At the Appearing of Christ
April 15th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
AT THE APPEARING OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 3: 1-10
4-15-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are worshiping with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor, bringing the message entitled, At The Appearing Of Christ. It is an exposition of the beginning verses of the third chapter of 1 John. In these morning hours, we have been preaching through this beautiful epistle. And the text is: “Behold!” exclamation, “Look!” idou:
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God… .
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not [yet] appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.
And every one that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.
And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; for in Him is no sin… .
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
[1 John 3:1-5, 8]
There are some texts that are like cabins hidden in a mountain wilderness. In order for it to be brought to view, a trail must be blazed, underbrush cut out. Some texts are like that. To be understood, we must learn the customs and the language. We must then learn the background and the grammar. It must be exegeted, carefully broken down in syllable and sentence.
But there are some texts that are like mansions built high upon a hill. And you can see it in its glory and beauty from any direction. This is a text like that. Just to look at it, just to see it in plain view, is to rejoice in its glory. He begins with an exclamation: “Behold!” Look! And then he names the wonder: “that we should be, that we should be the sons of God” [1 John 3:1].
Now, if ever there was a seer to whom wonders and miracles were commonplace, it would be this “beloved disciple,” John. He had followed the Lord through all the days of His ministry. And, he had seen the marvelous works under His gracious hands. Not only that, but this same apostle had, on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], seen the heavens roll back like a scroll, and all of the wonders and miracles of God revealed in the consummation of the age [Revelation 1:10-22:21]. And yet this is the man, the disciple, the seer who begins this chapter with an exclamation at the wonder of what God has done, this complex of miracles entailed in our adoption and regeneration into the family of God. To John, it was an astonishing thing, a miraculous thing: “Behold! Look what manner of love God hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
Now, may I point out something here in the Greek text? In the ancient manuscripts, there are two words added here that were not in the Textus Receptus that Erasmus used, and from which the King James Version is translated “Behold! Look what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” [1 John 3:1]. Then the two words: kai esmen, “and we are.” The 1901 American Standard Version, translates it: “And such we are.” Then in the next verse: Beloved, nun esmen: “Now are we the sons of God” [1 John 3:2]. It is very emphatic what John is writing: Behold! Look! The marvel and wonder, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God,” kai esmen. And we are; an amazing thing! And then the next verse: “Beloved,” nun esmen, “now we are the sons of God” [1 John 3:2].
Isn’t it glorious to have a “now” in religion, not only a “by and by,” not only a glorious hope, a marvelous vista, but a “now?” nun esmen, “Now we are the sons of God” [1 John 3:2], the marvel and glory of it to John. And I pray in the message I can make it a glorious thing for us.
How do you know you’re the children of God, you’re sons of God? For one thing, God the Father tells us so. He says it is so. He has taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” [Matthew 6:9]. How do you know that’s so? Jesus Himself has taught us that it is so. He said, “My Father” and “your Father” [John 20:17]; and again, “He is not ashamed to call us brethren” [Hebrews 2:11]. And again:
He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.
But to them that received Him, to them gave He the right, the privilege, the prerogative, to be called the sons of God, even to them that trust in His name
How do you know that we are the children of God, the sons of God? The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness to it: “For the Spirit hath given us the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” [Romans 8:15]. How do you know we are children of God—we are sons of God? The providences of life teach us so. The sorrows we know and the trials we know and the heartaches we know, they teach us that we are the children of God.
Look. As the apostle would say: “Behold this wonder.” Look at it. When trouble comes, and it comes; and when sorrows come, and they come, always; it has an effect upon those who are thus troubled and sorrowful. One, it either embitters or it bows and draws us closer to God.
Yesterday, I visited with one of the sweet men in our congregation, and he is having trial and trouble. And he said to me, “My wife and I are praying before God. And maybe the Lord has a purpose in it: to draw us closer to Jesus.” That is a sign that we are the children of God: when the heartache, and the tears, and the problems, and the sorrows of life bow us in His presence and makes us seek His face the more fully and earnestly, you’re a child of God; the providence witnesses in your heart. And the exclamation of the apostle: Look! “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”; kai esmen, “and we are,” nun esmen, “now” [1 John 3:1-2].
