1 John 3:2
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
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1 John


1 John 3:2.

I have hesitated, as you may well believe, whether I should take these words for a text. They seem so far to surpass anything that can be said concerning them, and they cover such immense fields of dim thought, that one may well be afraid lest one should spoil them by even attempting to dilate on them. And yet they are so closely connected with the words of the previous verse, which formed the subject of my last sermon, that I felt as if my work were only half done unless I followed that sermon with this.

The present is the prophet of the future, says my text: ‘Now we are the sons of God, and’ {not ‘but’} ‘it doth not yet appear what we shall be.’ Some men say, ‘Ah! now are we, but we shall be--nothing!’ John does not think so. John thinks that if a man is a son of God he will always be so. There are three things in this verse, how, if we are God’s children, our sonship makes us quite sure of the future; how our sonship leaves us largely in ignorance of the future, but how our sonship flings one bright, all-penetrating beam of light on the only important thing about the future, the clear vision of and the perfect likeness to Him who is our life. ‘Now are we the sons of God,’ therefore we shall be. We are the sons; we do not know what we shall be. We are the sons, and therefore, though there be a great circumference of blank ignorance as to our future, yet, blessed be His name, there is a great light burning in the middle of it! ‘We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’

I. The fact of sonship makes us quite sure of the future.

I am not concerned to appraise the relative value of the various arguments and proofs, or, it may be, presumptions, which may recommend the doctrine of a future life to men, but it seems to me that the strongest reasons for believing in another world are these two:--first, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and has gone up there; and, second, that a man here can pray, and trust, and love God, and feel that he is His child. As was noticed in the preceding sermon, the word rendered ‘sons’ might more accurately be translated ‘children.’ If so, we may fairly say, ‘We are the children of God now--and if we are children now, we shall be grown up some time.’ Childhood leads to maturity. The infant becomes a man.

That is to say, he that here, in an infantile way, is stammering with his poor, unskilled lips the name ‘Abba! Father!’ will one day come to speak it fully. He that dimly trusts, he that partially loves, he that can lift up his heart in some more or less unworthy prayer and aspiration after God, in all these emotions and exercises, has the great proof in himself that such emotions, such relationship, can never be put an end to. The roots have gone down through the temporal, and have laid hold of the Eternal. Anything seems to me to be more credible than that a man who can look up and say, ‘My Father,’ shall be crushed by what befalls the mere outside of him; anything seems to me to be more believable than to suppose that the nature which is capable of these elevating emotions and aspirations of confidence and hope, which can know God and yearn after Him, and can love Him, is to be wiped out like a gnat by the finger of Death. The material has nothing to do with these feelings, and if I know myself, in however feeble and imperfect a degree, to be the son of God, I carry in the conviction the very pledge and seal of eternal life. That is a thought ‘whose very sweetness yieldeth proof that it was born for immortality.’ ‘We are the sons of God,’ therefore we shall always be so, in all worlds, and whatsoever may become of this poor wrappage in which the soul is shrouded.

We may notice, also, that not only the fact of our sonship avails to assure us of immortal life, but that also the very form which our religious experience takes points in the same direction.

As I said, infancy is the prophecy of maturity. ‘The child is father of the man’; the bud foretells the flower. In the same way, the very imperfections of the Christian life, as it is seen here, argue the existence of another state, where all that is here in the germ shall be fully matured, and all that is here incomplete shall attain the perfection which alone will correspond to the power that works in us. Think of the ordinary Christian character. The beginning is there, and evidently no more than the beginning. As one looks at the crudity, the inconsistencies, the failings, the feebleness of the Christian life of others, or of oneself, and then thinks that such a poor, imperfect exhibition is all that so divine a principle has been able to achieve in this world, one feels that there must be a region and a time where we shall be all which the transforming power of God’s spirit can make us. The very inconsistencies of Christians are as strong reasons for believing in the perfect life of Heaven as their purities and virtues are. We have a right to say mighty principles are at work upon Christian souls--the power of the Cross, the power of love issuing in obedience, the power of an indwelling Spirit; and is this all that these great forces are going to effect on human character? Surely a seed so precious and divine is somewhere, and at some time, to bring forth something better than these few poor, half-developed flowers, something with more lustrous petals and richer fragrance. The plant is clearly an exotic; does not its obviously struggling growth here tell of warmer suns and richer soil, where it will be at home?

There is a great deal in every man, and most of all in Christian men and women, which does not fit this present. All other creatures correspond in their capacities to the place where they are set down; and the world in which the plant or the animal lives, the world of their surroundings, stimulates to activity all their powers. But that is not so with a man. ‘Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests.’ They fit exactly, and correspond to their ‘environment.’ But a man!--there is an enormous amount of waste faculty about him if he is only to live in this world. There are large capacities in every nature, and most of all in a Christian nature, which are like the packages that emigrants take with them, marked ‘Not wanted on the voyage.’ These go down into the hold, and they are only of use after landing in the new world. If I am a son of God I have much in me that is ‘not wanted on the voyage,’ and the more I grow into His likeness, the more I am thrown out of harmony with the things round about me, in proportion as I am brought into harmony with the things beyond.

That consciousness of belonging to another order of things, because I am God’s child, will make me sure that when I have done with earth, the tie that binds me to my Father will not be broken, but that I shall go home, where I shall be fully and for ever all that I so imperfectly began to be here, where all gaps in my character shall be filled up, and the half-completed circle of my heavenly perfectness shall grow like the crescent moon, into full-orbed beauty. ‘Neither life, nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature’ shall be able to break that tie, and banish the child from the conscious grasp of a Father’s hand. Dear brother and sister, can you say, ‘Now am I a child of God!’ Then you may patiently and peacefully front that dim future.

