A photo capturing a serene sunset over a calm ocean, with a lone figure standing on the shore, symbolizing the eternal life promised in the Bible.

What Is Eternal Life In The Bible?

The concept of eternal life is central to Christianity and the hope of salvation that is offered through faith in Jesus Christ. But what exactly is ‘eternal life’ according to the Bible? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Eternal life refers to the unending life that believers in Christ will experience with God after death.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the biblical foundation for the concept of eternal life. We will examine relevant Old and New Testament passages that point to eternal life as the destiny of God’s faithful people.

Key topics covered include: the Hebrew background regarding life after death, Jesus’ teachings about eternal life, the writings of the Apostle Paul on the resurrection and immortal life to come, and the nature of the eternal state as depicted in Revelation.

The Old Testament Background on Eternal Life

The Concept of Sheol as the Afterlife

In the Old Testament, the ancient Israelites had a concept of the afterlife called Sheol. This was viewed as a shadowy underworld where all souls went after death, whether righteous or wicked (Genesis 37:35, Job 7:9). Sheol was seen as a place cut off from God’s presence (Psalm 6:5).

There are a few references in the Old Testament hinting that existence may continue in some form after death in Sheol, such as Samuel being summoned by the medium of Endor at Saul’s request (1 Samuel 28:3-25).

However, most passages depict Sheol as a gloomy, unconscious state of uncertain duration (Psalm 115:17-18).

Hints of Life Beyond Sheol

While Sheol was viewed as the destination after death, there are a few hints in the Old Testament of existence beyond this shadowy realm:

  • Elijah being taken up to heaven bodily without seeing death (2 Kings 2:11)
  • Enoch walking with God and being taken away because God “took him” (Genesis 5:24)
  • References to the “pit” or abyss (Job 33:18-30), implying varying fates after death
  • Several Psalms referring to being redeemed from Sheol or taken “up from the grave” (Psalm 49:15, Psalm 73:24-26)
  • Such passages have been understood as foreshadowing the later revealed truth of eternal life through Christ defeating death and offering salvation. The Old Testament people of God had some small glimpses there could be existence beyond the somber Sheol.

    Later prophets also speak of God ransoming his people from the power of Sheol and the grave (Hosea 13:14), and hint vaguely at everlasting life (Daniel 12:2-3). Over time, the revelation about eternal life became clearer for those who walked in faith with God.

    Old Testament view Later revealed truth
    Sheol seen as shadowy, unconscious state after death Conscious eternal life clearly promised for the redeemed through Christ
    Bleak, uncertain existence in Sheol Glorious life with God for His faithful people
    Temporal blessings emphasized Everlasting spiritual blessings emphasized

    To conclude, while eternal life was just dimly glimpsed in the Old Testament, later revelation through Christ brought fuller understanding of glorious everlasting life for God’s people beyond the grave.

    The hope of eternal life awaiting faithful believers became a resounding theme as God progressively revealed His redemptive plan across Scripture’s pages.

    Jesus’ Teachings on Eternal Life in the Gospels

    Eternal Life as Knowing the Father and Son

    In the Gospels, Jesus teaches that eternal life is about knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son intimately (John 17:3). This is not just intellectual knowledge, but relational knowledge based on love, trust, and fellowship.

    Jesus illustrates this using the metaphor of a shepherd and sheep – those who follow Him know His voice and receive abundant life (John 10:10-11). Eternal life starts when we put our faith in Christ and continues as we grow in our relationship with God.

    Jesus also teaches that only through Him can one receive eternal life, stating “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the exclusive gateway to know the Father and receive the gift of eternal life.

    This teaching scandalized the religious leaders of His day who rejected Jesus’ claims of divinity and uniqueness. But for those who accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, this promise of eternal life starting now and lasting forever was gloriously good news!

    Inheriting Eternal Life through Faith

    In addition to knowing God, Jesus presents eternal life as an inheritance for those who have faith in Him. When a rich young man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to keep God’s commandments (Matthew 19:16-17).

    But He also invites the man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him. Jesus knows the man’s heart and that his wealth is an idol preventing true discipleship. Sadly, the man refuses and misses the greater blessing of eternal life.

    This story illustrates that while God’s free gift of eternal life is received by grace through faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9), true saving faith transforms how we live. As James says, “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

    Living faith leads us to good works, willing sacrifice, and following Jesus above all. Eternal life is a promised inheritance we can only receive from God by repentant faith in Christ. The reward is worth any cost!

