ANSWER: From the Greek text the passage reads:
And now, children, be continually [daily] sticking with [Christ], in order that when He should appear, we might be possessing a confidence [fearlessness, boldness, certainty] and we should not shrink back from Him in the coming [of] Him.
This is clearly a rapture passage because it addresses those who were alive at that time (circa. 90-95 AD) when "old" John did all of his writing.
Though John's days were short, he still saw Christ's coming for His own possibly in his short life-time. He speaks of "we" have confidence when He comes! This means it could have happened in John's life.
Rapture passages always have a certain immediacy to the audience to whom the letter is written. It always addresses "we," "you," or "us," as is done here.
1 John 3:2 is also clearly a rapture passage. The construction "when He appears" is the same construction as in 2:28, giving a clear sign that both verses are rapture passages. According to the great Greek grammarians Dana & Mantey, the "when He appears" should better read "whenever He appears," as if taking any uncertainty away from the construction of the verse. Another Greek scholar (A. T. Robertson) says about "not shrink away from Him," could better read: "Not shrink away from His face."
The bema judgment seems to take place shortly after the rapture of the church. The "shrink away in shame" appears to connect to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10 about being recompensed for what we do "whether good or bad."
Those who do not hold to the rapture of the church really do not understand what all is happening in all of these verses. In 3:2-3 John adds: "When He appears, we shall be like Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." The hope of the rapture, truly believed and embraced, has a practical application to change the life of the believer.
Thanks for asking.
Mal Couch, Ph.D., Th.D.