The Prayer of Jesus in John 17 concerns itself with three great themes. Eternity (John 17:3), unity (John 17:20-21) and love (John 23-24, 26).
John 17:26 is particularly important because, for Jesus, love and unity are aspects of eternal life. He does not picture eternal life apart from love and unity. (cf. 1 John 3:14, 24).
So, then, what is eternal life?
Eternal life is what happens when mortal man is united with the Heavenly Man through love.
For the materialist, life is all downstairs. If there is life upstairs no one knows about it. In Eastern religions, life is all upstairs. It’s an endless cycle designed to quench the desire for the created world. In Islam, life is either upstairs or downstairs, but the two are worlds apart and never the twain shall meet.
In the Gospel, life is both. Everything upstairs makes its way downstairs so that we can lay hold of it.
The Gospel deals with the chasm that stands between man and eternity.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believes on Him that sent Me, has eternal life and shall not come into judgement; but has passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
This is eternal life that they may know you, the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
In the gospel, a Heavenly Man is sent. He puts on mortal flesh and absorbs the judgement of God against man in Himself. He rises as a Man, but now with immortality which He shares with us.
Eternal life came through a Man. A real man with flesh and blood. Jesus is one of us.
He was born here. He laughed, cried, grew up and worked as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth. He drank wine at weddings and fished with friends.
Rather than despise creation, He affirmed its goodness by not only enjoying it but more importantly, by dying in order to redeem it.
Jesus’ thoughts were on humanity. He fed us, healed us and celebrated life with us. But He did all of this in light of eternity with His eyes firmly fixed on His Heavenly Father. Which is to say, He lived here, but He lived according to a pattern that came down from heaven.
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Jesus was in the world, but not of it, and this made Jesus controversial.
He divided the world in two, yet united creation with eternity by rising from the dead with immortal flesh. He led a life that bridged Heaven and Earth, and then He bridged it for all creation.
In the most wonderful way, the Gospel solves the age-old problem of man’s desire for eternity. Man’s desire to lay hold of the infinite and still be a man, still be human.
Eternal life does not take place in some other realm. It’s invaded this realm.
If Jesus had taken off to Heaven in a chariot, there would be no bridge. If Jesus had simply died, we would all just wind up as food for worms. But, in His coming as a man and in rising from the dead and promising to return, eternal life set up residence here: Permanently.
This creates a curious tension. It means we are both pilgrims passing through as well as an indigenous people, here to stay.
Jesus taught us to hold on to the things of this world lightly since our citizenship (not our home, but our paperwork), is in heaven. But He also taught us that it’s from heaven that we await a Saviour.
Jesus prayed that the disciples might be with Him where He is and to see His Glory. But He also prayed that they not be taken out of the world. We are taught to be not conformed to the things of this world. Yet, we are also taught to become all things to all men, that some may be saved.
We are taught to fix our eyes on Jesus in Heaven. But we are also told to build, and water and sow and feed orphans here and now. We are taught that we are pilgrims seeking a better city. Yet we are also taught that the city is coming down here.
We are taught not to put our hope in things that perish. But we are also taught that the meek shall inherit the Earth.
We live here and now, we taste, we love, we see and we embrace the created world. And we do it with our eyes fixed on Jesus, knowing Jesus. This is eternal life.
For the consistent materialist, all that matters is now, since there is nothing to come. For the mystic, nothing here matters because everything that is worth having is yet to come.
But for the Disciple of Jesus, living in the light of eternity, everything matters now because of what has come.
If you are able to say, I believe the one true God and the Son whom He has sent, you have eternal life. And if that is true, then in addition to the love and unity you enjoy with God and His people, we might also expect to see a good deal of evidence for that faith in our daily lives.
We have passed from death to life. We of all people can afford to wait. And so we are becoming a patient people. We are not going anywhere, really. And if we do go, Jesus fully intends to bring us back here with Him at the resurrection. And so we have hope.
We enjoy liberty and a clean conscience. We have been set free from condemnation and will no longer stand trial for our lives. Christ Jesus has taken our trial upon Himself.
We can afford to be wronged. We can take the lower seat at the table because we are learning humility. We are enabled by this hope to endure in the midst of suffering and temptation.
We know that our labour will be richly rewarded and so we plant and plough and build.
And finally, we can live like those who have counted all things as loss if it means that we might gain Him and know Him and the power of His resurrection, and thereby, in the end, gain all things through Him.
Jesus isn’t a detour. He is not a signpost pointing to eternal life. He is eternal life. And that life has come down. He is not a means to an end. He is the beginning and the end.
To know Him is to have eternal life. And to adorn our lives with His life is to begin living that life now.