1 John 3:1-2


Only verses 1-2 are prescribed as the Epistle for this day. We have selected verse 3 because it is obviously an integral part of this little paragraph. This is a beautiful text for the Easter Season but the purpose of verses 1-2 is to incite us to Christian living as is noted in verse 3.

It is interesting to study the paragraphing in the translations and commentaries. The RSV has 3:1-3 as a paragraph without caption. The NKJV has 2:28-3:3 and entitles it "The Children of God." Phillips has 2:29-3:3 as a paragraph with the title "What It Means to Be Sons of God." TEV has 3:1-10 with the title "Children of God." It might be well for the preacher to read 2:28 to 3:10 in their entirety. The verses preceding and those following (4-10) speak of Christian living. Verses 4-10 might be considered a commentary on verse 3 of our text.

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

The writer arrests the reader's attention. "How great" denotes both quantity and quality. Never was there love like this.

Lenski: This love is the love of comprehension and full understanding coupled with adequate purpose.

With full comprehension, understanding, and purpose God loved the whole world in all its misery and sin, John 3:16. It does not say that He "liked" the world. God's love is nothing but a gift, a lasting one at that. Note the order of words: object, verb, indirect object, subject. Only Christianity knows God as Father which is possible only through Jesus Christ our Savior, John 14:6. The very use of "of the Father" implies that Christ is our Savior.

BAG: 'That we should be called.' Very often the emphasis is to be placed less on the fact that the name is such and such, than on the fact that the bearer of the name actually is what the name says about him.

We are children of God not only in name but also in fact. The reason is that we are the children of God.

Kretzmann: Children of God, that is what we are by faith in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:25, sons of God, led by the Spirit of God, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, Romans 8:14,17. The image of God, lost by the Fall, is being renewed in us once more, Christ Himself is being formed in us, Galatians 4:19.
Marshall: (Considers 2:28-3:3 a paragraph.) John wants to encourage his readers to remain steadfast in their faith, and so he places before them the fact of the coming Jesus as both a tremendous source of hope for the children of God and also the basis of an exhortation to holy living. The accent is thus moving away from the temptation to false belief to the temptation to sinful living.
Lenski: Here we have a definition of fellowship with god, 1:6-7, it is the fellowship of the Father and his children . . . In this fellowship all is one-sided: God gives, we only receive in gratitude.

1 John 3:2 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.

"Dear Friends" is an adjective used as a noun.  "Beloved by me (John), because the Father loves us." "Of God" the genitive, glistens. It might be considered adjectival (children of God as opposed to children of the world). It might be considered genitive of source (He caused our rebirth). It might be considered genitive of relation (Our Father, etc.)

Everybody agrees to translate "it has not yet been disclosed." We know we are children of God. But what we shall be or become, has not yet been disclosed. John is speaking about the experience of having a glorified body. Then John returns to what we know. Does "when He appears" denote the revelation of what we have not yet experienced or does it denote the (second) appearance of Christ? The former demands "it" as subject. Thus JB, AAT, and NEB. The latter demands "He" as subject. Thus KJV, NKJV, RSV, TEV, NIV, and NASB. Because of what is said in 2:28 and 3:8 it is quite clear that the text means: "when He appears." What do we know? We shall be like Him. We will not be the same as He. He is true God. But we shall be like Him, glorified in soul and body, forever pure and free from sin; He, because of His essential nature; we, because of what He did for us. Why will we be like Him? The text says: "Because we shall see Him just as He is." 

Bengel: From beholding comes resemblance, 2 Corinthians 3:18; as the whole body, the countenance, and especially the eyes of those who behold the sun, are sunned.

For the words "are sunned" Bengel's Latin has insolantur. In Latin insolo means "to expose to the sun." What Bengel evidently means is that just as the sun affects our body, face, and eyes, so our seeing Jesus in heaven will make us like Him. And then he adds: "Sight includes all the other kinds of senses." 

