Everlasting Life on Earth—A Christian Hope?
“[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more.”—REV. 21:4.
1, 2. How do we know that many first-century Jews had the hope of everlasting life on earth?
A RICH and prominent young man ran up to Jesus, fell upon his knees before him, and asked: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” (Mark 10:17) The young man was asking about inheriting everlasting life—but where? As we discussed in the preceding article, centuries earlier God had given the Jews the hope of a resurrection and everlasting life on earth. That hope prevailed among many first-century Jews.
2 Jesus’ friend Martha apparently had in mind restoration to life on earth when she said of her deceased brother: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) True, the Sadducees of the time denied the resurrection. (Mark 12:18) However, in his book Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, George Foot Moore says: “Writings . . . of the second or first centuries before our era attest the belief that at the expected turning-point in the history of the world the dead of former generations would be brought to life again on earth.” The rich man who approached Jesus wanted to gain eternal life on earth.
3. What questions will be considered in this article?
3 Today, many religions and Bible scholars deny that the hope of living forever on earth is a Christian teaching. Most people hope for an afterlife in the spirit realm. So when readers of the Christian Greek Scriptures come across the expression “everlasting life,” many think that it always refers to life in heaven. Is that true? What did Jesus mean when he spoke of everlasting life? What did his disciples believe? Do the Christian Greek Scriptures hold out the hope of everlasting life on earth?
Everlasting Life “in the Re-Creation”
4. What is to take place “in the re-creation”?
4 The Bible teaches that anointed Christians will be resurrected to rule over the earth from heaven. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 5:9, 10; 14:1-3) When Jesus spoke about everlasting life, however, he did not always have only that group in mind. Consider what he said to his disciples after the rich young man turned away grieved at the invitation to leave all his belongings behind and become a follower of Christ. (Read Matthew 19:28, 29.) Jesus told his apostles that they would be among those who would rule as kings and judge “the twelve tribes of Israel,” that is, the world of mankind outside that heavenly ruling class. (1 Cor. 6:2) He also spoke of a reward for “everyone” who follows him. Such individuals too “will inherit everlasting life.” All of this is to take place “in the re-creation.”
5. How would you define “the re-creation”?
5 What did Jesus mean by “the re-creation”? The term is translated “the new world” in The Bible—An American Translation. It is rendered “when all is made new” in The Jerusalem Bible and “the renewal of all things” in The Holy Bible—New International Version. Since Jesus used the term without explanation, he evidently referred to what had been the Jewish hope for centuries. There was to be a re-creation of conditions on earth, so that things would be as they were in the garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned. The re-creation will fulfill God’s promise of “creating new heavens and a new earth.”—Isa. 65:17.
6. The illustration of the sheep and the goats teaches us what about the hope of everlasting life?
6 Jesus again spoke of everlasting life in his discourse about the conclusion of the system of things. (Matt. 24:1-3) “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him,” he said, “then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Those receiving an adverse judgment “will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” “The righteous ones” who receive everlasting life are those who loyally support Christ’s spirit-anointed “brothers.” (Matt. 25:31-34, 40, 41, 45, 46) Since the anointed are chosen to be rulers in the heavenly Kingdom, “the righteous ones” must be the earthly subjects of that Kingdom. The Bible foretold: “[Jehovah’s King] will have subjects from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Ps. 72:8) These subjects will enjoy everlasting life on earth.
What Does the Gospel of John Show?
7, 8. Concerning what two different hopes did Jesus speak to Nicodemus?
7 As recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus uses the term “everlasting life” on the aforementioned occasions. The Gospel according to John quotes Jesus’ words about living forever some 17 times. Let us examine some of those occurrences to see what Jesus said about the hope of everlasting life on earth.
8 According to John, Jesus first spoke about everlasting life to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He told Nicodemus: “Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Those entering the Kingdom of the heavens must be “born again.” (John 3:3-5) Jesus did not stop with that. He then spoke of the hope that is open to the whole world. (Read John 3:16.) Jesus was referring to the hope of everlasting life for his anointed followers in heaven and for others on earth.
9. About what hope did Jesus speak to a Samaritan woman?
9 After speaking to Nicodemus in Jerusalem, Jesus traveled north toward Galilee. On the way, he met a woman at Jacob’s fountain near the city of Sychar in Samaria. He told her: “Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.” (John 4:5, 6, 14) This water represents God’s provisions for the restoration of all mankind to everlasting life, including those who will live on earth. In the book of Revelation, God himself is portrayed as saying: “To anyone thirsting I will give from the fountain of the water of life free.” (Rev. 21:5, 6; 22:17) Thus, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about everlasting life not only for the anointed Kingdom heirs but also for believing mankind having an earthly hope.
