In the wildly popular movie Back to the Future (1985) there’s a scene where Michael J. Fox fills in for Marvin Berry (injured hand) and plays an electric guitar and sings Johnny B. Goode. Those dancing liven up and Marvin Berry is seen off stage calling his cousin Chuck, telling him that he’s discovered a new sound. However, Marty (Fox) gets lost in the moment and plays futuristic riffs, obviously incompatible with Johnny B. Goode. Marty gets out of control and the students of the 1955 Enchantment Under the Sea dance all stop and stare. The band has stopped playing but Marty doesn’t notice and finishes his last riff with a climactic high-pitched screaming key. He realizes he’s bewildered his listeners and says, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet.”
Jesus came into a world that wasn’t ready for Him. “He came to his own and his own received him not” (John 1:11). John 1:9-10 gives us the impression that the world Jesus came into had never seen Light before and therefore they couldn’t recognize Jesus as related to them. Jesus was just too unique and people won’t pioneer something they can’t get their minds around even if that something is truly good for them. This is why Christians were initially thought to be rogue. The world just wasn’t ready for them either.
Jesus still came bringing eternal life even though the world wasn’t ready for it. Even today the world is in a mad rush to capture life the way it wants. Most of the world doesn’t think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he spoke of God and eternal life. Yet, Jesus came into the world to save a humanity that didn’t think it needed to be saved. He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world. He came because God loved this world and didn’t want to see it die in its idolatry and sin. God sent Jesus, His Son, so that the those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. Many of us have heard John 3:16 thousands of times and take for granted that we understand what John meant when he chose to use the words eternal life. Those words are like music to many of our ears today. However, the meaning of the words eternal life is actually a new sound which some today cannot or do not want to relate to today even though they’ve heard music all their lives. Imagine Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) up on the stage playing this “new sound” and the rest of us unprepared, staring in bewilderment as if we’ve heard something alien, even though the new sound is actually an old one.
Today, when most of us speak of eternal life we imagine a life separate from life as we now understand it. We think of eternal life as something that will be experienced in another dimension (usually called heaven) without a physical body. Perhaps we imagine that we’ll be high up in a cloud-like existence, almost like friendly ghosts. We think that this is what Jesus came to bring, life apart from life as we now live it, even though that new life will begin at some point in the future. Actually, Jesus spoke of eternal life as life is lived on earth in a new era, one filled with God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy. Jesus understood that ages in the past which were filled with corruption, evil, and brutality, would be eclipsed by new life in the age that he would usher in. Eternal life meant life being lived as God intended it, kingdom life. The Jewish worldview of Jesus’ lifetime imagined history would be divided into halves. One half was being lived in and it included all kinds of injustice and oppression. The other half would begin with God’s arrival. He would come one day to rescue His people Israel, not only from their national exile, but he would also come to rule the nations of the world in righteousness. However, few, if any, could imagine God coming and ruling with the remedy for humanity’s real sickness, idolatry, and sin.
John has Jesus speaking of eternal life as a present reality. John 5:24 has Jesus saying, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He doesn’t come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” Paul sums this up for the Corinthian believers in a similar way in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Behold, the old has passed away. The new has come.” A new age was dawning because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus’ death was voluntary and it ensured that all of humanity was being forgiven. A new humanity could now be created, one humanity instead of two as Israel would have it. With Israel’s sins forgiven and the sins of the nations forgiven no ethnic barriers should be erected. Circumcision foreshadowed a new holy humanity. The Abrahamic family was built on God’s promise to bless all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). When Jesus arrived He came as a fulfillment of all of God’s promises, which meant that He was able to bring abundant life (John 10:10).
Israel wasn’t ready for this kind of a future but God was. They weren’t ready for life in the new coming age which Jesus initiated for God and the world, but God was. Eternal life arrived in a paradoxical way, very contradictory. How could eternal life come through death? Much of the world today can’t imagine how such a popular, intelligent, modern race of humans could be surprised by God playing a new sound on a common instrument. Even though the new sound is actually an old one the world today might pause in bewilderment as if they’ve heard something alien. The way that we should speak about eternal life is alien to most. Yes, Abraham, Moses, David, and many who’ve gone before us are waiting for the time when they will put on immortality in a body just like Jesus’ did (1 Corinthians 15:54). When Jesus was raised from the dead God actually brought someone from the future into our present time. Israel was preoccupied with a lifestyle of the past. They weren’t ready for this kind of a visitor. Aren’t you glad God didn’t wait until His creation was ready? The gate to eternal life was opened. Play the new sound! “Death is swallowed up in victory! Oh death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, be immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain!” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58).