Life began “in the beginning” with God.
John begins his gospel by explaining to us that the Word was in the beginning and the Word was God. We know from John’s testimony, that the Word that was God was in reality Jesus, the son of Mary, the Son of God. I can imagine John, after many years, making the decision to write an account of what had gone on in those amazing years that he walked with Jesus. In all likelihood he would had in his possession a copy of Mark’s gospel as well as Matthew’s and Luke’s. When we compare the Gospels we see that what he wrote was different in style and in some cases in information provided. He didn’t need to do the birth narrative. That had been well done especially by Luke.
John goes on to say that this “Word” was life! Not just physical life that we experience as we breathe and move about but spiritual life as well. Let’s look at the narrative provided by God through Moses.
The word that we translate “God” in the beginning of Genesis is Elohim in the Hebrew. Elohim is a masculine plural noun. We know that God is plural: Father, Son, and Spirit!
Let’s skip over the day-to-day account of the creation and get down to our ancestry. The first chapter has an outline of mankind’s creation. The second chapter has a more complete description. Now, let’s look at the Scripture in Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Immediately we see God — Elohim — identify himself as a plural being. “Let us make man” rather than “I will make man”. Yet, when he referred to mankind — Adam — we have an interesting play on words “in the image of God he created him”. The “image of God” describes mankind first as masculine and then as “male and female” added to the formula. Then the word says “he created them”!
Let’s move on past the summary account and go to the more complete description of the creation.
Genesis 2:5-8 tells us, “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
Some Bible scholars believe that there are two different accounts of the creation. I certainly do not agree with that! As I said, I believe the first account is an outline and the second is a more complete description. For those who think each day described in Genesis 1 really is a long period of time that may have covered millions of years need the record to be separated. What we see in Genesis 1 is the dividing of the land and the water which left the earth wet and the seed placed in it would begin to grow. Genesis 2 describes exactly that scene. “No bush in the field was yet in the land.” That was on the third day and mankind was made on the sixth day.
We do not have a clear account of the passing of time following the seven days of creation. We do know that as beings were created who breathed they received that breath from God. The man was left without a companion of his own kind. Again, we do not know how long this situation existed. Knowing men very likely a large amount of time had to pass before Adam noticed that it was just him and God with all the rest of the creation around him. What we do know, and that is all that is necessary, is recorded for us in Genesis 2:15-17 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
The man had responsibility for working and keeping the garden that God had made for him. We do not know exactly what “working” and “keeping” consisted of. I don’t believe it involved hoes and shovels. At least, not until after the Fall. There may have existed a more intimate relationship between the man and the garden than we can understand. Perhaps, Adam spoke and the garden responded. After all, he had been made in the image of God and God had spoken it all into being! Staying with the concept that God said he had created man in his own image there are some things, I believe, we can assume from that statement. The life that man received when God breathed life into him was God’s life. We really do not know much about how that life works. We do know that the life of God is eternal. The wording “eternal life” seems not to appear in the Old Testament. The lack of those two words together in the Old Testament does not mean the concept of eternal life did not exist in Old Testament times.
One of the clearest examples is in the book of Job. We need to remember that Job’s lifetime was very early in history. There appears to be no written scriptures. The descriptions of animals found in the book might indicate a time before the flood (Job 40:15ff). Job certainly had a belief that life goes beyond death. Let’s look at Job’s testimony found in Job 19:25-27. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”
The first time I can find the two words together — “eternal life” — is in the story of the rich young man. Eternal life was assumed by the rich young man who came to talk to Jesus. That story is found in Matthew 19:16-22. As a religious person the rich young man fully believed that he needed to do something in order to have eternal life. He asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus’ answer doesn’t fully help us much if we think the way the young man did. First, Jesus asked a question. “Why do you ask me about what is good?” God is the only one that is good. It may be that Jesus was trying to get the young man to say that he recognized that Jesus was God. After all, Joseph had been told that the baby Jesus fulfilled the promise “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means “God with us”! I believe we can quote the accounts found in the Gospels and the Book of Acts openly because, as Paul would later say, “this has not been done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26). There were no secrets.
