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. 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. 1 John 3.1-2.
There is so much in these beautiful verses that it is hard to know where to begin. In a nutshell, what John is saying here is that, although we are already children of God, the world doesn’t know us for what we are, but nor do we know us for what we shall be at the second coming of Jesus — except that what we shall be is “like him”.
It is the process or means whereby we become like him that intrigues me, as John sets it out here. We shall be like him because (the Greek is the causative hoti) we shall see him as he is. It has always been God’s intent that we, his children, “be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8.29) but John is saying that it is the act of looking on Jesus in the fulness of his divine glory as he comes back to this earth that will bring that transformation about. It is in gazing on the divine splendour that “we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15.51-52). But how will the mere act of looking bring that change about?
Perhaps the answer lies in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. There he says that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3.18 ASV). The NIV surely gets it wrong and destroys the sense in that verse (as do some other versions) when it translates katoptrizo as “reflect” rather than “behold as in a mirror” which is its normal meaning. Mirrors in those days were made of burnished metal and reflected a shining image such as the sun with almost blinding brilliance. And what Paul is saying is that when Christians see the glory of Jesus reflected in the mirror of the gospel, they don’t cover their faces but rather they let the glory bounce off the mirror into their faces so their faces shine too, with something of the glory that they are beholding in the mirror.
Well, it will be like that at the second coming, John is saying — but even more so. No mirror then! Christians will look on the glory of Jesus and it will be so bright, so strong, so powerfully transforming in its own essence, that it will burn the image of Jesus into each one who loves him and has been looking for him so that they are changed into his likeness and so that each becomes glorious too. It will, says Paul, “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3.21). What a prospect!
Sons, then, and heirs of God most high,
we by His Spirit ‘Father’ cry;
that Spirit with our spirit shares
to frame and breathe our wordless prayers.
One is His love, His purpose one:
to form the likeness of His Son
in all who, called and justified,
shall reign in glory at His side.