The certainty of death encircles and limits everything we do. There is not only the certainty that each life will end in death, but also the certainty that everything that exists will eventually somehow end—whether through dissolution, decay, destruction, or some other loss. Everything vanishes into the void.
Here is what Jesus is all about: life.
Describing his aim and his mission, he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
He repeatedly used the phrase “eternal life.” Famously, he used this phrase in John 3:16. We read that biblical phrase, “eternal life,” and we think of heaven. However, during those times in scripture when Jesus was clearly and directly talking about an afterlife in heaven, he did not use this phrase. He spoke of “paradise” (Luke 23:43) and “my Father’s house” (John 14:2). “Eternal life” is some concept that is distinct from this.
The Greek word in the Bible we translate as “eternal” is aionios. According to the concordance I have closest to hand, a more precise translation would be “perpetual,” which is a slightly different term. I would like to suggest the translation “timeless.”
The very reason we have time is because we have death. According to physicists, the directionality of linear time—that is, the sequence we’re locked into, in which one event follows another event in an order that can’t be reversed—is defined by entropy. Entropy is the tendency toward irreversible decay that is built into the nature of everything made of matter or energy. Through entropy, everything is fundamentally falling apart. What we experience as time is the shadow of entropy’s progression. Thus, we who live inside of linear time are, quite truly, passing through the valley of the shadow of death.
Yet here is what Jesus knows that physics does not: Get beyond this realm in which entropy rules, this realm in which death governs the system, and what you find outside the limits of this realm is not nothing, but life.
Moreover, what lies beyond the boundaries of this world is real life—abundant life—because it is completely unbeholden to time.
“Life after death” does not say nearly enough to describe it. “After” is still a time word. “After” leaves the life still subject to time, still bound inside of death. What Jesus brought could more fittingly be described as “life beyond death,” because now that we know the truth, now that we know about the ultimateness of life, we can look past the rulership of death in this very moment. We can look past it to the life that is timeless, and therefore indestructible, and therefore with us not only after this world is done but also right now. Indestructible life is the certainty that supersedes whatever aspect of death or loss os entropy is taking something away from us today.
We cannot envision this fully. The very brains with which we think are bound within linear time. But when the living God entered physicality as one of us, he conveyed the message as pointedly as it could be conveyed within the realm we do understand. When Jesus died and stood up alive outside the grave, he made two things clear: (1) death is not the final ruler of things and (2) the living God is. Scripture says that if you can get your head and heart around just the essence of these two ideas, then you will be saved from this world’s futility. See Romans 10:9.
In allowing humanity and history to witness his resurrection, Jesus opened a window in the material world. That window had always been there, and maybe a few people such as Enoch had found it, but for all of the rest of us, death was blocking the view. In rising from the dead, Jesus opened a window in the world to reveal the transcendent and welcome truth of the way reality actually works.
Looking through this window, we see that life wins. Death does not contain us. It is a joyful discovery. Free of the subjugation, free of grasping for temporary victories in a losing war, we can at last change direction and live a different way. Death (and entropy, and time), where is thy sting? Death does not contain us, and seeing this, we can also see the next point, which is that death does not have to constrain us.