When Christ the Saviour saves us, we possess eternal life. I don’t know what “eternal” means to you but to me it means everlasting life, not a life that stops at death and starts again later.
If we have eternal life now, what of the very present reality that death takes believer and non-believer alike? Either we must conclude that there is more than one meaning to “eternal life”, or that we don’t understand what Jesus meant.
What if our soul or spirit had eternal life now, even though the body dies? With such a belief, we could have eternal life, yet appear to die.
The problem? The Bible does not support this belief. It says clearly, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). Again, “And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that prophet [Jesus], shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23). Additionally, if our soul goes to heaven immediately at death, what need for a resurrection of the body? Why would the apostle Paul have said that “if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then also those which have fallen asleep in Christ have perished?” (1 Cor. 15:16-18).
It is not going to heaven at death, but the resurrection that is the center of the believer’s hope.
How, then, can we understand Jesus’ words about having eternal life now?
According to other Biblical statements, the true believer has not the possession of eternal life but the sure hope and promise of it. Refer to the words the apostle Paul addressed to Titus, that we live “in hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2), and that we are made heirs “according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). He said also that “ we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:24-25).We are saved by hope. The apostle John wrote that “this is the promise that he has promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
John wrote: “Beloved, now are we children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be: but we know that when He is revealed, we shall see Him for what He is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, Just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Note that everyone who shares this hope purifies himself as Christ is pure, so that he can qualify for the fulfillment of the promise.
Jesus said that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). If we have eternal life now by promise and in the future as a possession, then we can understand both Jesus’ statements and those of His apostles. Eternal life is possible, yet it is not given until Jesus comes and bestows it on each faithful servant. And eternal life, once given, will indeed be everlasting, without interruption, for Jesus will change our mortal, corruptible bodies to be like His own glorious, immortal one (Phil. 3:20-21).