Thinking about Leon Morris and my "first love" of Johannine studies, I thought I'd turn my attention to the Fourth Gospel.
The Fourth Gospel contains verses that appear to say that eternal life was presently available to those Jesus was preaching to during his earthly ministry. For example:
5:24: “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.” (NET)
6:47: “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life.”
6:54: “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.”
Other verses are complimentary to this theme: 3:15; 5:21; 6:40; and 17:3. Other verses said by the Evangelist also contain similar statements: 3:16, 19, 36; 8:51; 12:25. So, were people able to receive/have/possess eternal life during Jesus’ (earthly) ministry? Was Jesus referring “literally” to the present? Was the use of the present a literary device? What about a futuristic present … is there really any good evidence for that category?
Realized eschatology in the Fourth Gospel has been a popular topic of discussion (see references below). I propose that Jesus did not literally mean that during his ministry some were receiving eternal life. Rather, he was speaking in the present about only something that could happen in the future. When one takes into consideration historical-salvation considerations, and in particular, the Johannine definitions of “eternal life” and “sin,” this dilemma can be solved.
So, to say it more boldly, Abraham did not have eternal life, when the disciples believed in Jesus they did not have eternal life, and no one actual had eternal life prior to the cross. How is that possible? We shall see ………
 Contra Carroll, “Eschatology,” 66, who states: “the disciples of Jesus, who believe in him as the Son sent from the Father, already possess eternal life.” See also, Pamment, “Eschatology,” 84, “One may reason that since belief in Jesus is possible now, eternal life can be a present possession.”
Some sources for Realized Eschatology in the Fourth Gospel:
Charles H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958).
Charles H. Dodd, History and the Gospel (New York: Scribner’s and Sons, 1938).
Roderic Dunkerley, “Unrealized Eschatology,” The London Quarterly and Holborn Review 186 (1961): 51–54.
John T. Carroll, “Present and Future in Fourth Gospel Eschatology,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 19 (Ap 1989): 63–69.
John F. Walvoord, “Realized Eschatology,” Bibiotheca Sacra 127 (Oct.–Dec. 1970): 313–323.
Robert Berkey, “Realized Eschatology and the post-Bultmannians,” Expository Times 84 (Dec. 1972): 72–77.
Robert Kysar, “Eschatology of the Fourth Gospel,” Perspective 13, no. 1 (1972): 23–33.
John Painter, “Theology, Eschatology, and the Prologue of John,” Scottish Journal of Theology 46, no. 1 (1993): 27–42.
Donald R. Sime, and Jere Yates, “Eschatology in the Gospel of John,” in The Last Things (ed. W. B. West and Jack Pearl Lewis: Austin: Sweet Publishing, 1972), 124–139.
Severino Pancaro, “Statistical Approach to the Concept of Time and Eschatology in the Fourth Gospel,” Biblica 50, no. 4 (1969): 511–524.
Margaret Pamment, “Eschatology and the Fourth Gospel,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15 (1982): 81–85.
Some commentary sources:
Bultmann, John, 155–7, 164–7, 219–20, 236, 256–62, 402–403.
Brown, John, 1:lxviii, cxx–cxxi, 2:741.
Barrett, John, 215.