Chayei Olam -

The Wonder of Eternal Life

by John J. Parsons

"The pious live even in death;
the wicked are dead even in life."
(Berachot 18b)

Judaism is not dogmatic regarding eschatological matters, and the various Rabbinic traditions have never reached consensus regarding the issues of life after death and the future state of the world. However, most discussions on the issue include a basic division of the world into two spheres: the Olam Hazeh and the Olam Habah:

  1. Olam Hazeh -  This world; this present age. According to the sages the Olam Hazeh will endure for 6000 years from the time of the impartation of the neshamah (soul) to Adam in the Garden of Eden to the coming of the Messiah (the idea that there are 6,000 years comes from the fact that there are 6 Alephs (א) in the first verse of the Tanakh, and each Aleph represents 1,000).

    The Olam Hazeh is sometimes divided into three distinct periods:
    1. The Age of Tohu - The age of desolation. The first 2000 years of the Olam Hazeh, i.e. from the fall of Adam until the calling of Abraham.
    2. The Age of Torah - The age of instruction. During this age, each of us is given the opportunity to honor the Name of the LORD by performing mitzvot and learning Torah. This is the time of "schooling" before the Messiah.
    3. The Age of Messiah -- "Yemot Hamashiach" or the Messianic Era. This is the period of time when the spirit of the Messiah is available to all. In the acharit hayamim, the "End of Days," the Messiah will usher in Yom YHVH, the "Day of the LORD," and the sabbatical millennium, the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will commence. Prior to the arrival of the Messiah, however, is the "time of Jacob's trouble," a period of tribulation and distress for Israel.
  1. Olam Habah - "The World to Come" or "Afterlife." The Olam Habah is sometimes divided into two distinct periods:
    1. The World of Souls -- "Sheol" (שְׁאוֹל). Concurrent with the Olam Hazeh, this is considered to be the place the souls go after death. This seems to be a disembodied state of preparation for reunification with the body.
    2. The World of Resurrection -- Olam Ha-techiah (עוֹלָם הַתְּחִיָּה). For the righteous, this is the utopic world of the future which "no eye hath seen" (Sanhedrin 99a, 1 Cor. 2:9). In this future state, the body and soul are reunited to live eternally in perfection. The World of Resurrection is thus the ultimate reward, the "new heavens and new earth" envisioned by the prophets. The wicked and unbelieving, however, are consigned to Genenna, a place of torment.

The relationship between Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah can be depicted as follows:

Life Modes: Chayei Sha'ah and Chayim Olam

The ideas about Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah are cosmic and metaphysical - they pertain to the universe outside of ourselves in terms of the LORD's overarching goal and plan for His creation. From the point of view of the human soul, these are experienced as Chayei Sha'a (fleeting life) and Chayei Olam (eternal life), respectively.

  1. Chayei Sha'ah -- Fleeting life; life in this world (Olam Hazeh). This mode of life is absorbed in this world and its physical and social structures: working, eating, pursuing pleasures, etc. Chayei Sha'ah is the life of "vanity of vanities" and is a vapor that soon dissipates in the winds of time. It is sometimes called Olam HaSheker (עוֹלָם הַשֶּׁקֶר), "the false world."
  2. Chayei Olam -- Eternal life; life in the world to come (Olam Habah).

The relationship between life modes and world modes can be expressed in this way:

In the Jewish tradition, the study of Torah prepares us for Chayei Olam in Olam Habah, whereas the neglect of Torah leads to Chayei Sha'ah in the Olam Hazeh - and consequently the loss of reward in the eternal world to come.

Yeshua and Eternal Life

The Brit Chadashah identifies Chayei Olam as the knowledge of the one true God who sent Yeshua into the world as the Mashiach:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

umah chayei olam asher yed'u otkha ki attah l'vadkha
el emet v'et Yeshua Hamashiach asher shalachta.

Chayei Olam, eternal life, is a conscious relationship with God through Yeshua the Messiah. Since God inhabits eternity, this means living in the mode of life that apprehends (by faith) the reality of the eternal in the here and now. In other words, faith sees the Olam Habah and prepares us to partake of its reality even in the Olam Hazeh.

But practically speaking, how do we experience Chayei Olam? How do we come to "know the only true God" and the one He sent, namely, Yeshua the Messiah?

Ultimately this relationship is created by the Yeshua Himself, for the glory of God. Consider the context of the foregoing verse of scripture:

    These words spoke Yeshua, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify thee: As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah, whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3, KJV)

Chayei Olam is a gift of revelation -- from the Messiah directly to you -- that ultimately derives from the will of the Father to be chosen as one who will know the truth of God's love and redemption. This is summarized by the famous verse found in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

ki-khen ohev elohim et-ha'olam ad-asher
natan ba'ado et-b'no et yechido v'khol hama'amin
bo lo-yovad ki vo yimtsa chayei olam.

In other words, eternal life is the Person of Yeshua the Mashiach -- He is the Source of all life and is the One who alone bestows redemptive life to chosen individuals. He is the Initiator of the relationship that heals us, for if He should choose to keep Himself hidden, how would He be disclosed?

    Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life (chayei olam), and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:10-13)

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