1 John 2:28.
J. A. Trench.
Article 52 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
First: as to the rendering of the verse, the translation you refer to gives it truly: "And now children, abide in Him, that if He be manifested we may have boldness and not be put to shame from before Him at His coming." It is "if" as to the fact of His manifestation, which may be at any moment, not "when" of the actual time. But "we may have boldness" does not refer to those he is addressing, but to those who have laboured amongst them; as the Apostle himself or any others who have had a true care for those reached by their ministry. The principle is found elsewhere in Holy Scripture. In his second epistle (ver. 8) John speaks of it again. "Look to yourselves, that we may not lose what we have wrought, but may receive a full reward." Paul, too, with the same holy sense of responsibility and tender solicitude for the fruit of the ministry entrusted to him, exhorts the Philippians (Phil. 2:14-16) as to what became them as set to shine in such a world, "holding forth the word of life, that I may rejoice [or as N.Tr., "so as to be a boast for me" — the opposite of being ashamed] in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain." "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting?" as he says to the Thessalonians 1 Thess. 2:19). "Are not even ye before our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." (1 Thess. 3:8) See also Hebrews 13:17. Those whom the saints could recognise as leaders were men that "watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief."
Not much effectual labour can be carried on without something of the same exercise on the servant's part, as the perfection of it was found in the blessed Lord: witness the expression of His Spirit in the remnant in Psalm 126:5-6. It has been truly said, Christianity was sown in the tears of the Son of God.
"Be ashamed from before Him at His coming" is literal enough. But the force that Alford finds in the preposition, "flee from Him with shame" (quoting from another) can hardly be maintained in face of its use in Hellenistic Greek (which is often, as the Egyptian papyri prove, simply vernacular) See the lxx. translation of Isaiah 1:29, Jeremiah 12:13 for the same form, and for those who care to refer to it Ecclesiasticus 21:22 and 41:17. Compare the use of the same preposition (apo) with verbs of kindred force in Deuteronomy 5:5; Psalm 90:5; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4. It may in some cases "embrace the prompting of outward act or gesture by the inward feeling." That is the most that can be said of it, as Green's Grammar of the New Testament. "Flee from" goes too far.
Certainly no such inference can be drawn from this passage as that "when the Lord comes from heaven for His saints some of His children will be left, having fled from His presence from very shame" for their unfaithfulness. No one who knows the grace wherein the believer stands could think of such a thing for John, or any other of His saints. How utterly opposed to the verses that follow in the same connection. 1 John 3:1-3 and 1 John 4:17, where "love has been perfected with us that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, that even as he is, we also are in this world." Where, then, would be the boldness, wherewith we enter into the holiest even now by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10), or "the boldness and access with confidence" in Him which we have by faith in Him? — the present effect of the place the Christian has according to eternal purpose. (Eph. 3:11-12)
We are thankful that you feel that the idea of some of His own being left when the Lord comes would contradict (and there can be no contradiction in the inspired Word) such passages as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51, to which may be added verse 23, and this when the saints are only looked at individually. Bring in the truth of the relationship of all who are Christ's to Him as His body, the Church, and how impossible the whole conception becomes!
Since Pentecost those who have received the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Ghost to dwell within them, are united by Him to Christ in glory, the exalted Head of His body on the earth, which is the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 12:22-27) He loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and lives to form it more and more like Himself by the revelation of all that He is. He comes to present it to Himself a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Meanwhile He nourishes and cherishes it as Himself, "for we are members of His body." (Eph. 5:30)
No one who has entered in faith into the reality and preciousness of such a relationship to Christ, not to say to us, could entertain the thought that when He comes He could leave a part of Himself behind when the remainder go to meet Him in the air; and that just when He is about to display us perfect in one, in the glory given Him of the Father, that the world may know that the Father sent Him and loved us as He loved Him. (John 17:22-23)
The whole thought is unworthy of the unfathomable grace that has given us our place and relationship in Christ before God, according to the everlasting counsel of divine love.
Once more looking at the verse in question in its connection. The epistle contemplates a very serious state of things among those that have professed the Name on earth. He had written from chapter 2:18 to the "little children" in the divine life to warn them concerning those who would lead them astray. They had not been left to the teaching of man; they had the Spirit abiding in them, not only as divine capacity to enter into divine things (ver. 20), as the natural man receiveth them not, but as their Teacher to communicate them to them. (Ver. 27). The end and object, as it was also the test, of all divine teaching was that they should abide in Christ. They had all in Him that was from the beginning; even in promise there was nothing beyond the eternal life they possessed in Him. (Ver. 25) No schools of philosophy or human reasoning could add anything to them. "Even as He has taught you, ye shall abide in Him." And then, resuming the normal address of the epistle to the whole family of God (after the parenthesis of special words to the fathers, young men, and little children, verses 13-27): "And now, children, abide in Him." There was nothing outside Him. All fruitfulness and growth and the joyful progress of the saints were to be found in that abiding; and then the Apostle and all true labourers in God's husbandry would find their joy and boast in them and not be put to shame from before Him at His coming.