These verses offer a summary of Jesus’ teaching. However, they can be and have been interpreted in a heaven and hell framework that many no longer believe in. So I turn to Marcus J. Borg, an internationally renowned Bible scholar and author of “Speaking Christian,” for an interpretation that is helpful to my spiritual journey.
According to Borg, modern Christians are steeped in a language that distorts our religion. He uses the “historical-metaphorical” method for understanding Christian language that can restore these words of power and transformation in a way that grounds the faith in its “deep and rich original roots and allows it once again to transform our lives.” In these verses: Jesus says, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.” Borg says a better interpretation of the word “believe” would be “belove.” So Jesus means that he came so that whoever “beloves” him may not remain in darkness.
Then Jesus says, “If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” According to Borg, the concept of “save” would mean to transform the world rather than save us from going to hell. He sees the work of the church as transformation. The next verse has Jesus claiming that he is saying the commandment that God told him to say. This is followed by verse 50 in which Jesus says, “And I know that His commandment is eternal life.” Borg would ask us to notice the present context, that it does not refer to life after death. It means “the life of the age to come.” Borg says that in John’s theology it is still future and to be hoped for. But it is also present, to be experienced now.
Borg’s summary on this point is: “To know God and Jesus in the present is to participate already in the life of the age to come. Thus in John, this verse is not about believing a set of statements about Jesus for the sake of heaven later. It is about beloving Jesus and beloving God as known in Jesus, in the incarnation, and entering into “the life of the age to come” now. It is not about people going to hell because they don’t believe. It is about the path into life with God now.”