“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)
I was reading this verse the other day and two parts of it captured my focus. “We shall be like him” and “we shall see him as he is” were both popping out. I have read this verse before but this time they stuck out like a sore thumb and I couldn’t get past their reality.
What I would like to do is explain a bit about each phrase. I don’t think they are necessarily difficult to explain, but it can’t hurt to remind ourselves of these precious truths.
Now, but Not Yet
As Christians, we live in what many call the “Already, but not yet” stage. It can be a confusing statement to somebody who’s never heard it before. So, what does this mean?
The “Already” simply refers to the fact that Christians—only Christians—get to enjoy the benefits of God’s work in Christ while on Earth. We experience salvation; we go through the process of sanctification; we receive the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, etc. In a real, tangible sense, our redemption has already happened.
But the “Not Yet” refers to the fact that we will not see the finality of these acts until the day Christ comes back (hence, 1 John 3:2). Because of that, these future realities—our resurrection, glorification, perfect fellowship with the saints, and to see God as He is—are objects of faith. We do not fully experience these realities yet, but they are coming!
We Shall be Like Him
The first phrase says that “when he appears we shall be like him.” What does this mean? In what sense will we be like him?
To put it as simply, it is referring to our future glorification. The doctrine of glorification refers to when Jesus comes back again (Second Coming). When He returns, all believers—whether in the grave (their physical bodies will be in the grave) or still on Earth—will be instantly glorified, that is, their body will be transformed into the body that Jesus had/has after His resurrection (Phil. 3:21). Our bodies will be perfect.
Of course, this brings up the question, “Doesn’t this happen when you die?” Well, not totally. If I died today, I would be instantly with Jesus and fully enjoying His presence, but I will not yet have my glorified body.
The Apostle Paul makes that point in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, by saying
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (italics added).
He makes the distinction that if we are “away from the Lord” then we are “at home in the body.” In contrast, he says that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” In this, he implies that when we die, we will not have a body, but will be instantly with the Lord!
So, to answer the question: glorification, in one sense, doesn’t fully happen when you die. We are not actually glorified until He returns. Until then, we will be with the Lord, but without a physical body.
Praise God, He does make us the promise that, when He returns, “we shall be like him.” Amen. This is a motivation to press forward in joy-filled obedience to God.
If you’re struggling with sin, and you feel like you just can’t get past it—look to the reality of glorification and tell yourself this: “Though I am struggling; though I am in pain; though I am continually failing, I know that one day God will glorify me and I will not have to deal with my sin. Therefore, I will press on.”
We Shall See Him as He Is
In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul writes about the humility of Jesus. In His humility, Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…” (v.7).
Jesus “emptying himself” has been widely misunderstood and used many times by false religions and cults in attempt to explain that Jesus wasn’t divine or that He ceased to be God while on Earth. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
(Side note: I will readily admit that I’ve never fully seen The Princess Bride, but I knew this quote fit here very well. So…give me a break. My wife has already rebuked me for not seeing it.)
When Jesus “emptied himself,” part of it was Him voluntarily concealing His full, majestic glory. In doing so, He was demonstrating His humility by laying aside for a time His full glory so He could properly fulfill His mission of dying for sinners.
So, completing the full circle here, when we read that “we shall see him as he is,” we should understand that we shall see Him in His full, majestic, Son-of-God glory that He laid aside in Philippians 2. Oh, how amazing that day will be!
Christian, let these two truths—the truth of our future glorification and of seeing Christ as He is—permeate your soul. Let them squeeze the life out of your indwelling sin. Pursue Christ. Strive for holiness because of these facts.
Soli Deo Gloria