In John 17:3, Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God. "Know" does not indicate a mere casual familiarity, but a very close relationship approaching the intimacy of a sexual one. That is how we must relate to Him.
There are other verses that show that God "knows" us:
» I Corinthians 8:3: "But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him."
» Galatians 4:9: "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?"
» Amos 3:2: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Though God says this to Israel, it applies even more intimately to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).
These verses again show a vital key to understanding our relationship with Him: Our love for Him is merely a response to His initiative.
By way of contrast, compare these to what Jesus says to those who are not called as their disobedience shows, but who masquerade as disciples, even as ministers, as if they really knew the Father and Son:
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Since He never knew them, is this not just another way of saying, "I never loved you"?
We are who we are, the foolish and weak of the world. We believe because God has appointed us to eternal life. We have faith because of His grace, and the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts because the Father loves us. If we understand the Scriptures correctly, God has chosen the most unlikely people upon which to pour out His grace and love and so become holy and without blame before Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
This verse provides a succinct yet broad biblical definition. We tend to think of eternal life as simply endless life when it is not. Jesus' definition of eternal life is "knowing God." We could say it is understanding the way God lives or that the quality of life that God lives is eternal life. He does not live as a human lives, but He lives on the God-plane. We must learn to live as He lives, to think as He does, to act as He does, to write His image on our minds.
God has set the Sabbath apart so we can know Him, that is, so we can know what eternal life is and live it. Knowing Him is eternal life. Another way to put it is that eternal life is being intimate with Him. He is not intimate with people who rebel against Him nor those who, on the Sabbath day, have their minds on everything else but Him and His way of life. Such people talk about everything else except the things that concern Him and our relationship with Him. Using the metaphor of a courting couple, we cannot come to know Him by going out on a date with Him and then not paying any attention to Him.
The proper observance of the Sabbath is given to humanity so that we might come to know God better on this day than is possible on any other day of the week. He provides an entire twenty-four hours to spend with Him. It is no wonder that He became upset with Israel because they ignored what He wanted from them on the Sabbath. They spent precious little time with Him. They failed to dig into His Word and so failed to discuss His message, His attitudes, His character, His purpose. Their minds were on everything else but Him.
We know that, if we went out with someone of the opposite sex, with whom we expected to have an enjoyable time, and that person paid attention to everybody else except us, we would be frustrated and angry. We would never want to go out with that person again. That is the issue. Eternal life describes the way God lives, and the Sabbath is set apart so that we can come to know Him and become more intimate with Him.
People spend an untold number of years preparing to earn a living in this world. Doctors spend four years at college then study more years at medical school and during their internship. It might take eight, ten, or twelve years for them to prepare a doctor to be successful.
By contrast, God commands us to set aside just one day each week to help us prepare for living endlessly in the highest quality - as He does.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
Here, Christ does not use the term "immortal" or "endless," to define eternal life, but He describes a kind and quality of life in terms of knowledge and a relationship with the Father and Son, a very intimate relationship.
Do not be misled by the limited Strong's definition of the word translated "eternal" in this verse. A more complete lexicon like Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament gives a more precise usage—how the word is used in the Bible rather than merely in classical Greek. Zodhiates says that the word refers to the "life which is God's" (p. 107). The life of God is more than endless, and that is what is important here. He adds, "It is to be understood as referring not only to duration, but more so to quality. That is, it is not merely life that is eternal in duration, but is primarily something different from the natural life of man, i.e., the life of God."
The Daily Bible Study Commentary: John (Volume 2) by William Barclay contains this comment:
There is another important thought in this passage, for it contains the great New Testament definition of eternal life. It is eternal life to know God and to know Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Let us remind ourselves of what eternal means. In Greek, it is aionis. This word has to do, not so much with duration of life, for life which went on forever would not necessarily be a boon. Its main meaning is quality of life. There is only one person to whom the aionis can properly be applied, and that is God. Eternal life is, therefore, nothing other than the life of God. To possess it, to enter into it, is to experience here and now something of the splendor and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness, which are characteristic of the life of God. (p. 207)
John 17:3 also contains the word "know." To understand eternal life, we must also understand how this word is used here. It undoubtedly contains elements of intellectual knowledge, understanding, discernment, information, and familiarity. However, this word suggests more than this because the Old Testament regularly uses "know" to describe sexual knowledge. Sexual knowledge between a husband and wife is the most intimate of knowledge. Husband and wife are no longer two but one flesh. In this regard, in John 17:3, the important thing is not the sexual act but the intimacy of heart and mind that in true love precede the act. To know God, therefore, is not merely to have intellectual knowledge of Him, but it is having an intimate, personal relationship with Him like the nearest and dearest relationship between two people.