How do we get to be that way? “Behold, what manner of honor the Lord hath bestowed upon us”; or: “Behold, what manner of grace the Lord has bestowed upon us.” No. “Look,” he says, the miracle of this, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us” [1 John 3:1]. A servant in the house, a slave in the family is paid, and that’s that. It’s over with. That’s done. They’re hirelings. They’re paid. They work for money, and they get their stipend and it’s over but not a son, not a daughter. A son is a son forever. A daughter is a daughter in the household forever. And God looks upon us like that; not as hirelings, not as slaves or servants, but as sons and daughters.
We are the fruit of His love: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us” [1 John 3:1]. I want to illustrate that from the Bible in one of the graphic passages in all of the Book. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, there is an illustration that God uses that is, oh, so gripping. It is this. The Lord says:
As I passed by, I saw you, Israel. I saw you, a newborn babe, a newborn infant.
I saw you cast out in a field. Your navel cord was not cut, and you were lying in your blood, in pollution, exposed to die. And, as I passed by you, Israel, I took pity upon you, and I had compassion upon you. And I took you, and I washed you, and I bathed you, and I anointed you with ointment. And I loved you and you became My child.
How graphic! And that’s what God hath done for us: He hath taken us from the dung hill, from our pollution and our sin, and He hath washed us [1 Corinthians 6:11], and bathed us, and anointed us, and loved us. And we have become His child. That’s why the apostle begins with the exclamation: Look! “Behold! the wonder, the manner of love God hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God. That is what we are now”: nun, “now,” esmen [1 John 3:1-2].
Now, we’re going to look at the exegetical passage. We’re going to look at what we shall be. There are three phanerōthē’s here, translated “appear” and translated “manifest.” Either translation is good. Phanerōthē; first, “Ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins” [1 John 3:5]. The purpose of the appearing of our Lord both times—His first appearing [Matthew 1:21; John 1:29], and His second appearing [Revelation 1:7; Hebrews 9:28]—the purpose of the manifestation of God is to take away our sin. We know that He was manifested: phanerōthē. His appearing is to take away our sin, for we are helpless before it [1 John 3:5].
There is no man that sinneth not [1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20]. However we may resolve in our souls, we shall live correctly, and beautifully and holily, and righteously, yet day-by-day we sin. We are “born in sin, conceived in iniquity” [Psalm 51:5], and the black drop courses through our veins. We are sinners [Romans 3:6]. How then shall we elevate ourselves and stand holy and pure and undefiled in the presence of the white beauty of God? How can we elevate ourselves thus to live in His presence without sin? It is not something that we can do. We cannot do it. It has to be done by the intervention of Almighty God. He must lift us up. It is something God must do for us. Angels cannot do it. They cannot cleanse us. Men cannot do it. They cannot purge the iniquity out of our lives. It is something God must do in lifting us up to Himself.
Did you know you see that all the time, the intervention of God lifting up, raising up? “Look!” as the apostle says: “Behold!” look at the wonder of this. No mineral could lift itself up into life, into a vegetable world, without the miracle of God. You don’t explain that. You just see it, how common dirt and clay and muck and mire can lift itself up and become beauty, alive—the very touch of the glory of the hand of God. We just see it. It’s something God does.
All right, look again. No vegetable, the grass, the fodder—no vegetable could raise itself into animal life, sentient life, without the miracle of the hand of God; the cow grazing in the pasture, eating grass, and it becomes alive. Our own eating becoming us. It’s by the hand of God. It’s the touch of God. It’s a miracle of God, elevating!
All right, one other step; not only from a mineral to a living thing, and not only from a vegetable thing to an animal thing, a sentient thing, a being thing but the same power of God can raise it one step more. The carnal can become spiritual and the mortal become immortal by the elevation of the miraculous touch of God. When the Lord appeared, raised from the dead, the disciples were affrighted. They thought they were seeing a spirit. And the Lord said: “A spirit hath not flesh and bones such as you see Me have. Touch Me and handle Me and see that it is I Myself.” And then He said: “Children, have you here any meat,” anything to eat? “And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb, and He did eat before them,” the immortalized Christ [Luke 24:36-43]. That is, the Lord raised it up. The power of God raised it up one more step. And the fish and the honey became spiritual life by the hand of God. God does it!
And that is the way with our sinful souls and our sinful lives. We cannot do it. Holiness is beyond us. We cannot grasp it. But the hand of God, the touch of God, the beholding miracle of God raises us up. He touches us and lifts us up. And, in His presence, someday we shall be perfect: without spot or blemish, holy, washed, our sin taken away [Ephesians 5:27].
