I Believe in the Life Everlasting
53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
The Last Line of the Apostles’ Creed
We’re almost there! Today we look at the last line of The Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the life everlasting. And so the Creed that began with Creation — I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth — now ends without an end. We affirm our belief today that this life is not all there is, that there is a life that extends beyond our ability to see or know completely and that is the life everlasting.
You will remember that last week we spoke about the resurrection of the body. We discovered that we are not disembodied spirits — that’s Greek or Roman thought, not Christian theology — but rather we are given new bodies, changed bodies, spiritual bodies unlike anything we can imagine.
Some scholars speculate that this line of the Creed was added at a later date, and that is entirely possible. The reason it was added, some think, is because in both Greek and Latin the word for “resuscitatation” and “resurrection” are the same. But there is a big difference in the two ideas.
Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was resuscitated. Jesus brought him back from the dead — and he really was dead and everybody knew it. But Lazarus died again. So, perhaps some of Jesus’s followers were confused at the idea of the resurrection of the body. It’s great to be raised from the dead, but were they going to die again?
This last phrase clarifies and expands on the phrase we looked at last week — “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” So, not only are we going to be raised from the dead, we aren’t going to die again. That’s the whole point of “resurrection” — resurrection is the defeat of death and the triumph of life, and this phrase in the Creed affirms that the resurrection life in Christ goes on forever — everlastingly.
But what of this life everlasting? The renowned skeptic and atheist, Bertrand Russell, said that the worst thing he could think of was an eternity that did not end because it would be incredibly boring. I must agree with Russell in the sense that I do not look forward to eternity either if it’s going to be boring. Fortunately, the life everlasting is not boring. Let’s take a look at what we can find out about it from the passage we read today, and from others as well.
The Life Everlasting Is Given by Jesus and Sustained by God
Jesus is teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, the city he went to after he was rejected in his hometown, Nazareth. There is some support for the ancient belief that Simon Peter’s house was in Capernaum, and that Jesus stayed there while in the city. In Capernaum the ruins of a 4th century synagogue were found about 1900. But, it was almost 100 years later that archaeologists discovered that the 4th century synagogue had been built upon the foundation of a much older structure from the 1st century. That foundation was most likely the foundation of the synagogue in which Jesus delivered this “Bread of Life” message.
This is very early in Jesus’s ministry, and his references to eating his flesh and drinking his blood are totally lost on the disciples. His hearers still don’t get it even when he says —
“This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
They do understand the reference to manna in the desert. This of course was the way God provided, the way God sustained the lives of the people of Israel during the 40-years they spent wandering from the captivity of Egypt to the promise of the land of Canaan.
You know the story — because they are nomads, pilgrims, they cannot stop to plant and harvest. God provides from them each day an amount of manna which was sufficient for that day’s provision. On the day before the Sabbath, God provides two days’ worth so they do not have to do the work of gathering on the Sabbath.
Now flash forward to the New Testament, to Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. We call it The Lord’s Prayer, and in it Jesus tells us to pray for God to “give us this day our daily bread.” Just as God had sustained Israel in the desert one day at a time, Jesus reminds us to pray that God will do the same for us.
And, that daily sustaining comes from God, both now and in eternity. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and God sustains us in eternity through the work of Christ on our behalf. In other words, the life everlasting is a life provided by Jesus and sustained by God. The life everlasting is similar to God’s provision for Israel, but something greater and more lasting than the manna. After all, those who ate the manna all died. Those who partake of the life of Christ all live.
The Life Everlasting Is a Difficult Idea
Some of those who heard Jesus had real problems with what he was saying, and John says “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” They turned back to what? To their old beliefs, to their old way of life, to their old ideas and old fears.
- They turned back because they could not believe that anything greater than the Exodus experience could ever happen to the people of God.
- They turned back because they could not believe in life that goes on forever. After all the first century was a difficult time. Life was hard, conditions were rough, mortality was high, hope was in short supply. This business of another life, a life eternal, a life everlasting was too mystical for them.
- They turned back because they missed the real work of God.
- God created and loves us, and God has a wonderful plan for our lives.
- Sin has separated us from God.
- God sent Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead to bring us salvation.
- Trusting in Jesus is the way to gain eternal life.
- God did create us, but God also created the world, the universe, the Garden of Eden, all the plants, animals, the earth, the sky, the oceans, the fish, the air, all living things, and us — human beings. So, we are part of and one of God’s creations.
- Everything is going along just fine in this new world that God has created. So well, that God sees everything God has made and says after each and every creative act — “That’s good.”
- And when God creates humankind, Adam and Eve, we are the high point, the culmination of creation. We are uniquely made in the image of God, and God breathes into us the breath of life. The word for breath and spirit in Hebrew are the same, so in essence God breathes the Holy Spirit into us this new creation we know as mankind. So far so good.
- God places Adam and Eve in a lush, wonderful fully-stocked garden. They have to do a little caretaking, but basically all their needs are met, including companionship with God. Everyday, God meets them in the garden.
- Until one day, Adam and Eve don’t show up to walk with God. God goes seeking for them, finds them hiding because they are ashamed at their nakedness. God knows what has happened, but God leads Adam to confess that he has sinned, he has disobeyed God. Adam confesses that he sought to be god himself, rather than obey God. Of course, Adam tries to lay the whole business off on Eve, but God is having none of it.
- So, everything God has done is messed up. The Garden of Eden is now off-limits to Adam and Eve. They whole deal is thrown off track because of the sin of disobedience to God.
- So, God sets about reconciling creation back to God. God calls people to help accomplish this task. God calls Noah to save enough of creation so God can begin again. God calls Abraham to be the father of a great nation. God calls Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt. God calls David to be king of Israel, and on and on.
- God also calls prophets so God’s voice is always heard, even when the people disobey.
- Then God sends Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us to reconcile creation.
- Jesus lives, dies, God raises him from the dead, Jesus ascends back to heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit.
- Jesus calls followers to help proclaim God’s new creation, the new people of God, the new Kingdom of God. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
- God is clearly reconciling creation back to God.
- And then, God plans for all of creation to be back in fellowship with God — to be in God’s presence as Adam and Eve were in God’s presence in the Garden of Eden.
- So, we get a glimpse of eternity in several passages of scripture, and one of the more interesting is in Revelation.