Hope Is Fulfilled by Christlikeness
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (3:2)
Heaven is attractive for believers because there they will not only see the Lord Jesus Christ, but will become like Him. Concerning that dramatic and eternal change, the apostle Paul wrote:
Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:49–53)
Even though all who exercise saving faith in the person and work of Christ now … are children of God (cf. Rom. 8:14–18), it has not appeared as yet what they will be when they experience what Paul called “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21). It is then that “the Lord Jesus Christ … will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20–21; cf. cf. Ps. 73:24; Rom. 9:23; 1 Cor. 15:42–49; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 2:14; 2 Tim. 2:10). As a result, believers will be like Him, because they will see Him just as He is. God has promised to bring about such a climactic transformation because “those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). That transformation will make the redeemed perfectly holy and righteous, with a pure capacity to worship and glorify God in a totally satisfying, joyful, undiminished fashion forever (cf. Rev. 5:11–14).
It has been rightly said that imitation is the highest form of praise, and this transformation will be a supreme tribute to Jesus Christ—that He is the Chief One, the prototokos, among many who are made like Him. Those whom the Father has elected to salvation through the Son will be made like the Son, conformed to the image of Christ. He will be the first among His elect and redeemed humanity who will join with the holy angels to praise and glorify His name, reflect His goodness, and proclaim His greatness, as they worship Him endlessly.
2 Many commentators have been struck by the language here, for at first glance it seems more Pauline than Johannine. Paul frequently speaks of the believer’s transformation at the second coming (1 Co 13:12; 15:35–53; Php 3:20–21; 1 Th 4:13–17), but the fourth gospel stresses that Christians have already been reborn to eternal life (Jn 1:13; 3:3–8; 5:24–26; 6:53–57; 14:23). Indeed, the Johannine Jesus has almost nothing to say about his return except that he will come to his disciples in the form of the Paraclete (cf. Jn 14:18–23 with Mk 13 and Mt 24–25). Rensberger, 89, therefore concludes that 1 John 3:2 is “closer to non-Johannine forms of early Christian eschatology” than to the fourth gospel (cf. Barker, 330–31; Marshall, 171–73; Johnson, 68). Going a step further, Stott, 119, attempts to harmonize John’s position with Paul’s, positing a threefold sequence of events: “he will appear; we shall see him as he really is; we shall be like him.” But the order of the two slogans at 3:2 suggests that John has not shifted from the realized eschatology of the fourth gospel. Contra Stott’s outline, John actually says that believers “shall be like him” before referring to their vision of Jesus. Believers will not be like Jesus because they will see him; rather, believers will see Jesus because they have been like him. As God’s children, true Christians are already “like him,” and Christ’s appearing will only confirm this established fact. Rather than shifting from the “realized eschatology” of the fourth gospel, then, 3:2 asserts that the second coming will only clarify what believers already know to be true about God and themselves.
3:2 / The emphasis in v. 2 falls on the temporal dimension, i.e., on now and not yet. The author has just forcefully affirmed that he and his readers are children of God (3:1); that is what they are now, in reality, at the present moment. What their future identity will be (lit., “what we shall be”) has not yet been made known. Paul says that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Rom. 8:19), and that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). While there is much about our existence in God’s future of which we are and will remain ignorant until the right time comes, we can know something about it, namely, that we will continue on our present trajectory of becoming like Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21): we shall be like him. Still children of God, we shall become more like “the One and Only” (John 1:14, 18) Son of God. The image of God lost in creation will be restored in Christ as we become like him, the New Man and New Adam (cf. Col. 3:10; 1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:14).
This will happen when he appears (phanerōthē). Phaneroō is used in the letters of John to describe both the first (1:2; 3:5, 8; cf. John 1:31;) and second coming of Jesus (2:28; 3:2). The letters of John, written later in the first century than the Gospel (see the Introduction) and after the schism which has brought the “antichrist” to light (in the group of the secessionists; 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7), reflect a more vivid awareness of the return of Jesus; they have, compared to the Fourth Gospel, a heightened eschatology (2:18, 28; 3:2–3; 4:17). The Gospel of John, though unique in its strong emphasis on “realized eschatology,” has a place for a genuinely futuristic eschatology as well (cf. 5:28–29; 14:3).
The writer and his community expectantly look forward to the coming of Jesus (2:28). They believe that when he appears, they will be transformed to become like Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51–52) and that this change will occur, at least in part, because we shall see him as he is. To see, to gaze upon, and to meditate upon what one sees is to move in the direction of becoming like that which preoccupies one’s attention. There will be a transforming vision at the return of Jesus in which believers will be purified of all that still separates them from complete likeness to Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18).
2. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
In Greek John writes, “Beloved.” This term which expresses a passive idea may imply that God is the one who loves us: “Beloved by God.” John, then, continues to stress the special relationship we have with God. The Father loves us and therefore we are now his children. Already in this earthly life we claim the right to be God’s children and are able to procure this assurance.
We are in principle children of God (v. 1) who lack perfection because of sin. But that which is principle now will become full reality in the future. John, therefore, observes, “What we will be has not yet been made known.” That is, God has only begun his marvelous work in us which in time he will bring to completion.
What will we be in the future? Although the Bible is a book that relates the work of creation and redemption, it also gives us a glimpse of the future. For instance, John tells his readers about their identity with Jesus.
“But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In his epistles, Paul reveals the same truths. Here are three relevant passages:
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory. [2 Cor. 3:18]
[Jesus Christ] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. [Phil. 3:21]
When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. [Col. 3:4]
Scripture discloses that at the coming of Christ we will be glorified in body and soul. “We shall be like him.” The Bible nowhere states that we shall be equal to Christ. Instead it tells us that we shall be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God. We share his immortality. However, Christ has the preeminence, for the Son of God is “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). Believers will surround the throne of God and the Lamb. “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:4).
3:2 However, understood or not, now we are children of God, and this is the guarantee of future glory. It has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we do know that when Christ is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. This does not mean that we will be physically like Jesus in heaven. The Lord Jesus will have His own definite appearance, and will bear the scars of Calvary throughout eternity. Each of us, we believe, will have his own distinct features and will be recognizable as such. The Bible does not teach that everyone will look alike in heaven. However, we will be morally like the Lord Jesus Christ. We will be free from the possibility of defilement, sin, sickness, sorrow, and death.
And how will this marvelous transformation be accomplished? The answer is that one look at Christ will bring it to pass. For we shall see Him as He is. Here in life, the process of becoming like Christ is going on, as we behold Him by faith in the word of God. But then the process will be absolutely complete when we see Him as He is: for to see Him is to be like Him.
3:2 When John admits ignorance of what we shall be when Jesus appears, his statement should cause us to be humble and cautious about detailed pronouncements of future events and the nature of our heavenly existence. God has chosen not to tell us many things either because we would not understand or because it might distract us from our responsibilities as believers (Acts 1:6–8). be like Him: Though we do not know all the specifics of our future existence, we do know that we will have a body like Christ’s (Phil. 3:21). Believers will put on immortality and become free from the sin nature that presently plagues us.
3:2 — … we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
One day we will exchange our worn-out, sin-prone, weak bodies for new models patterned after Jesus’ resurrection body—strong, ageless, free of all sin, and completely at home in the holy presence of God.
 MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 116–117). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 458–459). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 68–69). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, p. 295). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2316). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 1710–1711). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Jn 3:2). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.