We have failed to grasp the full meaning of Eternal Life.  Eternal Life is much more than an ongoing existence.  It is also a type and quality of living.  Most importantly, Eternal Life is an enjoyment of the fellowship that always existed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (1 John 1:2-4)  The Son manifested and modeled such a way of living to all of us.  (1 John 1:2)  He demonstrated and practiced an ongoing fellowship with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  (John 5:19)  He demonstrated a worshipful existence, always subordinated to the will of His Father.  (John 4:23-24, John 5:30)   Paul instructed Timothy to “take hold of eternal life.”  (1 Timothy 6:12)  He used the Greek word epilambano, which means to lay hold of something. Eternal Life is something we have and something we lay hold of for the benefit of ourselves.  In the previous verse (1 Timothy 6:11), Paul described some of the characteristics of eternal life to include “righteousness, godliness, faith, love,, perseverance, and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)  These were also character traits of Jesus Christ.   We are instructed to pursue such things. (1 Timothy, 6:11)  The Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)  Jesus responded to him,”What is written in the Law?  What does it read to you?” (Luke 10:26) The Rich Young Ruler responded: “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  (Luke 10:27)  Thereafter, Jesus said,” You have answered correctly, DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”  (Luke 10:28)   Eternal Life is authentic living under God’s authority.  It is walking in love.

Eternal Life is a gift from God.  It includes the ability to hear God and believe. (John 5:23)  Such a capacity is now available to all who will receive the gift.  Dwight L Moody once pointed out that air is a gift, but we must breath it.  Food is a gift, but we must eat it.  In the same way, faith is a gift, but we must receive it.  Only God can give us the ability to hear and believe.  It is all grace.  The most that we can be is a consenting subject to a transformation wrought by God.  We are transformed by the Word and Spirit.  The Word of God is a kind of miracle food, which in conjunction with the Spirit causes a miracle growth.  All of the glory belongs to God.  Remember, God is spirit, and He seeks those that will worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).  His Word is truth. (John 17:17)

On the other hand, Eternal Fire is our holy God’s just response to all sin and evil.  Eternal Fire is the righteous judgment of God (aka Wrath of God), which is forever directed against all creature rebellion.  God’s Eternal Fire sounds like the following:

DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY [speaking of the Exodus Generation, who God rescued out of Egypt] PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED ME BY TESTING ME, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS.  THEREFORE, I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRY IN THEIR HEART,  AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’;  AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST. (Hebrews 3:8-11, bracketed commentary added)

Israel is a warning to us because we, like them, often go astray in our hearts.  Our rebellion has temporal and eternal consequences.  We can escape the consequences of our rebellion only by listening and obeying God.  Jesus explained that His sheep hear His voice. (John 10:3-5)  Not only must we hear and receive the message the Jesus is the Son of God, we must also keep hearing and obeying His Words.  Paul taught:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he shall reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

In the above verse, Paul used the Greek word phthora, which means destruction, ruin, or corruption.  When we live to the flesh as opposed to the Spirit, we inevitably reap our own destruction and ruin.  How we function has great consequences.  The sowing and harvesting of crops like wheat was a common Biblical image used to describe human function and consequences.  As Jesus explained in the Parable of the Sower:

And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil [a receptive heart], this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.  (Matthew 13:23, with bracketed commentary)

As seen above, it is the hearer who produces fruit.  However, some hear better than others, and thereby their production is more bountiful.  Look again at Galatians 6:12, the sower to the Spirit was described as reaping eternal life, which, again, is a type and quality of living.  For the most part, this life is invisible to those who have only an earthly orientation as opposed to a heavenly orientation.  The Book of Revelation warns us to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  (Revelation 3:6)

When Jesus distinguished between the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31), He made a distinction between those that listened to Him and those that did not.  We have failed to grasp one of the most prominent messages and themes of the Bible.  The People of God have always included a great many that are poor listeners.  As an example, the Israel of Old was saved out of Egypt.  They believed in Yahweh and His servant Moses (Exodus 14:31), but most were destroyed in the wilderness because they departed from walking in faith.  They, like us, were primarily disobedient and rebellious People.  When we continue in disobedience, we will ultimately (in God’s timing) experience His righteous judgment (aka wrath or fire).  We choose between a path of disobedience or a path of righteousness.   The consequences of such choices will occur in accordance with God’s wisdom  and timing.  Therefore, perhaps we can begin to understand Matthew 25: 41 and 46:

