What's the Deal with Eternal Life?

A few months ago my grandfather asked me what I thought about Purgatory. Well, I realized, not much. I had truly never spent time considering it. But since he asked me, since I’ve known that it weighs on his mind, it has weighed considerably on my own as well. What do I think about Purgatory? My protestant gut tells me that there is no such thing, but when he asked about it, I realized that I couldn’t really back it up with anything more than: I don’t see any evidence of it in Scripture. Which sounds all holy and stuff, but it didn’t seem a sufficient answer – to me or to my granddad.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about eternal life. I know, I know… We’re all supposed to want it. But it’s a little esoteric, don’t you think? Are we waiting for it to begin? Do I have to die first? What does eternal life have to do with my real life?

Jesus seemed to think that it had everything to do with our real lives. He was willing to lay down His own life to secure an eternal one for us. In a prayer to His Father just before the immortal God Himself submitted to death, Jesus said: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

As I was drying my hair today, it hit me. Eternal life isn’t about a place. It isn’t about Heaven or Hell or some holding tank called Purgatory. It is about God. It is about knowing Him. If we are in Christ, we are already experiencing eternal life.

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Eternal life doesn’t begin at our death. Eternal life frees us from death! Oh, sure, this mortal flesh that wearies and wounds and wastes away will finally give in to the decay of the world. But if we know Him, if we know God through Jesus Christ, our eternal life will continue even as our lungs exhale their last. Our bodies will die and return to dust, but our spirits will live on, continuing this eternal life that began the moment we spoke the saving name of Jesus.

I still don’t know much about Purgatory. But I know this: if we have called on the name of Christ to save us from our sins, everything that needed to be done to secure our eternal life has already been done. He has forgiven and covered every sin that we have committed. Every debt we owed has been repaid. We have been freed from the very death that our sins demanded. We have been freed not because we have been excused but because Christ took our place. He died the very death that we deserved. In a move that left the angels speechless, God Himself took on human flesh, and the Perfect One submitted to the punishment that fallen man deserved. And on the third day after His death, God emerged from the tomb, and eternity triumphed over the fraud of death. Jesus rose to offer eternal life to all who’d come, to all who would approach Him. He offers forgiveness, yes, of each and every sin. But He offers so much more: He offers life.

If Purgatory (or anything else for that matter) has anything to do with doing more in order to secure a right standing in the Presence of our God, then I’m certain that I don’t think it’s necessary or even possible. What more could be done? God Himself has paid our ransom.

There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament of Esther, who was a young Jewish woman selected for marriage to the Persian king who ruled over Israel. God positioned her in just the right place and time that she would be able to intercede for her people before the king who had signed a decree to annihilate the Jews. She went before the king, dressed in the royal robes that her relationship as his wife had afforded her, and she stood before him. The king, even though he was her husband still had the right to kill anyone who dared approach him. And so, with courage that did not lack a healthy fear, Esther came before her king. “When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of his scepter” (Esther 5:3). To extend the scepter was to grant audience to the one who dared approach the king. Esther found acceptance in the presence of the one she sought. The one with every right and all the power to kill her welcomed her into his court.

Likewise, when we come trembling and broken before the King, when we come humbly to the One True God whose very presence could strike a sinner dead, we find a King who has extended His scepter to us. The One with every right to kill and condemn came to be killed and condemned. He stretched those arms out upon the cross and gave up His very life in order to offer us ours.

I think there’s a real place called heaven, and I think that all who call on the name of Christ to save and redeem will be there. But I don’t think we have to wait for heaven to find ourselves in the presence of our King. I believe we can come before Him now, dressed in royal robes that Christ Himself has secured for us. I believe we can bow before His throne today. And I believe that when we dare to lift our faces, we will find His scepter extended. We will find an audience with the King. We will know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

We will have eternal life this side of heaven.

And when our flesh groans its last and these bodies lay lifeless, we will open our eternal eyes to find the very same King in heaven that we have already known here.

Do you know Him? Look toward Him now. Do you see the golden scepter, the very cross of Christ extended toward you? Draw near and reach your hand to the One who has already done all that was required to welcome you. We need only to come before Him to find His mercy, His grace and His very Presence.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)