Right click to save the pdf:  The Meaning of Life

Right click to save the mp3:  The Meaning of Life

One of the more disturbing things for a student of the NT is to discover that English translations have added a word meant to clarify something (which it often does the opposite) or they have omitted a word that can be of great value interpreting or understanding the text of the NT.  One of the things of which they are most often guilty of omitting is the definite article “the”, particularly when used with the noun “ζωη”, which is the Greek word for “life”.  Now, it’s true that abstract nouns often appear with the definite article in the NT, but I think that when the word “life” has the definite article, the article should be translated into English and that the noun “ζωη” then becomes a synonym for “the Kingdom”.

What I want you to do is to look at several examples of this in the NT, where I think this is provable, based on the context.  I also want you to look at some passages that have not traditionally been understood to be referring to the Kingdom, but make complete sense when understood in that way.  Then, I want you to look at some other usages in which this does not apply.  When referring to the Kingdom, the Scriptures do not make a great deal of distinction between the Messianic kingdom to be established by the Lord when He returns and the eternal Kingdom of the Father.  Even in the OT, the prophets seem to make the themes flow together.  So, we will leave each of these passages to be interpreted in context as to which Kingdom is being discussed.  It’s my opinion, based on the Scriptures, that most of the passages in the NT refer to the millennial Kingdom to be established at the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

[Mark 9]  One of the clearest passages where you can see that “ζωη” with the definite article “the” is synonymous with “the Kingdom” is found in [Mark 9:42-45].  [Mark 9:38-41]  In the preceding context, the issue of discipleship and reward is being discussed.  But, as we move into the verses that we’re looking at here, Jesus raises the subject of stumbling blocks to discipleship.  [Discipleship in a Jewish context is much more than just a casual follower; a disciple is someone who has wholeheartedly and completely embraced the teachings of the one being followed; this is clearly and plainly talking about saved people.]  The potential of sin causing a stumbling block to little ones, which I think is a referring to new believers, is to be treated with the greatest severity.  You would be better off losing your limbs or your organs than being the cause of stumbling blocks to one of these little ones.

After this, motivations are given for the severity of the action.  [Mark 9:43] says, “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into THE life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [Gehenna, not the lake of fire], into the fire that never shall be quenched [unextinguished fire].”  Then, in [Mark 9:45], it says, “And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt [maimed or lame] into THE life, than having two feet to be cast into hell [Gehenna, not the lake of fire],”  [Omit:  into the fire that never shall be quenched in this verse; it’s not there.]  Then, in [Mark 9:47], a parallel shows, “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into THE kingdom of THE God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell [THE Gehenna, not the lake of fire]:”  [Omit:  fire, it’s not there.]

[Matthew 18:8-9]  This passage shows the same effect, even though it omits the third part that is in Mark 9.  [Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting [age-lasting] fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into THE life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell [Gehenna, not the lake of fire] fire.]

[Matthew 19]  Another example where “ζωη” plus the definite article “the” is clearly synonymous with “the Kingdom” is found in a story, which I’m sure, is familiar to almost everyone here; it’s the story of the rich young ruler.  [Matthew 19:16], the question is framed:  “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have [subjunctive] eternal [age-lasting] life?”  This is talking about life for the age to come, or a share in the millennial Kingdom.  The answer that follows couldn’t be much more clear:  “… if thou wilt enter into THE life, keep the commandments.”  [What are the commandments?  Matthew 22:37 tells us, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.]  (Side Note:  The Majority text, in Revelation 22:14, says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of THE life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”  The oldest texts have, “Blessed are they that are cleansing their robes…” though.  Either way, it’s talking about THE life.)

As the discussion in this passage continues, you must understand that the same subject is under discussion until Matthew 20:16 [So the last shall be first, and the first last; Omit:  for many be called, but few chosen, it’s not there.]  Where we see the word “good”, in the sense of “generous”, Jesus and His disciples use many different synonyms. 

In verse 16, we see the expression “eternal [age-lasting] life; in verse 17, we see the term that we’re studying, “THE life”.  In 23, Jesus uses the synonym, “the Kingdom of heaven”.  [Actually, it’s the Kingdom of the Heavens; it’s always plural, even though the KJV usually translates it as singular.]  In verse 24, he repeats the idea for emphasis by using the term, “the kingdom of God”.  In verse 24, the disciples have to get in on the action, and they ask, “who then can be saved?”  I think they are referring to “saved” in an end times meaning.  Finally, in verse 28, Jesus uses the expression, “THE regeneration” and defines it as clearly and plainly as possible, as “when the Son of Man sits on His throne.”  When is this going to be?  Remember, 1 Corinthians 15:24-27 tells us that Christ’s rule is temporary; it’s for 1000 years.  God’s Kingdom is forever.  I know that I am a part of God’s Kingdom, because I am saved, and that salvation cannot be taken from me, but I hope to be a part of Millennial Kingdom for those 1000 glorious years!

