At first, 1 Corinthians 13:12, we read, “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known.” The apostle here compares the rights and privileges of God’s believing people in this present dispensation of the world, with their privileges and rights in the state of heavenly perfection and glory of the church on the new earth. And he discerns a remarkable difference. “Now they see through a glass darkly; then, face to face. A rendering that comes closer to the original text would be, “Now we see by means of a mirror, a looking glass, in an enigma, that is, in a phraseology or language, more or less obscure. It is evident that, in setting forth the thought that he means to convey, the apostle makes use of a figure, which must be thoroughly understood, if we are to understand the Scriptures at this place. The figure is that of beholding, let us say, your friend in a mirror and beholding him, not in a mirror, but directly. There is a difference, is there not? When you behold the form of your friend in a mirror, you stand with your back to your friend and he stands back of you, that is, you do not face him nor he you; what you face is, his reflected form in that mirror. But you turn you about, and now you directly face your friend and he faces you. You now see him face to face and not by means of a mirror. This is the figure the apostle employs. Then, too, we must bear in mind, by all means, that the mirror of Paul’s figure is one in use in ancient times. Bear in mind, we must that what, in Paul’s day, did service as a mirror was a slab or sheet of polished metal, and that, on this account, ancient mirrors gave but a dark and dim reflection of an object. In this, they certainly differed from our modern mirrors, which give, not a dark and obscure but a bright and perfectly plain reflection of an object. It is indeed true, then, that, when the ancients saw themselves, or whatever object it might be, in their mirrors, they saw in a glass darkly. Now such is the plain sense of the figure here employed. But we must now lay hold on the spiritual truth set forth. It is this. Now God’s people see in a mirror darkly; then, in the state of perfection and glory, that which they now behold in a mirror darkly, they will see face to face, that is, having as the direct object of their vision.
There are questions here, the first of which is: Whom do God’s people see, now in a mirror, then face to face. They see God. But, one may ask, Do the believers see God? Shall they see Him ever? They do see Him and they shall see Him even as He is. Such is the promise to them. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” Matt. 5:8. “And we know,” says John, “that we shall be like (Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” I John 3:2. But one may again ask, How can finite and sinful men, be they believers, see God; how shall they see God ever, mark you, see God, the only, spiritual, eternal, incomprehensible, invisible and infinite God? God’s people do see Him, and they shall see Him, even as He is, and seeing Him, they live and shall live everlastingly. But how can it be? It can and shall be. Not, to be sure, that they see and shall see ever the spiritual, infinite and on this account, invisible God as such, but they see and shall see God as revealed in a face—His face—a face wholly adapted to the measure of man’s capacity to see and to know God. For, mark you, God has a face. And the face of God is Christ Jesus. Now, as the face of a human reflects the spirit of a human, his heart, the inward and invisible man, the character of that man, the hidden thoughts and intents of that man, his hates and loves, joys and sorrows, so do we see reflected in Christ the very heart of God, the glory of His invisible being, the infinite goodness, the love, mercy and compassion, the wisdom and the power, the holy indignation and righteous anger of God. For Christ is God’s face. Seeing Him, we see God. Did not Philip’s question, “Lord, show us the Father,” elicit from Christ this reply, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” Verily, Christ is the face of the Father, the triune Jehovah. For He is the incarnate Son of God. He came from God and went to God. The Spirit of God rests upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. In truth, Christ is the face of the Father; for He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. And the words that He speaketh, He speaketh not of Himself; but the Father that dwelleth in Him, He doeth the works. In Him, God’s face, the believers see God. They see God’s face.
Now the thought that the apostle desires to emphasize is that, in this present dispensation, the believers see this face—the face of God—Christ Jesus—in a mirror, but that, in the life to come, in the state of perfection and glory, they shall have this face as the direct object of their vision and thus no longer see this face in a mirror. First, there is this question: What is to be understood by this mirror, in which we now see God’s face—the Christ of God. This mirror is the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures reveal Christ, God’s face. They set forth the Christ—God’s face—in all His significance as the Mediator of God and man, through whose cross God was reconciling the world—God’s world, not man’s—to Himself. The Scriptures, then, are the mirror in which God’s people behold God’s face, Christ Jesus. And well may the apostle compare the Scriptures to a mirror. For consider that, what you directly behold in a mirror is not the very object but that object as reflected in the mirror. So, too, what we behold directly in the Scriptures is not the very Christ Himself, for Christ is in heaven and He is a heavenly Christ—but what we behold in the Scriptures is the very Christ as set forth by the Scriptures, as preached by the Scriptures, thus the Christ as reflected by the Scriptures. The Scriptures, then, are indeed the mirror that reflects Christ—the face of God.
