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“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:35,36).

THERE MAY NOT BE A MORE PREGNANT PHRASE IN THE SCRIPTURES THAN “ETERNAL LIFE.” It conveys a wealth of meaning beyond our present ability to understand (and certainly beyond my ability to describe). At the very least, let’s avoid the mistake of thinking that it is different only in that it lasts longer than our present life. It is indeed “eternal” because it is unending, but more than that, it is of a different quality. It is not only longer, but it is better.

Notice that Jesus unequivocally affirmed that eternal life is “in the Son.” When Jesus said that he who “believes in the Son has eternal life,” He made a claim we must either accept or reject. But the witness of the writings in the New Testament is unmistakably consistent: Jesus Christ is the path to eternal life. At the end of his book, John said that he had written of Jesus’ signs and wonders “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

But notice the contrast John makes in 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Having separated ourselves from God by our sin, we stand in the realm of God’s condemnation, and if we refuse the pardon God graciously offers, then condemnation is where we shall stay. If a person rejects God’s forgiveness, he can only expect God’s justice — “the wrath of God remains on him.” Between the grace of forgiveness and the justice of punishment, there is no third, neutral category.

Which motivates you more? Is it the joy of eternal life or the horror of eternal death? It is fashionable these days to downplay the fear of God’s wrath as if that motive were merely old-fashioned and not appropriate as a factor in modern people’s thinking. But in the Scriptures, the wrath of God is presented as the stark alternative to His blessing. The fact is, the world stands under the judgment of God, and the gospel entreats us to turn to Jesus Christ “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

“Life eternal is the supreme good, death eternal the supreme evil” (Augustine of Hippo).

Gary Henry — +

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