When Do We Receive Eternal Life?

(This article is an excerpt of my book, The Coming Kingdom of God.)

Christians regularly use the phrase “eternal life.” Yet I believe our use of the phrase far exceeds our understanding of it. For most, it means simply to escape the penalty of hell after death and to instead go to heaven.

Others add to this knowledge by realizing there is an aspect of eternal life we may experience now. A real sense of freedom from guilt of sin. A deep knowing that one is a child of God. An unfettered joy that transcends circumstances. An intimacy with God that makes everything okay.

Eternal life is all of this…but more.

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We Receive Eternal Life Now–And Later

We receive some benefits of eternal life now. But we receive the fullness of eternal life and its unlimited benefits when the Lord returns at the end of the age. This is when the saints receive new, eternal bodies, and the Lord becomes Ruler of all the earth. (See 1 Corinthians 15, Daniel 7, and Revelation 5 for a full description.)

The passage below shows Jesus speaking of the present and future tense blessings of eternal life:

Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Mark 10:28-30

We will focus on the words “…the age to come, eternal life.” Actually, it’s “eternal life” I want to talk about. As I stated above, we regularly use this phrase without thinking about its nuances. Let’s look at the definition, dispensations, and features of eternal life.

In this passage, Jesus promises His disciples they would get eternal life “in the age to come.” But don’t we have eternal life now? Why does the Lord speak of eternal life as something we get at His appearing if it’s something we already have? It is because of the two-fold aspects of eternal life.

It is something we receive immediately at the moment of true repentance and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is also something we receive when the Lord returns to set up His kingdom. What is this something? You may be surprised.

Jesus Christ Is Eternal Life

Brilliant light coming out of empty tomb of Jesus.

Eternal life is not a mystical something given to us like a package from FedEx.

Eternal life is not a declaration of God’s forgiveness.

Eternal life is not a new human spirit.

Eternal life is Jesus Christ.

It is correct that true repentance from sin and faith toward God secure both His forgiveness and a new human spirit “which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Yet, this only happens because Christ enters the person’s life and abides through the Person of the Holy Spirit.[1]

Here are a few Scriptures to help you understand this truth:

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.

1John 5:11-12

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

Romans 8:9

When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Colossians 3:4

It is correct to say believing on Christ (that is, the biblical definition of believing) saves a person. But it is helpful and more complete to understand the details of that statement. It is what believing on Christ does the instant we believe on Him that saves us.[2]

When we believe on Christ, we are washed from our sins and spiritually made new. It is at this indistinguishable moment that Eternal Life, the Son of God through the Holy Spirit, takes residence in our life. So, we see that eternal life is not simply life that doesn’t end. But, instead, is actually the Person of Christ in us producing this life.

Since He is eternal life, this life cannot be an entity or quality that exists apart from Him. Again, it is not like receiving a package of eternal life from FedEx. Something that leaves the deliverer’s hand and now rests in our own.

A transaction that would effectively make us independent owners of eternal life rather than God. But eternal life does not exist independently from the divine Fountain from which it originates and is sustained.

It is like the river of life that flows from the throne of God and the tree of life on either side of the great river. We have full and gracious access to them both solely because the Owner grants us access to partake of that which is His.

Eternal Life In The Age To Come

The eternal life we receive at conversion and in the age to come is Jesus Christ. However, there is a distinction in what degree of Christ and eternal life we experience now and that which we experience in the age to come. This has to do with dispensations–special periods of time.

In this age, we experience Christ in a hostile environment behind enemy lines and through the veil of fallen flesh, which wars against our every attempt to know, love, and serve God. It is a time of trials and testing of our faith to determine its genuineness.

It is a time of sin, imperfection, weakness, violence, sickness, disease, and death. It is a time of interacting with God through prayer, and then waiting for an answer from the invisible God, which may or may not come.

The phrase in Mark 10:30, however, speaks of eternal life in the age to come.

No more sin, sickness, disease, or death. No more praying and wondering whether God heard our prayer. For “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

This is the age of being with God, unimpeded by the flesh, and seeing Him face to face:

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God…they shall see His face.”

Revelation 21:3; 22:4

I stated earlier in this section that we normally use the term “eternal life” without truly appreciating the depth of what it means. It’s so much more than not going to hell. Or dying and going to “be with God,” and having not the foggiest idea of what that means.

To have eternal life in this present age is to have and experience Christ and His promises in a limited measure under the most challenging conditions. In contrast, to have eternal life in the age to come is to experience the fullness of Christ and His blessings forever without contention.

(This article is an excerpt of my book, The Coming Kingdom of God.)

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[1] Titus 3:3-6

[2] I make this distinction to show that salvation is not fundamentally our action that saves us but His. We believe on Christ for salvation, but it is the Christ on whom we believe who becomes our salvation. We have salvation because we have Christ.

Eric M Hill

Eric M Hill is an author, blogger, YouTuber, and Bible teacher. He has written sixteen books. He is a member of the Authors Guild and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

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