“For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
In the text and throughout the immediate context the apostle compares the present with the future. In the context he informs us that now we know in part and prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. He also by way of comparison uses the figure of a child over against that of a man. When we are children, we are complete, all the faculties of what we shall be are there; but we are not yet perfect. All the faculties we possess as children are not yet fully developed. When, however, we become men, all those faculties we possess as children are then perfectly realized. They are not then different faculties, but they are then matured.
In the text this comparison of the present with the future is most beautifully expressed, and it seems that the apostle now reflects on the spiritual faculties of sight and knowledge. Now we see through a glass darkly, and now we know only in part. But when that which is perfect is come, we shall then see face to face, and know even as we are known.
That the apostle in the text changes the relative pronouns from the plural to the singular, need not confuse us. If you look back into the chapter, you will note that he does this throughout. A study of these passages shows that what is true for the apostle is also true of all of us. He individualizes and makes concrete the truth which is applicable to us all.
The little conjunctive word “for” which introduces our text indicates that the text is a further explanation of what the apostle had written in the immediate context, especially in verse 11. The idea is, that when I see through a glass darkly, and know only in part, I am like the child; speaking as a child, understanding as a child, thinking as a child, When, on the other hand, I see face to face, and know as I am known; I am like the man. I have come to maturity, to perfection. And the former things of my childhood may be put away.
Indeed, we have here the glory of the future presented in the light of the present.
That in no way is intended to minimize or deprecate the beauty of the earthly present.
Perhaps you are inclined to be so impressed, but this is not the intention of the apostle at all.
Mistakenly we might conclude when the apostle compares the present with the future, or sets forth the future in the light of the present, that the present is worth very little, that it is unimportant. To draw such a conclusion would be a serious error. The apostle does not mean to say that looking in a mirror, as we do now, is of no value. He does not mean to minimize the significance of our present impartial knowledge. Fact of the matter is, that our experience of the present is very important, and exceedingly beautiful.
The object of our sight, though it be in a mirror, is beautiful indeed! Whatever that object is, he does not say. But as we shall learn in a moment that object is most beautiful and attractive. In reality that object which we see in the mirror is the same as that which we shall see face to face.
And the same is true also of our impartial knowledge. Though it is true that we know now only in part, yet that object of knowledge is most beautiful.
Most assuredly it is a most blessed thing that we see and know now!
That we are no longer blind and ignorant is indeed a wonder of grace!
As we are by nature, we are born blind, just as really as the man to whom Jesus gave sight was born blind (John 9). And with him we may say: once I was blind, but now I see. Only the blindness of our natural depravity is worse than the blindness of the man whose sight was given to him. A physically blind man may by the grace of God see many things spiritually, but a spiritually blind man sees nothing at all. And such we are by nature. By nature we are not only blind but spiritually dead. But, O wonder of grace, when we are made alive, and we see spiritual things spiritually, what a blessed sight! And the same is true respecting our knowledge. By nature we are spiritually dead, and we know nothing. But when we are by the grace of God made alive, we know all things (I John 2:20). Blessed knowledge, indeed!
And the wonder becomes even more blessed as we see and know more and more!
Yet it is all in a mirror and in part.
The mirror which the apostle has in mind and uses as a figure, was not that of glass, as we are accustomed to, but of highly polished steel. But regardless of its constituency, such an instrument reflects images.
However, the apostle does not have in mind that we look into the mirror to see our own reflected image, but looking into this mirror we see the face of God in Christ Jesus. To understand this figure we ought to conceive of ourselves as standing with our backs toward heaven, and with our faces turned away from heaven looking into the mirror which is the Word of God. What therefore is revealed from heaven by God is reflected in that Word.
