Has John 3:16 Been Misunderstood?

“In spite of my differences with his teachings, Garner Ted Armstrong had a standing offer of a certified cashier’s check for $10,000 to anyone who could prove that Jesus remotely said anything close to “Do this and you go to Heaven”. Nobody ever cashed in. Why didn’t Jesus plainly say, “Do this and you go to Heaven”? Because as grand as Heaven is, Jesus would never sell us short. He didn’t present partial truth. He offered something bigger and grander than just the finite location of Heaven.”–an excerpt from this post

I think John 3:16 is perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible. It may even be the most famous verse in the Bible. Yet, even with all that exposure, do you think that parts of it could still be hidden or obscured from the eyes of our minds? Do you think that is possible?

What do most people think about when they hear the terms “shall not perish” and “have eternal life” that are used in John 3:16? How are these terms explained, and to what locations are these terms most often referred? What have people been taught to think when they hear John 3:16? I wonder if many people read John 3:16 and THINK something like this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not go to Hell, but live forever in Heaven. Have you ever heard John 3:16 explained in that light? Has it been explained that life in Heaven is the big reward of John 3:16? Are the words “shall not perish” often summed up as going to Hell? Is “have eternal life” often summed up as going to Heaven? Does Eternal Life = Heaven? That’s more or less what I heard in sermons, it’s what I read in books, and it was what I was taught in Sunday School. As a result, this is often how I have summed up these terms in John 3:16. It’s the traditional way.

But now, I’m beginning to see something I never saw before. Look at this! Concerning the equation of Everlasting Life = Heaven, let’s think for just a moment. As a quality, Eternal Life is infinite and cannot be held by the boundaries of a location. As a location, Heaven is not infinite, but finite, and it is held by boundaries. Let me ask a question: Why has it been pounded into our minds that a term which describes an INFINITE QUALITY that is MOBILE (Eternal Life) can be equally substituted by a term which describes a FINITE LOCATION with BOUNDARIES (Heaven)??? Infinite does not equal finite. Qualities don’t translate into locations. Mobile does not equal a position with boundaries. What is going on here? What is being said? Let me ask: Does the whole NFL exist within the New York Giants? Does the entire U.S.A. exist within Omaha? Does all of Asia exist within Nepal? Does Eternal Life exist within Heaven?… OR does Heaven exist within Eternal Life? AHA! Is Eternal Life larger than Heaven? Does Eternal Life encompass Heaven and so much more? Is our idea of Eternal Life too small according to scripture? Is this just John 3:16, or is it in plain sight to see that Jesus presented Eternal Life as the Grand Prize throughout the Gospels over and over again? We have been conditioned to think, “Eternal Life in Heaven”…But is it the other way around? Is Eternal Life <, =, or > Heaven? Is this a trivial game of  word-play that amounts to nothing, or is this a real game changer? Please read on and judge for yourself.