Then He will also say to those on His left [meaning the goats, who would not listen], “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire [God's ongoing wrath, with future consequences] which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;…  (Matthew 25:41, with bracketed commentary)

 

These  [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment [God's ongoing wrath, with future conseqences], but the righteous [the sheep, those that listen] into eternal life.  (Matthew 25:47,with bracketed commentary)

The righteous listened to the message broadcasted by the King’s agents.  They entered into kingdom living (aka the spiritual life). When the agents of the Kingdom suffered because of hostility to the message or otherwise, the righteous provided aid and comfort to the King’s emissaries.  By providing aid and comfort to the agents of the King, the righteous demonstrated their faithfulness and loyalty to the King.  On the other hand, the goats demonstrated stubbornness and hostility to the King and His emissaries.  When any creature, believer or unbeliever, functions contrary to the King’s will and authority, such a person will experience the wrath of the King.  The Bible often uses  “fire” as an image of Divine judgment.  God’s response to our rebellion will always include His fire administered to us in accordance with His timing.  The love, grace, and wrath of God are co-extensive in history.  As long as we function in disobedience, we will experience the wrath or fire of God.  Such fire is all around us and woven into the fabric of our lives.  Such fire does not negate the love or grace of God.  Put in another way, God designed human existence to have certain boundaries and parameters.  If we insist on acting contrary to God’s design, we will experience His Eternal Fire.  This Eternal Fire is ongoing in history.  All disobedient creatures experience such fire now to one extent or another.  God turns the “heat up” on us in accordance with His wisdom.  For example, certain fallen angels were disobedient to such an extent that they were confined to a special prison called Tartaros. (2 Peter 2:4)  Metaphorically, they were described as being bound by “chains of darkness.”  (2 Peter 2:9)  To this day, they are reserved in such a condition until the Final Judgment. (2 Peter 2:9)  In a similar way, we can think of unbelievers as being reserved in Sheol  (aka Hades)  until the Final Judgement.  The Bible does not provide a scientific or forensic description of Sheol.  Like the fallen angels confined in Tararos, the unbeliever awaits imprisoned in Sheol until his or her Final Judgment.  However, we can have hope for such members of humanity, particularly if we know and believe the Scripture.   Unfortunately, many are blinded by the traditions of men.  But what does the Scripture say:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

So did not all die in Adam?  Can you identify one member of humanity who did not die in Adam?  After the resurrection and judgment, every member of humanity will be made alive in Christ.  Yes, it is going to be an awesome and spectacular celebration.  For good reason, every knee will bow, and every mouth will praise God. (Philippians 2:9-10)  God has the power to subdue all things, and He will bring it about.  (Philippians 3:21) He will reconcile all things to Himself. (Colossians 1:20)

Finally, one other thing, there is a resurrection to condemnation. (Daniel 12:2, John 5:29) Such a resurrection will include believers, who like most of the Exodus Generation functioned in disobedience and rebellion (failing to advance in the spiritual life). They are the functional enemies of God, even they were the positional People of God.  (Philippians 3:18)  Paul described such believers as those

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.  (Philippians 3:19)

We have failed to see this ongoing mega-theme of Scripture.  Most believers fail to grow and produce spiritual fruit.  Most are distracted by the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16)  Most depart from a life of walking in faith.  Most withdraw and do not continue to draw near. To such believers, the message is very simple. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8) His gracious and loving arms wait for all.  Think about the Jerusalemites, who ultimately perished in the cataclysm of 70 AD.  Jesus said to them:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is left to you desolate!  (Matthew 23:37-38)

The love, grace, and wrath of God is eternally co-extensive.  Disobedience and hostility toward God will always bring about the Divine response of wrath.  Our positive or negative decisions for or against God will have tremendous repercussions for our lives in this world and the next. Thankfully, God has promised a future wherein the wickedness of the wicked will come to an end. (Psalm 7:9)