We are working our way through 1 John verse by verse, and we just finished chapter 2. As this chapter ends John ties together abiding and the second coming:
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 1 John 2:28 ESV
“Little children, abide in him”—“little children” is from the Greek word teknia, which literally means “offspring of any age.” So here it is synonymous with believers. So he is telling believers to “abide in him.” To abide in Christ is something all Christians are commanded to do. We abide in Him by spending time in the Word, by obeying His commands, by living as Christ lived, and by loving our brothers and sisters.
“So that when he appears…at his coming”—these are references to the second coming of Christ. The reason for the abiding is found in the purpose clause, “so that.” They are to abide in him so that when he appears at the second coming, they will have confidence and not shame. I said last week that this is talking about the bema seat judgment. Believers, all of us, will have to give an account to the Lord for what we have done.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
If we live a life of abiding in him, we will have confidence when we stand before him. How much thought do you give to the fact that you will one day answer to the Lord for how you have lived? This should motive us to abide in him.
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 1 John 2:29 ESV
If you see someone living righteously, you can know that he has been born of God.
The thought that we have been born of God causes John to speak in amazement about this manner of love that makes us children of God (3:1).
While the section 3:1–3 is described as parenthetical, it nevertheless picks up two themes that are found in 2:28–29--the hope of the children of God for Christ’s appearing and their need for righteousness.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1 ESV
This is a bad place for a chapter break. My saying that is not sacrilegious because the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible were not there until hundreds of years after the Bible was written. The man responsible for the dividing of the Bible into chapters was Stephen Langton (13th century). Then in the 16th century (1551), Robert Stephanus divided the chapters into verses. I'm thankful for this because it would be really hard to teach the Bible without these chapter and verse divisions. They help us find the text. But on the other hand, it has been said that "The first step in interpretation is to ignore the modern chapters and verse divisions." So, they are very helpful, but they can also be a hindrance.
Chapter 3 and verse 1 is clearly connected with 1 John 2:29, so that our righteousness is a sign that God, in His matchless love, has adopted us as children. The author begins his parenthesis by urging his readers to recognize the greatness of the love of God by stating: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us”—“see” is an exclamation and a command. As an exclamation, it shows that the Father’s great love should amaze us. It is calling for close attention and scrutiny.
The words “what kind” are from the Greek word, potapos, which has the idea of something foreign, something alien, or something that is inexplicable in known terminology. It is a word that always implies astonishment, and generally admiration. Look how Matthew uses this word:
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23-27 ESV
The word "marveled" here is thaumazo (thou-mod-zo). Can you picture this? You are in the boat and all of a sudden the storm stops and everything is calm. They saw the power of God right before their very eyes, and they were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”—“what sort” here is our Greek word potapos. What kind of man does the wind and sea obey? You can imagine their amazement.
So, when John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us”—he is saying, “Look, there is a love that is utterly unknown to us. It is not at all like human love. It is alien; it is a love that human experience doesn’t know. It is a love that is outside of us, above us, beyond us. We have a God who loves us with a love that is foreign to anything we can know. We have been made children of God because we were born of Him. We were born of Him because He chose to love us with a saving love.
The word for “love” here is agape. Now let me ask you something: Is agape a special and spiritual type of love? This is something that we talked about a couple of months ago. When we see the word “love” in the New Testament, it is most often the translation of agape or agapao. And because many of those scriptures are telling us how great God’s love for us is, like the one we’re looking at now, it is not surprising that we would assume that those Greek words refer to a superior kind of love, a spiritual, godly love.
However, that assumption is not accurate. When the New Testament was being written, the Greek noun agape and verb agapao were the most common and general words for “love.” They were used in a wide variety of contexts just as our English word “love” is used in a variety of contexts. So, the Greek word agape is not as narrow as some try to make it. It is actually very similar to our word “love.”
We assume that agape is a special word for God’s love, but it is not. What I want you to understand is that godly love far exceeds agape. To understand the attitudes and actions of godly love requires far, far more revelation than knowing the definitions of a couple of Greek words. God’s love for us is amazing. It truly is a love that is other-worldly. Understanding God’s love for us should cause us to exclaim with the songwriter, “Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me!”
“The Father has given to us”—this is a perfect active indicative. The perfect tense has to do with the completed progress of an action and its corresponding finished results. That is, it shows a present state of affairs (from the writer’s perspective) that is based upon an action in past time (when using the indicative mood). There is no tense in English that has this same meaning. The use of this tense connected to God's gift of salvation in Christ is one biblical basis for the doctrine of the security of the believer.
The word, “given,” points to the fact that God’s love is not earned or deserved. Rather, it is purely a gift that comes from His undeserved favor, or grace. The Father’s great love for us should instruct us in how to treat each other. This is Paul’s thought in Ephesians 5:1-2.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV
We are to imitate God by walking in love, with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as our great example!