II. Now I come to the second point, namely, that we remain ignorant of much in that future.

That happy assurance of the love of God resting upon me, and making me His child through Jesus Christ, does not dissipate all the darkness which lies on that beyond. ‘We are the sons of God, and,’ just because we are, ‘it does not yet appear what we shall be.’ Or, as the words are rendered in the Revised Version, ‘it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.’

The meaning of that expression, ‘It doth not yet appear,’ or, ‘It is not made manifest,’ may be put into very plain words. John would simply say to us, ‘There has never been set forth before men’s eyes in this earthly life of ours an example, or an instance, of what the sons of God are to be in another state of being.’ And so, because men have never had the instance before them, they do not know much about that state.

In some sense there has been a manifestation through the life of Jesus Christ. Christ has died; Christ is risen again. Christ has gone about amongst men upon earth after Resurrection. Christ has been raised to the right hand of God, and sits there in the glory of the Father. So far it has been manifested what we shall be. But the risen Christ is not the glorified Christ, and although He has set forth before man’s senses irrefragably the fact of another life, and to some extent given glimpses and gleams of knowledge with regard to certain portions of it, I suppose that the ‘glorious body’ of Jesus Christ was not assumed by Him till the cloud ‘received Him out of their sight,’ nor, indeed, could it be assumed while He moved among the material realities of this world, and did eat and drink before them. So that, while we thankfully recognise that Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension have ‘brought life and immortality to light,’ we must remember that it is the fact, and not the manner of the fact, which they make plain; and that, even after His example, it has not been manifested what is the body of glory which He now wears, and therefore it has not yet been manifested what we shall be when we are fashioned after its likeness.

There has been no manifestation, then, to sense, or to human experience, of that future, and, therefore, there is next to no knowledge about it. You can only know facts when the facts are communicated. You may speculate and argue and guess as much as you like, but that does not thin the darkness one bit. The unborn child has no more faculty or opportunity for knowing what the life upon earth is like than man here, in the world, has for knowing that life beyond. The chrysalis’ dreams about what it would be when it was a butterfly would be as reliable as a man’s imagination of what a future life will be.

So let us feel two things:--Let us be thankful that we do not know, for the ignorance is the sign of the greatness; and then, let us be sure that just the very mixture of knowledge and ignorance which we have about another world is precisely the food which is most fitted to nourish imagination and hope. If we had more knowledge, supposing it could be given, of the conditions of that future life, it would lose some of its power to attract. Ignorance does not always prevent the occupation of the mind with a subject. Blank ignorance does; but ignorance, shot with knowledge like a tissue which, when you hold it one way seems all black, and when you tilt it another, seems golden, stimulates desire, hope, and imagination. So let us thankfully acquiesce in the limited knowledge.

Fools can ask questions which wise men cannot answer, and will not ask. There are questions which, sometimes, when we are thinking about our own future, and sometimes when we see dear ones go away into the mist, become to us almost torture. It is easy to put them; it is not so easy to say: ‘Thank God, we cannot answer them yet!’ If we could it would only be because the experience of earth was adequate to measure the experience of Heaven; and that would be to bring the future down to the low levels of this present. Let us be thankful then that so long as we can only speak in language derived from the experiences of earth, we have yet to learn the vocabulary of Heaven. Let us be thankful that our best help to know what we shall be is to reverse much of what we are, and that the loftiest and most positive declarations concerning the future lie in negatives like these:--’I saw no temple therein.’ ‘There shall be no night there.’ ‘There shall be no curse there.’ ‘There shall be no more sighing nor weeping, for the former things are passed away.’

The white mountains keep their secret well; not until we have passed through the black rocks that make the throat of the pass on the summit, shall we see the broad and shining plains beyond the hills. Let us be thankful for, and own the attractions of, the knowledge that is wrapt in ignorance, and thankfully say, ‘Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not appear what we shall be!’

III. Now I must be very brief with the last thought that is here, and I am the less unwilling to be so because we cannot travel one inch beyond the revelations of the Book in reference to the matter. The thought is this, that our sonship flings one all-penetrating beam of light on that future, in the knowledge of our perfect vision and perfect likeness. ‘We know that when He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’

‘When He shall be manifested’--to what period does that refer? It seems most natural to take the manifestation here as being the same as that spoken of only a verse or two before. ‘And now, little children, abide in Him, and when He shall be manifested, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming’ {2. 28}. That ‘coming’ then, is the ‘manifestation’ of Christ; and it is at the period of His coming in His glory that His servants ‘shall be like Him, and see Him as He is.’ Clearly then it is Christ whom we shall see and become like, and not the Father invisible.

To behold Christ will be the condition and the means of growing like Him. That way of transformation by beholding, or of assimilation by the power of loving contemplation, is the blessed way of ennobling character, which even here, and in human relationships, has often made it easy to put off old vices and to clothe the soul with unwonted grace. Men have learned to love and gaze upon some fair character, till some image of its beauty has passed into their ruder natures. To love such and to look on them has been an education. The same process is exemplified in more sacred regions, when men here learn to love and look upon Christ by faith, and so become like Him, as the sun stamps a tiny copy of its blazing sphere on the eye that looks at it. But all these are but poor, far-off hints and low preludes of the energy with which that blessed vision of the glorified Christ shall work on the happy hearts that behold Him, and of the completeness of the likeness to Him which will be printed in light upon their faces.

