In “how to receive permanent life” Jefferson Vann shows how and when believers in Christ will receive permanent life from him.
John in his Gospel consistently puts forth one major theme: the promise of permanent life (ζωὴν αἰώνιον). Jesus is the one who promises this permanent life. He makes this promise to various people, in different contexts, and using different wording, but the promise is clear and constant. John often abbreviates the phrase ζωὴν αἰώνιον to simply ζωη (life). But it is always clear that he is accentuating Jesus’ promise of a resurrection from this temporary life to a permanent one.
In today’s text, Jesus explains how to receive this permanent life.
John 12:46-50 I have come as light into the world, so that every believer in me would not stay in the darkness. If anyone hears my statements and doesn’t keep them, I am not judging him; because I did not come to judge the world but to rescue the world. The one who rejects me and doesn’t receive my statements has this as his judge: The word I have spoken will judge him on the last day. Because I have not spoken on my own, but my Father/Sender himself has given me a command which I should say and which I should speak. And I know that his command is permanent life. That is why I am speaking the things that I am speaking just as the Father has said to me.”
John uses the term light (φῶς) for Jesus numerous times in his writings. In a previous article, I noted that the typical idea in scripture is that darkness is lack of revelation from God, or lack of obedience to that revelation, resulting in darkness and death. Light, then, is the revelation from God that makes obedience and life possible. This is why Jesus describes his coming into the world as light coming into a dark place.
What exactly is the revelation that brings light to the dark place? It is Jesus’ statements. I use the word statement to translate the Greek ῥῆμα (hrēma) here. It is essentially a synonym for word – which is clear from the appearance of λόγος (logos) as its parallel in vs. 48. Danker1 defines ῥῆμα as “a communication consisting of words’, frequently with a nuance of importance or special significance.” So, we can imagine that Jesus was referring to all of his official pronouncements, declarations and sermons.2 Such a general definition would lead us to conclude that the Gospel authors have effectively captured and recorded all of these statements.
- John 3:34 Because the one God sent speaks God’s statements (ῥῆμα), since he gives the Breath without measure.
Jesus has the Sacred Breath (the Holy Spirit) without measure. That means that the words he says are the exact words that God is breathing out. They can be trusted to be an exact revelation. Any other human’s words would have to be checked and double-checked for accuracy. But Jesus gives us the statements straight from God’s mouth.
- John 5:47 But if you don’t trust what he wrote, how will you trust my statements (ῥῆμα)?”
This does not mean that everyone recognizes God’s words as Jesus says them. Just as there are many who choose not to trust the things Moses wrote, so many refuse to trust what Jesus said, as witnessed and recorded by the Gospel writers.
- John 6:63 The Breath is the one who makes someone alive. The flesh is not at all useful. The statements (ῥῆμα) that I have spoken to you are breath and are life.
Resurrection terminology is found from Genesis to Revelation. Here, Jesus uses it to explain why his statements are so important. He calls his statements breath (πνεῦμα) and life (ζωη). Without breath, the flesh is not at all useful because it is dead. With the breath breathed into it, flesh can have life. Jesus’ statements are the animating breath which make the resurrection unto permanent life possible.
- John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, whom would we go away to? You have the statements (ῥῆμα) of permanent life.
Peter recognized this truth. He knew that he and the other disciples could find no one else who could bring about their resurrection unto permanent life. He also knew that believing and trusting in the statements that Jesus made was essential to receiving the promise that Jesus was making – a promise of resurrection on the last day.3
We must be careful of our hypothesizing about what “eternal life” means apart from these specific statements and promises by Jesus. It has been common among evangelicals to give lip service to the idea of resurrection but to describe eternal life as if it were an esoteric relationship which bears little relationship to the coming resurrection day. That is a mistake. The permanent life that Peter and Martha talked about, and that Jesus pronounced, is inextricably linked to the coming resurrection. As Paul later explained in 1 Corinthians 15, without that resurrection, we Christians are hopeless.
- John 8:47 “He who is of God hears the statements of God; that is why you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
God is involved in the process of proclamation of his statements. He is revealing truths concerning himself and his plan for delivering people from darkness and death. Those who are not part of that plan will reject those statements. But those who are of God hear them. The first step in receiving permanent life is hearing what God has to say about it through Christ’s teachings.
- John 10:21 Others were saying, “These aren’t the statements (ῥῆμα) of someone who is demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind can it?”
The miracles of Jesus were the evidence to back up his sayings. And the sayings themselves had the earmark of veracity and truthfulness. Those listening to Jesus understood this two-fold evidence. They knew that his words were believable.
rejecting permanent life
The opposite of receiving Christ and his statements is called rejecting him – and them. This verb ἀθετέω (atheteō) refers to the act of setting something aside as unworthy of consideration.4 Jesus was basically saying that if a person chooses to ignore Jesus and his statements, it will be those statements which will be the basis for that person’s condemnation at the last day.
receiving permanent life
To receive the permanent life Jesus promises is to take him up on his promise. John uses the word λαμβάνω (lambanō) – the ordinary word for take – to indicate this action. The image being conveyed is that Jesus has a treasure of great worth to offer. Some will take what he has to offer, but others will reject it by failing to believe what he says. In this remarkable passage, Jesus explains just when it will become evident who has received and who has rejected. This revelation of who is in Christ and who is not in Christ will not happen at death. It will happen at “the last day.”
Why is it so significant for Jesus to mention this point in this context? With only one exception (referring to the last day of a feast)5 all John’s references to the last day are about the coming resurrection.6
So, if we get our permanent life on the last day – resurrection day – how can we take it today? The only way to indicate a desire to take Jesus up on his offer of resurrection life is to take in his sayings and live by them.
previous articles in this series:
Christmas light December 15, 2017
The desert snake January 5, 2018
having life, or awaiting wrath January 23, 2018
Spring up, Oh Well February 8, 2018
The dead will hear, and come out February 13, 2018
sustenance and sacrifice March 13, 2018
tripping over words November 29, 2018
life from above January 31, 2019
excess life February 13, 2019
the resurrection is Jesus March 6, 2019
how to keep your soul March 20, 2019.
- Frederick William Danker with Kathryn Krug, The Concise Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament, © 2009 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved.
- For example, John 8:20 He spoke these statements by the treasure room, while teaching in the temple.
- John 6:39-40,44, 54,11:24; 12:48.
- John 7:37.
- see note 3.