Eschatology is the branch within theology concerning the study of the end, the study of the last days. Thinking, praying, and pouring over Genesis – Revelation to search out answers to questions like ‘How will Jesus return?’, ‘When will Jesus return?’, and ‘Who will Jesus return for?’ can be a mammoth theological endeavor to dive into. So mammoth that it often does one of two things to people. It either scares people away from it entirely or prompts people to embrace a kind of overly simplistic belief about Eschatology, that details don’t matter much…the only thing that matters is that Jesus is coming back. In my own Christian experience I have been in both of these positions before and through the encouragement (and patience) of my former pastors and friends I dove deeply into Eschatology and found something altogether unexpected. I found that it wasn’t as dark or mysterious as people say it is, I found we can learn as much about Eschatology in Genesis as we can in Revelation, and found that studying the what the Bible has to say about the end enormously impacted how I lived out my faith today. Today’s text works on us in a similar manner. By thinking on our hope to come, we encouraged to live differently in the present.
For most of our summer we’ve lingered on the theme of holiness and how it makes us a distinct people. After beginning with the foundation of God’s holiness we have since looked at many places in Scripture to see the holiness we’re called to endeavor after as God’s children. Today we continue to do so looking at holiness from the viewpoint of 1 John. In the first two chapters, John attacks a popular false teaching sneaking into the churches called Gnosticism, which advocated a pursuit of secret knowledge to attain salvation. John calls his readers to a true knowledge of God that not only informs their minds but fuels a new kind of life. Life lived in the light as God is in the light. Having called them to this John makes something of a transition in thought in 2:29 saying, “If you know He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.” Then, he expands on this theme in much greater detail for another 3 chapters explaining how we must keep the faith, love one another, reject worldliness, and be obedient to God…why? Because we’re His children.
So, as 3:1-3 (our text for today) comes before us note that in this passage John begins from Christian experience in the present, moves to its consummation in the future, then ends with a final exhortation that brings both the present and the future together.In this three truths are put forth for us: what we are, what we will be, and what we must be.
What We Are (v1)
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
This initial call is a call to careful observation. Not casual observation as we would do in an aquarium but observing as we would do in soul stirring and heartfelt study. John says “See…” meaning behold, look at, visit, observe, gain a true understanding of…what we are. For us to know what we are he asks us to see a certain kind of love. Specifically, the love of God the Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us…” This phrase ‘what kind of’ is an unusual one that isn’t used very much in the New Testament. It could be translated as it is here, but it could also be translated ‘what manner of’ or ‘what sort of.’ One commentator even translates this phrase ‘Consider how lavish is the love which the Father has showered upon us!’Yes consider this John says, but not only this, consider more. Consider that this lavish love of the Father is seen in that we are now His children. So this call in v1 to know what we are by gaining a true understanding of the lavish love of God the Father in making us His children sets a tone of awe and wonder…because we know who we used to be: sinful, corrupt, polluted, stained, hostile, thirsty hell bound orphans bent on dying in our thirst rather than quenching our thirst in the fountain of grace – this is who we used to be.
That God through Jesus Christ would by faith redeem sinners like us into His family, adopting us as His own children, in His lavish love is a thing of wonder. That God through Jesus Christ would by faith fully and forever fill us with the fountain of gospel grace is a thing of awe. His love initiated our entrance, His love is the origin of our redemption, and His love is the source of our salvation. Indeed God has blessed us in Christ without boundary, for we are His! No longer orphans, but sons and daughters, given an inheritance and standing in the family never to be removed. Of this Charles Spurgeon once said, “God’s children are God’s children anywhere and everywhere, and shall be even unto the end. Nothing can sever that sacred tie…”
Paul says the beauty of this gospel love, its height, depth, breadth, and length surpasses knowledge. This love is knowable but unknowable, comprehensible but incomprehensible, measurable but measureless. One recent song put it like this:
I could sooner count the stars
Than number all Your ways,
Though I only know in part
That part exceeds all praise,
I could sooner drink the seas
Than fathom all Your love,
Like a never ceasing stream
Are mercies through Your Son!