I hope you can appreciate that these passages that we just looked at make it clear that when “ζωη” is used with the definite article, it can be synonymous for “the Kingdom”.

[Revelation]  Let’s look at the book of the Revelation.  This principle of “ζωη” with the definite article as being synonymous with the Kingdom can be very useful in understanding the book of the Revelation.  For example, “ζωη” with the definite article appears three times in the letters to the churches.  In [Revelation 2:7], you find that the “one who overcomes” is granted the right to eat from the tree of THE life.  If you substitute “the Kingdom” for “the life”, you can see that the promise is not fulfilled until Revelation 22:14, where the subjects are promised that their right will be to the tree of the Kingdom.  In Revelation 2:10, “the one who overcomes and is faithful until death” is promised what?  It says, “a crown of life”…  This word “crown” is “stephanos”, which is a victor’s wreath, not a sovereign crown (diadema), which does not apply to us.  But, the Greek text doesn’t say that:  It says, “THE crown of THE life”.  The one who overcomes and is faithful until death will receive the crown of the Kingdom.  It’s a reward.

There’s one more verse in this part of the Revelation that I want you to look at.  It’s a verse that I’m sure you’re familiar with, and many people find it very puzzling.  [Revelation 3:5]  It should not really cause you concern, but there does seem to be a subtle implication that believers can be erased from the Book of [the] Life.  This verse is promising exactly the opposite, by using a figure of speech, which is called litotes.  Litotes is a figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite, as in “This is no small problem”.  What it’s saying in this verse is the one who overcomes (present, active, participle) is promised that “he will absolutely not [ou mE; double negative; emphatic] be blotted out of the book of the life”.  Now, if “the life” is the same thing as “the Kingdom”, then a definite and clear idea surfaces.  To be blotted out means that a believer who doesn’t overcome (who isn’t faithful to the end) may lose his inheritance; his right to rule and reign.  Your salvation can’t be lost, but your inheritance can.  You can’t be unborn, but you can be cut out of the will.

In Revelation 13:8 and 17:8, you can read some passages that are almost parallel.  In [Revelation 13:8], because of the grammar, “everyone whose name has not been written…”  This promise is fulfilled in 21:27.  Certain character types have been eliminated from the Lamb’s book of the Kingdom!

[Revelation 17:8] seems different.  First of all, there is a group idea being discussed; it’s “names”, not “name” as in 13:8.  Also, the descriptive phrase, “of the Lamb” is missing.  In addition to that, the preposition “epi” [on] is used, rather than “en” [in].  Here, in this verse, this expression that we’re looking at, “the life”, will help your interpretation.  The emphasis of this verse is the existence of the Kingdom from the foundation of the world, not the writing of the names.  God has always had a kingdom in existence that men could enter, based upon covenant loyalty, or faithful living.  Even as far back as Genesis 4:7, God says to the first murder, “If you do good, won’t you be lifted up?”  This is the reason Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and built a city:  In this act of defiance, he was establishing a rival kingdom by building his city.

I want you to see two other occurrences in the Revelation that are interesting.  First, look at [Revelation 20:12].  This is an awkward sentence construction here, which says, “another book was opened which is (the book) of THE life.  And the dead were judged from what was written in the books, according to their works.”  If you substitute “the Kingdom” for “the life”, as you’ve done in the other verses, this makes sense.  If “the life” is “the Kingdom”, then the books that are being opened are the chronicles of the Kingdom.  In the Book of Esther, you will remember that when the king could not sleep, he had the court chronicles read to him.  The chronicles showed that Mordecai had once done the king a great service.  Not only had the name of Mordecai been recorded, but also what he had done was written there for all to see.  The result was that when the king had corrected his oversight, Mordecai was rewarded with high honor.

The other usage that I want you to see is in [Revelation 21:6].  The offer is made “to anyone who is thirsty”, the resurrected Lord will give “the water of THE life”, or “the water of the Kingdom.”

In these passages in the book of the Revelation, I hope you see how substituting “the Kingdom” for “the life” helps you to understand what is being discussed, rather than using the general expression “life”.

[John 20]  The usage of the word “ζωη” is a little more of a problem.  In some instances, the term “the life” is used as a proper name or title for the Lord.  The most familiar verse that this is true is in John 1:4:  “The Life was the light (the source of revelation) to men.”  [John 20:31]  The way you interpret this verse depends upon how the word “believe” is understood.  The first “believe” is in the aorist tense:  it’s punctiliar, it’s an event.  How are you saved?  Acts 16:31 tells you that you are saved forever by simply believing in the Lord Jesus in the aorist tense.  However, the second “believe” in John 20:31 is a present, active, participle:  It implies living a faithful life.  If you live a faithful life, it tells you that you will have life in His name.

There are significant passages here in John that realizing that “the life” is the same as “the Kingdom” will open new possibilities for interpretation.  [John 3:36] says, “He that believeth [present, active, participle; faithful life] on the Son hath everlasting [age-lasting] life: and he that believeth not [present, active, participle; unfaithful life] the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  There is no definite article, but there is the adjective that describes which life this is referring to:  age-lasting life, or life in the millennial age to come.

