"And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
- John 17:3
It is no surprise that Jesus prays in John 17:3 about eternal life; what may surprise us is how he defines it: “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ.” Jesus defines eternal life not as an amount of time, but as a knowledge of God. Interestingly, the word “know” that Jesus uses does not mean merely a head knowledge, or else he would be saying that eternal life is simply a thought. Instead, Jesus is talking about an intimate knowledge, a real relationship with God the Father and his Son. Eternal life then, as Jesus says, is not just a quantity of time but a quality of knowledge.
Qualitative Knowledge vs. Quantitative Knowledge
It is possible to know much about God, yet not know God. Throughout the Bible we read of God’s desire for his people to know him personally and intimately, rather than simply to acknowledge his existence. He does not call us to a doctrinal ascent. He calls us to experience his presence. How does he do this? Well, just like you would experience any other relationship: through your senses.
In the Old Testament we read verses like, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). In Exodus 33, the great prophet Moses asks God to see his glory. In other words, Moses wanted to experience God by seeing God’s attributes with his own eyes. God responds that Moses can “see my back”, but “not my face.” This is interesting because the face is the attribute that sets apart someone more than anything else.
For example, if you asked me to choose a picture of my wife’s hand out of twenty other female hands, I would probably be able to do it, but maybe not. But if you told me to choose a picture of her face out of twenty others, I could easily choose hers. The face enables us to know someone uniquely. Not even the greatest man in all of the Old Testament could experience God by seeing his face.
In the New Testament everything changes. Paul boldly wrote to the struggling Corinthian church, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). How amazing this must be to us! The same God who would not fully reveal himself, even to the greatest man in all the Old Testament, now allows us to know him fully, personally, intimately, and eternally! How is this possible, you ask? In the face of Jesus Christ!
Therefore, let us not settle for knowing about God, about the Bible, or about theology. Instead, let us strive to know God fully in the face of Jesus Christ until the glorious day that we behold Him: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)