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NIV 1 John 3:2b But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

We shall be like him. Easy. Make sense. Then a chapter later in

NIV 1 John 4:17b In this world we are like Jesus
Berean Literal Bible: just as He is, also are we in this world.
Berean Study Bible: for in this world we are just like Him.

are
ἐσμεν (esmen)
Verb - Present Indicative Active - 1st Person Plural

But in this earthly evil world, we are not behaving like Jesus. For one thing, He is at the right hand of God right now. What does John mean by this?

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  • Thanks. I have made updates.
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 23 '20 at 21:52
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1 John 4:17b In this world we are like Jesus. Amen, or at least, should be!

This is one of the great themes of the NT and is consistently held up as the ideal for all Christ';s followers. Technically, this is known as the "Imitation of Christ". The reason is simple enough. We were made in the "image of God" (Gen 1:26, 27, 9:6, Eph 4:20-24, 1 John 3:2) and Jesus came to remind us in a very personal way about the sort of people we need to be.

The fact that we fall short of Jesus' ideal for us is yet another reminder that we are sinners and in desperate need of Christ and His molding influence on our lives (Heb 12:2, 3, 2 Cor 3:18).

Here is a sample of the huge amount of NT material available on this topic.

  • Walk as Jesus walked. 1 John 2:6.
  • Jesus was led by the Spirit Matt 4:1. The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18).
  • Love as Jesus loved. John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
  • Lay down life for friends. John 15:13, Eph 5:2.
  • Jesus’ suffering leaves us an example. John 16:33, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21.
  • Because Jesus was persecuted, so are His followers. John 15:20, 21.
  • Conformed to the likeness of the Son. Rom 8:29.
  • Transforming our will and bodies to conform to God’s will. Rom 12:1, 2.
  • Jesus was baptised (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22) and so should we be baptised, Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, 10:48, 16:31, 22:16, Rom 6:1-9, etc. See “Baptism”.
  • Forgive as Jesus forgave. Matt 6:12, Eph 4:32.
  • Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
  • Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16.
  • Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3.
  • Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.
  • We are being changed into Christ’s glory (= reputation). 2 Cor 3:18.
  • Pray as Jesus prayed. Luke 11:1.
  • We are to have the mind of Christ. Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
  • Be kind because God is kind. Luke 6:34, 35.
  • Be merciful because God is merciful. Luke 6:36.
  • Be servants to others as Jesus was. John 13:15-17, 1 Peter 4:11b, Matt 20:24-28.
  • Be patient as Jesus was patient. 1 Tim 1:16.
  • Talk/speak as Jesus speaks. 1 Peter 4:11a.
  • Be “perfect” (= mature and generous to enemies) as the Father is. Matt 5:48.
  • Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved His people and gave Himself for her. Eph 5:25.
  • Keep the commandments as Jesus kept the commandments. John 15:10.
  • Abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. John 15:4.
  • Jesus is the “beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13) and Jesus is the beginning and end of our faith (Heb 12:2).
  • We are co-heirs with Christ of glory. Rom 8:17.
  • Jesus gave his all and we must give up all things for Him. Rom 8:32.
  • Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19) and so are His followers (John 10:1-18, 21:15-17)
  • Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17) and so should we (John 13:14-17)
  • Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5) and so are we (Matt 5:14-16)

The imitation of Christ is the sum and substance of the Christian life and should be our desire to influence others to do the same (Matt 28:19, 20). As new Christians, we are very imperfect imitators, but by the miraculous work of the Spirit in our lives, we get better at it while realizing our own sinfulness.