The life that the young man was asking for — “eternal life” — could only be God’s life.
Eternal life does not have a beginning or an end! When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ he or she does not receive an extension of human life. That would be a very sad situation. We do not need our life extended we need our life replaced! Salvation gives us God’s life and it is eternal in both directions. We certainly can assume that John, the disciple/apostle, was present when Jesus had this conversation with the young man.
John’s Gospel combined with his first small letter has the phrase “eternal life” 22 times. More than any other book of the Bible.
After Jesus confronted the young man with his bondage to material things the disciples were disturbed. They asked the troubling question. “Who then can be saved?” You see, they did not have the wealth of the young man in their hand but they had it in their hearts and they knew by that time that what you have in your heart is what really counts. Jesus responded, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus then assured them that surrendering all to follow him will result in inheriting eternal life.
We need to go back to the Garden of Eden. There was one tree in the garden that God had told Adam he could not eat of it because “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” They did not immediately die physically. However, they did die spiritually. And they did eventually die physically. If they had died physically — we would not be here! Nor would there have been any other people to occupy the earth.
We tend to forget that there were two special trees in the garden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Let’s look at the tree of life. Adam and Eve were removed from the garden and an angel was placed there with a flaming sword to keep Adam and Eve away from the tree of life. If they ate from it they would live forever in their sinful condition. Nothing could have been worse for them.
The tree of life will be restored to the people of God after the return of Jesus. In Revelation chapter 22 the river of the water of life will flow from the throne of God. That river will provide for the tree of life that will bloom perpetually. From that time forward there will be nothing accursed (Revelation 22:1-3).
I hope the background I’ve given you is enough for you to understand what I’m going to say. In recent years, whenever I have the responsibility of speaking at a funeral I try to be careful to include the idea that death is a gift! In 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, Paul is writing to the church in order to move them away from boasting in men. And he says that “all things are yours”. With that statement he lists some of the men that the Corinthians were looking to: Paul, Apollo’s, or Cephas. Then he adds words that indicated a different concept. Not only are all of these leaders theirs but also the world, life, death the present or the future — all are yours. We understand and rejoice in life but not in death. Death serves an important purpose. It is either the gate of heaven or the door of hell! As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ We should be able to rejoice when it comes time to face death. F. W. Bourne tells of the rejoicing in the heart of Billy Bray. Billy was a tin miner who was powerfully saved and became a preacher. He could not be silenced! On the occasion of the death of his wife, Joey, we are told. “The sickness of a child, the death of a wife, were powerless to silence his voice, or to repress his joy. It is said that when his wife died he was so overpowered with the thought of his "dear Joey" having escaped from earth's toils and sufferings to the rest and bliss of heaven, that he began to jump and dance about the room, exclaiming, "Bless the Lord! My dear Joey is gone up with the bright ones! My dear Joey is gone up with the shining angels! Glory! Glory! Glory!" "Here," he would say, "we have a little bitter, but it is mixed with a great deal of sweet."
Today it is very common to have someone refer to life as the preferred choice over death. I try not to rebuke the person but I will gently say something like, “Being alive, or on the right side of the grass, means that I am not in heaven yet.”
In Romans 8:37-38, we are given a list of things, or conditions, that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That list begins with “neither death nor life…”. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
During his life on earth Jesus told a story that usually referred to as “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. Since it is considered a parable most people believe that it’s just a fairytale. Well, I don’t believe that! If Jesus tells a story it is true! During his time on earth he had access to everything that ever happened and it was simply a matter of him choosing the story to tell. Luke tells us story in Luke 16:19-31 let me summarize it for you. There was a rich man who lived the life of the rich and powerful. There was a poor man, named Lazarus, who sat by the rich man’s gate. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to where Abraham was. The rich man died and was buried in found himself in Hades. He was in torment and could see Lazarus with Abraham far away. The rich man said that he was in flames. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool the tongue of the tormented. When he found that could not be done he asked for Lazarus to go back and warn his five brothers. Abraham’s reply was they have Moses and the prophets and if they do not hear them they will not be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. Exactly what Jesus did! He rose from the dead and they still will not believe!