How many times have we wondered what it will be like when those of us who have trusted in Christ will enter into heaven? Some of the popular notions include wings, essentially becoming angels (ala It’s A Wonderful Life), or spiritual beings with no real form or physical identity. Others think it will be like a big party hanging out with friends and hugging on family members.
While the first two are pretty ridiculous, I can’t really speak on the last one. There is a great deal of mystery involved with the specifics of heaven and life after we leave this earth (“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared”). However, there is also a great deal of information. Since this is a simple devotion-type post, I won’t go into all the various passages that deal with heaven and, instead, stick to what John says here.
We have great reason to look with anticipation to Christ’s return because we are told that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” What is that like? Well, remember back when Jesus appeared to his disciples, having received a glorified body? Scholars believe that He was in the state in which glorified Believers will be. He was clearly identifiable, though there seems to have been some changes since he walked with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus and they didn’t even recognize Him. Yet, he was clearly a human form (even bearing the scars from his crucifixion), though without the same physical limitations that we face (His mode of travel was a bit quicker than ours here!).
I like the way the ESV Study Bible describes it:
In eternity, Christians will be morally without sin, intellectually without falsehood or error, physically without weakness or imperfections, and filled continually with the Holy Spirit. But “like” does not mean “identical to,” and believers will never be (e.g.) omniscient or omnipotent as Christ is, since he is both man and God.
It is great for us to speculate and to try and understand what we will be like then, but we must be careful not to neglect what is important now. That is what John is emphasizing because, rather than heavenly musings ending in trivial pursuits, they should lead us to a life of serious introspection, seeking to live a transformed life here and now.
Verse 3 says that “everyone who thus hopes in him [that is, if you have this hope that you will be like Him when He returns] purifies himself as He is pure.” In other words, we should be driven towards living a life of purity from sin because we have this hope that one day we will be completely removed from sin as He is. The kicker here is that we already have the indwelling Holy Spirit, so purity from habitual sin is already possible. More on that next time.