Transformation through Divine Vision in 1 John 3:2-6 -- By: Craig Keener
FM 23:1 (Fall 2005) p. 13
Transformation through Divine Vision in 1 John 3:2-6
Professor of New Testament
Palmer Theological Seminary
Wynnewood, Pennsylvania 19096
In 1 John 3:2–6, the Apostle John speaks of purification from sin in the past, present, and future. Just as sages often used various sayings in tension with each other to invite hearers to grapple with the nuances of their meaning, John balances the stages of Jesus’ liberation of believers from sin. Earlier in the letter, those who deny the possibility of sin in the past (1:10) or present (1:8) lie; but so does anyone who claims to follow Christ while continuing in sin (2:4).
In our passage, those who have seen Christ do not sin (3:6; cf. 3 John 11); those who contemplate their future with Him are being purified from sin (3:3) and will be ultimately purified when they see Him face-to-face (3:2). By combining these various claims, believers, though freed from sin’s power and not sinning habitually, apparently do not become fully impervious to temptation until Christ’s return. Nevertheless, it is equally the case that genuine believers have already begun to live in a transformed way, and because of Christ’s completed victory can overcome any temptation.1
How do believers implement this victory in their lives? This epistle mentions several factors, but “seeing” Christ is a decisive one in this passage: Those who “saw” Christ in some sense should not sin (3:6), and those who see Christ at His future coming will become fully like Him because they will see Him as He is (3:2). This vision is available only to those who will dare to look on Him without shrinking from Him (2:28), presumably those who already have begun to see Him in the past.
The purpose of this article is to explore the transformative mechanism of vision mentioned or implied in 3:2–3 and 6, particularly in light of Hellenistic and early Jewish uses of analogous language. It is not human effort that transforms believers, but knowing and experiencing Christ’s character that does so.
The Passage and some Johannine Themes
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