The gospel is given to us so that fellowship with God might be restored. God created us without fault or failing, and yet through our father Adam we all grasped for the fruit, and fell into spiritual death. When we reached for the knowledge of good and evil, we were attempting to seize the rule prematurely (the rule that God was already going to give to us in His good time). We were already eating from the tree of life, but on account of our rebellion, we were banished from the entire Garden, which included that tree of life. And now in the gospel, we are invited back to the tree of eternal life (Rev. 2:7).
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour” (Titus 1:1–3).
As part of his preamble to the letter to Titus, Paul summarizes his calling and his mission. He is a servant of God, and He was sent out as an apostle by Jesus Christ (v. 1). This lines up with the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth which is in accordance with godliness (v. 1). All this is undertaken in hopes of eternal life, which God—who cannot lie—promised before eternal times (v. 2). But now, in due time, God has manifested His Word through His preachers, which was committed to Paul through the commandment of God our Savior (v. 3).
Sorting Out the Words:
What is the difference between eternal, everlasting, and forever? Is there a difference?
We are pursuing eternal life, hoping for it, and the word for eternal here is aionios. The word means ages, or world, or era. In v. 2, using the same word, God promised this before the timeless ages, or perhaps before eternal times. In English, everlasting and eternal are distinct—everlasting means temporal succession without end, and eternal means timeless—and forever is like everlasting. One refers to duration and the other to quality. But our English translations are working from the same word in both Hebrew and Greek (compare John 3:15 and 3:16), and so the meaning of the word in Scripture is largely contextual. There is only so much juice that can be squeezed from a lexicon.
“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began [before eternal times]” (2 Tim. 1:9). In short God gave His grace to us before there was such a concept as before. The one thing we can be sure of is that God’s temporal dealings with us are anchored in decisions He made before the foundation of the world.
Begin with Hope:
But there is always a rationalistic, Sadducee-like impulse. Calvin dismisses those men who want us to limit our spiritual considerations to this life, saying they “reduce men to the condition of cattle.” God has put eternity into our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), speaking of our yearning, and if anyone believes in the Son of God He also puts eternal life there (John 3:15-16; 6:54; 10:28; 17:2-3)—speaking of the fulfillment. So what are you yearning for? What is your hope? “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7).
The Intermediate State:
We have already learned that there is a general resurrection of the dead that we will all participate in. Our bodies will be raised on that great day. For the sake of discussion, let us say that this will happen in 3000 A.D. We are going to die a long time before that. What happens to us in this intermediate state?
The most important thing to realize about this intermediate state (the time between your death and the resurrection at the last day) is that it is in fact intermediate. Whatever it is, it is not final. You will be able to say, “This Paradise is not my home. I’m just passing through.”
There are a couple things we can say about it. The first is that you are with the Lord. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul says in another place that to depart from this life is to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). So whatever happens in the intermediate state, it will be with Christ and therefore glorious. Are we disembodied temporarily? Are we given a temporary body? Is the intersection of time and eternity such that we simply find ourselves at the day of resurrection? Which? The most satisfying explanation to my mind (although not the fullest) is from Calvin: “the blessed condition of the soul after death is the commencement of this building, and the glory of the final resurrection is the consummation of it.” The tabernacle is destroyed (our bodies from this life), and the permanent and durable bodies are under construction. In the nature of the case, this is speculative and so we ought not to be dogmatic about the details. But we will be with Christ, and it will be blessed.
The God of Amen:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen! “ Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 106:48)
In Scripture we find three basic uses of amen. The first is that it has the force of a covenant oath (Num. 5:22; Dt. 27; Neh. 5:13). This far stronger than a simple, “Yes, I agree with that.” The second use is a benediction. “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Gal. 6:18; Phil 4:23; 2 Tim. 4:22; Rev. 22:21). And last is the doxological use. Justified men have also been given the privilege of blessing God. When God is solemnly blessed and praised, we conclude it with amen. “. . . the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Eph. 3:21; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 5:11). When we say Amen in this context, we are tasting eternity.
In both Old and New Testaments, God identifies Himself with this word. Speaking of the time of the New Covenant, Isaiah prophesies in this way: “So that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth [lit. “God of Amen”]; and he who swears in the earth shall swear by the God of truth [same] (Is. 65:16).
And John the apostle records, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God . . .’ (Rev. 3:14). And Paul teaches, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20).
The Final and Ultimate Hope:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
And so all the promises of God culminate in this living and triune Amen. And so we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth . . . and in the life everlasting. Amen.