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1 John 3:2:

Ἀγαπητοί νῦν τέκνα θεοῦ ἐσμεν, καὶ οὔπω ἐφανερώθη τί ἐσόμεθα. οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐὰν φανερωθῇ, ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα, ὅτι ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν, καθώς ἐστιν. (UBS5)

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (ESV)

This last part is not intuitive to me: seeing him (as he is) causes us to be like him? I’m trying to figure out if this followed more naturally for the original audience.

Is this a Jewish notion? Or a Greek notion? Is there evidence of this way of thinking in other (biblical1 or extra-biblical) texts? Or is there a timeless logical sequence here that I’m just missing?


1. It seems like there’s something of this same concept behind 2 Cor 3:18 (with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image…), although there the cause and effect relationship (beholding → being transformed) isn’t explicit, and the meaning of κατοπτριζόμενοι is perhaps more nuanced than ὀψόμεθα.

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The context supports a causative understanding of the phrase "...we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is", and the context is crucial to the nuance of correct interpretation too.

3:1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. ESV


  • Unrighteousness flows from not knowing the Son1

    The impurity of the world evidenced by the world's response to the children of God is caused by the world's lack of knowledge of the Son.

  • 'Seeing' in verse 2 is a more intense form of 'knowing' in verse 1

    'Seeing' should not be understood literally as visual, rather it is in polar opposition to the lack of knowledge of the world. John is drawing a picture of three tiers:

    1. The 'world', who do not know
    2. The 'children', who know in part ("...we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared...")
    3. The perfected 'children', who know/see him 'as he is'

  • The hope of knowing him more causes purification

    Verse 3 explains the mechanics of how those who 'know' the Son attain the level of knowledge where ultimately they see him as he is - it is a virtuous circle of increasing knowledge fed by the desire to attain more perfect knowledge of him.


Conclusion:

The logic of v1-3 is: those who know him desire to know him more, which causes their purity to converge with his. This process reaches conclusion when he is known so well that he is seen "as he is" - which evidences the attainment of purity comparable with his own. It is the knowledge of the Son that leads to purity, in a self-fulfilling fashion, via ever increasing knowledge of him.


1 or possibly the Father - see chapter 2:18-29

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  • That's a really good point that v.3 uses the same sort of logic, and your conclusion sums it up well. I was just being dense. – Susan Nov 1 '14 at 18:56
  • @Jack I think this vs was trad. understood by some traditions to mean 'changed in the twinkling of an eye' as in our 'bodies will be changed' for those who are 'alive and remain'. This is the mortal putting on immortality, when we see Him as He is (immortal and glorified) we will immediately be changed into immortality and glorified also, sharing in His Glory, as it was "in the beginning,....they were clothed with the Glory of God."@SUSAN – Hello Dec 11 '14 at 7:20
  • @Jack-your answer above is beautiful, meat-y, rich, and overflowing with spiritual food. – Hello Dec 12 '14 at 10:34
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I agree with those who say it is about our immortal body. I add: about our body that will be like Jesus' body that He had when He rose from the dead, which will happen when we see Him at His return. This is John writing, and this is consistent with his other writings on this subject. In his gospel, he quotes Jesus saying in 5:28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out" and in 11:25 "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.", immediately before He raises Lazarus from the dead, and not too long before He Himself will be raised with His glorified body which can no longer die, in which He will ascend back to heaven. Then in Revelation John writes about the 2nd coming of Christ and the resurrections of the dead that are associated with that. And now here in 1 John he is telling us that we have not yet seen what we will be after that day, but we do know that on that day, when He appears(returns?), we will then be like Him. Until then, if we die before His return, our spirits will be in paradise, but our bodies sleep and await their glorification and being reunited with our spirits, just as happened with His body for 3 days before His glorified body rose(we will be like Him!). I think all of that would be consistent with John's other writings on the resurrection of the body. Also, consistent with Paul's writings such as 1 Corinthians 15:51 "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...". On that day we will see exactly what we shall be, when we see Him at His return. See also Roman's 8:11"If the spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus fro the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His spirit who dwells in you", and of course Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Philippians 3:1, and others. When Jesus appears(returns), then we(whether we sleep or live at that time) will see what it is that we will become. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

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WE. SHALL BE LIKE HIM BECAUSE WE SHALL SEE HIM AS HE REALLY IS.

I agree...it isn’t just or at all about physical SEEING. It’s about deep deep down KNOWING....and not gnostic knowing either. ...not info.... not even wisdom....but knowing in the deepest fashion. .....PERCEIVE comes to mind. So, we shall REALLY SEE....or REALLY KNOW, and what we see AND KNOW, is that we are LIKE HIM....that is the meaning of the earlier statement........we are children of God now,.....where we ARE TO BE has not yet been revealed...but then IT WILL BE. ...WE WILL BE LIKE HIM.....WE SHALL KNOW AS WE ARE KNOWN....WE WILL BE ON A PARR.....WE SHALL LOVE AS WE ARE LOVED.....I suppose we could go on.......THIS IS THE NEW CREATION...THIS IS TRUE HOLINESSS....THIS IS PARADISE RESTORED........etc.......

