What Does Scripture Mean by “What We Will Be Has Not Yet Appeared”?

Question from a reader:

Randy writes, “Christ’s resurrection body appears to be the prototype for our own heavenly bodies (1 Cor. 15:20, 48-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). After his resurrection, Jesus emphasized he was not a ‘ghost,’ a disembodied spirit, but had a physical body (Luke 24:37-39.)”

I have a question regarding 1 John 3:2. It says, “...and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be.” Is John talking about God the Father, because the disciples have already seen the resurrected Christ (God the Son)? Didn’t John write this after Jesus’ resurrection?

Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:

Yes, John wrote his letter to the church long after Jesus’ resurrection, probably at the tail end of the first century.  And yes, the disciples had all seen the resurrected Jesus. When you read verse 3:2 you can see that what we don’t know yet is “what we will be.”

“What we will be has not yet appeared” may refer to the difference between Jesus’ body directly after His resurrection and when He returns to collect us and sort us out (think Jesus, the Warrior King, as described in Revelation).

In John 20:17, He instructs Mary M, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

The ESV Study Bible says of this verse:

What we will be means having glorified bodies that will never be sick or grown old or die, and being completely without sin. No one like that has yet appeared on earth (except Christ himself after his resurrection). we shall be like him. 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.”

Randy thinks Jesus’ resurrected body (a solid, physical body “not a ‘ghost,’ a disembodied spirit”) is the prototype for what we will be because, as the second half of 3:2 tells us, “when he appears we shall be like him.”

First John speaks to a time in the future when we are completely and eternally re-united with our physical bodies, finally glorified, and with the One we love best. I hope you’re as excited about that as I am! Thanks for writing. Keep digging and seeking His words in His Word.

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Doreen is part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and helps Randy with editing and answering reader questions. She is a certified biblical counselor.