Such songs can only flow forth in glad hearted gratefulness by sinners adopted and made saints through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the love John calls us to ‘see’ and from seeing it we come to know what we are, children of God.
Notice in v1 John also adds, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” John adds this thought because one might be tempted to think that those having the privileged position of being God’s children would be immediately recognizable in this world. As if we would have gold shoes or be able to work wonders like He does. This is not the case. The reason this is not the case is because the world didn’t recognize ‘Him’ first. ‘Him’ here could refer to God, or Christ, but probably refers to God in Christ specifically.Remember John 1:10-12? “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…” born by the very will of God. Because the majority of people in the world didn’t recognize Jesus for who He was in His earthly ministry, John says the majority of the world won’t recognize the children of God for who they are as well. Many have experienced this after conversion. One particular college student I know after coming to Christ went back home for a holiday only to hear his parents say “It’s like we don’t even know who you are anymore!” Afterwards it was passages like this one before us today that taught him that we shouldn’t be surprised if the world doesnt recognize us, or is hostile or unwelcoming to us, it did the same to Christ, and now the world sees a family resemblance in us. God’s children! This is what we are.
What We Will Be (v2)
Though we are the children of God in the present, all that this means, all the future implications of what this will bring to us in glory, all of that is not fully realized in this life, but in the life to come. v2 says, “Beloved…(probably calling them this based on the love just seen in v1, they are the beloved of God)…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.”
John speaks as if we were in seed stage, awaiting the moment when we burst forth from the ground and show ourselves to be the oaks we were made to be. When will the moment come where we burst forth from the tomb of this earth? John says, “When He appears…” Albert Brumley said it like this in 1929, “Some bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away, to that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.” James Black said it like this in 1893, “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more, and the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair; when the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore, and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”
Before we get carried off into the glory of heaven let’s think more on v2. Here John addresses both our knowledge and our ignorance.We know what we are now, we know we will be like Him when we see Him, but we do not know the details of all that that means, for “…what we will be has not yet appeared…” The knowing is now, and the not knowing is future. So we know, and we don’t know! The tension between the now and not yet is a tension found all throughout Scripture. We presently live in the overlapping of the ages. Christ has come bringing with Him the Kingdom of God, the age to come. However we still live in this present evil age, this fallen world. We will continue to be the tension of the already but not yet until Christ returns bringing His Kingdom here in full measure. This is why there are passages that teach that we have been saved (Eph. 2:8), have been justified (Rom. 5:1), have been adopted (1 John 3:1), have been resurrected (Rom. 6), have been glorified (Rom. 8:30), and have been redeemed (Eph. 1:4), alongside other passages that teach we await the day when we will be saved (Rom. 5:10), will be justified (Rom. 2:13), will be adopted (Rom. 8:23), will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15), will be glorified (Phil. 3), and will be redeemed (Rom. 13:11).
A threefold sequence of events in given here in v2: first He will appear, second we shall see Him as He is, and third we shall be like Him.Think about that. In one sense we can never be like Jesus because He alone is the second Person of the Trinity, God incarnate, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit in power, majesty, and glory.In becoming Christians we’re never deified, we never become little gods. Nonetheless, mystery of mysteries when we become Christians He does make us new and in glory when we see Him He will turn our sinful hearts and bodies into glorified hearts and bodies like His own. While we remain in this life the becoming new process looks like becoming righteous as He is righteous and becoming holy as He is holy. By becoming holy as He is holy we’re remade into the image of Christ, who is the very image of God, which means the very image we marred and fell from in the fall we regain in Christ.
I remember once as a young boy playing around my Grandparents house in Sarasota I came across a picture of my grandfather as a teenager and for a moment I thought I had stumbled onto a picture of myself. It was eerie…the picture was old, the clothes were old, and the location of the picture was unknown to me. What stood out most was that the young man in it was clearly older than I was and so it felt like I was looking at a picture of me in the future but everything about it looked like the past. It was so eerie I brought it to my Mother, she laughed and said, “This is Grandpa silly. You sure look like him don’t you?” I was relieved that she knew exactly what the picture was and I was encouraged that I looked like then and would grow more into the likeness of my Grandpa.