Hosea 4:6 provides an interesting example of the practical effect of "knowing": "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children." God's implication is clear. If they had possessed knowledge of God, they would have had the power to avoid being destroyed. Nobody in his right mind wants to be destroyed. Ignorance might be bliss, but this verse shows it can be dangerously life-threatening.
Consider the implications of a lack of knowledge in the area of physical law. A person who does not know the power of electricity, nitroglycerin, carbon monoxide, drugs, or certain medications could pay for his ignorance with his life. Or, even if a person's ignorance of these things does not kill him, he might have the quality of his life severely impaired through a maiming, debilitating injury. However, when they are used with knowledge, they can do worthwhile things. Similarly, knowing God opens to men the freest and most rewarding expressions of an abundant life.
What if a person does not know of God's righteousness? Proverbs 11:6 says, "The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their own lust." What a person does not have cannot deliver them, thus they are injured or destroyed. Isaiah 11:9 shows that during the Millennium, the knowledge of God will cover the earth like a vast ocean. This is what will make the Millennium so wonderful!
Eternal life is more than just endless life. The biblical eternal life includes power to produce quality living superabundantly far beyond merely existing forever.
We should touch briefly on its sexual aspect. Genesis 4:1, 17, 25 each contain the Hebrew word yada'. It has a wide variety of possible applications, one of which is "to lie by man." In each case in Genesis 4, it is translated as "knew," since that is its basic meaning. The Hebrews used it to describe the sexual part of the relationship between husband and wife; thus, it suggests intimacy. When applied to God, it highlights not merely being acquainted with Him but, as we would say today, being "inside His head." The corresponding Greek word, ginosko, translated "know" in John 17:3, can be and is used in the same way as yada' in Hebrew (see Luke 1:34).
To know God thus includes a wide range of mental, emotional, and experiential knowledge. The fruit of this intimacy includes love, reverence, obedience, honor, gratitude, and deep affection. We come to know Him as sovereign Ruler, Master, parent, brother, friend, Savior, and Lawgiver. We would never know this mixture of admirable qualities and authority without getting close to Him. They compel us to yield to Him with all of our heart while we strive to obey and glorify Him.
In summary, John 17:3 points to Jesus' indicating that eternal life is not merely endless, though that is its dominant sense, but that those who have it live intimately with God and conduct their lives as God does—otherwise, there would be no close intimacy with Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
The term "know" implies intimate, experiential knowledge, not merely bookish or theoretical knowledge. Jesus Christ suggests that having an intimate relationship with the Father and Son causes us to become one with them. The only way we can do that is by living the way God does by faith. He walks—lives life—with those who agree with Him. The One who already had this unique relationship with God reveals to us the knowledge of how to do that.
Originally given to a spiritually faltering people, Amos 5:4 adds a vital command: "For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: 'Seek Me and live.'" The word "seek" is not being used in the sense of "search" because God had already revealed Himself to them. Instead, it conveys the sense of "turn to Me," "seek to live as I do," "turn to My way of life," "seek to know Me in intimate detail."
In John 17:3, "eternal" is translated from the Greek aionis. Here, it deals not so much with duration of life, since by itself living forever would not necessarily be good. Rather, it implies "quality." Eternal life is the life of God, the way He lives life. To possess it is to experience a small measure of its splendor now.
Four times in this chapter (verses 6, 11, 12, and 26), Jesus uses the word "name" in reference to God. "Name" represents, identifies, signifies, and encompasses what He is revealing to us about God. It includes what He is in His Person, His attributes, and His purpose. God's name keeps, guards, and sustains us, both by our trusting what it signifies and then, through obedience, expressing what it means.
Psalm 9:2, 10 declares, "I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. . . . And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You." "Name" does not refer to what He is called or the sound of that name, but to what He is like in His nature and character. We can trust what He is. This has marvelous implications for us. Matthew 28:19-20 says:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
The word "in" in verse 19 can just as correctly be translated as "into," meaning that we are immersed into the name of the Father and Son. We now bear that name! They are God, and we are children of God. Baptism and the receipt of the Holy Spirit are the entrance into that name and all it implies! We have entered into the Family of God! Just as a son bears his father's name, God's name is our spiritual family name.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment
When Adam and Eve sinned, they, representing all mankind, were expelled by God from the Garden of Eden. The Garden represents being in God's presence and thereby having easy access and communication with Him. In Genesis 2:17, God had warned Adam and Eve that in the day they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die. Once they sinned, it became evident that God did not mean they would die immediately, but that, if they ate of that tree, they were as good as dead.
