Teaching series from 1 John

Living in Light of Jesus' Return

1 John 2:28-3:3

Teaching t10385


Review false teachers’ counterfeit Jesus—a mere human who was enlightened by “the Christ” from his baptism until his crucifixion, after which he died like everyone else and passed permanently from human history.  John insists that Jesus is the Christ (God’s chosen Savior/King for all of humanity) who has come in the flesh—that his bodily death paid for humanity’s sins, that he conquered death by being bodily resurrected (which John witnessed), and that he will return bodily at the end of the age.

It is to this subject of Jesus’ return that John now turns (read 2:28-3:3 excerpt).  Notice twice the phrase “when he appears” (2:28; 3:2).  The word both times is phaneroo—which means “to make visible.”  It’s not that Jesus is gone now and one day will come back. The resurrected Jesus is alive and present and accessible right now through his Spirit (cf. Jn.14; Rev.3:20).  It is that his bodily presence is not now visible to us—but the day is coming when he will return bodily to establish God’s kingdom over the earth.

Christians call this event the “Second Coming of Christ”—and unfortunately most American Christians obsess on speculations about when this event will occur.  This is largely a waste of time, since Jesus himself said we cannot know the time (Matt. 24:36) and he warned his disciples not to focus on this (Acts 1:6,7).  John focuses instead (like the rest of the New Testament) on what will happen when Jesus returns and how we should live in light of his return.  I want to look at this passage in reverse orderbecause I think it will be clearer for us...

We will be like him

Read 3:1,2 and underline 3:2b.  When Jesus appears so that we see him as he really is, those who are God’s children will be transformed to be like him.  In what sense will we become like Jesus when he returns? 

Paul sheds more light on this in his letters (read Phil.3:20b,21; Col.3:3b,4 NLT). Jesus’ body is now “glorified”—it visibly radiates who he really is—God’s majestic and righteous Son (cf.Rev.1).  But while we become God’s sons/children the moment we receive Jesus, our bodies obviously don’t manifest this new identity.  It’s as though we are royal children who are still dressed in pauper’s rags.  The life of Jesus within us is still hidden by our weak and mortal bodies.  (In fact, our bodies progressively lose whatever vestiges of glory they had as they age!)  But the day is coming when Jesus will appear—and when he appears, he will change our bodies so that they manifest our true identity as God’s children (read 1Cor.15:51-53). 

So what? 

First, make sure that you are indeed God’s child.  It’s easy to read 3:1,2 and assume that everyone is God’s child—but that’s not what John means.  He is writing to people who have chosen to become God’s children by responding to the invitation God makes in Jn.1:12 (read).  According to the Bible, all of us (even the morally best) are orphaned/alienated from God because of our sins.  But God’s love for us is so great that he sent Jesus to die for our sins.  And because Jesus has died for our sins, all of us (even the morally worst) can become God’s children.  But you must choose to entrust yourself to Jesus as your Savior; you must choose to personally receive Jesus into your heart.  In the moment that you make this decision, you become God’s child forever.  Jesus comes to live in your heart through his Spirit so you can experience God’s love.  And God promises that you will receive this glorified body when Jesus returns.  Have you become God’s child by receiving Christ?  If not, why not do so right now/at the end of the meeting?

For those of us who are God’s children and await this day, John says 3:3 (read).  Since our ultimate destiny is to become utterly and gloriously righteous, we should make as much progress in that direction as possible in the meantime.  Even though our bodies can’t presently manifest our new identity as God’s children, our characters can—and they should.

John is not saying that we can become perfectly pure in this life—he has already said that all Christians continue to sin (1:8,10).  Nor is he saying that we can become more pure by our own power—only God can empower deep moral change in our lives.  But we can cooperate with God as he works to purify us—and that we should cooperate because this kind of moral character change is consistent with who we are and what we will one day become.

Paul argues the same point in Rom.13:11-14 (read NLT).  Since we will soon inhabit God’s kingdom, we should represent the character of his kingdom now.  Let Jesus take control of you and change your life.  Cooperate with him as he directs you to turn away from sensual and relational selfishness that is destructive to you and others.  Cooperate with him as he leads you into a life of moral integrity and love that will draw others to him.  What is he directing you to turn away from?  What positive character change is he leading you into?  How are you responding?

Now we’re in position to understand what John means in 2:28(read NLT)...

We can be confident and unashamed

John wants us to be confident and unashamed when Jesus returns.  But what leaps out at you in this passage?  Probably the phrase “so that you will... not shrink back from him in shame.”  We don’t like anything about shame, and the very mention of shame in connection with Jesus/God sounds legalistic to us—like God being disgusted with us unless we behave properly at all times.

But notice that John does not say “so that he will not shrink back from you in shame.”  He says “so that you will... not shrink back from him in shame.”  This is a very important distinction.  As Christians, we need never fear that Jesus will be ashamed of us.  He has laid down his life to make us God’s children, and he is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb.2:11).  There is no condemnation for God’s children (Rom.8:1) and nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom.8:37-39).  The only people that Jesus will be ashamed of when he returns are those who have denied him as their Messiah (Mark 8:38 in light of Matt.10:33).

Rather, John is concerned about the prospect that when Jesus returns I could shrink back from him in shame.  This is very different.  When Jesus returns, he will welcome me into God’s kingdom—not because I deserve it, but because he paid for my ticket with his blood.  But I may shrink back in shame because I regret wasting my Christian life! 

This is a sobering thought.  It is possible to truly receive Christ, to be God’s child, to be destined for eternal life in God’s kingdom—but to live my life for self instead for Jesus in the meantime.  All of us do this some of the time (I know I do)—but some of us do this virtually all of the time.  And if that is the case with me, I will be ashamed when Jesus returns.  In that moment, I will realize that I let the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things to choke my spiritual life from being fruitful (Matt.4:19).  In that moment, I will see that God’s kingdom is all that really matters, and I will regret wasting my Christian life on things that don’t ultimately matter.

This is part of what motivates me as a follower of Jesus.  It’s not the only motivator or even the main motivator (gratitude for grace & abundant life when serving Jesus)—but it is a healthy part of my motivation.  I don’t want to shrink back from Jesus in shame when he returns because I wasted my Christian life.  I want to be confident—not because I have lived righteously enough to earn entrance into his kingdom—but because I have lived my life to advance his kingdom (i.e., attract others to him & help them grow in him).

How can you know that you will be confident rather than ashamed when Jesus returns? 

Not by gritting your teeth and trying really hard, not by whipping yourself to do more every day, not by comparing what you do for Jesus to what others are doing for him, not by morbidly introspecting to root out every selfish thought and action.

What does John say?  He says that we can be confident when Jesus returns by simply “continuing to live in fellowship with Christ.”  That is absolutely wonderful—and it is what Jesus himself said (cf. Jn.15:4,5).  We are unable to bear fruit/advance his kingdom by our own strength or ingenuity.  But he will bear much fruit through us as we simply abide in him.  And if we make it a habit to stay in close, dependent fellowship with him, we will be confident and unashamed when he returns!