1 John 3:2
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear…
The apostle admits that there is obscurity hanging over much of our eternal future.
1. The first step of the soul into another state of being is a mystery. The existence of the soul separate from the body, and from all material organs, is incomprehensible.
2. The place of our future life is obscure. How there can be relation to place without a body we do not know, and even when the body is restored, we cannot tell the locality of the resurrection world.
3. The outward manner of our final existence is also uncertain. Whether we may possess merely our present faculties, enlarged and strengthened, as a child's mind expands into a man's, or whether new faculties of perception may not be made to spring forth, as if sight were given a blind man, we find it impossible to affirm.
4. Many of the modes of thought and feeling, in that life to come, perplex us. Truth must forever continue truth, and goodness eternally commend itself to the soul, else our training for the future life would be valueless, and our confidence in the reality of things shaken. But there may be large modifications, through the extension and elevation of our thoughts. We shall see the same spiritual objects, but from other positions, and with higher powers of judging. How far this may affect our views we cannot say.
5. It would be unsatisfactory enough if this were all that could be said and done. But the apostle puts this dark background upon the canvas, that he may set in relief a central scene and figure — Christ and our relation to Him. It matters little, the apostle says, what may be our ignorance about other things, what doubts may agitate us, what darkness lie on the edge of our horizon, if we can abide in the centre with this great Enlightener. He casts His illumination upon our future destiny as well as upon our present duty.
I. The first thing promised is THE MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST — "Christ shall appear." It is not merely that Christ shall be seen, but seen as never before.
1. The first thought of the apostle was no doubt the human nature of Christ as appearing again to the eyes of His friends. He left. with that nature, and promised so to return — "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice." His first disciples are not to be the only favoured men who ever saw Christ after the flesh. They will regain the view they lost, and we, if we are of them who love His appearing, shall share it with them. The likeness of sinful flesh will be removed — the marred visage and form of suffering, — but the look that turned on Peter — the face that rejoiced in that hour when He said, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" — the hands that blessed the children — these shall remain, with all the soul of pity that was in them, and the beating heart which went forth through them. The only difference will be that they shall appear. In this world they were hidden, seen only by the few, seen obscurely, realised feebly; but when He is made manifest they shall be the centre and the sunlight of a ransomed world, the heritage of an innumerable company, and yet each one, as if by himself, shall have His view of, and portion in, the true human fellowship of the Son of God.
2. In the manifestation of Christ the apostle must have thought also of His Divine nature. His first appearance in this nature was dim and over cast, both for the sake of the weak vision of fallen humanity, and because suffering and sacrifice were necessary for the work He had to perform. Before He could raise, He needed to redeem. When He became man "He emptied Himself" of His Divinity, as far as this was possible — gathered the attributes of the Infinite within the limits of the finite, and shut up the rays of His uncreated glory in the likeness of sinful flesh. When He shall appear there may be expected a clear manifestation of the Divine nature through the human. The glory that He had with the Father before the world was shall be resumed, and, if we may venture to say it, raised, for the glory of the Divine shall have added to it the grace of the human. The majesty, the power and wisdom which belong to Him as the Son of God shall go forth unrestrained, in union with the tenderness and sympathy which fill His heart as the Son of Man.
II. The second thing promised at the appearance of Christ is a FULL VISION ON OUR PART — "we shall see Him as He is."
1. There must certainly be a change in our material frame before we can sustain the view of Christ's exalted humanity. When men are brought to see Him as He is, the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory would crush them to the dust, without that change which will make their bodies incorruptible and glorious as His own.
2. With this change on the body, there must be a corresponding one upon the soul, before there can be the full vision of Christ. If we were allowed to conjecture, we might suppose that this education is part of the history of souls in the separate state. The body can rise at once to its highest perfection, but the law of spirit is that of advance by slow degrees. It is consolatory, also, to think that the great day shall not startle the blessed dead, if we may so speak of them, with affright. It shall dawn to them as the summer sun dawns. But however the preparation takes place, we may be confident that the soul's vision will be at last perfectly fitted to. its object — "Christ as He is." It will be a vision free from all sin in the soul. This will make it free from error, and from the doubt which has pain with it. It will be free from partiality — from that fruitful source of misconception and division, taking a portion of Christ and His truth for the whole. It will be a vision intense and vivid, not coldly outlined by the understanding, but veined and coloured by the heart — a sight in which the soul goes out to rejoice with a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. And it will be a vision close and intimate. They shall gain their knowledge of God and Christ by quicker processes and shorter paths than here we do.
III. The third thing promised is COMPLETE ASSIMILATION TO CHRIST — "we shall be like Him." It is the perfect view of Christ which gives perfect likeness to Him. To look on one we love brings a measure of similitude, and looking on Christ, even here, however dimly we may see Him, produces a degree of likeness. But it is when Christ appears that the last great step is taken. However pure and happy may be the state of separate spirits, the Scripture teaches us that it is incomplete, and that they, as well as the whole creation, "wait for the manifestation of the sons of God."
1. Taking the order hitherto observed, we may think first of our material frame. It will be made like to Christ's glorious body. This assures us that we shall have eternal relations to God's material universe. It fixes a central home for our nature — we shall be where Christ is. It makes us feel that there will be a fitness in our frame for our future dwelling place. All that world forms itself into a harmony with Christ, and when we are like Him we shall be in harmony with it. When the material frame is made like Christ's, it indicates to us something not only of the forms of the future life, but of its active employments. The body in this present world serves two great purposes. It lets in God's external creation, with all its lessons of knowledge, upon the soul; and it gives the soul power to go forth and imprint upon God's creation its own thoughts and volitions. When the Bible assures us that a body shall still be associated with man's soul, it leads us to infer that God's material universe will be open to him in all its teachings; and that he will be able to impress it in some way with the marks of his own mind and will. Only it will be after a higher manner. The lordship of man over creation, which was granted him at first, will be heightened when it is restored through Christ (Hebrews 2:7).
2. Besides the assimilation of the material frame, we cannot forget that there will be a likeness of the spiritual nature. The source of heaven's blessedness and power is the likeness of the soul to Christ. When He shall appear "we shall see His face, and His name shall be on our foreheads." It shall be deeper — in our souls; and all of God's truth and grace that can be communicated to a creature shall enter into the depth of the spiritual nature through Christ. If the active soul finds scope for work in God's material universe, the Mary-like spirit which delights to sit at the feet of Christ and hear His word, shall have unrebuked leisure in the heavenly home. We may trust that in some way the sisters, Service and Meditation, will interchange gifts, and be perfectly at one when they reach His higher presence.
3. We have pursued the order of presenting first the human side of Christ, and then the Divine; but we trust it has been made clear that the knowledge of Christ comes to us through the soul side in ourselves. We must begin by knowing Him spiritually as the source of pardon and purity — commencing a new life within, which goes forward, strengthening and rising — a life of which heaven is not the reward, but the natural and necessary continuation.
(John Ker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.