It matters not, though it doth not yet appear what we shall be, if to all the questionings of our own hearts we have this for our all-sufficient answer, ‘We shall be like Him.’ As good old Richard Baxter has it:--

‘My knowledge of that life is small,

The eye of faith is dim;

But, ‘tis enough that Christ knows all,

And I shall be like Him!’

‘It is enough for the servant that he be as his Lord.’

There is no need to go into the dark and difficult questions about the manner of that vision. He Himself prayed, in that great intercessory prayer, ‘Father, I will that these whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory.’ That vision of the glorified manhood of Jesus Christ--certain, direct, clear, and worthy, whether it comes through sense or through thought--to behold that vision is all the sight of God that men in Heaven ever will have. And through the millenniums of a growing glory, Christ as He is will be the manifested Deity. Likeness will clear sight, and clearer sight will increase likeness. So in blessed interchange these two will be cause and effect, and secure the endless progress of the redeemed spirit towards the vision of Christ which never can behold all His Infinite Fulness, and the likeness to Christ which can never reproduce all his Infinite Beauty.

As a bit of glass when the light strikes it flashes into sunny glory, or as every poor little muddy pool on the pavement, when the sunbeams fall upon it, has the sun mirrored even in its shallow mud, so into your poor heart and mine the vision of Christ’s glory will come, moulding and transforming us to its own beauty. With unveiled face reflecting as a mirror does, the glory of the Lord, we ‘shall be changed into the same image.’ ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’

Dear brethren, all begins with this, love Christ and trust Him and you are a child of God! ‘And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.’

1 John 3:2. Beloved — It is a most certain and joyful truth, that now are we, who believe on God’s Son with our heart unto righteousness; the children of God — And, persevering in that faith, we shall be acknowledged as such before men and angels in the day of final accounts; a truth which draws after it a long train of glorious consequences. For the happy condition we shall be in hereafter exceeds all that we can now conceive; and it doth not yet appear — Even to ourselves, though supernaturally enlightened by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation; what we shall be — How pure and holy, intelligent and wise in our souls, how spiritual and glorious in our bodies, how exalted in dignity, how great in power, how rich in inheritance, how happy in enjoyments! But we know — In the general, on the testimony of him who cannot lie; that when he — The Son of God; shall appear, we shall be like him — In all these respects; our souls perfectly conformed to his wise and holy soul, our bodies to his immortal and glorious body, and that we shall share with him in his felicity, honour, and riches, world without end. For we shall see him as he is — Which it would be impossible we should do if we were not like him. Or rather, as perhaps the apostle chiefly means, the great privilege being granted us, of seeing him as he is, the sight of him will transform us into his likeness. “The sight of God,” [in Christ,] as Archbishop Tillotson proves at large, (see his works, vol. 3. p. 194,) “is put to express the knowledge and enjoyment of him, because of its excellence and dignity, its largeness and comprehension, its spirituality and quickness, its evidence and certainty.” The apostle alludes to Christ’s words, which he has recorded in his gospel, (John 17:24,) Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me: and therefore is speaking, not of a transient, but of an abiding sight of Christ, as is plain, because only such a view of him could be a reason for our being like him. And since we are to live with him for ever, our bodies must be fashioned like to his body, corruptible bodies not being capable, in the nature of things, of inheriting the kingdom of God. And with respect to our minds, the seeing of Christ as he is cannot be supposed effectual to make us like him, unless it be an abiding sight; which, by exciting in us an admiration of his glories, esteem for his excellences, gratitude for his goodness, love to his person, delight in his will, with all wise, holy, and happy affections, will assuredly produce that happy effect. At the day of judgment, it is probable that the wicked will have a transient sight of Christ as he is, but will not thereby be made like him, in body or mind.

3:1,2 Little does the world know of the happiness of the real followers of Christ. Little does the world think that these poor, humble, despised ones, are favourites of God, and will dwell in heaven. Let the followers of Christ be content with hard fare here, since they are in a land of strangers, where their Lord was so badly treated before them. The sons of God must walk by faith, and live by hope. They may well wait in faith, hope, and earnest desire, for the revelation of the Lord Jesus. The sons of God will be known, and be made manifest by likeness to their Head. They shall be transformed into the same image, by their view of him.Beloved, now are we the sons of God - We now in fact sustain this rank and dignity, and on that we may reflect with pleasure and gratitude. It is in itself an exalted honor, and may be contemplated as such, whatever may be true in regard to what is to come. In the dignity and the privileges which we now enjoy, we may find a grateful subject of reflection, and a cause of thankfulness, even if we should look to nothing beyond, or when we contemplate the fact by itself.

And it doth not yet appear what we shall be - It is not fully revealed what we shall be hereafter; what will be the full result of being regarded as the children of God. There are, indeed, certain things which may be inferred as following from this. There is enough to animate us with hope, and to sustain us in the trials of life. There is one thing which is clear, that we shall be like the Son of God; but what is fully involved in this is not made known. Perhaps,

(1) it could not be so revealed that we could understand it, for that state may be so unlike the present that no words would fully convey the conception to our minds. Perhaps,

(2) it may be necessary to our condition here, as on probation, that no more light should be furnished in regard to the future than to stimulate us to make efforts to reach a world where all is light. For an illustration of the sentiment expressed here by the apostle, compare the notes at 2 Peter 1:4.

But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him - It is revealed to us that we shall be made like Christ; that is, in the bodies with which we shall be raised up, in character, in happiness, in glory. Compare the Philippians 3:21 note; 2 Corinthians 3:18 note. This is enough to satisfy the Christian in his prospects for the future world. To be like Christ is the object of his supreme aim. For that he lives, and all his aspirations in regard to the coming world may be summed up in this - that he wishes to be like the glorified Son of God, and to share his honors and his joys. See the notes at Philippians 3:10.

