If you've never discovered ...
… the rich resources of the Girardian lectionary, here's an invaluable resource. In this reflection, for example, you'll get a link to a beautiful sermon by Paul Nuechterlein, and interpretive resources on John 1:1-18.
"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people." It's worth calling attention to John's use of the word life here, in light of the more familiar term "eternal life." Here, for example, is an insightful commentary by Brian McLaren, in The Secret Message of Jesus:
Interestingly, John almost never uses the term “kingdom of God” (which is at the heart of Jesus’ message for Matthew, Mark, and Luke). There are two exceptions, both of which occur in this unique conversation [with Nicodemus in John 3]. Instead, John normally translates “kingdom of God” into another phrase that is notoriously hard to render in English. Most commonly, John’s translation of Jesus’ original phrase is rendered “eternal life” in English. Unfortunately, the phrase eternal life is often misinterpreted to mean “life in heaven after you die” — as are kingdom of God and its synonym, kingdom of heaven — so I think we need to find a better rendering.
If “eternal life” doesn’t mean “life after death,” what does it mean? Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus reduces the phrase simply to “life,” or “life to the full.” Near the end of John’s account, Jesus makes a particularly fascinating statement in a prayer, and it is as close as we get to a definition: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [God has] sent” (John 17:3). So here, “eternal life” means knowing, and knowing means an interactive relationship. In other words, “This is eternal life, to have an interactive relationship with the only true God and with Jesus Christ, his messenger.” Interestingly, that’s what a kingdom is too: an interactive relationship one has with a king, the king’s other subjects, and so on.
The Greek phrase John uses for “eternal life” literally means “life of the ages,” as opposed, I think we could say, to “life as people are living it these days.” So John’s related phrases — eternal life, life to the full, and simply life — give us a unique angle on what Jesus meant by “kingdom of God”: a life that is radically different from the way people are living these days, a life that is full and overflowing, a higher life that is centered in an interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Let’s render it simply “an extraordinary life to the full centered in a relationship with God.” (pp. 36-37)
McLaren is following recent New Testament scholarship on this rendering -- preeminently N.T. Wright, especially in his books The Resurrection of the Son of God and Surprised by Hope. He offers the translation of "eternal life" in his The Kingdom New Testament, as “the life of the coming age.” His best explanation of translating the Greek phrase zoe aionias is in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels:
“God so loved the world,” reads the famous text in the King James Version of John 3:16, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” There we are, think average Christian readers. This is the biblical promise of a timeless heavenly bliss.
But it isn’t. In the many places where the phrase zoe aionios appears in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters for that matter, it refers to one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time was divided up. In this viewpoint, there were two “aions” (we sometimes use the word “eon” in that sense): the “Present age,” ha-olam hazeh in Hebrew, and the “age to come,” ha-olam ha-ba. The “age to come,” many ancient Jews believed, would arrive one day to bring God’s justice, peace, and healing to the world as it groaned and toiled within the “present age.” You can see Paul, for instance, referring to this idea in Galatians 1:4, where he speaks of Jesus giving himself for our sins “to rescue us from the present evil age.” In other words, Jesus has inaugurated, ushered in, the "age to come.” But there is no sense that this “age to come” is “eternal” in the sense of being outside space, time, and matter. Far from it. The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. (pp. 44-45)
I'm honored that Paul considers my work of value to this tremendous project he has been working on for many years now. If you love the Bible already, this resource will give you new levels of appreciation. If you're itchy around the Bible, this resource will help you see the powerful and beautiful currents that run beneath the surface.