In a similar manner, just as I have slowly and surely began to look more like him, v2 speaks the same way about our growth and maturity in Christ. At the current moment we would all admit that we’re far from being Christ-like, but sure enough, day by day God’s growing us into the likeness of Christ. We may not see it now, but He’s doing it every second in us and will continue to do it in us all the way up to the point when Jesus appears and we shall be like Him. This is what we will be.
What We Must Be (v3)
In our adoption into God’s family after conversion we become God’s children, we’ve seen some of the glory of what that means for us in what we are and in what we will be in v1-2. As we come to v3 we see one more implication of this adoption. To keep us from floating away in a vague spirituality, John reminds us (in v3) that our future destiny helps us to know our present duty.Or to put it another way, in our gospel adoption into the family of God we not only receive the name of God’s children, we receive nature of God’s children.What is the nature of God’s children? God is holy, holy, holy, so His children must be holy, holy, holy. v3 says it, “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”
Remember how we began? Our doctrine of the last things, our Eschatology, truly does impact how we live life today. v2 makes this point when it tells us being made a new creation in Christ means that we are God’s children, that we have a glorious future ahead of us, and in v3 we find it’s that very final and future hope that pushes us to be like Him now. Notice how John switches his tone here? In v1-2 it was all about what ‘we’ are now and what ‘we’ will one day be. A corporate view was being taken there. In v3 the corporate view remains, but the tone switches to a more individual sound. “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” The main concern of everyone…every single person who has this future hope in Christ ought to be becoming pure as Christ is pure.This is what we must be!
But what does it mean to purify ourselves as He is pure? I think it can be summed up with a word. Purity carries with it the idea of innocence. Moral innocence yes, but intellectual innocence also. Purity in heart and purity in mind will create purity in life. Christians, then, are to be wise in the Word of God, wise the ways of God and yet unfamiliar of the evils of sin and unfamiliar of the ways of the world. This means we must be eager to run toward what is good, true, and beautiful and run away from the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is John’s point as he continues on in chapter 3 speaking about how Christians relate to sin now that they’ve been saved. Those who keep on sinning haven’t truly seen God or known God. Only those who practices righteousness are righteous, as He is righteous. John summarizes this in 3:10, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
Church, God in the gospel is about saving us from our ruin, from our guilt, and from hell. This is gloriously and absolutely true, indeed far truer than we know! But more is at work. God is about saving us frommany things, but we should not miss that He has also saved us formany things. He has saved us from our ruin for righteousness. He has saved us from our guilt for godliness. He has saved us from hell for holiness. Our purity in the present proves that we’re the children of God.
I’m afraid many hear passages like this, and the topic of holiness as something of a killjoy. Perhaps this will help. When a baseball player hits a homerun he doesn’t just walk back into the dugout. No, though the run is counted the player still has to run the bases making sure to touch each one. He won’t gripe or grumble that he’s got to do this, no, he’ll run the bases with joy because of the homerun, resting in the fact that no one can tag him out or throw him out and enjoying looking ahead to the celebration with his teammates as he crosses home plate. So too, God in Christ, hit a homerun and because of His work we will run the bases of the Christian life before we arrive at home plate. Being careful to run as He wants us to run, staying within the baseline, touching each base, resting in the fact that no one can tag us out or throw us out as we run, and looking ahead to the celebration once we arrive home.This gospel grand slam prompts us to godliness.
Church, looking back shows us what we are, looking ahead shows us what we will be, and both of these impact and inform what we must be in the present. This is the Christian life.
Stephen Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John – Word Biblical Commentary, accessed via Logos Bible software 7.10.18.
Smalley, accessed via Logos Bible software 7.10.18.
David L. Allen, 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 135. My points are echoes of his points made here.
Smalley, accessed via Logos Bible software 7.10.18.
Charles Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons – Vol. 4, page 388.
Sooner Count the Stars, Sovereign Grace Music, 2015.
Smalley, accessed via Logos Bible software 7.10.18.
Allen, page 140-141 is very helpful here.
James Boice, quoted in Allen, page 144.
Smalley, accessed via Logos Bible software 7.10.18.