The Father’s great love has made us His children and it distinguishes us from the world. “That we should be called children of God”—“that” is hina. It is best understood as explanatory in clarifying the love that the Father has given to believers. The greatness of this love is shown in the fact that by it, we are called children of God. “Children” here is from the Greek word, teknon, which literally means “offspring of any age.”
To be called children of God is an immense privilege because it means that God himself has chosen us to be in his family. The best commentary on what it means to be children of God is found in John 1:12–13.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 ESV
"He gave the right to become children of God"—the word "right" is from the Greek exousia, which means "in the sense of ability or privilege." It meant "the legal right or the personal ability to accomplish or receive something." The authority to become God's children emphasizes divine authorization to become what no human effort could accomplish. Believers, we have the legitimate right to be called the "children of God."
Verse 13 actually ends with "Born of God” ("Ek theos gennao"). The Greek verb, gennao, is an aorist passive indicative. It is placed last in the Greek sentence for emphasis. This emphasizes the initiating and sovereign role of God in the new birth. It is through God's initiative and power that we are born as the children of God. We do not bring about this relationship any more than a newborn baby caused its own birth and gave itself life.
Those who receive Yeshua do not do so because of their will but rather because God by His sovereign will causes them to be born again. This takes away all ground for boasting and leaves us bowing in adoration and awe that the Father would bestow His great love on us apart from anything in us.
Then for emphasis John says, “And so we are”—this phrase is not found in the King James Version of the Bible because it was not included in the later Greek manuscripts (i.e., K and L) on which the KJV is based. However, this phrase does appear in several of the most ancient Greek manuscripts (P47, א, A, B, and C). The UBS4 gives its inclusion an "A" rating (certain).
“The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him”—the word “world” (kosmos) occurs 23 times in 1 John, and its meaning varies according to the context. Here, it is used in a theologically similar way as 2:15-17. The world denotes human society organized and functioning apart from God.
As John writes this, he undoubtedly has in mind what he wrote in his Gospel.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. John 1:11 ESV
His own people, the Jews, did not receive him. John is saying that the world did not understand Christ, and the world's not going to understand believers. “If they hated me”, Yeshua said, “They will hate you”. They are never going to understand us because the natural man does not understand the things of the spirit; they are foolishness to them.
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 ESV
“Beloved”—John often calls his readers by affectionate terms. This term was used by the Father to refer to Yeshua at His baptism and transfiguration. It is a common designation of the saved in John's letters (cf. 1 John 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11; and 3 John 1, 2, 5, 11).
“We are God's children now”—when is “now”? It is when John was writing this letter around AD 60-65. He is telling those believers that at that present time “we are children of God.” That was their current position, and if you have trusted Christ, it is your current position. It ought to dominate every aspect of our daily lives. We are God’s children.
John then tells them that what they are now stands in contrast to what we will be later, “And what we will be has not yet appeared”—what does John mean by this?
Well, since he immediately adds that when Yeshua appears, “we shall be like Him”, he means that they at that time were not like Him. Does that make sense?
“But we know that when he appears”—the word “appears” here is phaneroō. This is the same word used in 2:28 of the second coming. Here it also refers to the return of Yeshua in the future (from the first-century readers’ perspective). We could translate this as “But at the second coming.” The second coming of Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament. This is a major New Testament theme.
The term "when" introduces a third class conditional sentence. It is used here not to question the second coming, but to express uncertainty about the exact time the event will take place. By exact time, I mean day or hour. The Lord made it very clear that he was going to return in the lifetime of his disciples:
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:27-28 ESV
Verse 27 clearly speaks of the second coming. He comes with the angels to reward every man. Who are the "YOU" of verse 28? Verse 24 tells us that Yeshua is speaking to his disciples. So, Yeshua is saying this to his disciples who were standing there
What are the possible explanations for this verse? I see only three. If you have others, I would be willing to hear them.
(1) There are still some of the disciples alive today. I do not think I could convince
any of you of that one.
(2) Yeshua was confused or lying. I hope I could not convince any of you of that one.
(3) Hang on! Yeshua actually did what he said and came in the lifetime of his disciples. I would like to convince all of you of this one. This seems like the simple and clear answer that holds to the inspiration of Scripture. Yeshua did what he said he would do. I am very comfortable with that. How about you?
Later, in Matthew 24:34, Yeshua says that “this generation” would see the second coming. So, we know it was to happen within forty years, a biblical generation. But speaking of the second coming, Yeshua also said:
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mark 13:32 ESV
Many today use this verse to prove that we have no knowledge of the time of a future-to-us second coming of Christ. But "that day" refers to the passing away of the heavens and earth which was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Old Covenant. Yeshua had already told them, in verse 30, that it would happen in their generation (forty years or so). But they did not know the "day or hour" that it would happen.
