Acts 1:12-14, 1 Peter 4:13-16, John 17:1-11
On the Gospel, This Is Eternal Life
Three gates lead into the magnificent cathedral of Milan. Over one gate is an inscription which says: “The things that please are temporary.” Over the second gate is the inscription: “The things that disturb us are temporary.”And over the central gate is a big inscription which says: “Eternal are the important ones.” We tend to understand eternal life as meaning life without end. But eternal life as used in John’s Gospel implies not just a superlative quantity or duration of life but also a superlative quality. Eternal life differs from everlasting life which is merely quantitative. The devil and his angels have everlasting life in that they never die. But they do not enjoy eternal life which is a life of perfect happiness and peace in union with God. What the human soul desires is not just everlasting life, but eternal life, a life of perfect union with God which cannot be diminished neither in duration nor in satisfaction. This is the life that Jesus gives, as he says in John 10:10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” To have eternal life is to be fully alive.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus points out the way to eternal life. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Some people are surprised that John talks about “knowing” rather than “believing in” God. But knowing is used here in a typically Hebrew sense, as something that happens between two people, not as something that takes place in one’s head. You know somebody in this sense when you have a personal, intimate relationship with that person. The word describes two people united in an intimate relationship of love, e.g. “Adam knew his wife Eve” (Genesis 4:1). The knowledge of God that leads to eternal life is not intellectual but relational.
Eternal life demands “that they may know you, the only true God.” To understand this better we need to insert the adverb “as” between the two parts of the statement. The statement would then read, that they may know you AS the only true God. It is a statement that has meaning in a context where there are many competing claims to divinity. At the time of Jesus the Roman emperors claimed to be gods and were worshipped as such. But Jesus maintains that eternal life lies in recognizing that there is one, only true God, the God that Jesus calls his Father, and that every other person or thing claiming to be God is false.
To identify the many gods of our time we need only ask ourselves, “What persons, ideologies, or institutions today demand of us an unquestioning allegiance.” Several answers come to mind: (1) Secret cults and movements such as Heaven’s Gate. (2) The worship of the self in which the good life is understood as the ability to indulge in self-gratification. (3) Unmitigated capitalism in which human values are rated according to their monetary value. (4) Blind nationalism which believes that everything is justified in the name of national security and that might is right. The list goes on. Jesus invites those who seek eternal life to give absolute allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ as the only true God. Every other idea or institution is to be evaluated by how they stand in relation to the values of the kingdom of God.
Eternal life demands knowledge of two things: they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Here again we need to insert the adverb “as” to clarify the meaning. So the statement would read, they may know you AS the only true God, and Jesus AS the Messiah/Christ whom you have sent.” The basic Christian faith of the early church was the faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The important significance of this confession is that the one true God who in Himself is invisible and unknowable has made Himself visible and knowable in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God. He is Immanuel, God with us. The life and teachings of Jesus, therefore, become for us who are on the way to eternal life, the standard by which the words of any person or institution in this world are to be judged. We know the only true God and we know Him through the one he has sent to make Him known, the Messiah Jesus.
Everyone is looking for long life and the good life. Eternal life is unending good life. This is what we all seek. Jesus today tells us how to attain this all-important goal of life. We need to cultivate an intimate, personal relationship with God and with Jesus the Messiah whom He has sent to make Him known to all humankind.