Because of the name “eternal life” it is natural to assume that it means simply living forever. The common understanding is that it is life not on earth, but in some beautiful place where we will see all our loved ones who have died before us. We might even imagine that we become angels someday, like Clarence in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life”.
However, Jesus described a very different and simple version of eternal life. In his final prayer with his disciples, he declared eternal life to be a relationship with the only true God and the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:1-3). According to Jesus, eternal life is not merely living forever in a continual family reunion and serving as angels, but rather an existence of relationship with the true God and Jesus. The knowledge of this type of life was to be the basis of joy while we live on this earth. When Jesus’ disciples returned from healing people and were naturally excited, Jesus adjusted their perspective. They were to rejoice not because they had authority over disease and demons, but because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
According to Jesus our understanding of heaven or eternal life is not to distract us from life on earth, but rather motivate us with joy to help those around us. We don’t serve others in order to be “good enough for heaven”, but because our names are written in heaven, because of Jesus, we serve others.