For we shall see him as he is - It is clearly implied here that there will be an influence in beholding the Saviour as he is, which will tend to make us like him, or to transform us into his likeness. See the nature of this influence explained in the notes at 2 Corinthians 3:18.

2. Beloved—by the Father, and therefore by me.

now—in contrast to "not yet." We now already are really sons, though not recognized as such by the world, and (as the consequence) we look for the visible manifestation of our sonship, which not yet has taken place.

doth not yet appear—Greek, "it hath not yet ('at any time,' Greek aorist) been visibly manifested what we shall be"—what further glory we shall attain by virtue of this our sonship. The "what" suggests a something inconceivably glorious.

but—omitted in the oldest manuscripts. Its insertion in English Version gives a wrong antithesis. It is not, "We do not yet know manifestly what … but we know," &c. Believers have some degree of the manifestation already, though the world has not. The connection is, The manifestation to the world of what we shall be, has not yet taken place; we know (in general; as a matter of well-assured knowledge; so the Greek) that when (literally, "if"; expressing no doubt as to the fact, but only as to the time; also implying the coming preliminary fact, on which the consequence follows, Mal 1:6; Joh 14:3) He (not "it," namely, that which is not yet manifested [Alford]) shall be manifested (1Jo 3:5; 2:28), we shall be like Him (Christ; all sons have a substantial resemblance to their father, and Christ, whom we shall be like, is "the express image of the Father's person," so that in resembling Christ, we shall resemble the Father). We wait for the manifestation (literally, the "apocalypse"; the same term as is applied to Christ's own manifestation) of the sons of God. After our natural birth, the new birth into the life of grace is needed, which is to be followed by the new birth into the life of glory; the two latter alike are termed "the regeneration" (Mt 19:28). The resurrection of our bodies is a kind of coming out of the womb of the earth, and being born into another life. Our first temptation was that we should be like God in knowledge, and by that we fell; but being raised by Christ, we become truly like Him, by knowing Him as we are known, and by seeing Him as He is [Pearson, Exposition of the Creed]. As the first immortality which Adam lost was to be able not to die, so the last shall be not to be able to die. As man's first free choice or will was to be able not to sin, so our last shall be not to be able to sin [Augustine, The City of God, 22.30]. The devil fell by aspiring to God's power; man, by aspiring to his knowledge; but aspiring after God's goodness, we shall ever grow in His likeness. The transition from God the Father to "He," "Him," referring to Christ (who alone is ever said in Scripture to be manifested; not the Father, Joh 1:18), implies the entire unity of the Father and the Son.

for, &c.—Continual beholding generates likeness (2Co 3:18); as the face of the moon being always turned towards the sun, reflects its light and glory.

see him—not in His innermost Godhead, but as manifested in Christ. None but the pure can see the infinitely Pure One. In all these passages the Greek is the same verb opsomai; not denoting the action of seeing, but the state of him to whose eye or mind the object is presented; hence the Greek verb is always in the middle or reflexive voice, to perceive and inwardly appreciate [Tittmann]. Our spiritual bodies will appreciate and recognize spiritual beings hereafter, as our natural bodies now do natural objects.

Our present state he affirms to be unquestionably that of

sons, whatsoever hardships from the world, or severer discipline from our Father, we must for a while undergo; but for our future state, it is much above us to comprehend distinctly the glory of it;

it doth not yet appear, it is yet an unrevealed thing, Romans 8:18; a veil is drawn before it, which is to be drawn aside at the appointed season of the manifestation of the sons of God, 1Jo 3:19. But so much we in the general know of it, (so certain are the apprehensions of faith), that

when he shall appear, or display his own glory in the appearance of his Son, who is then to come in the glory of his Father, Matthew 16:27 1 Timothy 6:14-16,

we shall be like him, as it befits children to be unto their Father; i.e. his image shall then be perfected in us, which was defaced so greatly in the apostacy, is restored imperfectly in regeneration, Ephesians 4:24 Colossians 3:10, must be daily improved in progressive sanctification: so that as God was above said to be light, Christians are to shine as lights, as the sons of God, without rebuke, representing and glorifying their Father, Matthew 5:16 Philippians 2:15 1 Peter 2:9: but is then to be advanced in us to a far higher pitch than ever, in respect both of holiness and blessedness.

For we shall see him as he is; i.e. so far as the limited capacity of our natures can admit; and are therefore by that likeness to be qualified for such vision: which eternal, efficacious vision doth also coutinue that likeness, the causal particle,

for, admitting both those references: see Psalm 17:15.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God,.... By adoption, secretly in God's predestination, and in the covenant of grace; and openly in regeneration, through faith in Christ, and by the testimony of the Spirit:

and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; though they are sons, they do not appear now as such, as they will do, when they shall be introduced into their Father's house, and into the many mansions there prepared for them; when Christ shall publicly own them as the children given unto him, and when they shall be put into the possession of the inheritance they are heirs of; besides, they will appear then not only to be kings' sons, but kings themselves, as they now are; they will then inherit the kingdom prepared for them, and will sit down on a throne of glory, and have a crown of righteousness, life, and glory, put upon them; and will appear not only perfectly justified, their sins being not to be found; and the sentence of justification afresh pronounced, and they placed out of the reach of all condemnation; but they will be perfectly holy and free from all sin, and perfectly knowing and glorious; they have a right to glory now, and glory is preparing for them, and they for that: and they are now representatively glorified in Christ, but then they will be personally glorified: now, though all this shall certainly be, yet it does not now manifestly appear; it appears to God, who calls things that are not as though they were and to Christ, whose delights were with the sons men, these children of God, before the world was, and saw them in all the glory they were to be brought to; but not even to angels, until they are owned and confessed before them; much less to the world, who do not know what they are now, and still less what they will be, seeing them now in poverty, meanness, under many reproaches, afflictions, and persecutions; and even this does not appear to the saints themselves, whose life is a hidden life; and that by reason of darkness, desertion, and diffidence, for want of more knowledge, and from the nature of the happiness itself, which is at present unseen:

