Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3).
John has been writing to Christians regarding the Word of Life and the message that He is the light and in Him is no darkness, and thus we are to walk in the light (1 John 1). We do so by following His commandments (1 John 2:1-6). To be in the light means that we love one another (1 John 2:7-14). Christians are not to love the world or the things in it, and not be disturbed in faith on account of those false teachers, the antichrists (1 John 2:15-27).
John charges the Christians to abide in Jesus so that they would not be ashamed when He returns, and to continue practicing righteousness, for those who practice righteous are born of Him (1 John 2:27-29). John now continues by speaking of the great love God has for us and how that love is manifest.
John indicates that God’s great love is made evident toward us in that we can be called His children (1 John 3:1). We become children of God by adoption, as Paul indicates in Romans 8:14-17 and Ephesians 1:5. The basis of our adoption is the blood of Jesus Christ that allows for the cleansing of sin and the restoration of association with Him (1 John 1:1-7). Our adoption, therefore, came at great cost for God; this is why we may have constant confidence in God’s love toward us (Romans 8:31-39). If His love for us was not great, why would He have sacrificed His Son on our behalf?
John indicates that the fact that we have become children of God explains why the world does not “know” us, for it did not know God, either (1 John 3:1). John is not acting as if the world is ignorant regarding Jesus, His claims, and the claims of those who follow Him; instead, John is saying that those in the world do not really understand what Jesus is all about. John records for us in John 7-9 many of the reactions of the Jews to Jesus, and most of them involve a lack of faith in Him as the Son of God. Thus John indicates that the world did not receive its Creator, the darkness did not comprehend the light, and hearts were hardened against Him (John 1:5, 10-11, John 12:37-43). Paul teaches that the world with its fleshly ways of thinking cannot understand the spiritual reality of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2), and Peter told the Jews that they did not know what they were doing when they crucified Jesus (Acts 3:13-17). Since Jesus experienced all these things, why should we be surprised when people do not understand why we stand so strongly for God’s truths and serve Jesus? If people do not “get” Jesus, how will they “get” us (John 15:18-27)?
John affirms that Christians are presently children of God, but indicates that it is not precisely known what we will be, except that we will be as Jesus (1 John 3:2). John might well have in mind the image of God in Christ which should be manifest within God’s people: living righteously as Jesus, manifesting sonship of God, and thus remaining pure as Jesus is pure (1 John 2:29-3:3). We can know we are in Jesus when we manifest Jesus and become like Jesus.
Yet many believe John spoke of the “ontology” of the resurrection body, and question whether we can understand what will happen in the end. If John is speaking of the resurrection, he is considering Jesus’ transformed resurrection body: He was able to eat and drink and be touched (Luke 24:38-39), yet able to transcend time and space (Luke 24:25-37). Nothing John says here contradicts Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-58; we can confess the truth of what Paul has made known about the resurrection, all rooted in how Jesus was manifest in His resurrection, yet we still likely have many questions and cannot fully understand it all until it all takes place. Yet John’s ultimate purpose, however, is to provide assurance for the believer: as Jesus now is, so believers will be. It will be good, if nothing else, in the end.
John then makes evident that those who share in the hope of the resurrection and transformation purifies themselves just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3). When Paul speaks about the groaning in hope for redemption, he makes it clear that such is for those who walk according to the spirit, not the flesh (Romans 8:1-25). Peter says that we are born again to a living hope, and later how we must be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:3, 13-16). We cannot hope for the resurrection and yet live according to the ways of the flesh: if we really want to be transformed and to be with the Lord forever, we must act according to righteousness and avoid sin (Romans 12:9). Let us appreciate God’s great love for us, and live our lives as transformed in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29, Romans 12:2)!
Ethan R. Longhenry