10. After curing a man at the pool of Bethzatha, what did Jesus tell religious opposers about everlasting life?
10 The following year, Jesus was again in Jerusalem. There he restored a sick man to health at the pool of Bethzatha. To the Jews who criticized what he did, Jesus explained that “the Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing.” After telling them that the Father “has committed all the judging to the Son,” Jesus said: “He that hears my word and believes him that sent me has everlasting life.” Jesus also said: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:1-9, 19, 22, 24-29) Jesus was telling the persecuting Jews that he was the one appointed by God to fulfill the Jewish hope of everlasting life on earth and that he would do so by raising the dead.
11. How do we know that the hope of everlasting life on earth is included in what Jesus said as recorded at John 6:48-51?
11 In Galilee, thousands of people who wanted bread miraculously provided by Jesus began following him. Jesus spoke to them about another type of bread—“the bread of life.” (Read John 6:40, 48-51.) “The bread that I shall give is my flesh,” he said. Jesus gave his life not only for those who would rule with him in his heavenly Kingdom but also “in behalf of the life of the world” of redeemable mankind. “If anyone eats of this bread,” that is, exercises faith in the redeeming power of Jesus’ sacrifice, he will be in line for everlasting life. Indeed, the reference to ‘living forever’ included the long-held Jewish hope of everlasting life on earth during the Messiah’s reign.
12. Jesus was referring to what hope when he told opposers that ‘he will give everlasting life to his sheep’?
12 Later, at the Festival of Dedication in Jerusalem, Jesus told his opposers: “You do not believe, because you are none of my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life.” (John 10:26-28) Was Jesus speaking only of life in heaven, or did he also have in mind eternal life in an earthly paradise? Jesus had recently comforted his followers with the words: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) At the time of this same Festival of Dedication, however, Jesus said: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring.” (John 10:16) Hence, when Jesus spoke to those opposers, his words included both the hope of heavenly life for the “little flock” and the hope of everlasting life on earth for millions of “other sheep.”
A Hope That Required No Explanation
13. What did Jesus mean when he said: “You will be with me in Paradise”?
13 During his agony on the torture stake, Jesus provided irrefutable confirmation of mankind’s hope. An evildoer impaled alongside him said: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” Jesus promised him: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42, 43) Since this man evidently was a Jew, he needed no explanation about Paradise. He knew about the hope of everlasting life on earth in a world to come.
14. (a) What shows that the reference to a heavenly hope was difficult for the apostles to understand? (b) When did Jesus’ followers gain a clear understanding of the heavenly hope?
14 What did require an explanation, however, was Jesus’ reference to the heavenly hope. When he spoke to his disciples about his going to heaven to prepare a place for them, they did not understand what he meant. (Read John 14:2-5.) “I have many things yet to say to you,” he later told them, “but you are not able to bear them at present. However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12, 13) Only after Pentecost of 33 C.E. when they were anointed by God’s spirit to be future kings did Jesus’ followers discern that their thrones would be in heaven. (1 Cor. 15:49; Col. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:3, 4) The hope of a heavenly inheritance was a revelation, and it became the focus of the inspired letters in the Christian Greek Scriptures. But do these letters reaffirm mankind’s hope of everlasting life on earth?
What Do the Inspired Letters Say?
15, 16. How do the inspired letter to the Hebrews and the words of Peter point to the hope of everlasting life on earth?
15 In his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul addressed his fellow believers as “holy brothers, partakers of the heavenly calling.” However, he also stated that God has subjected to Jesus “the inhabited earth to come.” (Heb. 2:3, 5; 3:1) In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the original word for “inhabited earth” always refers to earth populated by humans. Hence, “the inhabited earth to come” is the future system of things on earth under the rulership of Jesus Christ. Jesus will then fulfill God’s promise: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Ps. 37:29.
16 The apostle Peter was also inspired to write about the future of mankind. He wrote: “The heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (2 Pet. 3:7) What will replace the governmental heavens and the wicked human society that are present now? (Read 2 Peter 3:13.) They will be replaced by “new heavens”—God’s Messianic Kingdom—and “a new earth”—a righteous human society of true worshippers.
17. How is mankind’s hope described at Revelation 21:1-4?
17 The last book of the Bible stirs our hearts with its vision of mankind lifted to perfection. (Read Revelation 21:1-4.) This has been the hope of believing mankind ever since human perfection was lost in the garden of Eden. Upright people will live in Paradise on earth endlessly without aging. This hope is solidly based on both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures, and it continues to strengthen faithful servants of Jehovah to this day.—Rev. 22:1, 2.
Can You Explain?
• What did Jesus mean by “the re-creation”?
• Concerning what did Jesus speak to Nicodemus?
• What promise did Jesus make to the evildoer impaled near him?
• How do the letter to the Hebrews and the words of Peter confirm the hope of everlasting life on earth?
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Sheeplike ones will receive everlasting life on earth
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Jesus spoke to others about everlasting life