but we know that when he shall appear; that is, Jesus Christ, who is now in heaven, and out of sight, but will appear a second time: the time when is not known, but the thing itself is certain:

we shall be like him; in body, fashioned like to his glorious body, in immortality and incorruption, in power, in glory, and spirituality, in a freedom from all imperfections, sorrows, afflictions, and death; and in soul, which likeness will lie in perfect knowledge of divine things, and in complete holiness;

for we shall see him as he is; in his human nature, with the eyes of the body, and in his glorious person, with the eyes of the understanding; not by faith, as now, but by sight; not through ordinances, as in the present state, but through those beams of light and glory darting from him, with which the saints will be irradiated; and this sight, as it is now exceeding desirable, will be unspeakably glorious, delightful, and ravishing, soul satisfying, free from all darkness and error, and interruption; will assimilate and transform into his image and likeness, and be for ever. Philo the Jew observes (k), that Israel may be interpreted one that sees God; but adds, , "not what God is", for this is impossible: it is indeed impossible to see him essentially as he is, or so as to comprehend his nature, being, and perfections; but then the saints in heaven will see God and Christ as they are, and as much as they are to be seen by creatures; God will be seen as he is in Christ; and Christ will be seen as he is in himself, both in his divine and human natures, as much as can be, or can be desired to be seen and known of him.

(k) De Praemiis. & Paenis, p. 917.

{3} Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be {c} like him; for we shall see him {d} as he is.

(3) The other: This dignity is not fully revealed to us ourselves, much less to strangers, but we are sure of the accomplishment of it, in as much as we shall be like the Son of God himself and shall enjoy his sight indeed, such as he is now, but yet this is deferred until his next coming.

(c) Like, but not equal.

(d) For now we see as in a glass 1Co 13:12

1 John 3:2. After emphatic resumption of ἐσμέν, the apostle indicates the yet concealed glory of the τέκνα Θεοῦ. He begins with the address ἀγαπητοί, which occurs to him here the more readily as he feels himself most closely connected with his readers in the common fellowship with God (so also Düsterdieck).

νῦν τέκνα Θεοῦ ἐσμέν] νῦν is used in reference to the future (οὔπω); it is here a particle of time, not = “now, in consequence of that decree” (de Wette); a contrast with what immediately precedes (Lücke: “amidst all mistake on the part of the world, we are nevertheless really now the children of God;” so also Düsterdieck and Braune) is not suggested by it. Hereby the present glory of the believing Christian is described;[192] before the apostle mentions the future glory, he observes that this is yet concealed: καὶ οὔπω ἐφανερώθη τί ἐσόμεθα] φανεροῦσθαι may, as Ebrard remarks, mean both: “to be actually revealed,” or: “for the knowledge to be revealed;” most commentators rightly take the word here in the first meaning; it is true, Ebrard maintains that this explanation is grammatically impossible, because φανερόω, as governing a question, can only have the meaning of theoretical revelation; but this assertion is unfounded, for in the N. T. usus loquendi (nay, even in the classics) the interrogative τίς, sometimes τί, confessedly appears where, according to the rule, the relative should properly be used; comp. Winer, p. 152; VII. p. 158 f.; Al. Buttmann, p. 216; and especially if the thought involves an assumed question, as is the case here.[193] That φανεροῦσθαι cannot here be understood of the theoretical revelation is clear—(1) from the fact that no ἡμῖν is put with it, which Ebrard arbitrarily inserts when he interprets: “it has not yet been revealed to us, no information about it has yet been communicated to us;” (2) from the fact that the apostle himself immediately afterwards says what Christians will be in the future; (3) from the fact that a confession of present ignorance is at variance with the natural connection; from the fact that with this view a very artificial thought results for the following words: οἴδαμεν κ.τ.λ.; see below.

By οὔπω ἐφανερώθη κ.τ.λ. the apostle accordingly states that the future condition of those who at present are τέκνα Θεοῦ is still concealed, has not yet come to light (comp. Colossians 3:3; Romans 8:18).[194] This future state is, it is true, something different from the present, yet it is not absolutely new, but is that “which is latent and established in the present” (Düsterdieck, Braune).

οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐὰν φανερωθῇ κ.τ.λ.] By ΟἼΔΑΜΕΝ the apostle expresses his own and his readers’ consciousness of that which, as ΤΈΚΝΑ ΘΕΟῦ, they will be in the future.

With ΦΑΝΕΡΩΘῇ we must supply ΤΊ ἘΣΌΜΕΘΑ, the meaning is the same as it previously has; so it is correctly explained by Didymus, Augustin, Socinus, Grotius, Paulus, Baumgarten-Crusius, de Wette, Semler, Lücke, Düsterdieck, Erdmann, Braune, etc. As Ebrard similarly supplies ΤΊ ἘΣΌΜΕΘΑ, but understands ΦΑΝΕΡΩΘῇ here also of the knowledge, there results for him this thought: “we know rather that when it shall be made known to us, we shall even already be like Him,” in which “the emphasis is made to rest on the contemporaneousness of the theoretical φανεροῦσθαι with the actual ὍΜΟΙΟΙ ἜΣΕΣΘΑΙ;” but in this interpretation, which suffers from unjustifiable supplements, a reference is brought out as the chief element of the thought which is in no way indicated, and is foreign to the context.