Heaven is a finite location with boundaries. Really? Let me ask you: Are you in Heaven now? No, you are on Earth, and the scriptures are clear that we have to pray for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Why? Because Heaven is distinct from Earth. Now, there are those defenders who point out that the Bible says we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” meaning that we are in the midst of Heaven and that metaphorically this universe is laying in a test-tube in the laboratory of Heaven. If that is true, then let me point out that this island of a “test-tube” is still not Heaven! We are not in Heaven. Whether Heaven is in this dimension or not is irrelevant to the question of its finiteness. Earth is not Heaven. The scripture is clear that they are separate. Heaven also stops at the boundary of Hell (Luke 16:26). Hell is not a part of Heaven. Finite is defined as having limitations. Heaven is not everywhere. Heaven has limitations; Therefore the Heaven that we call Home is finite. Now, Eternal Life is mobile and can live and thrive outside the boundaries of Heaven (Jesus traveled to Earth, the Angels travel, and Jesus even went to preach in Spiritual Prison! 1 Peter 3:18-19). Eternal Life exists outside the boundaries of Heaven.  But Heaven has no existence outside of Eternal Life. What? That’s right…Heaven has no existence outside of Eternal Life. Without Eternal Life, there is no Heaven. Eternal Life is not ultimately dependent upon a location called Heaven, but Heaven is entirely dependent upon Eternal Life. Wow! Please listen carefully to this: The Bible is clear that the innermost essence of the quality of Eternal Life is to knowingly realize the Father and Christ (John 17:3). There are literally no physical, spiritual, or dimensional boundaries that can contain the incalculable, immeasurable height, depth, and width of THAT entire eternal journey of experiencing life with God. It is endless, energetic, full of discovery, exploratory, invigorating, and filled with movement that is beyond linear (More on this with Greek words as proof in the next post). The ability to fully experience that would necessitate going beyond the borders of finite Heaven. Jesus is a traveler, and He is just like His Father. It is an adventure that goes beyond Heaven.  God existed before Heaven. Heaven is created. The knowledge of Christ exceeds Heaven. But Heaven would not exist without Christ. What does all of this mean? I’ll unpack it in the next post, but for now, let’s just say that this is something that cannot be bottled. Proof? Just the love of Christ alone exceeds any boundaries (Romans 8:39). I’m truly afraid that many have been led to deeply believe that Heaven contains Eternal Life. On the contrary, Eternal Life contains finite Heaven. To say that Eternal Life=Heaven is a gross misstatement.

Do you want to hear something really crazy? Jesus NEVER presented an If-Then type of salvation command with the stated reward of going to Heaven. Let me put it another way: Jesus NEVER presented the Gospel by plainly saying, “If you do this, then you will go to Heaven when you die”. Isn’t that wild? It was a shocking realization for me. Although Heaven is clearly part of the salvation package, and Jesus is preparing a place in Heaven for us (John 14), Jesus never plainly said, “If you do this, I will give you Heaven”. Instead, Jesus said 36 times that we would gain Life! But what about when He told the Thief on the cross that you are going to Paradise today? That was not a situation where Jesus was presenting an If/then salvation message. Heaven is always a byproduct of Eternal Life. Whenever Jesus presented the Gospel message, Life was the big prize 36 times. So, the score with Jesus is this: Heaven 0, Life 36. In spite of my differences with his teachings, Garner Ted Armstrong had a standing offer of a certified cashier’s check for $10,000 to anyone who could prove that Jesus remotely said anything close to “Do this and you go to Heaven”. Nobody ever cashed in. Why didn’t Jesus plainly say, “Do this and you go to Heaven”? Because as grand as Heaven is, Jesus would never sell us short. He didn’t present partial truth. He offered something bigger and grander than just the finite location of Heaven.

I’m not trying to minimize Heaven. I’m just pointing out the truth that Jesus offered Eternal Life, not Heaven, as the total package; and that Eternal Life and Heaven are not equals. When we are able to shine light on the truth of Resurrection Life in the hereafter, that light is always reflected back to illuminate our current path, and we are able to make adjustments according to the light that is shown to us.

Now you may be thinking, “didn’t Jesus say things like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? Isn’t that an “If/Then, go to Heaven” presentation? No. The literal Heaven and the Kingdom of Heaven/God are not the same thing. The term “Kingdom of Heaven” can be as different from Heaven as the Roman Empire was different from Rome. Physically speaking, the Earth is part of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. The scriptures tells us plainly that, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.”–Psalm 41. In Daniel 4:17 we are told “that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men”. Heaven’s rule extends over the Earth, but that doesn’t turn the Earth into Heaven. In the same way, the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t always translate to the literal Heaven. Spiritually speaking, If you are born-again then you are in the Kingdom of God! You are born into the Kingdom of God and your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Luke 17:21 says that the Kingdom of God is “in your midst”. The Greek word is ἐντός which literally means “inside” or “within” you! The Kingdom of God is within you! You are sealed by the Spirit! He is inside you! The Spirit of the King is in you! He bears witness with your spirit. When you received Him you entered into being a child in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand right then, and all you had to do was receive it. When you received Him, you received power! You entered the Kingdom of Heaven/God. But, if you are reading this, you are still not in literal Heaven. (Quick point: Although Eternal Life and Heaven are not equal, Eternal Life and the Kingdom of Heaven substitute for each other very well).

