In the passage in question, Jesus made the following comment:
"... if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."
He elaborated on this statement in additional passages, such as John 8:52: "... If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death." In referring to our participation at the annual Passover service, He stated, in John 6:50, 58: "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die... He who eats this bread will live forever."
We also read, in Hebrews 11:5, that ancient Enoch "was taken away so that he did not see death." But this does not mean that Enoch did not die. We are told, in Hebrews 11:39, that all the spiritual giants of faith, including Enoch, have not, so far, received the promises--including the promise of eternal life. Hebrews 11:13 specifically says: "These all DIED in faith, not having received the promises..." Hebrews 9:27 tells us that "it is appointed for men to die once." 1 Corinthians 15:22 adds that "in Adam ALL die."
The Bible confirms that all of Christ's disciples would die "in Adam." Some of Christ's disciples will still be alive when He returns--they will be changed, instantly, from matter to spirit. But even they will "die" physically--their physical cells will cease to exist, and they will be "clothed" from above with a spiritual "tent" (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:13-14). Christ also said that many would die the death of a martyr. Christ prophesied that many would be killed by misguided people (John 16:2). He stated that Peter would die for God (John 21:18-19). The Two Witnesses will die (Revelation 11:7-10). Of course, even Jesus Christ died and remained dead in the grave for three days and three nights.
When Christ said that we will not "see" or "taste" death when we keep His Word, He made reference, not to this physical death which we all experience, but to eternal death. The Bible refers to this eternal death as the "second death." When we sin, we bring upon ourselves the penalty of eternal death (Romans 6:23), but upon repentance and belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we receive forgiveness and are freed from the penalty of eternal death--because Christ died FOR US.
We read in John 3:14-16: "... the Son of Man [must] be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him [Jesus Christ] should not perish but have eternal life. For God [the Father] so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Later, Christ confirmed that His disciples, as long as they are His disciples, will never "perish"--that is, they will not die the "second" or final death: "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish" (John 10:28).
Note what the Bible tells us about the "second death." In Revelation 2:11 we read that "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." Revelation 20:6 says that those in the "first resurrection"--which is a resurrection to eternal life--are not affected by the second death. It says that "over such the second death has no power." On the other hand, those who refuse to repent and to accept God's forgiveness, WILL be destroyed in the gehenna fire--they will die the second death: "Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire... But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8).
Jesus Christ died the first death so that we don't have to die the second death--He did "taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9). Christ did not die the second or final death from which there is no resurrection--as we all know, Christ WAS resurrected from the dead to ETERNAL life after three days and three nights in the grave. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that He, "in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death,... was heard because of His godly fear..." Christ was not saved from the first death. But God the Father heard Him and saved Him from the second death--that is, He gave Christ power not to sin and to stay obedient to Him.
Christ came in the flesh to obey His Father's command. He said: "And I know that His command is everlasting life" (John 12:50). Whatever Christ spoke and did, it was for the ultimate goal that man could obtain everlasting life. John confirms God's desire for man: "And this is the promise that He has promised us--eternal life" (1 John 2:25). Titus 1:2 adds that we live "in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began."
But we are still human beings--flesh and blood. We all will die "in Adam." In order to obtain God's promise--eternal and everlasting life--we need to be resurrected from this physical death, and changed into Spirit beings--because once we are Spirit, we cannot die. Christ emphasized this fact in Luke 20:35-37:
"... those who are counted worthy to attain... the resurrection from the dead ... [cannot] die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed ... that the dead are raised..."
And so, we read about Christ's promise of our future resurrection to eternal life:
"... the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life..." (John 5:28-29). He added in John 6:39-40: "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." He elaborated in John 6:54: "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood [symbolic for the bread and the wine during the annual Passover service] has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
But why, then, do we read that even though we must be resurrected from the dead, we already HAVE, RIGHT NOW, eternal life? Because the Bible makes it very clear that Christ's true disciples HAVE already ETERNAL life, while still existing in this physical flesh, BEFORE they are resurrected in the first resurrection.
In addition to some of the passages which we quoted above to this effect, please note these Scriptures:
John 6:47 says: "... he who believes in Me HAS everlasting life."
1 John 5:11-13 adds: "... God HAS GIVEN US eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son HAS life... These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you HAVE eternal life..."
The answer is, actually, quite simple. Our inheritance of eternal life as immortal Spirit beings is a future event, following our death and resurrection (Matthew 19:16; 25:46; Mark 10:30). Christ said in John 11:25-26: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, THOUGH HE MAY DIE, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." That is, even though we may die the first or physical death, we shall never die the second, eternal or final death--a death with eternal consequences.
At the same time, we HAVE eternal life in us by virtue of God's Holy Spirit that God has given us. Christ said that the Holy Spirit would abide in us FOREVER (John 14:16). (We hasten to point out that the Holy Spirit is NOT a Person, but the power and mind of God, emanating from the Father and the Son. For more information, please read our free booklet, "Is God a Trinity?"). We also read that if we refuse to follow God and His commandments, and if we hate our brethren, His Holy Spirit--that is, His "eternal life"--will not continue to abide in us (1 John 3:15). But if we keep His commandments and love our brethren, then His Holy Spirit will continue to abide in us (1 John 3:24). We HAVE eternal life in us, when God's Holy Spirit dwells in us, because the Holy Spirit is an "eternal Spirit" (Hebrews 9:14). In that sense, we have already passed from death to life (1 John 3:14), and we will not come into a future judgment (John 5:24)--that is, we will be resurrected to eternal life, not to physical life with the possibility of failing (For further information on the different resurrections, as taught in the Bible, please read our free booklet, "Do We Have an Immortal Soul?").
As long as we keep God's Word and do good (John 8:51; John 5:28-29); as long as we love Christ (John 14:23), as long as we abide in Christ's love (John 15:10); as long as we really know God and do what He tells us (John 17:3; 1 John 5:20); as long as we believe in Christ as our Savior, Lord and Master whom we must obey (John 3:14; John 15:14); we HAVE eternal life--through God's Holy Spirit dwelling in us. And God will resurrect us through His Spirit, as long as His Holy Spirit dwells in us at the time of our death (Romans 8:11).
This does not mean, however, that God's Holy Spirit remains in our dead bodies, while we are sleeping the sleep of death. Rather, God's Holy Spirit will return to God, together with the spirit in man, when man dies. God has given every human being a human spirit which separates and distinguishes man from animals (Zechariah 12:1; 1 Corinthians 2:11-12). When man dies, the spirit of man leaves the human body and returns to God (Ecclesiastes 3:21; 12:7). Converted Christians receive a portion of God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18; 1 John 4:13), and both the spirit in man and God's Holy Spirit "witness" that we have become God's (begotten) children (Romans 8:16). When a converted Christian dies, the spirit in man, now made perfect through the Holy Spirit, returns to God (Hebrews 12:23). God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, will resurrect the Christian to eternal life, by using the spirit in man which has "recorded" or preserved everything about the Christian (See Q&A in Update #241, "Do You Teach a Resurrection of the Physical Body?").
Christ's words in John 8:51 must be understood quite literally. As long as we keep His Word, we will never see or experience death--the final or second death. Rather, with God's Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we have received a "down payment" of eternal life (compare Ephesians 1:14--the word "guarantee" can also mean "down payment" or "earnest."). If we continue to live God's way of life, by following the lead of the Holy Spirit in us (Romans 8:9, 14; Galatians 5:25), we "will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:8)--by becoming born-again Spirit beings in the Family of God.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link
"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."-Matthew 5:14