Some critics supply with ΦΑΝΕΡΩΘῇ as subject ΧΡΙΣΤΌς, as in chap. 1 John 2:28, so Syrus, Calvin, Beza, Hornejus, Calov, Semler, etc. (Myrberg at least thinks that this is not omnino improbabile); this is, however, erroneous, as in this ΦΑΝΕΡΩΘῇ what immediately precedes is clearly resumed. It is self-evident that this revelation will take place ἘΝ Τῇ ΠΑΡΟΥΣΊᾼ ΧΡΙΣΤΟῦ; comp. 1 John 2:28.

ὍΜΟΙΟΙ ΑὐΤῷ ἘΣΌΜΕΘΑ] ΑὐΤῷ, i.e. Deo, cujus sumus filii (Bengel); the idea remains, indeed, essentially the same if αὐτῷ is taken = ΧΡΙΣΤῷ (Storr), but the context decides in favour of the first explanation. The apostle says: we shall be to God ὍΜΟΙΟΙ, not ἼΣΟΙ, because likeness to God will not be unconditioned, but conditioned by the nature of the creature, as a creature; in so far ὍΜΟΙΟς may be translated by “like,” only this idea has something indefinite in it, and therefore Sander not unjustly says “that thereby the point of the thought is lost.” As John himself does not more particularly define this future ὉΜΟΙΌΤΗς of man with God, the commentator must not arbitrarily restrict the general idea on the one side or the other, as, for instance, by the reference to the “light-nature of God” (Ebrard), or the ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗ ΘΕΟῦ (Düsterdieck), or the ΔΌΞΑ ΘΕΟῦ (de Wette[195]).

ὍΤΙ ὈΨΌΜΕΘΑ ΑὐΤΌΝ, ΚΑΘΏς ἘΣΤΙ] This sentence states the logical ground of the foregoing; Calvin correctly: ratio haec ab effectu sumta est, non a causa; so that the sense is: “because we shall see Him as He is, we therefore know that we shall be like Him” (Rickli; so also Socinus, S. Schmidt, Erdmann, Myrberg, etc.). It is a different thought in 2 Corinthians 3:18, according to which Bengel explains: ex aspectu, similitudo (similarly Irenaeus, adv. haer. iv. 38, says: ὅρασις Θεοῦ περιποιητικὴ ἀφθαρσίας), according to which the sense is: “the beholding is the cause of the likeness” (Spener; similarly Baumgarten-Crusius, de Wette, Neander, Köstlin, Düsterdieck, Ebrard, Braune, Weiss, etc.). But John does not here want to explain whence the ὍΜΟΙΟΝ ΕἾΝΑΙ Τῷ ΘΕῷ comes to the believer, but on what the ΟἼΔΑΜΕΝ is based. The certain hope of the Christian is that he shall see God. In that hope there lies for him the certainty that he will one day be like God; for God can only be seen by him who is like Him.[196] When Rickli remarks on ὈΨΌΜΕΘΑ: “not a bodily vision of Him who is Spirit; it is the spiritual beholding, the knowledge of God in His infinite divine nature” (similarly Frommann, p. 217), or when others interpret this ὉΡᾷΝ simply by “to know aright,” and similarly, this is contrary to the sense of the apostle; for as the word itself indeed shows, an actual seeing is meant. For man in his earthly body, God is certainly invisible; but it is different with the glorified man in his σῶμα πνευματικόν (1 Corinthians 15:44); he will not merely know (the believer has knowledge already here), but see God; and, moreover, no longer διʼ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, but ΠΡΌΣΩΠΟΝ ΠΡῸς ΠΡΌΣΩΠΟΝ, 1 Corinthians 13:12. Compare on the seeing of God, Matthew 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 22:4.

By ΚΑΘΏς ἘΣΤΙ the entire reality of the nature of God: “as He is, not merely in a copy, etc., but in Himself and in His nature, His perfect majesty and glory” (Spener), is described.[197] The relation of the single parts of this verse is usually regarded by the commentators as adversative; certainly ΝῦΝ and ΟὔΠΩ form an antithesis, but the connecting ΚΑΊ shows that the apostle considered the first two thoughts less in their antithesis to one another than in their co-ordination, inasmuch as it occurred to him to emphasize them both equally: both that believers are now really ΤΈΚΝΑ ΘΕΟῦ, and also that a glory as yet concealed—namely, likeness to God—awaits them. Between the third and fourth parts also a sort of antithesis occurs (hence the Recepta δέ), but here also the apostle is not anxious to bring out this contrast, but rather to add to the negatively-expressed thought, for its confirmation, the positive substance of Christian consciousness; comp. de Wette-Brückner, Braune.

[192] De Wette incorrectly remarks on ἐσμέν: “by destiny, by faith and aspiration or idea;” John rather signifies by ἐσμέν the actual reality.

[193] Acts 13:25 is especially to be compared. According to Buttmann, the interrogative is used for the relative only after predicates which have a certain similarity with the verba sentiendi, etc., thus especially after ἔχειν (Mark 8:1-2); yet this similarity is sometimes at the least very remote, thus with δοθήσεται, Matthew 10:19, and with ἑτοίμασον, Luke 17:8, where Buttmann finds himself compelled to supply a connecting verb. Besides, a similarity with the verba sentiendi is not to be denied to the verb φανεροῦσθαι, even if it does not describe the theoretical revelation, for the coming out of concealment includes the becoming visible.