[John 5:24]  [Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto THE life.]  This verse is interesting because it implies that the individual who is living a faithful life, has the life of the age to come as a present possession.  However, there is a futuristic meaning to the present tense due to the Hebrew thinking behind it.  (If you’re living a faithful life, you have THE life, but you won’t receive it until the future, is the best that I can explain it.  Does that make sense?  If you pay for something over the phone with a credit card, it’s yours; you’ve bought it, but you don’t receive it until later.)  If you live a faithful life, you will not come into judgment, because you have already been transferred from THE death to THE life.  It is interesting to note in this context, that the book of the Revelation does not explicitly mention a pre-Kingdom judgment for those who participate in the first resurrection, but only mentions the books being opened after the Millennial reign.

[John 6:48] says, (Jesus is speaking) “I am THE bread of THE life”.  Jesus is referring to himself as the one who brings THE life to the world.  Of course, this provision is dependent upon a person eating the bread, which is an act of faith.  But, in [John 6:51], in what sense does the world have life?  It has been suggested that “life” may refer to a life spent on the earth.  But, doesn’t it make more sense in this verse to suggest that Jesus is actually giving His flesh in exchange for the “kingdom of this world”?  In the dialog with Pilate later in this book, kingship becomes a very real issue.

[John 8:12]  Jesus is talking about discipleship, and discipleship is described as “following Jesus”.  The promise is made that if you follow Jesus, you will not walk in darkness, but you will receive the light of THE life.  This reverses the order of John 1:4 where the Life became the Light.  This verse promises that if you follow Jesus, you will have your eyes opened to a knowledge of the Kingdom.  In John 16:12, the Lord tells his followers that He has much more to tell them, but they cannot bear it at that time; this is a promise of later revelation of the coming Kingdom that they weren’t being given then.  Then, in Acts 1:3, we’re told, that his post-resurrection appearances and speeches were things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

[1 John]  This epistle seems to be ambiguous in the way it uses “ζωη” with the definite article, but it’s not ambiguous.  [1 John 1:1]  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of THE life;”  In [1 John 1:2; (For THE life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life [THE life, THE age-lasting is precisely what it says], which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)], it’s easy to understand that “the Kingdom was manifested (the signs and wonders but especially the events on the Mount of Transfiguration) and we (the apostles) have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the age-lasting Kingdom.  [1 John 3:14] is a parallel to John 5:24.  “We know that we have passed from THE death unto THE life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in THE [thanatos] death.”

[1 John 5:11-12] becomes much more clear when you substitute “the Kingdom” for “the life”.  We see there, “And this is the record [testimony], that God hath given to us eternal [age-lasting] life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath (holds fast; faithfulness) the Son hath THE life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not THE life.”  The word translated here as “hath” is sometimes better translated as “regards”.  (Re-read and substitute “regards”; it makes sense.)

[James]  There is one other occurrence of “the life” that I want us to look at, and it is in a passage in James that you are probably all familiar with.  [James 1:12]  “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown [stephanos] of THE life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love [present, active, participle; how do we show that we love Him?  We obey His commandments] him.”  If you endure – if you continue in loving Him and in living a faithful life – you will receive a victor’s crown; the crown of THE life!  Here, “ζωη” with the definite article is obviously and clearly talking in futuristic terms about judgment and reward.  Are you saved by your actions or by continuously loving the Lord?  No!  The Lord will give the one who passes the test the crown of the Kingdom!  This is talking about rewards in the age to come.  Brothers and sisters, I want to see you there, and I want us to be ruling and reigning side by side!

This concept also helps us to understand the meaning of death in [James 1:15; thanatos].  You can lose your life in the age to come.  Romans 8:38-39 tells you that you can’t lose your everlasting salvation, no matter what.  Not death, not angels, not things in the present, nor things to come.  This passage in James is talking about losing the Kingdom, not your everlasting salvation.  You can lose that!  It’s yours to lose!  Don’t blow it!

This idea also makes it easy to understand verses such as Matthew 7:14:  “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto THE life, and few there be that find it.”  You are encouraged to pursue the difficult, constrained path of discipleship that leads to the blessings of the Kingdom.  The narrow gate means of course that you must enter through faith in Jesus the Christ, which only allows entrance for one individual at a time.  But, there is a warning contained in the passage:  There are only a few who will find it.  This is the same warning given in other places about many being called, or invited, but only a few will be called out or chosen or elect.  Many will be saved, but few will rule and reign in the coming Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sister, you can have THE life; you can receive a victor’s crown; you can enter in at the narrow gate.  All you have to do is live your life faithfully; you have to continuously love Him.  When do you do that?  You do that always, in everything that you do.  Your salvation is secure and you cannot lose that under any circumstance.  But, you can lose your inheritance; you can lose your crowns; you can lose your life in the age to come.  Life your life faithfully and don’t blow it!  Don’t lose your life!