The word “eternal” means without beginning and without end, denoting a continual existence including past, present, and future. As applied to human existence, the Bible indicates that the spirit or soul is indestructible and eventually returns to God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7). This thought is expressed by Paul who attests to God’s overall plan whereby God is “all in all”(I Cor. 15:24-28). Thus, one might well say that eternal life includes the present, or “Today is the first day of the rest of your eternal life.”
Just as there are rewards for followers of Christ, there are judgments of the works of both believers and nonbelievers. Jesus said that all authority to judge the living and the dead is his (John 5:22;17:2; Acts 10:42;I Peter 4:5). In a sense, failure to receive blessings because of failure to ask, asking wrongly, or continued anxiety and fear by not heeding the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are all indicative of a present judgment. As the proverbs say, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion”(Prov. 28:1) and “the way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble”(Prov. 4:16). As we have seen, Jesus assured his listeners that a follower of his and a doer of his words is assured of having his or her needs met and eternal life, including the glories of the resurrection-life (Mk. 10:28-30).
The New Testament sets out a concept of a gradation of regard for believers based upon their Christian good works (Matt. 16:27), their works being tested as by fire (I Cor. 3:13-15). In this respect, the epistles frequently warn believers against backsliding and the loss of reward. [Note the six warnings in the book of Hebrews 3:7-13;4:1-11; 5:11-14; 6:1-9; 10:26-39; 12; also II Peter 2:20-22] A righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward (Matt. 10:41), and one who shows compassion in Jesus’ name will not lose his or her reward (Matt. 10:42;Mk. 9:41). Those who reject the Father and the Son will be judged, and punishment will be meted out for the wrongs which they have committed (Col. 3:25). They are as “cast into outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matt. 22:13;24:51; 25:30). Those who seek after the plaudits of men have their reward (Matt. 6:2). One should enter in by the “narrow gate” to life, for “broad is the way which leads to destruction”(Matt. 7:13-14). Therefore, one should not lay up for himself or herself material treasures on earth, but should lay up treasures in heaven, for “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”(Matt. 6:19-21).
God is merciful, and Jesus stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears his voice and opens the door, he will enter and they shall dine together. But there is a reckoning, and the son of man will separate the “sheep” from the “goats.”Those who have helped the less fortunate and have done it for Jesus shall inherit the kingdom. Those who have not helped others have failed Jesus and will receive punishment (Matt. 25:31-46). The meting out of judgment is portrayed in Revelation depicting God as sitting on a great white throne judging the dead according to their works. The books are opened including the book of life. Anyone whose name is not found in the book of life is subject to punishment. It is decreed that the enemies of God and mankind be cast into the “lake of fire.” These include Satan, the false prophet, and the beast who has opposed God, death, Hades, and “whoever was not found written in the book of life”(Rev. 20:10-15). There is also described a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem in which there reside only those who are overcomers and those who are “athirst of the fountain.” These are given the water of life freely (Rev. 21:1-27). “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last”(Rev. 22:12-13).