[194] Ebrard groundlessly asserts that this view amounts to a tautology: “our future state is still future,” for according to it the apostle rather expresses the thought that the future condition of the τέκνα Θεοῦ will be distinguished from the present; in which, plainly, there is not the slightest tautology contained.

[195] Baumgarten-Crusius and others quote on this passage 2 Peter 1:4 : κοινωνοὶ τῆς θείας φύσεως; this is (as Brückner also remarks) unsuitable, for in this expression the author of that Epistle does not say what the Christian will be one day, but what he already is; it therefore corresponds rather to the τέκνα Θεοῦ.

[196] To Düsterdieck’s question, Why then did not the apostle write: ὀψόμεθα αὐτόν, ὅτι ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα? it is a valid reply: because he did not want to represent the beholding of God, but likeness to God, as the purpose of the divine love. The justification of the rejected explanation by 2 Corinthians 3:18 is inappropriate, because John describes the future condition of the children of God, not as a becoming like, but as a being like (ἐσόμεθα).

[197] Calvin: Deus nune se nobis conspiciendum offert, non qualis est, sed qualem modulus noster cum capit. Weiss rightly observes that the emphasis is laid on καθώς ἐστιν; but it is incorrect for him to place this in contrast with His manifestation in the Son; for God has not revealed Himself in Christ otherwise than καθώς ἐστι.—As a curiosity the explanation of Oertel may be given here: “One day after several centuries, mankind, which now belongs too much to the spirit of barbarism, will become more glorified, more ennobled, and more happy, and thus attain to the perfect knowledge of the plan of God and the purpose of Jesus.”

1 John 3:2. Having spoken of our present dignity, the Apostle goes on to speak of our future destiny. The Incarnation manifested our standing as children of God, but “it was not yet manifested what we shall be”. The aorist ἐφανερώθη (cf. ἔγνω in previous verse) refers to the historic manifestation in Jesus Christ. The N.T. says nothing definite about the nature of our future glory. With our present faculties we cannot conceive it. It must be experienced to be understood. Jesus simply assures us of the felicity of the Father’s House, and bids us take His word for it (cf. John 14:2). ἐὰν φανερωθῇ, “if (cf. note on 1 John 2:28) it may be manifested,” taking up οὔπω ἐφανερώθη. This obvious connection is decisive against the rendering “if He shall be manifested” (cf. 1 John 2:28; Colossians 3:4). ὅτι, κ.τ.λ.: What we shall be was not manifested, but this we know that we shall be like Him. And how do we know it? From His promise that “we shall see Him even as He is” (cf. John 17:24). The argument is two-fold: (1) Vision of God implies likeness to Him in character and affection (cf. Matthew 5:8); (2) the vision of God transfigures (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18), even in this life.

“Ah! the Master is so fair,

His smile so sweet to banished men,

That they who meet it unaware

Can never rest on earth again.”

And how will it be when we “see Him face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12)? St. Augustine expresses much of the Apostle’s thought in a beautiful sentence: “Tota vita Christiani boni sanctum desiderium est”.

2. Beloved] This form of address only occurs once in the first part of the Epistle (1 John 2:7), just where the subject of love appears for a few verses: it becomes the more common form of address (1 John 3:2; 1 John 3:21, 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11) now that the main subject is love. Similarly, in 1 John 3:13, where brotherly love is the special subject, ‘brethren’ is the form of address.

now are we the sons of God] Rather, as before, now are we children of God. ‘Now’ is placed first in emphatic contrast to ‘not yet,’ which has a similar position. Our privileges in this world are certain; our glories in the world to come still continue veiled. The term ‘children’ is in harmony with this: ‘child’ necessarily implies future development; ‘son’ does not.

it doth not yet appear] Better, as R. V., it is not yet made manifest; it is the same verb as we have already had 1 John 1:2, 1 John 2:19; 1 John 2:28. As it is one of S. John’s favourite expressions it is all the more important that it should be rendered in the same way throughout his writings. See on 1 John 2:28.

but we know that, when he shall appear] The ‘but’ must be omitted on overwhelming evidence (אABC, Vulgate): We know that if it shall be manifested. Here there is no difference of reading (as there is in 1 John 2:28) between ‘when’ and ‘if’; but earlier English Versions, under the influence of the Vulgate (cum apparuerit), have ‘when’ in both cases. ‘If’ in both cases is right; but it has been either changed in the Greek, or shirked in translation, as appearing to imply a doubt respecting the manifestation. It implies no doubt as to the fact, but shews that the results of the fact are more important than the time: comp. ‘if I be lifted up from the earth’, and ‘If I go and prepare a place for you’ (John 12:32; John 14:3).

