Let’s talk about Zoe. Not Zoe from Sesame Street, not Zoey of Pokémon fame, not Zooey Deschanel (New Girl), and not Zoe, Rudolph’s love interest in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie. Let’s discuss the Greek word zoe that the writer of the Gospel of John deemed important enough to use over 30 times. It’s fair to conclude that, to him, zoe had deep theological significance in describing Jesus and his vocation.
Ask a number of people Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth and we will get a number of different responses. However most will intimate something about clearing the path so we can go to heaven when we die. Though that is certainly an outcome, Jesus offered far more than simply going to heaven, which John captured well, with zoe at the core. Along with ushering in God’s kingdom, Jesus purposed to offer people zoe…
Many of us are familiar with the passage in which Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV) or, as stated in the New Living Translation, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” There it is. Jesus’ purpose for coming was to provide an abundant, rich and satisfying life. The Greek word translated as “life” is zoe.
Zoe is rich with meaning: absolute fullness of life that belongs to (and comes from) God, life that is real and genuine, life that is active and vigorous. Here are a few examples of the 30 some cases where John used zoe to describe what Jesus was offering…
- John 1:4 – In him was life (zoe), and that life (zoe) was the light of all mankind.
- John 3:16 – Whoever believes in Him will have eternal life (zoe)
- John 5:24 – Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life (zoe) and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life (zoe).
- John 5:39-40 – You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life (zoe). These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (zoe).
- John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life (zoe), and have it to the full (or abundantly).
- John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life (zoe): that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
I think it’s fairly clear Jesus purposed that we might have life now, not far into the future when we die and go to heaven. Zoe describes a blessed life that is portioned even in this world to those who put their trust in Jesus and then is consummated after death. Noticed that Jesus did not say “I have come that you will have life someday in the future” (i.e, in heaven). How unappealing if he enticed us with something we can’t possess until after death.
Jesus purposed that we would experience life (zoe) now, on earth as in heaven. Revisiting John 5:24, above: Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life (zoe). Quite often Jesus used the term Very truly, (in some translations, verily, verily). In each case he was effectively saying to his listeners to lean in, you don’t want to miss this! Notice he said has eternal zoe. Has. Present tense. Jesus made it very clear that the full and rich life is available now, today, in the midst of normal, everyday life (and pandemics, by the way).
How do we access this zoe? Jesus was quite clear – by believing in the one true God who sent him. Believe. The Greek word for believe is pisteuō. The best way to describe pisteuō is “rely on, trust in, and adhere to,” words that imply following. When we chose to follow Jesus, we have zoe. It’s not something we strive to obtain. Someone once emailed me the story of a friend that had searched for years looking for this ‘abundant life’ only to discover she already possessed it – in Jesus! In Jesus we already have life (zoe) – complete, full, abundant, real, genuine, active, and purposeful life NOW – which is what we all want isn’t it?
Let me briefly tell you about another Zoë. Several of us have been working on a web-based app to help our young people better prepare for a life of meaning, of purpose. We call the tool Zoë. Though not faith-based, Zoë was designed with the care and concern for young people we feel Jesus would demonstrate. Zoë GOES LIVE TODAY, April 22. Launching in the middle of a pandemic? Yes! Especially important during the uncertainty in our world right now, we want to help teens and students to find their purpose in life! Check it out. We would love to hear your thoughts.