When a woman gets pregnant, we know that in about forty weeks she is going to have a baby. We don't know the day or hour, but we can know that it will happen in about forty weeks. That is exactly what Yeshua is saying here. And it is quite interesting that the time prior to the consummation of the kingdom is often referred to as birth pangs.
The Scripture frequently makes it clear that the second coming of Christ was to happen in the first century. It was always spoken of as being soon. It was to happen quickly--before all of those of that generation died. Look at what James told his readers:
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. James 5:7-9 ESV
James is talking to them about the “coming of the Lord.” He tells them to “be patient” because “the coming of the Lord is at hand” “At hand” is from the Greek word eggizo which means, “near or at hand.” Then he says that the “Judge is standing at the door.” The word for “door” here is thura. Matthew shows us what this word means:
So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Matthew 24:33 ESV
“Gates” here is thura, the same word used in James 5:9. The Lord’s standing at the door meant that his coming was near (eggus).
In the context of James 5, we have Christians who are suffering under the persecutions of the Jews. In the midst of it, they are told to be patient until the coming of the Lord. Futurists would have us believe that in just 2,000 plus years the Lord would come and help them. I cannot see how that would be of much comfort to them. Let's say that you are suffering; you are being persecuted for your faith. You have lost your job, your landlord is about to evict you, and you have no food to feed your hungry family. You receive a letter from a rich relative who tells you to "hang in there, brother, I will be there soon to help." When would you expect him to come? He said soon, and you would justifiably look for him soon!
Let’s return to 1 John. So, when the second coming happened, John said, “We shall be like him”—REMEMBER who the “we” is! John is talking to first-century saints. He tells THEM that when the second coming happens, THEY will be like Christ.
In order to understand what John is saying here, we have to understand that we live in a different age than John’s original audience did. Throughout the New Testament we see two ages in contrast--"this age" and the "age to come."
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 ESV
The word "come" at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello which means "about to be." We could translate this as "the age about to come." About to come for whom? For the original audience--those in the first century.
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:21 ESV
Here again we see the two ages. So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, "this age," and "the age to come." The understanding of these two ages and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible. The New Testament writers lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers, "the age to come" was future. But it was very near because the age in which they lived (“this age”) was about to end.
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV
Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon them--the first century saints. "This age" was about to end.
The "this age" of the Bible was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. So, the New Testament writers lived in what the Bible calls "this age." But we live in what the Bible calls "the age to come." In the first century, the "this age” (the age of the Old Covenant) was fading away. It ended completely when the Jewish temple was destroyed in AD 70. The "this age" of the Bible is now ancient history.
During the “this age” prior to the second coming, righteousness was a hope of the New Testament church:
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. Galatians 5:5 ESV
During the “this age,” salvation was also a hope of the New Testament church:
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 ESV
Eternal life was also a hope during the “this age” of the church:
in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began Titus 1:2 ESV
so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7 ESV
Now, the Bible clearly teaches that you do not hope for what you have.
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25 ESV
But eternal life, salvation, and righteousness were all a hope of those who lived in "this age." Eternal life, salvation, and righteousness became the full possession of the church at the Second Coming, which happened at the end of the Old Covenant age.
Notice what Yeshua said the believers would receive in the age to come:
Yeshua said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30 ESV
Commenting on the phrase "and in the age to come eternal life," Swete says, "The age which is to follow the Parousia." Wuest Word Studies says: "The authorities are silent on all this, and the present writer confesses that he is at a loss to suggest an interpretation. The best he can do is offer the usage of the Greek words in question." As is obvious, this phrase is troubling to many.
As we saw, eternal life was a "hope" to those who lived in "this age," but it is a present possession of all believers in the "age to come” (the New Covenant age).
So, what did John mean by his words “We shall be like him” at the second coming? I think that he is referring to righteousness. As we saw, righteousness was a hope for them during the transition period. But at the second coming, all believers received the righteousness of Christ. The nature of our likeness to Christ will be a likeness in respect to righteousness, as the next verse makes clear. The believers also put on immortality:
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53 ESV
So, at the second coming, believers became immortal. They were given eternal life, and they became positionally righteous.
John said that “we shall be like him”—the word “like” here is from the Greek word homoios [home-oy-os] which means “similar (in appearance or character).” This same word is used in:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. Matthew 13:31 ESV
I hope you can see from this that homoios means similar and not “exactly the same.” We are now “like” Christ in that we share his righteousness.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
This is our position before God--we are as righteous as Christ. Believers living in the “this age” could not say that.