Was not that the purpose of His first coming? “Thou shalt call His name Iēsous”—Jesus, Savior—“for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]. That’s why He came into the world. That’s why He died; He was given a body that He might be a sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-12]. And on the cross, He kept the law perfectly [Matthew 5:17]. He is our substitute [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21], and our atonement [Romans 5:11]. And that’s why He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-6]: that He might be a faithful High Priest, sympathetic, moved by the feeling of our infirmities, having tasted death for every man [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2], “having been tried in all points as we are” [Hebrews 4:14-16]. “Wherefore, He is able to save to the uttermost them who come to God by Him seeing He ever maketh intercession for us” [Hebrews 7:25].
He is our friend. He is for us. And that’s why He is coming back again. He is manifested. He shall appear to take away sin. That’s the part of the glorious verses that closed the ninth chapter of Hebrews: “Once in the end of the world did Christ appear to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” [Hebrews 9:26]. One time, He did it, and it was all-sufficient and forever! Then it continues:
As it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment:
So Christ was sacrificed to take away the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation
The next time He comes, it will be the end of sin forever! He will purge it away and take it away [Hebrews 9:28].
And that leads to the second avowal, exclamation of this apostle when he thinks of the appearing of Christ, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” [1 John 3:8]. When the Lord God made the world, He looked upon it and said: “It is good. It is beautiful.” And the Lord God made the world of life: the fields, the forests, and the meadows, and He said, “It is very beautiful.” And the Lord God made the constellations and the lights and the firmament, one for the day and one for the night. And He looked at it and said, “It is beautiful. It is good.” And the Lord God made the world of animals, sentient life. And He looked at it and said: “It is good. It is beautiful” [Genesis 1:1-31]. And the Lord God made the man [Genesis 2:7] and placed in his bosom the woman [Genesis 2:21-22]; and the Lord looked at it and said, “It is beautiful. It is very good.” And God called it Eden [Genesis 2:8, 15]; God called it Paradise [Revelation 2:7]. It was a heaven for the man and his wife. It was very good [Genesis 2:8-9].
And outside the gate of the garden was that sinister, subtle beast [Genesis 3:1], and he over sowed God’s planting. It was never the intention of God: death, and tears, and heartache, and crime, and blood, and terror, and disease, and death. These are the over sowing of Satan; they’re the works of the devil.
I looked upon a twelve-year-old boy, wasting away with an incurable disease. The boy was almost dead and the weeping father and the sorrowing mother and the family gathered round crying; and that pitiful twelve-year-old boy, just barely alive. Did God intend that, the violence we know, the blood we know? What Satan has done, he has taken this world and he has soaked it in human blood. He has taken this world, and he has washed it with human tears. He has taken this world, and he has made it a planet in which to bury God’s people, “For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested: to destroy the works of the devil” [1 John 3:8], not ameliorate, not make more comfortable or easy, but to destroy, to rule out!
Sometimes, cut down a tree, and in the scent of water, it will grow back again. Not the work of Christ. When the Lord comes, when He is manifested, He will take the works of the devil and purge them out. He will utterly destroy. And the new heaven and the new earth, it will be pure and perfect. And Satan will be cast out and bound and chained forever [Revelation 20:10]. And we shall have nothing but the harvest of the Lord [Revelation 20:15].
Who can do that? He does it. He does it. We’re so helpless before the machinations and the subtlety and the power of Satan. We are helpless. Even Michael the archangel, when disputing with Satan over the body of Moses dared not say to Lucifer, “You rascal, you devil!” Even Michael the archangel, when confronting Lucifer, he disputed with him about the body of Moses—even Michael the archangel said, “The Lord rebuke you [Jude 1:9], I dare not.” Michael the archangel, “I dare not. I cannot.” If Michael quailed before Lucifer, the anointing cherub that covereth [Ezekiel 28:14], God’s highest created being—if Michael the archangel quailed before Satan, how much more a man made out of dust and ashes?
It is a work of God: “For this purpose the Son of God is manifested. He shall destroy the works of the devil” [1 John 3:8], and shall crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15] and purge the whole earth at His appearing [Matthew 13:41], at His manifestation [1 John 3:8]. And not only that, but again, at the manifestation of Christ, “Beloved, we are now the sons of God.” Now look, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, when He is manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” [1 John 3:2].
