found Christ never meant for us to be enamored with streets of gold, seas of crystal or gates of pearl; He wanted us to be enamored with Him. A heaven of harps and cloud loitering satisfies not, but one vision of His grandeur and glories will enrapture us for an eternity.
What Christ says about eternal life in his High Priestly Prayer would be altogether shocking and ludicrous to the passive bystander. This is an average Jewish carpenter with no political clout, no royal entourage, and nowhere to even lay his head. And to his concerned disciples he gives this sure promise hours before He goes to the cross, “You will get to know my Father and me forever.” The Islamic Extremist gets 72 virgins. The Hindu gets a better cultural status next time around. The cultist gets his own world and god-like state. The prosperity propagator gets his best life now and maybe a private jet. But Christ makes all of those false promises burn in the light of this one profoundly simple assurance:
“You get Me.”
“You get to know Me.” Clearly, this is a ridiculously audacious promise if we are talking about a mere Jewish man.
The greek word for “know” here is ginōskō, which is translated in three primary tenses:
1) to learn to know, come to know, get knowledge of perceive, feel
2) to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of
3) Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman
To “know” God, in its fullest biblical sense holds much more weight than an introductory understanding of bible stories or an intellectual assent to a few orthodox doctrines.
We are called to an intimate knowledge of God, so much so the word is used interchangeably in Scripture with the way only a husband could physically “know” his wife. You know, the way Joseph didn’t know Mary before Jesus was born? (Mat 1:25) We are given the same type of relational status only it is eternally deeper than that of human marriage. This is a spiritual relational intimacy a holy God has granted us through Christ from the foundation of the world. This union is not only for monks and ministers, it’s for any who belong to the bride of Christ. And it belongs to all who are being washed in the water of God’s word. (Eph 5:25-28)
Paul called the heart of the gospel the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4:4-6) You can find the glory of God in many places: Lightning storms, mountaintops and holding your first-born for the first time. But Paul says the highest point of the glory of God rests in knowing and beholding Christ Himself, His face, His person, and His work at the cross and resurrection.
Paul also called everything else a four letter word (in the original Greek) compared to the surpassing worth of the knowledge of Christ. (Philippians 3:8) That’s because Christ is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:17), who upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3), who sits on an unrivaled throne as King of the universe (Isaiah 6:1), in charge of angel armies (Heb 1:7), with eyes blazing with fiery holiness (Rev 1:14), a voice that thunders like crashing waterfalls (Rev 1:15), who made all things as all things were made for Him (Col 1:16), and will righteously judge the living and the dead at the end of time (Revelation 19:11). And this all culminates at the cross, where He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world for our sins (Rev 13:8).
Indeed, this is no mere Jewish carpenter. Through Him we are called children and heirs of God (Rom 8:16-17). That means we get God; we are afforded the incomprehensible privilege of knowing this God through Christ. This is what we received when we received the gospel, and it all happened at the point of our conversion. Which means eternal life doesn’t begin when we die, eternal life begins when we come to know Christ. Eternal life isn’t just then and there, but it is a here and now reality for those who are in Christ.
In Christ alone, the glory of God is made manifest to us. In Christ alone, the blazing holiness of God is made tolerable and accessible to us. In Christ alone, the righteous Judge has become a righteous Father. In Christ alone, we can know God and not just know things about Him in a second-hand way.
In the life to come, we will be eagerly chasing down the unsearchable riches of His excellencies; and after an eternity we will not have even reached the foothills of the majesty of King Jesus and His kingdom.
Better than wealth, health, fame, sex, food, relationships, toys, self-esteem and all the glory of the world combined.
You get Christ.
What more do you want?