Our Redeemer's Blog

Our Easter Season Theme: Eternity Begins Now

by Pastor Thomas Voelp

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

One of the most commonly-known verses from the Gospels, John 3:16 can seem a little cliched. Printed on all sorts of merchandise, painted on posters at baseball games, or even quoted during mic-checks–that is, thanks to marketing, the verse can often feel overused. For many of us, the appeal to eternal life – for a start – can often feel platitudinal. The sense of an “evangelical” hold on popular ideas of what Christian belief looks and sounds like play right into our interactions with John 3:16. And true, reading the fourth gospel can take on a transcendental tone. But if we scrape off the mass-market layers, underneath shows a gospel rooted and grounded in a very well-lived experience of God in the here and now.

Eternal,” especially in philosophical conversations, often means “outside of time.” That is, something eternal is effectively outside the influence of the physical world. Everlasting, on the other hand, describes people and things with a lifespan–things that decay or grow old. Our scriptures give us an image of everlasting life in this world–that long life is intended for us. Long life often is depicted as the sign of the presence of God, or God’s blessing or commending of righteousness. No doubt writers of the scriptures were wrestling with the reality of death. But then with everlasting life, death is a true end of life, and eternity is reserved only for God.

We describe God as eternal because God’s existence is somewhere “out there,” or “above” – the idea of sky and heaven being a place for God, whose home is on some other plane of existence. But this doesn’t give us the whole picture. For Christians, especially, God is very much present in this world–the omnipresent and always-moving Holy Spirit doesn’t allow God to sit back and watch. The very concept that the Spirit makes faith present, and faith active in love means that we are not independent from God’s works in, through, and around us. It is the truth that God is not just creator of the world, but fully engaged with it and has come down from heaven that we cannot see God removed from the world.

Many of us have also come to understand the well-marketed idea of heaven as the only option in a scheme of life, death, and eternity. But then the tricky part for Christians is resurrection – something you might say is more than a little relevant for the Easter season. “Good enough for Jesus,” we may think–Jesus was raised because he also was God. But then why speak of the resurrection at all if it has not effect on our lives? It is to this end that the Apostle, Paul, argues that resurrection–including our own–must be a reality for all people; “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised, if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Belief–faith–is dependent on resurrection. 

We have faith in a God who was killed, who died–who experienced a lifespan. We also believe this God also did not remain dead, but was raised to eternal life in a body that would not decay. It is in this scheme, that we, too, must wrestle with death and eternity. 

If our lifespans do not limit our life with God, and if we also are raised in bodies to eternal life, and–what is more–God lives even now in this world by the Holy Spirit, then eternal life does not begin at death–it begins now.

This Easter season, consider the eternal life that is before us. Not coming with the arrival of our deaths, but with the raising of Christ Jesus. Eternal life with God is not something far-off, as if God is not already present here and now. The radical vision of John’s gospel is that this is a God whose promise of eternal life does not begin after we go to heaven, but when heaven spills over and breaks into this world. It is when everlasting life becomes eternal life, as God sends the Son to do the work of the one that sent him–to be the cause, effect, and promise of faith in the Living God. The promise of eternity comes to fruition when we proclaim Christ raised from the dead.

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