John goes on to say that “we will be like him because we shall see him as he is—the verb “see” is used in reference to the eyewitnesses’ encounter with Yeshua (1:1–3) and in the denial that those who keep on sinning have ever “seen” him (3:6).
To “see him as he is” is different from to see him as he was. The believers who lived at the time of Christ saw him in his humiliation during his incarnation. But the Lord prayed that they would one day see him in his glory:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24 ESV
Do you see what this verse is saying? Yeshua is saying that He desires that we (the ones given to Christ) be with Him in heaven. "To see my glory that you have given me"—you don't see it in the ESV, but there is a purpose clause here ("so that”). He wants us to be with Him “so that” we may see His glory which the Father has given Him.
You notice that the glory that our Lord speaks about here is the glory that was given Him. In verse 5 Yeshua prays to have the glory restored that He had in eternity past.
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:5 ESV
The original disciples had seen Yeshua's glory (1:14). They saw the miracles that He did, and they saw the cross and the resurrection. But they had not witnessed the majesty of Yeshua's pre-incarnate deity. He wanted them all to see the "glory" that the Father would restore to the Son following His ascension. Yeshua wanted believers to see him in his pre-incarnate glory.
Did the first century saints see Christ as he is? I believe they did. Notice what Yeshua says to Caiaphas,
Yeshua said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:64 ESV
Three times Yeshua uses the personal pronoun "you.” Whom is He talking to? Verse 63 tells us that it is the high priest, Caiaphas. Caiaphas asked Yeshua if He is the Son of God, the Messiah. Yeshua answered Caiaphas by saying that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. If Caiaphas saw this, as Yeshua said he would, then it must have happened in his lifetime.
Notice the similarities between Yeshua's answer to Caiaphas and what he said in:
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30 ESV
Yeshua told Caiaphas, "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power." He told His disciples that "They would see the sign that the son of man was in heaven." He told Caiaphas, "You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven." He told His disciples that "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." It is obviously the same event in both passages. Notice Caiaphas' response to Yeshua's statement:
Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. Matthew 26:65 ESV
What did Yeshua say that was blasphemy? Caiaphas understood that Yeshua was claiming to be the Messiah. In order to understand what Yeshua is saying, we need to understand the idea that is behind "coming in the clouds." God's "coming on the clouds of heaven" is a symbolic way of speaking of His presence, judgment, and salvation. All through the Tanakh, God was described as coming "on clouds" in the salvation of His people and judgment of His enemies.
So, for the disciples and Caiaphas to see Yeshua “coming in the clouds” was to see him as he is, to see him in the glory of the Father. It was to see him in the glory that he had before his incarnation. They saw him “as he is” in the destruction of Jerusalem. And when they saw him, they became like him.
So, what about us? When do we become like him? We become like him when we trust in him for our salvation. We live in the “age to come.” We have eternal life now; we have righteousness now.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:3 ESV
Most people see this verse as teaching that if you believe that Yeshua is coming again, that will cause you to live a pure life. I don’t think that is what this is saying.
“Everyone who thus hopes in him”—Paul and Peter use this word hope frequently, but this is the only time that John uses the noun (elpis). Let me give you the biblical definition of hope because the word "hope" has come to have a different meaning today from that which was originally used in the New Testament. Today it indicates something of contingency. In other words, it is an expectancy that something will happen, but there is some question as to whether or not it will actually occur. When we say things such as "I hope it doesn't rain" or "I hope I can make it to next payday," we are indicating some uneasiness or uncertainty about the future. But this is not the New Testament usage. In the New Testament hope indicates an absolute certainty about the future--an attitude of eager expectancy and a confidence in God and His ability to do what He has promised.
Futurists believe that the second coming is something that has not yet happened. Thus believers must look forward to this in hope and expectation. It is sad to hope for something that you already have.
Let me share with you a different perspective on what John is saying here. “Everyone who thus hopes in him”—is an equivalent to John’s expression “whoever believes in Him.” In Greek, the grammatical structures are the same: pas ho followed by the participle [here echon; elsewhere, pisteuon; e.g. 1 John 5:1; John 3:15-16; 6:40]). The individual who has the sure hope of being like the Savior is one who has believed in him. [Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John, page 126]
“Purifies himself as he is pure”—the phrase “purifies himself” should be noted. It points to the causality of the believer’s faith in Christ. When a person responds to the gospel message by believing it, he can be said to cause the purification which automatically follows as part and parcel of “the washing [Greek: loutron, ‘bath’] of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). [Zane C. Hodges, The Epistles of John, page 126]
So, I believe this is teaching that to have this hope is to have believed in him, and to have believed in him is to be purified. The only way that we can be as pure as he is pure is to have his righteousness. And this righteousness was the believer’s prior to the coming of Christ only in an “already but not yet” form.