Their human life went on, but God, to emphasize the serious effect of their sin to later generations, placed a flaming sword to guard the Garden's borders. This portrayed that mankind, though still alive, was cut off from any relationship with Him. Thus, sin, which demonstrates a lack of love and fidelity for our Creator, not only seals the death penalty on each sinner, but it also denies an individual access to and thus communication with God while he lives on under Satan's continuing influence.
When Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we, by faith in that sacrifice, became justified, God legally cleared us of guilt before Him. It is as though the barrier of the flaming sword between us and Him were removed, opening the way for communication with Him and for the growth of a relationship with Him that never before existed for us.
The relationship we have with the Father and the Son through the work of Jesus Christ, both as the payment for our sins and as our High Priest, is everything in terms of salvation. Why is this true? Because we can now communicate with Them! Having access to God furnishes an opportunity for a relationship with the Father and the Son. The relationship is the medium of communication - holy, righteous, spiritual communication.
This communication is more than a mere counterbalance to the evil spiritual influence of this world. It decidedly tips the scales in our favor in this war for our spiritual survival, if we will but continue to believe and trust Them by taking advantage of the contact, communication, and influence freely given to us. What Jesus does ever so briefly in John 17:3 is to tie quality of life, called "eternal life," to a person's relationship with God.
Even though many in it may be religious, the world does not have a relationship with God. There is no communication from Him to them. Undoubtedly, a lot of people know many things about God, but they cannot actually know Him without access to Him. It is like a person knowing of someone from across town by reputation but really knowing nothing about him through personal contact.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
Jesus Christ refers to God's name three times in this brief and exceedingly important prayer! The name represents what He spent His ministry revealing to us about God. He keeps us through His name both by our trusting in what it means and our obedience to how it shows we should live.
He defines eternal life as "to know God." "Know" suggests a very close intimacy, just as a husband and wife are intimate in marriage (Genesis 4:1). It indicates experiential knowledge, not theoretical. In Amos 5:4, God exclaims, "Seek Me and live!" He is saying, "Turn to Me and My way of life; seek to know Me," not "Search for Me," because He has already revealed Himself to us. He is saying, "Seek to know Me by living the same way I do." That is how experiential knowledge of Him becomes an intimate knowing of Him. He will walk with such people (Amos 3:3).
Aionis, the word translated "eternal," deals less with duration of life (although it is included), than it does with quality of life. Living endlessly is not necessarily good. Would anyone want to live forever with a demon's quality of life? True eternal life is the life of God. To possess it means experiencing now some of its splendor because it is being lived and producing its glorious fruits.
Psalm 9:10 adds, "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You." Those living by faith do not trust in what He is called, for that would be mere superstition. Their faith is in what He is, His character and nature, which they have experienced by seeking to live His way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Third Commandment (1997)
This is the Bible's definition of eternal life: "to know God." We understand that "know," biblically, has a sexual connotation, implying experiential knowledge, not theoretical knowledge.
In Amos 5:4, God, through the prophet Amos, says, "Seek Me, and live!" He implies living eternally; if we seek God, we will have eternal life. Eternal life, however, does not especially have to do with time or duration because living the kind of life that God wants us to live is an enjoyable life, an abundant life. Just because a person lives eternally does not mean that he will be enjoying life. Consider the demons: They are not enjoying an abundant life though they live very long lives.
The Greek word aionios, translated here as "eternal," has to do with quality. Eternal life is the excellent, supreme life that God lives. When Jesus says that eternal life is to know God, He primarily implies a quality of life, and length of life is secondary. He suggests that, if we begin to know God now, the abundant life has already begun, that is, we begin to experience the kind of life that God lives, the only kind of life that is worth living without end.
This kind of life, then, comes from an intimate relationship with God, implied by the word "know." Genesis 4 informs us that Adam knew his wife, Eve—meaning he and she were intimate—and she had babies. One could say she produced fruit as a result of their close relationship. So, eternal life results from intimate experience in living with God.
What happens if we do not know anything about God? Understanding His names are a good place to begin to know Him. Notice how frequently Jesus mentions the name of God in this prayer: three times. The name represents what Jesus is revealing to us about God. This is a primary way to come to know God—through what Christ has revealed about God.
He asks the Father to keep us through that name (John 17:11). This is done first, by our trusting in it as David did (Psalm 18). When David was in trouble, when he had need, he went to God. In that psalm, he names the names of God that revealed what God would do for him. In a similar way, God will keep, guard, or preserve us because we know Him through the revelation of His name.
Second, we are kept by His name through obedience. Because we understand what those names mean to us, we become obedient to their nature, spirit, or character because they show us what we need to be following or striving for.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Holiness (Part 1)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 17:3:
Song of Solomon 1:1
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
1 Corinthians 11:25-29
1 Corinthians 15:49
1 John 2:1-6
1 John 2:10-17