I recently explored this topic in a paper for my Johannine Theology class (a class studying the theology presented in the books of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation). In Sunday School as children, and perhaps even in certain contexts as adults, we are taught that eternal life is that which will begin after we die and go to heaven.
When Jesus prayed for His disciples before being arrested and crucified, He said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). And at an earlier time He declared, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:10b-11).
At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus - that incredible, powerful reality that allows us to claim eternal life through faith.
So again, remembering and considering the Resurrection of Christ, what is the eternal life that God has offered us?
I think the movie Tuck Everlasting gives us a picture of what eternal life is not - as well as a beautiful hint at what eternal life is.
Tuck Everlasting is about a girl who meets the Tucks - a family who inadvertently found a spring that gave them immortal life when they drank from it. But while their way of life is unhurried and leisurely, and they don't have to worry about disease or death, they aren't exactly happy. Angus Tuck says at one point, "What we Tucks have you can't call livin'."
And it isn't living. The point of eternal life is not endless days. The point, as Jesus Himself declared, is a relationship with God:
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
Eternal life isn't endless, meaningless days without God. That is hell. "Eternal life" here on earth is not what we truly desire or need. True eternal life begins when we believe in God - and it continues on through eternity, beyond death.
The glimpse of this in Tuck Everlasting is found in the line, "Do not fear death. Fear the unlived life." It's a great reminder of the message of 1 Corinthians 15:54-57...
"So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"Do not fear death. Fear the unlived life."
(Movie image from tribute.ca.)