Two thousand years ago, the apostle John prophesied a resounding declaration regarding God that "we shall see Him as He is." Normally when we think of John's prophetic writings, our eyes turn to the book of Revelation, but this statement is found in 1 John 3:2. Nonetheless, this resounding assurance to true believers fits all the traits of prophecy, including foretelling what cannot be known by natural means.
John starts out in 1 John 3:1, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us" and then seamlessly transitions into 1 John 3:2 of foretelling that which is yet to occur as we experience the fullness of God's love by seeing "Him as He is." Just imagine personally encountering God!
But why were the words "we shall see Him as He is" written to the original audience, and what do we gain by this prophetic promise? Think about it for a moment. After writing such profound words, John must have sat back in his chair or even walked around in his room as the power of what he had just written began to sink in. John must have been smiling a little as he began to contemplate what it meant to behold God in such a one-on-one fashion.
The beginning of close encounters
He realized, as did every man taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, that his God was not to be considered in similar terms as those of the pagan gods. The all-knowing and ever-present God who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15) was not like the gods of the nations.
An ancient believer's view of God was far different from what John's declaration was projecting. In former times, God had revealed His sovereignty and covenant desire toward the patriarch Job and others in terms of power and the order of nature and divine intervention, but not in terms of close encounters that depict glancing upon deity.
Perhaps John continued to smile at such revelation when he considered how Moses had desired to behold God's glory (Exodus 33:18-23). It was a time in which Moses needed encouragement that God had not forsaken the children of Israel. God gave Moses a glimmer of His glory; even so, God did not allow Moses to directly gaze upon Him.
God declared, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live." The physical deliverer of Israel stood behind a rock as the ultimate Deliverer of Israel passed by. Moses only saw His back, but it was seemingly more than enough to grant him that much-needed encouragement!
John might have gone out of the house and lingered a little more with this revelation. We can imagine him thinking of the imagery set before Ezekiel, as the portable throne room of God passed by in the whirlwind with "the likeness of the throne...with the appearance of a man high above it" (Ezekiel 1:26).
It was here that God revealed to Ezekiel what Israel had forsaken: the holiness of God and their dire need to grasp what they had so carelessly rejected. Even so, the imagery is set in tones of cosmic distance and divine omnipotence.
Perhaps historically John quietly chuckled as he considered how many of the invading forces that had conquered Jerusalem had come up to the temple to get a peek at the God of Israel. They wanted to look into the eyes of whoever lay behind that veil in the temple. They figured He must be something to look at to cause such zealous devotion among the Jews.
Nebuchadnezzar's generals, Antiochus Epiphanes, Pompey the Great and Titus all gave it a try in their times. All came up empty. No image of God lay on the other side of the veil in the Holy of Holies. God alone decides to whom He will offer the privilege of a personal encounter and at what level.
But now, a special need
But now, it was toward the end of the first century. The ongoing, day-by-day struggle was difficult for the followers of Christ. The long-awaited return of Jesus had not materialized. He said He would return, but where was He?
Almost all of the original apostles chosen by Christ were dead. Persecution leading to martyrdom was becoming rampant under the Roman Emperor Domitian. The persecution 20 years before under Nero had been horrible, but now it was really bleak!
Now it seemed John, alone, remained alive of all those who had heard Jesus' voice, seen Him in face-to-face encounters and literally handled Him (1 John 1:1-2).
In addition to the physical touch of day-to-day life with Jesus of Nazareth, John along with a few others had experienced the radiant transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-3).
Yes, John seemed to be the one human link to connect the years gone by with the promised eternity that lay ahead, but he was getting old. Special times create special needs. It was time to stir up the heart. It was time to awaken what God had in store. It was time to inform all those who would strive to emulate Christ that all they were going through would be worth it.
Again, John starts this thought in 1 John 3:1 by describing "what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us." The Greek words convey the thought that such affection is not of this world! In a folksy way, one might say, "It sure isn't from around here." Of course not! It's divine!
John then reminds those who might be discouraged that "we should be called children of God." Our status with God does not require us to wait for the future. The relationship is already in play. We are not awaiting adoption, only the full inheritance, which in part, assures us that "we shall see Him as He is."
Seeing the unfathomable
The apostle then reminds his audience and reinforces their sagging enthusiasm by saying, "when He is revealed" (1 John 3:2), speaking of Christ's second coming to this earth. Yes, in God's perfect timing, the exalted Christ shall once more be seen by all who remain alive after the Great Tribulation, the heavenly signs and the Day of the Lord.
But the revealing becomes personal to those of a spiritual nature. It moves beyond simply the sounding of the seventh trumpet as human beings become acquainted with their Maker. For converted Christians John says, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." Those who have been granted the reward of immortality will see things that human eyes alone cannot see.
It was during this same general time of John's ministry that God granted "the disciple whom Jesus loved" one more peek at what lay in store for us all. Its details are captured in the book of Revelation. It is in Revelation that God threw the window of heaven's throne room wide open.
John describes the exalted Christ as "One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength" (Revelation 1:13-16).
In Revelation 1:17 John adds a moving description that makes this unlike the divine encounters of old: "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades [the grave] and of Death. Write the things which you have seen'" (Revelation 1:17-19).
The picture comes alive
This statement moves beyond deified grandeur. It moves to the tangible relationship of personal connection that here, once again, Christ reaches out and touches John just as He did so many others during His earthly ministry.
Have you ever been to an art gallery and beheld something so beautiful that you almost involuntarily reached out to touch it? I have—that is, until the guard reminded me to refrain.
But in Revelation 1 the scenario is reversed. It is the picture that is truly alive, reaching out of the frame of eternity, touching mortal man and reminding him of a scene on a hill so long ago with his brother and Peter at the transfiguration.
The book of Revelation and John's vision are but the invitation to behold and "see Him as He is." Our arrival is yet ahead.
John's fellow apostle Paul had made a similar allusion to what awaits. Writing years before, Paul declares: "He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen" (1 Timothy 6:15-16).
Can you imagine your personal invitation and experience at the resurrection, being welcomed by Christ and touched, embraced and encouraged to move into the unapproachable light of God's dynamic presence and the inner workings of His Kingdom? The spiritual firstfruits are called to be at the epicenter of God's throne room as pillars in His temple to support and display His purpose, plans, promises and provisions in all realms that exist before Him (Revelation 3:12). Does such a future seem distant, vague and impossible?
Imagine no more!
Imagine no more! This is prophetic reality unlike Moses' glimmering peek-in-a-rearview-mirror experience or John's vision. Instead, our future God-given, immortal bodies will enable us to experience Him in fullness once and forever.
Such wonderment does not come by wishful thinking on our part. The apostle John concludes his hope-filled insight in 1 John 3 by stating, "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
Such purity does not come in a vacuum, whether it is A.D. 85 or 2009. It is a purity that is deepened and sustained as this world grows further and further apart from the intentions of our Heavenly Father. It is a hope that stays alive in our everyday interactions and troubling circumstances. It is a hope that stays vibrant as this "present evil age" (Galatians 1:4) moves through turbulent times such as the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.
It is in this hope that members of the Body of Christ around the world proclaim this prophetic reality of ultimately seeing God as He is, as they assemble around this time of the year to observe the annual festivals mentioned throughout Scripture. (Read the Bible study aid God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for all Mankind.)
How then do we approach the unapproachable light and view it straight on? In regards to such a hope, perhaps the message of Isaiah 30:21 ("This is the way, walk in it") is best realized in the simple words of Jesus Christ when He said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).