We Shall Be Like Him
After his resurrection Jesus was not LIMITED to the fleshly realm, but was variously manifested:
Act 10:40-41 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
Lk 24:16, 31 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Mk 16:12 After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country.
Jesus' resurrection was totally unique in history and nature. He was the ONLY one the Scriptures ever promised would NOT suffer corruption i.e., see decay. His resurrection though touching the physical was primarily "covenantal" in nature.
Act 26:23 …that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
We all know Jesus WAS NOT the first to rise "physically" from the dead. His resurrection though indeed physical was vastly different than any prior or since, for Christ's resurrection was beyond the physical, it was covenantal and permanent. Yet in this very real sense Jesus WAS the first to rise from the dead, for He had to rise physically to fulfill the Scriptures, being the "natural" testimony of such fulfillment – no other person's resurrection was the promise of Scripture.
The power of the resurrection initiated the restoration of the Presence of God to man, healing the spiritual-relational separation [true death] of lost humanity – humanity was brought back into covenant with God. And it was in that time-frame, the "this generation" era that his "soon to be" Parousia would consummate the work of the Cross; the Cross-Parousia event being the book-ends of God's final redemptive act in history.
1Jn 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
According to John it was "not yet apparent what they should be." It would be presumptuous to ASSUME he was speaking of physical resurrection in this verse, considering the post resurrection manifestations so many witnessed – they knew what Jesus was like – [Lk 24:31, 35-43; Jn 20:24-29; 21:1-14; 1Cor 15:5-8]. There were numerous witnesses: Paul on the road to Damascus encountered a very different Jesus [in form] than did Thomas. Paul speaking said: "we [Paul and his audience] now know Christ no longer after the flesh" 2Cor 5:16. Seeing Him as He is speaks of them, the first century first-fruit saints, experiencing their "GLORIFIED" Lord in His coming [Mt 16:27-28], and subsequently sharing in that glory [Rom 8:18]. All are raised up in death into that same presence of God, as Paul says: "from glory to glory" 2Cor 3:18. Yet this is not something to be awaited, it is entered upon even now, from the moment one comes to the revelation of their covenant relationship with God, through faith in Christ.
Jn 17:1, 5, 22, 24 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You… And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was… And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
"Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
2Thess 1:10 …when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.
Col 3:4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Thus "…we shall be like Him for, we shall see Him as He is" [1Jn 3:2] speaks of the glorified Christ and the glory that the first-fruits saints would thus experience in His Parousia when the Old Covenant was finally done away and the New Covenant fully realised.
Of further interest and note was the 1st century Jewish concept of resurrection. The Jews had a penchant for all things literal – even the disciples [Jn 6:15; Act 1:6]. Apart from the sceptical denials of the secular ruling class of Sadducees, the fundamental Jewish expectation of Jesus' day was that of a fully literal, creaturely, this body back into this world physical resurrection; as is obvious from the Sadducees' question [Mk 12:23]. And clearly this Jewish expectation was not unfounded:
Heb 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
The British biblical historian and scholar N.T. Wright notes:
As good creational monotheists, mainline Jews were not hoping to escape from the present universe into some Platonic realm of eternal bliss enjoyed by disembodied souls after the end of the space-time universe. If they died in the fight for the restoration of Israel, they hoped not to 'go to heaven', or at least not permanently, but to be raised to new bodies when the kingdom came, since they would of course need new bodies to enjoy the very much this-worldly shalom, peace and prosperity that was in store.
N.T. Wright: The New Testament And The People Of God p. 286
Jesus' very physical and literal creaturely bodily resurrection fulfilled this very Jewish expectation [Lk 24:36-38; Jn 20:20, 27]. Again, life after death or as N.T. Wright says: "life after life, after death" i.e., resurrection life, for the Jew was all about bodily resurrection back into this life, into this world, never to die again – this Jesus exclusively fulfilled [Act 13:33-35]. Without doubt, Jesus was resurrected back into this world – not Heaven. True, post resurrection he ascended into the heavens, but after his death and burial he was raised up to life "on the third day" [Act 10:40; 1Cor 15:4] back into this creation, to which Scripture attests – many gave testimony. Therefore, Christ's resurrection was wholly and solely unique – never to see decay [Act 2:31; Psa 16:10], and cannot be said to be the primer for any subsequent "physical" resurrection.
As already stated; the Biblical text clearly makes evident that Jesus was in fact NOT the first to experience physical resurrection from biological death – which indicates that rejuvenated physicality is not the true essence of what resurrection was all about – though in Jesus' case his literal bodily resurrection was the sign and testimony to his followers that "He ever lives to make intercession for them" [Heb 7:25]. He was in fact, the first to rise up out from among the dead [Act 26:23; Col 1:18; Rev 1:5] of Old Covenant Israel, into New Covenant Life – the true essence of resurrection. Resurrection was all about covenant renewal and covenant transition – the passing of the Old Covenant age by that which was perfect, the New Covenant world of righteousness in Christ [2Pet 3:13].
Any subsequent resurrection/s could not and cannot be said to be like his, IF by resurrection is meant the physical reanimation or rejuvenation of the body back into this creation, as per Jesus' resurrection. Paul clearly shows us this:
Rom 6:5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…
Further, it becomes obvious then that going to heaven when you die was NOT the focus of Christ's resurrection – but rather the restoration of man to God in this life, in this world, right where Jesus was raised to newness of life. His resurrection, "according to the power of an endless life" [Heb 7:16] was a testimony and declaration that He was "the Son of God with power" through the Spirit [Rom 1:4], and then entering the heavens himself, cleansing it on our behalf [Heb 9:23-24], that we in this life might enter before Him.
The bodily death that Jesus died was a death to sin, not to biological death [Rom 6:10]. It was the precursor of his ability to dethrone the power of sin, stripping it bare in defeat [1Cor 15:56]. Jesus came "that he might put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" [Heb 9:26]. In contradistinction to the covenantal death [relational death] Adam died in the garden, Jesus promised: "If anyone keeps my word, he shall never see death" [Jn 8:51]. When Jesus proclaimed: "I am the resurrection…" [Jn 11:25], the last thing he was referring to was any notion of physicality – resurrection was and is so much more.
In not perceiving the covenantal reality of 'The Resurrection' some may bemoan "where then is our hope!?" – to which I must reply – Our hope has been fulfilled, mankind has been redeemed and restored back to God; Heaven was never in doubt, only "self-righteous religion" ever said it was. John's clarion call to the first-fruit saints "…we shall be like Him…" was to confirm to them that they would share in the glories of the soon to be fully accomplished New Covenant – what Jesus had established IN His Ministry, and ratified THROUGH His Cross, was consummated AT His Parousia.