That we are said to see through a glass darkly cannot mean that there is something wrong with the mirror, e.g., that it is darkly tinted, or besmirched. But as the original suggests, literally we read, we see now through a mirror in an enigma; i.e., in a dark saying. And that means that, the Word of God speaks to us in dark sayings which we are not now completely able to penetrate into their depths. We therefore now need constantly to have that Word interpreted to us. This in no way denies the perspicuity of the Scriptures, but it emphasizes the fact that God has provided ministers of His Word who say: “Thus saith the Lord.” The same is true of our present knowledge. With all our knowledge of Scripture we still know so little. But when we shall see face to face and know as we are fully known, then it will be as we read of the Queen of Sheba who was told of the wisdom and glory of Solomon, but who, when she saw him in the flesh, exclaimed: “the half only was told me.” That we know now only in part does not mean there is something wrong with our present knowledge, but it means that we do not know, that our knowledge is not as comprehensive as it will be when we shall know even as we are known.
O, the glory of the heavenly future!
It is the glory of reality in the fullest sense of that term. Then all the dark sayings are past. Then we see the glory of reality, not as in a mirror, but face to face. No longer will our knowledge be partial, but complete. Now with all the knowledge we have, and in which we may increase,—still there are so many questions. Not so in the glorious future.
It is the glory of perfection!
How glorious to see face to face perfectly! It is the difference of looking at the object we love in a picture, and then seeing that object in reality. Though all the lines of His face are beautifully etched in the picture, there is nothing like seeing Him as He is. Also, if what I know now in part is wonderful, I can only conclude that what I shall know then perfectly shall defy all description now.
We shall see God! The Eternal, Infinite, Invisible God!
Of course, in as far as He is pleased to reveal Himself to us in the face of Christ Jesus our Lord.
No, we shall not see God as He is, nor shall we know Him in the sense that we shall be able to comprehend Him. For God is incomprehensible, and no man by searching can find Him out, as Job understood God’s knowability, and so understandingly expressed it.
Also in perfection we shall be bound by revelation. And revelation now, and as we shall forever experience it, is God’s condescension to make Himself known unto us. Undoubtedly also in heaven we shall not know immediately all things, but also then our knowledge will be progressive. Yet there will be no more flaws, weaknesses, that which is in part; but we shall know perfectly.
And God is pleased to reveal Himself only in and through His Son, and that Son as He came into the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Unto all eternity all that we shall see of God will be revealed in Him. Now we see Him, but in a glass darkly. Then we shall see Him face to face.
Surely this glorious prospect of the future as it is seen in the light of the present should temper our attitude to both the present and the future.
As far as the present is concerned, it should spur us on to a whole-hearted participation in it.
How wrong our attitude often is toward the present! Isn’t it true that often we find so little enjoyment looking into the mirror now? In the busyness of our present life in the world the reading of God’s Word is pushed into the background. And when we go away for a vacation to get away from that busyness for a little while, we may even forget to take God’s Word with us. And, O, how little is the partial knowledge we now possess!
Only as we whole-heartedly participate in the beauty of the present, shall we enjoy the blessedness and have the hope for the future. Refuse to look in the mirror of God’s Word now, and you will not recognize the face of the Son of God after a while. But looking faithfully into the mirror now, we shall be changed into the image of Him Whom we expect to see in the glorious future face to face. (II Cor. 3:18).
And our attitude toward the future will be one of hopeful anticipation.
Not a mystical, sickly, longing to be delivered from the present. The Apostle Paul also had a strong desire to depart and to be with Christ, but he also had a desire to remain so long as the Lord willed that he labor in His church. (Phil. 1:23, 24)
But a spiritual longing of hope for perfection!
To see Him Whom my soul 1oveth, Whom I can see now only in an enigma, but then face to face; that is my hope.
And to know Him Who has from everlasting known me in His elective grace, that is the object of my hope. And to dwell with Him in Father’s house, that constitutes the longing of my heart as it stretches into the future.
And this shall not fail, as the apostle John so clearly states it: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that; when we shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2.)
May that be your longing, too, dear reader; for Jesus’ sake!