And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.
– John 17:3
Note that in this passage Jesus says this is eternal life, meaning that this phenomena called eternal life is not just something reserved for the future, but something that was available to the people of the first century – in the first century.
We think eternal life is the “good life” transported to another place and made to continue without end. Some religions see “paradise” as good food, beautiful women, and physical enjoyment without end. Some Christians also believe that Jesus is talking about a kind of earthly paradise when He talks about eternal life.
Eternal life, He says, is the same as knowing God and Christ. In other words, the phenomena of eternal life can be experienced now as one begins to know (meaning to become intimate with) God. The difference between eternal life on earth and eternal in heaven is that our limited sinful nature precludes us from enjoying this “knowledge” of God or eternal type of life for any length of time. Our sins and our human weaknesses always get in the way, a little like the “breaking up” we experience during a cellular phone conversation.
Eternal life in heaven, however, will not be hindered by sin or human limits and so the relationship will be unbroken and ongoing. Oh, what bliss!
Why wait for heaven then? God invites us to know Him now through Jesus Christ. The Word, prayer, worship, obedience, and service are all the avenues to open the relationship that leads to the experience of “eternal” life now. Once you experience it, you won’t want to wait for heaven.