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I am grateful for the replies. The problems we have are because of words. They get in the way.

Seeing God face to face does imply a sameness in the two beings....face to face. There is a sense of equality. It also implies a sense of mutual recognition of mutuality or at least not a great deal of negativity flowing. In other words ( words again ), “ I am extremely pleased to see you “ from both sides. The title of the 60s book...Mr God, this is Anna...comes to mind. Finally, there is a sharing of Love which communicates everything. Maybe it is much more simple and natural when the moment arrives. Of course it will be. “ Blessed are the pure in heart For they shall see our God.“ The word “ see “ here means something far deeper than Eyesight. It is nearer to “ knowing “ or “ experiencing “. .....allowing ourselves to be “ drawn into “ something... which in this context is God. ....in fact, drawn into “ the holy “, the Mysterium , tremendans et fascinans .” Rudolph Otto.

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  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your answer. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. Are you able to support your ideas with some references or Bible verses? – Dottard Oct 23 '20 at 7:28
  • ”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”— this connection that you make with the Beatitudes is especially insightful and encapsulates, in my opinion, the message of this epistle, which begins with a focus on the law (1 Jn:4-10), then proceeds to love (1 Jn:11-17), and ends with the heart (1 Jn:18-22). As children of God, we are shown to be in the process of becoming and of learning how to be more like Jesus, He whose heart is above all most pure. – Nhi Oct 23 '20 at 13:44
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The first application that came to mind is how this could apply to RCatholic doctrine. Since Jesus is God, and this verse does say we shall see Him, as He is,...this would apply to the RC beatific vision, seeing God Face to Face. (In RC doctrine this means the believer is 'in heaven', and therefore is not in purgatory, so they 'made it'.

In your question you phrase, 'shall be like Him, because of seeing Him as He is', implying that the 'being like Him' is because of 'seeing Him as He is',..however, I do not believe the verse is saying, exactly what you are implying.

I believe the verse is making a statement, recording 'how things shall be, concerning us'.*

'We shall be like him', is stated in other places in the NT, where our new bodies are written about, 'our mortality putting on immortality'. our 'corruption putting on incorruption', and all of the other places that state we will no longer cry, be in pain, have any sickness, or even die, and all sorrow will be gone.

By saying this I am meaning that the 'shall be like Him' may refer to our new body being exactly like His resurrected and then glorified body, BECAUSE Jesus, although God, is still a human man INSIDE the Godhead. (think, ponder this, you will get my meaning)

Some bible references for this are as follows,..

  • 2 Cor 5:1-3, 2 Pet 1:13-14

  • God, through Christ, will deliver us from this present "body of death" (which is the sinful nature plus how these present bodies were plunged into the fall, and how the fall has effected them). Rom 7:20-25

  • God has prepared us for the purpose of being clothed with our heavenly body. 2 Cor 5:4-5

  • Although we do not know exactly what our new bodies will be like, we know that they will be like Jesus' glorious resurrected body. 1 John 3:2-3

  • Our new bodies will be like Christ's glorious body. Phil 3:20-21, Rom 8:28-30, Ps 17:15, Rom 6:5-8, 1 Cor 15:49, 2 Cor 3:17-18

Following along the RC doctrine line of thinking about this question, an RC scholar might say that this verse supports RC doctrine, the beatific vision, including purgatorial cleansing being alluded to by the 'seeing Him as He is', it is the seeing Him as He is that may cause the purgatorial cleansing,..ie some RC's believe Purgatory could be short, 'in the twinkling of an eye', the 'seeing God' cleanses the last vestiges of 'the fall' right out of us,...making us ready for Heaven.

Protestants would not generally interpret this like I have written above, because they generally do not agree that there is a Purgatory, although Luther himself still believed in it, post RC church, although Protestant scripture says nothing about it, according to Protestants.

KJV is a translation that comes directly from the original, so I will quote it here.

1 John 3:2 King James Version (KJV)

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.

In KJV the 'because' is the word 'for', but the word is called a conjunction,... connective, and may not mean 'because', exactly, or, it may (See Strong's G3754 ὅτι).

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  • Thank you for your thoughts. Regarding ...implying that the 'being like Him' is because of 'seeing Him as He is',..however, I do not believe the verse is saying, exactly what you are implying.: Are you questioning the translation? It seems pretty clear in the English I provided. I asked another question about translation of this verse because there's a lot unclear here, but this apparently causal relationship seems clear to me. – Susan Oct 31 '14 at 3:57
  • @Susan - I think this vs. in many traditions was always thought to be about getting an immortal body. 'we will be like him '-changed in the twinkling of an eye' bible quote. when we see him 2nd advent He will be glorified as well, so we may have His Glory bk on us, lost at the time of the fall in the garden, this would be physically seen glory as opposed to the spiritual glory we have now. – Hello Dec 11 '14 at 7:04

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