By Jonah Doctura | 2016
To fully understand the biblical teaching on "eternal life" and "eternal punishment," we must first comprehend what the words aionios and aion, which are generally translated as "ever," "forever," "evermore," or "eternity" in the New Testament, truly mean a Messianic period (present or future).
Αιων, transliterated aeon, is a period of time of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself. This word does not convey the concept of "eternity" or "endlessness" as we understand it. It simply refers to an unspecified, but finite, period of time.
Aion in the TANAKH (OT) means exactly what Olam means. the Hebrew noun 'olam is derived from the verb 'alam, which means "to hide," "keep secret," or "obscure." In each occurrence of the verb is the idea of hiddenness, of inability or unwillingness to perceive or disclose something. It may have meant "long life" or "old age", but in general, the word depicts that of which the horizon is not in view. Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period.
In the 1st century, it was believed that the Messiah would deliver Israel from its opressors and restore the authority of the Law (Torah). He would rule over the entire earth from Jerusalem for the period of the golden age we now call "the Millennium," with the Mosaic Law serving as the basis for his government.
From the Gospels we can clearly see that there was a Messianic expectation at the time of Yeshua (Matt. 2:4; 26:63; Mark 14:61; Luke 3:15; Luke 22:67; John 1:19-20, 41; 4:29, 42; 6:69; 7:26-31, 40-42; 10:24; 11:27). The Jews were impatiently waiting for the Messiah and the golden age (aion) that the Saviour was to bring. They understood the prophets teach that this Divine Kingdom would be here on earth, desiring to live in this kingdom under the Messianic king God would raise up.
The Jewish expectation of "eternal life" was that they would live until the prophesied Messianic kingdom arrived or that they would be resurrected (with all the "just") to physically live in that kingdom. Eternal life, as understood by devout Jews in the 1st century who were awaiting the Messiah, was simply life during the age that the Messianic king would rule.
In His final prayer to the Father before his trial and crucifixion, Yeshua actually specified what "eternal life" would mean, when He clearly stated that zoen aionion ("eternal life") was knowing him and the only true God, the Father (John 17:1-3).
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