Because the Holy Spirit had to have been given before eternal life can be bestowed upon anyone, we can glean from this an understanding about how Jesus talked about soteriological realities during his earthly ministry. Though he may have talked about the results of believing in terms that were vivid and current, his words were really for a future reality. This applies to our discussion of eternal life and believing.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry no one received eternal life and no one received the Holy Spirit (in the current dispensation/administration way). As C. K. Barrett said, eternal life “in John resembles ‘kingdom of God’ in the Synoptic Gospels. That which is properly a future blessing becomes a present fact in virtue of the realization of the future in Christ” (Barrett, John, 215). The results of believing are for a different age. Just as no one in the Old Testament received eternal life or the permanent indwelling (sealing) of the Holy Spirit, no one before the exaltation received either as well. Abraham was reckoned as righteous before God, and therefore those in John’s Gospel whose belief is deemed as a complete response to what Jesus was calling for may be thought of in those terms. However, it would be inappropriate to attempt to analyze individuals or groups in John’s Gospel in terms of whether or not they have received eternal life. This is the wrong question. The correct question is to attempt to understand how John is portraying the belief described in each narrative. From this, we can then develop Johannine definition(s) of believing. Therefore, with Raymond Brown, “the full gift of life does not come during the ministry of Jesus but only afterward through the resurrection” (Brown, John, 1:lxviii).