The same metaphor is used elsewhere in Jesus teaching. Here are further examples:

  • Jesus is our sacrifice of atonement and likened to a sacrificial lamb offered for us John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, Eph 5:2, 1 John 2:2, 4:10, Heb 10:10, 12, Rom 3:25, 1 Peter 1:19, etc. Similarly, the life of a Christian is lived sacrificially for Christ Rom 12:1, Phil 2:17, Heb 13:15.
  • Jesus is our great high priest (Heb 4:14-15, 7:26-28), so too, we are a holy nation of priests. 1 Peter 2:9.
  • Jesus is the chief corner-stone and we are also stones in the building. 1 Peter 2:4-6.
  • Jesus is the chief shepherd, and elders are to shepherd the flock as He would. 1 Peter 5:1-4.
  • We are to be conduits of Jesus’ “water of life”. John 4:13, 14.
  • Jesus is the promised “seed” (Gen 13:15, 24:7) of Abraham (Gal 3:16) and so are we (Gal 3:29, Rom 9:8).
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First John 3:2b and 1 John 4:17b are at different places in the timeline of salvation history.

A TIME YET FUTURE

The former speaks of a future time when both Christ's true identity and believers' true identity will be revealed. Because the believers in the apostle John's time were plagued by false christs (i.e., the antichrists spoken of in 2:18), they looked forward to the time yet future when they would not only see Jesus as he is, but they would also be like him and would be recognized and loved by God because of the "family resemblance."

In the apostle John's day, being like Jesus made Christians an unknown entity in the eyes of the world. Once in Christ's presence, however, who Christ really is and who they really are would be made plain. When Jesus revealed himself to his fellow Jews during his earthly ministry, he was neither recognized nor received as God's Christ:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

In the yet-future glorified state, however, there will be complete recognition and acceptance of Christ as he really is by those who are like him: Brothers and sisters in Christ.

IN THE PRESENT TIME

The latter passage speaks of the present for Christians both then and now. In their dealings with the world, Christians of any age are to model Jesus's love to each other and to unbelievers. Like Jesus, they will often be misunderstood, persecuted, and rejected, but love will ultimately triumph at Jesus's parousia.

Yes, there are times when Christians behave badly. They fail to manifest the love of God to one another and to unbelievers. With regard to our actions in loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we all fall short of living a life of love. The perfecting process to which John refers in 4:17b is part of the sanctification process in which all Christians take part. Some Christians are further along in that process than others, and God's existential timetable for each Christian will differ.

Nevertheless, believers' standing in Christ is not jeopardized by their occasional lapses of not living and abiding in God's love. Believers' growth in love may be sporadic and gradual, but that growth is a reason for giving them confidence in the day of judgment (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Jesus lived a life of love, with no lapses and no failures, but that did not prevent him from being arrested, tried, and crucified.

Christians today can expect to experience misunderstanding, impugned motives, and hatred at the hands of unbelievers, yet the rewards for living a life of love are great. There can be no exaltation without initial humiliation. That was true of Jesus, and it is true for his true believers as well.

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God

something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

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We are ‘like’ Jesus. We are not ‘Jesus’. Man was created to reflect God, or specifically, Gods glory. Man was God’s representative on earth. Just as Jesus was. And, after his death, through rebirth, we can once again assume this role. Just like Jesus did.

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we
ἡμεῖς (hēmeis)
Personal / Possessive Pronoun - Nominative 1st Person Plural
Strong's Greek 1473: I, the first-person pronoun. A primary pronoun of the first person I.

are
ἐσμεν (esmen)
Verb - Present Indicative Active - 1st Person Plural
Strong's Greek 1510: I am, exist. The first person singular present indicative; a prolonged form of a primary and defective verb; I exist.

just like
καθὼς (kathōs)
Adverb
Strong's Greek 2531: According to the manner in which, in the degree that, just as, as. From kata and hos; just as, that.

Him.
ἐκεῖνός (ekeinos)
Demonstrative Pronoun - Nominative Masculine Singular
Strong's Greek 1565: That, that one there, yonder. From ekei; that one (neuter) thing); often intensified by the article prefixed.

We are to some degree just like Jesus (nominative, subject).

Here is a similar idea:
James 5:17
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

John and James wanted to encourage fellow brethrens to see Jesus and Elijah as models to imitate. "We are just like them" is our hope in this life.

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