    Paul’s Letters on the Hope of Eternal Life

    The Promise of Resurrection and Imperishable Bodies

    In his letters, the apostle Paul frequently wrote about the hope of eternal life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. One key passage is 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul devotes an entire chapter to explaining the future resurrection and the nature of our immortal bodies.

    Paul starts by affirming that Christ was resurrected from the dead, and that His resurrection is the basis for our hope of being raised to eternal life as well (1 Cor 15:12-20). He explains that just as death came through Adam, resurrection of the dead comes through Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22).

    When Christ returns, those who belong to Him will be raised and their mortal bodies will be transformed into imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor 15:50-57).

    Paul uses the analogy of a seed to describe how our earthly bodies which decay and die are sown like seeds, and will be raised into new spiritual bodies that are incorruptible (1 Cor 15:42-44). He reassures believers that “Death has been swallowed up in victory” through Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:54-57).

    What an amazing promise!

    The Last Trumpet and Rising to Immortal Life

    Another key passage where Paul discusses the hope of eternal life is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Here Paul comforts those grieving over loved ones who have passed away, reassuring them that one day they will be reunited.

    Paul explains that when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise first. Then believers who are still alive will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:16-17). This will all happen at the sound of the last trumpet.

    At that moment, our mortal bodies will put on immortality! (1 Cor 15:52-53).

    Paul wanted to encourage the Thessalonian believers with this vivid description of the glorious future resurrection and eternal life with Christ. He closes by telling them to “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:18).

    Indeed, the promise of resurrection to immortal life is intended to give hope and comfort to all who trust in Jesus.

    The Nature of Eternal Life in Revelation

    A New Heaven and New Earth

    The book of Revelation in the Bible reveals awesome details about the eternal life that awaits believers. According to Revelation 21, God will create a new heaven and a new earth that will be free from sin, suffering, and death.

    This is an amazing promise of the eternal paradise that God has prepared for those who trust in Jesus.

    Some key things the Bible says about the new heaven and new earth include:

    • God himself will dwell with his people (Revelation 21:3). Imagining an eternity face-to-face with our loving Creator is incredible!
    • There will be no more tears, pain, suffering or death (Revelation 21:4). Praise God that all hardship will cease for eternity.
    • The city will be made of pure gold and adorned with jewels (Revelation 21:18-21). The beauty will be astounding.
    • The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into the city (Revelation 21:26). Culture and diversity will be celebrated.
    • The river of life and the tree of life will bring healing to the nations (Revelation 22:1-2). Access to the life-giving water and tree that once barred humans from Eden will be restored.

    What an awesome redemption this will be! As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” We truly cannot fathom the blessings and joy that await in eternity!

    The Wedding Feast of the Lamb

    Another incredible part of eternal life described in Revelation is the wedding feast of the Lamb. This illustrates Jesus, the Lamb of God, marrying his bride, the church (Revelation 19:7-9). An extravagant celebratory feast will take place to honor this glorious union!

    Just imagine reclining at a table overflowing with the richest foods and finest wines (Isaiah 25:6). The air will ring with laughter, music and dancing. And most amazing of all, we will be gazing upon the radiant face of our Savior Jesus Christ.

    To be a part of the joyous eternal wedding celebration between Christ and his people is more wonderful than our limited minds can conceive.

    Other details about the wedding feast include:

    • Fine linen will be given for the bride to wear, representing the righteous acts of the saints (Revelation 19:8).
    • Blessed are those invited to partake in this glorious feast (Revelation 19:9).
    • It will be a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). People from all of history and all cultures will join this astounding heavenly celebration.

    Truly, eye has not seen, nor ear heard the astonishing eternal life with joy beyond measure that awaits believers in Jesus. How awesome it will be to dwell face-to-face with God on a renewed paradise earth and participate in the grandest wedding celebration of all time – the marriage feast uniting Christ and his church!


    In closing, we have seen the consistent biblical witness regarding eternal life for those who place their faith in Christ. While terms and concepts evolved from Old Testament times through the New Testament era, the promise remains the same – unending life and fellowship with God in a restored creation.

    As Christ proclaimed, the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. This remains the blessed hope of all Christians as they follow their Lord.

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