“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” I John 2:28
In I John 2:28, the apostle John introduces a new theme of having “confidence” before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his readers to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ despite the increase in false teachers or “antichrists” (2:18-27). 1 The Greek word translated “confidence” (parrēsia) refers “to a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank.” 2 John will focus on how to have boldness at the prospect of Christ’s coming throughout the body of this epistle (2:29-4:19). 3
Verse 28 is known as “a Janus that looks in two directions: backward to summarize the preceding section” 4 “and forward to introduce the following section. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings who supposedly guarded portals. He had two faces, one on the front and the other on the back of his head. The month of January gets its name from him. It is the month in which we look backward on the past year and forward to the new year.” 5
John has looked back at his readers’ spiritual advancement (2:12-14), and he has warned them of enemies to their fellowship with God: personal sin (1:5-2:11), the enticements of the world (2:15-17), and the Devil and his false teachers (2:18-27). Now John looks forward at how to prepare to have boldness before Jesus at His imminent coming (2:28-4:19). The Greek phrase translated “that when He appears” (hina nean phanerōthē), is a third-class condition about the coming of Christ which could take place at any time. 6Itemphasizes the fact of Christ’s coming, even though the time of it is indefinite. 7
The apostle John expected the return of Christ in his lifetime when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (2:28). This expectation of Jesus returning at any moment in one’s life is called imminency and is common throughout the writings of the New Testament authors (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; John 14:1-3; Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 1:8; 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10-12; 4:15-17; 5:2-10; James 5:7-9; I Pet. 1:13; Jude 1:21; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:2-3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 17, 20).
As we look back at the Year 2022 and prepare for the New Year tonight, those of us who believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life can also expect Him to return at any moment in our lifetime. Even though eternal life is a free gift which can never be lost (John 4:40-14; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 1:13-14; 2:8-9), the New Testament makes it clear that every believer must give an account of his or her Christian life at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10) which takes place after the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth.
It is important to understand that the New Testament speaks of two different judgments separated by the Millennium or one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The first judgment is for believers in Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ which takes place in heaven after the Rapture of the Church (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. Rev. 22:12; John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; 2 Cor. 5:10; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11). The second judgment is for nonbelievers after the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10), and it is called the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).
Those who appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) are judged “according to their works,” not according to their faith or the lack thereof. Since every person is judged “according to their works” at both these judgments, there will be differing degrees of punishment for nonbelievers in the lake of fire as determined by the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers as determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:25-27; 4:1-4; 22:12).
In I John 2:28, the apostle John has the Judgment Seat of Christ in mind when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” It will be possible for transformed Christians (3:2-3) to experience shame before the Lord Jesus when He evaluates both the “good or bad” things we have done in our Christian lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Keep in mind that Revelation 21:3-6 which speaks of their being no more more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, takes place after the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rev. 4:1-4) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10). In our transformed bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:2), we will probably be more sensitive to sin because our sin nature will be gone along with its excuses and rationalizations for sin (I John 3:2-3). We will have a greater capacity to feel holy shame over sins that we committed on earth.
How can we reduce our shame and increase our boldness (“confidence”) before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat? John instructs us to “abide in Him” (2:28a). Again, John refers to fellowship with God using the Greek verb menō (“abide”) which has already occurred 10 times in 2:6-27. “(John used menō 66 of the 112 times it occurs in the New Testament: 40 in John, 23 in 1 John, and 3 in 2 John.) In accord with his basic theme about fellowship (1 John 1:3), John once more enjoined the ‘abiding’ life.” 8
The believer who abides in fellowship with God, who seeks to walk in the light as God is in the light and obey His commands (1:5-9; 2:3-11; 3:24) during his or her Christian life, will “have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” But for the Christian who has not been abiding in Christ during his or her Christian life, there will be less confidence and more shame before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
“Yes, there will be shame at this time for His children who have lived their lives for the flesh and in the flesh. Does this threaten their eternal destiny? No. No more than you may be more proud of some of your children than others. Maybe one of your children has taken the gifts he has been given, worked hard to develop them, and is doing something productive with his/her life. You are proud of that child, and rightly so. Perhaps another child even more gifted has buried his gifts in the sand, has not worked hard to develop his God-given abilities, and is not doing anything productive with his life. Of that child you may be ashamed. Is he still your child? Yes, but you probably would not wish to reward him for his slothful life.” 9
The Christian who lacks the “abiding” life will still be in heaven because that was already determined the moment he or she believed in Jesus for eternal life (John 5:24). But they will have less rewards because they did not abide in Christ. That is why John says to confess your sins now. Abide now. 10
Prayer: Father God, as we close out this year (2022) and begin a new year tonight (2023), we pause to confess our many sins to You because You are faithful and just to forgive the sins we confess to You. We want to begin the new year with a clean slate and a clear conscience. We look forward to the day when You come to meet us in the clouds at any moment to be with You forever. May You find us abiding in You at that time so we may have confidence and not be ashamed before You at Your judgment Seat. Please use us to share Your gospel of grace with those who are currently alive and destined for the lake of fire due to their unbelief. May Your Holy Spirit prepare them to hear and believe the gospel so they may also enjoy an eternal life of fellowship with You and receive eternal rewards with which to honor You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 65.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 781-782.
3. Zane C. Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 593; Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3752 to 3762.
4. Constable, pg. 65 cites Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 4, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1883, 1881, 1880, 1884), pg. 457.
5. Constable, pg. 65.
6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 205608 to 205629.
7. Constable, pg. 66 cites Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, ch. 6: “The Imminency of the Coming of Christ for the Church,” Fourth ed., (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1991), pp. 108-37.
8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3757.
9. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 135-136.
10. Ibid., pg. 136.