The apostle says: “We cannot know what we are going to be” [1 John 3:2]. A chrysalis, the little thing inside of that chrysalis struggling to break the cocoon, could never know what it is to be a butterfly, until the time comes and the little thing emerges—it appears. A babe in the womb, the little unborn child, has no conception of an idea of the world in which it is to be born. A seed—you could never look at a seed and know the harvest. The seed—and, the harvest is so glorious, the plant, the fruit, the flower—you could never know it.
He says it is that way with us: “Beloved, it doth not yet appear what we shall be” [1 John 3:2]. Paul said it in these words: “Eye hath never seen, and ear hath never heard, neither hath it entered into the imagination of a man what God hath in store for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Our minds are not able to enter into it. But we know this: he says that when He shall appear, “When our Lord is manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” [I John 3:2].
Now, I have time just to expatiate on that last clause, “For we shall see Him as He is” [1 John 3:2]. What does the apostle refer to as being so miraculous about that: that, when Christ appears, “we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is?” [1 John 3:2]. All right; if God hath illuminated my mind and spirit by the Holy Scriptures, it is this. When the disciples looked at Jesus, in the days of His flesh, they were transformed. They were other men. They were a new kind of a man. Simon Peter was just an ordinary fisherman [Matthew 4:18-20]. Matthew was an ordinary publican, tax gatherer [Matthew 9:9]. But those disciples, just seeing the Lord, they were transformed by the miracle of His presence.
You know, once in a while I’ll read an infidel who will say such, and such, and such, and such could not have happened. My brother, no man knows what could have happened in the presence of the Son of God, in the presence of such personality and power and glory. And back there, they just saw a little—they just saw a part of Him. He was manifested somewhat. His glory was covered over with flesh. His deity was hidden in His incarnation, and yet little glimpses here and little glimpses there and an angle there and a miracle here, and just for a transient moment, the transfiguration [Mark 9:1-7], when deity shined through the flesh, just that view of the Lord transformed those men.
Now, what the apostle here is saying, “Think of the transformation that shall come to us when we see Him as He really is in all of His glory” [1 John 3:2]. What shall happen to us when we look upon Him face to face?
In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, John saw the Lord in all of His resurrected, immortalized glory. And, he fell at His feet as dead [Revelation 1:9-17], and then was raised up to heaven [Revelation 4:1]. The vision of that sight, that’s what John says will happen to us [1 John 3:2]. And Paul spoke of it like this. The last verse of the third chapter of 2 Corinthians: “And we all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory, to glory, to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord” [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Just looking upon Jesus, we are elevated and raised and raised from glory to glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord [2 Corinthians 3:18].
He said, again—Paul said again in the next chapter, the fourth chapter of the second Corinthian letter: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Or as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. What the apostle is saying is that when we see Christ in the full-orbed beauty of His manifested glory, the effect it will have upon us will be to raise us, to lift us, from glory to glory to glory into His image, as by the Spirit of the Lord [2 Corinthians 3:18].
There’s an old philosophical theory and whether it’s true or not, I wouldn’t say. But the old philosophical theory is this: that a man has a tendency to become what he lovingly, affectionately adores. He has a tendency to become that. A man could work with flowers and do it for money. It would never have any effect upon him. A man can live in beautiful mountainous surroundings, just to till the field and it have no effect upon him. But if a man lived in the presence of such beauty, and he was cognizant of it and conscious of it, it would enter his soul; he’d become something of the beauty of what God has made.
Now it’s that that the apostle here is referring to. When we see Jesus as He is [1 John 3:2], beholding the glory of the Lord, we are made, just contemplating Him, loving Him, we become like Him, in His image, from glory to glory to glory to glory as the Spirit of God makes us into the image of our Lord [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Sweet people, what I know about that coming life is so very small; the eye of faith is dim. But it is enough that our Lord knows it all, and we someday shall be like Him [1 John 3:2].
In this moment that remains, somebody you to give yourself to our Lord Christ; a family you to come into the fellowship of the church; a couple or just one you, in a moment, when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, out of the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, “Pastor, here is my hand. I have taken God into my heart. I believe Jesus is all that He said He was. He will do for us all that He has promised to do. And here I come. Here I am.” The whole family or just one somebody you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing this appeal, stand, coming down that stairway, or stand, coming down that aisle. Make it now. Do it now. Come now. While we stand and while we sing.