It is less easy to determine between ‘if it shall be manifested’ and ‘if He shall be manifested; ‘it’ meaning what we shall be hereafter, and ‘He’ meaning Christ. No nominative is expressed in the Greek, and it is rather violent to supply a new nominative, differing from that of the very same verb in the previous sentence: therefore ‘it’ seems preferable. ‘We know that if our future state is made manifest we, who are children of God, shall be found like our Father’. On the other hand, 1 John 2:28 favours ‘if He shall be manifested.’ The word for know (οἴδαμεν) is that used in 1 John 2:20-21, not that used in 1 John 2:3; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 2:18, 1 John 3:1. No progress in knowledge is implied, no additional experience: our future resemblance to our Father is a fact of which as Christians we are aware: comp. 1 John 5:18-20.

we shall be like him] If we render ‘if He (i.e. Christ) shall be manifested’, this naturally means ‘we shall be like Christ;’ which, however true in itself, is not the point. The point is that children are found to be like their Father. This is an additional reason for preferring ‘if it shall be manifested’. Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘it’, Wiclif, Genevan, and Rhemish have ‘he’.

for we shall see him as he is] Better, because we shall see Him even as He is; ‘because’ as in 1 John 3:9; 1 John 3:20; 1 John 3:22, 1 John 2:13-14, &c., and ‘even as’ as in 1 John 3:3; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:23, 1 John 2:6; 1 John 2:27, &c. ‘Because’ or ‘for’ may give the cause either (1) of our knowing that we shall be like Him, or (2) of our being like Him. Both make good sense; but, in spite of ‘we know’ being the principal sentence grammatically, the statement which most needs explanation is the subordinate one, that we shall be like God. ‘We shall be like Him’, says the Apostle, ‘because, as you know, we shall see Him’. Comp. ‘But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18); the sight of God will glorify us. This also is in harmony with the prayer of the great High Priest; ‘And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given unto them’ (John 17:22). Comp. ‘And they shall see His face’ (Revelation 22:4). The ‘even as’ emphasizes the reality of the sight: no longer ‘in a mirror, darkly’, but ‘face to face’.

1 John 3:2. Ἀγαπητοὶ) beloved by me, because the Father loves us.—νῦν) now, at present. The antithesis is, not yet. In this verse it must be especially seen, what words are to be pronounced with a fuller sound: now, not yet, what, like Him.—τέκνα, sons) This is repeated from 1 John 3:1.—τί ἐσόμεθα) what we are about to be further, by the power of this sonship. This what, by Epitasis [see Append.], suggests something unspeakable, contained in the likeness of God, which so exalts the sons of God, that they become as it were gods.—οἴδαμεν) we know, in general.—φανερωθῇ, shall be manifested) The same word occurs, ch. 1 John 2:28.—ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ, like Him) God, whose sons we are.—ὅτι, since) From beholding comes resemblance, 2 Corinthians 3:18; as the whole body, the countenance, and especially the eyes of those who behold the sun, are sunned.—ὀψόμεθα, we shall see) Sight includes in its notion all the other kinds of senses.—αὐτὸν, Him) God.—καθώς ἐστι, as He is) that is, manifestly.

Verse 2. - Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest (or, it never yet was manifested) what we shall be. The emphatic νῦν is in opposition to οὔπω: our present state is known; our future remains still unrevealed. Again (1 John 2:27, 29), we are in doubt about the construction. What is the nominative to "shall be manifested" φανερωθῇ, "he" or "it"? The context is strongly in favour of "it," i.e., "if it shall be manifested what we shall be;" 1 John 2:28 seems to favour "he," i.e., "if Christ shall be manifested." The context must prevail. "Our future state is not yet made manifest. We know that on its manifestation we shall find ourselves like God." The two things will be contemporaneous. The 'Speaker's Commentary' quotes the following anecdote: "When some heathen converts to Christianity were translating a Catechism into their own language, they came upon 1 John 3:2. They stopped. 'No; it is too much,' they said; 'let us write that we shall be permitted to kiss his feet.'" Beware of inverting the meaning of the last clause, ὅτι, ὀψόμεθα κ.τ.λ.. It does not mean that the seeing God is a proof or sign of our being like him (Matthew 5:8), but the cause of our being like him: "We shall be like him, because we shall see him." God is light (1 John 1:5), and light is seen. In this life νῦν we cannot see the light of the Divine nature "as it is," but only as it is reflected; and the reflected light cannot transmit to us the nature of the Divine original, though it prepares us to receive it. Hereafter the sight, "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12), of the Light itself will illuminate us through end through, and we shall become like it. Rothe takes "like him" to mean like Christ (Romans 8:16, 17, 29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; comp. John 17:24; Colossians 3:18); comp. Revelation 22:4; Revelation 1:7. 1 John 3:2Beloved

See 1 John 2:7.

Now are we and, etc.

The two thoughts of the present and the future condition of God's children are placed side by side with the simple copula, and, as parts of one thought. Christian condition, now and eternally, centers in the fact of being children of God. In that fact lies the germ of all the possibilities of eternal life.

It doth not yet appear (οὔπω ἐφανερώθη)

Rev., more correctly, it is not yet made manifest. See on John 21:1. The force of the aorist tense is, was never manifested on any occasion.

What we shall be (τί ἐσόμεθα)

"This what suggests something unspeakable, contained in the likeness of God" (Bengel).

But we know

Omit but.

When He shall appear (ἐὰν φανερωθῇ)

Rev., correctly, if He (or it) shall be manifested. We may render either "if it shall be manifested," that is what we shall be; or, "if He," etc. The preceding ἐφανερώθη it is (not yet) made manifest, must, I think, decide us in favor of the rendering it. We are now children of God. It has not been revealed what we shall be, and therefore we do not know. In the absence of such revelation, we know (through our consciousness of childship, through His promise that we shall behold His glory), that if what we shall be were manifested, the essential fact of the glorified condition thus revealed will be likeness to the Lord. This fact we know now as a promise, as a general truth of our future state. The condition of realizing the fact is the manifestation of that glorified state, the revealing of the τί ἐσόμεθα what we shall be; for that manifestation will bring with it the open vision of the Lord. When the what we shall be shall be manifest, it will bring us face to face with Him, and we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.

As He is (καθώς ἐστιν)

Strictly, just as. Rev., even as.


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