Kretzmann: Then we shall be like God the Lord, as nearly like Him as it is possible for creatures to become; then the image of God will be restored in us in the perfection of its beauty.
Stott: For references to 'seeing' God or Christ in heaven compare Matthew 5:8; John 17:24; 1 Corinthians 13:13; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:8; Revelation 1:7; 22:4 . . . the Holy Spirit has been transfiguring us 'into his likeness from one degree of glory to another' (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 2:6) . . . in heaven we shall be 'with Christ'(2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Luke 23:43; John 14:4; 17:24). It is enough for us to know that on the last day and through eternity we shall be both with Christ and like Christ; for the fuller revelation of what we shall be we are content to wait.
Marshall: The privileges which we now enjoy in a partial manner will then be ours fully and completely . . . Our hope is to see Jesus in his glory (John 17:1,5,24) Our hope is to share his glory, a hope that is clearly expressed by Paul (Romans 8:17-19; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 3:4).
Lenski: We shall, indeed, see God (Psalm 17:15; Matthew 5:8); this is the visio Dei So we shall also be similar to God in the imago Dei of perfect righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:25) including the glorificatio. 

The devil, the world, and our flesh will be completely gone. In this life we must be on our constant guard against letting our sinful flesh rule us. We must be on constant guard not to let our emotions get away with us, even good emotions. Evidently, in heaven there will no longer be any restrictions of any kind. This is so hard to imagine. Verily, it has not yet been revealed what we shall be.

1 John 3:3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

"And," not translated here, introduces the application. Perhaps John is referring to what he said in 2:29: "And everyone who is doing righteousness has been born of Him." Note how John individualizes in this verse, and also in verses 4,6,7,8,9 and 10. Christianity is a very personal matter. Note the tense of "is having." The same is true of the verb forms in the verses just mentioned. Christian hope is always a certainty which grows out of faith. The antecedent of "he" is God or Christ. The antecedent of the analogy in verse 5 is Christ. He is pure. Through Him we become pure (morally). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He gives us these things as gifts.

Verse 3, of course, is speaking of sanctification. God forthrightly tells us to purify ourselves because he has given us the strength to do so. How do we accomplish this? By constant repentance over sin and forgiveness of these sins. Let verses 4-10 explain what this means. Verse 4 tells us that the deliberate sinner is a lawless man. Verse 5 tells us how to rid ourselves of this lawlessness. Verse 6 tells us that the person who is constantly repentant is charged with no sin. On the other hand, the lazy or deliberate sinner has neither seen nor come to know Him. Verse 7 tells us that the person who lives according to the will of God is righteous. This is the righteousness of life, dogmatically stated. Verse 8 again reminds us that the deliberate sinner really belongs to the devil who has never done anything but sin from the beginning. (But the verse also reminds us that the Son of God destroyed the works of the devil). Verse 9 tell us that the person who has been born of God does not sin nor can he sin because he has been born of God. Verse 10 tell us how we can distinguish the children of God and the children of the devil. It is remarkable that in this verse only the child of the devil is described. He neither does what is right now does he love his brother.

These verses are evidently an explanation of verse 3 above. We make several observations:

  1. Every sentence is so lucid that even a child can understand;
  2. In verses 4,8 and 10 we have stark warnings not to live in sin;
  3. In verse 5 and 8 we are reminded that Christ came to take away sin and to destroy the works of the devil;
  4. In verses 3,5,7 Jesus is described as the One who is pure, sinless, and just;
  5. As mentioned above, in verses 5 and 8 Jesus is described as the One who is total Victor over our great enemies.

We cannot save ourselves. He did that long ago. But He wants fruits of faith (look at Galatians 5:22-23 and John 15:1-8) to prove our God-given purity. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14. With a constant eye on everlasting life the Christian must ever say: "The life which I now live, I live by the faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20.

Stott: True, only the blood of Christ can cleanse us from the stain and guilt of sin (1:7), but we have a part to play in purifying ourselves from its power (look at 2 Corinthians 7;1; 1 Timothy 5:22; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22).
Marshall: Without the dimension of hope life is empty.

True. We always need something to look forward to. But the prospect of seeing Jesus and being like Him is our greatest and most certain hope.

Lenski: Our constant purifying is an action, Christ's a state of purity.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 97-99. Used with permission.

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