Let me take another stab at this from another angle. Eternal Life is vastly larger and superior in scope to finite Heaven. The fact that Eternal Life is the true grand prize is borne out in John 3:16 and many other salvation passages where Jesus continually offers Eternal Life as the total package which contains finite Heaven. When we limit and downsize Eternal Life to mean Heaven, then we are simply not presenting the message that Jesus gave. We are only presenting partial truth. If Jesus had wanted to limit John 3:16 and other If-then salvation passages to a reward of Heaven or Hell, I believe He would have said exactly that. Jesus wasn’t shy about saying “Heaven” and “Hell”. When we take Jesus’ message of Eternal Life and boil it down to Heaven, it is like focusing on a six-inch pine cone when Jesus is actually telling us about a 50-foot Pine tree. A six-inch pine cone can be contained on a limb of a 50 foot tall Pine Tree. But if all we think about is “pine cone” when someone says “Pine Tree”, then we are really missing the big picture.

Let me present a scenario and ask some questions. You are about to go on the adventure of a lifetime. It could be a Hawaiian Island Expedition, an African Safari, or an Outback Adventure. Now all of these adventures have wonderful hotels located in or near each of them. You could stay at the Hilton in Hawaii, the Sabi Sabi Luxury Lodge in Africa, or the Ayers Rock Resort in Australia. These facilities are remarkable and wonderful in and of themselves. As wonderful as these facilities are, they are only a small part of the big picture. Would you tell people that you are going to the Sabi Sabi, or do you tell them that you are going on an adventurous Safari? Do you tell people that you are going to a hotel, or do you tell them your going to Hawaii? The Ayers Resort is wonderful, but exploring the Outback is the big picture. Heaven is grand, but Eternal Life is the big journey! Eternal life is what Jesus was talking about, and it is what He wants us to understand and tell others!

Here is another scenario that may help us to better comprehend the difference between Heaven and Eternal Life. Militarily speaking, Heaven is like Central Command; It is HQ; It is the Pentagon. But Eternal Life is like the entire array of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Pentagon is specifically located. But the Armed Forces can reach, sail, and fly over any point on the planet at any time. The Pentagon is the Head and the Armed Forces are the Body that carries out the orders of the Headquarters. When Jesus promises us Eternal Life, he is promising us a mission, a purpose, an exciting placement in the largest force the Universe and beyond has ever known. Although Heaven is the HQ and is included in the package, we are being invited to join something much bigger that is a force, a movement, a mission whose proportions and intensity go beyond anything we have been able to imagine.

Should it concern us that we preach a Gospel which states finite Heaven as the ultimate goal when Jesus never said any such thing, but consistently presented a Gospel of Eternal Life? Is Eternal Living an on-going journey that goes beyond any destination? Is it where Heaven is both home base and a launch pad from which some of us may go out to rule and reign with Christ in the unending realm of the Kingdom of God?

So, is there more that we can know about this Eternal Life? Yes! This was just an intro to help us understand that we may not be seeing all that has been revealed to us about Eternal Life. If any of this has been eye-opening for you, then you will be glad to know that the signs, the clues, and the plain truth is all there! You just have to ask Him to defrost the windows of your eyes. We will look at more in the next post. Just like John 3:16, the truth is in plain sight. Understand this, there is no hidden truth to John 3:16, we’ve just been taught not to see it. What else have we been taught to not see?

Spread the message and stay tuned…

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Husband, Father, Salesman, Veteran, Real Identity: Child of God
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