But the real point to the apostles reasoning is that the believers now see through a mirror darkly. The meaning of this statement from the apostle’s pen is, that what God’s people see in the mirror of the Scriptures is but a dark and obscure reflection of the heavenly Christ, God’s face. Where lies the cause of this? The cause lies in that mirror, in those Scriptures. The Scriptures, let it be considered, are earthy. They speak to us of heavenly things, of the heavenly Christ, that heavenly face of God, in terms of an earthy language. To illustrate, the Scriptures speak of Christ as bread and water, as wine and milk. I am the true bread, says Christ of Himself. The Scriptures speak of Christ as the morning star, as the sun, as the lamb, as the lion. Rut what have we here but an earthy picture, reflection, of a heavenly Christ, in an earthy mirror, our Scriptures. The book of the revelation of John contains a description of the heavenly glory of the New Jerusalem. It has the glory of God. Its light is like a stone most precious, even like a jasper-stone, clear as crystal. And its streets are like unto pure gold. One may say, it is heavenly gold of which the apostle here speaks. It is well. But the only gold that we ever have seen is earthy gold, so that, what we have also here is an earthy picture, reflection, of a heavenly thing in an earthy mirror, our Scriptures. Now, as the heavenly far surpasses the earthy in glory, it must follow that the earthy Scriptures cannot otherwise but obscurely reflect the heavenly, the heavenly face of God, Christ Jesus.
It is indeed as the apostle saith, “we now see by a mirror in an enigma, that is, in an obscure, dim, dark phraseology. And it is well that it is thus. Can we look directly into the face of the sun that shines in our heaven? We cannot. The dazzling brightness of that face would destroy our vision, so that we would see never again. How could we directly behold the heavenly Christ, God’s heavenly face, we who are earthy and sinful. The heavenly radiance of that face, as unobscured by the mirror of earthy scriptures, thus, as the direct object of our vision, would destroy us:
In his vision, John saw one like unto the Son of man with hairs white like wool, as white snow and with eyes as a flame of fire. It was the glorified Christ. And when John saw him, he fell as dead at His feet. Moses once prayed that he might behold God’s face. Rut while God’s glory passed by—the glory of His face—God put him in a cliff of the rock and covered him with His hand, so that all that Moses saw was the pack parts of His glory, the glory of God obscured.
Paul knew a man—the apostle speaks here of himself—Paul knew a man in Christ, whether in the body he could not tell, or whether out of the body he could not tell, caught up in the third heaven, in paradise, where he, stood face to face with the heavenly, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, and that no man, who bears the image of the earthy, is occupied with earthly images of the heavenly, and who is a sinful man, can utter.
While in the house of this earthy tabernacle, God’s people can endure to behold but a dim reflection of God’s face in the mirror of earthy scriptures. That and that only is all they do behold now in the present dispensation of the world. And occupied, as they are, with an earthy reflection of the heavenly, beholding with earthy eyes the earthy reflection of a heavenly Christ, God’s own face, in the mirror of earthy scriptures, it must follow that they know in part and in part only, and that they prophesy in part. For they see not face to face but in a mirror darkly. Hence, they speak as children, they understand as children, and they think as children and thus do not speak, understand, and think, as perfected and glorified saints in heaven, seeing God face to face, and thus seeing Him as He is. Their forms of speaking, understanding, and thinking, belong to this earthy. But it shall not always be true. For that which is perfect shall come. God’s people shall appear with Christ in glory—with Christ, with whom their life is hidden in God. They will then be like God, holy as He is holy, for the last vestige of sin that now still riots in their flesh will then have been obliterated. Then they shall see not, as now, the reflection of His face in the mirror of earthy scriptures, but they shall see directly His very face, thus see face to face, the face of God, which is Christ, in its unobscured glory. And their joy shall be full; for then they will see God as He is in Christ. And their prophecies shall fail, that is, their prophecies of things heavenly in terms of an earthy language—that shall fail. And their tongues shall cease, that is, their earthy phraseology, in which they prophesied, praised, confessed, and witnessed—that shall fail. And their knowledge shall vanish away, that is, the knowledge of things heavenly that was theirs through the mirror of earthy scriptures—that shall vanish away. All this shall fail, cease, vanish away, when that which is perfect shall come: the perfect heavens and the perfect earth, where the tabernacle of God is with men, and the perfect saint, and the perfect praise and thanksgiving, which is the praise and thanksgiving in terms of a language that is heavenly, and the perfect tongue, which is the heavenly tongue speaking a heavenly language; and the perfect knowledge, that is, a knowledge of God, which shall be theirs through seeing God face to face in Christ.
Then the redeemed of God shall know even as they are known, that is, know as God knows them. And He knows His people not certainly according as He beholds them indirectly in the mirror of earthy scriptures, but He knows them according as they are in Christ everlastingly before Him directly, as engraved in the palm of His hand.
But let us understand the apostle well. The comparison here is not between the false and the true, the false prophecy and the true prophecy, the false tongue and the true tongue, the false knowledge and the true knowledge, but between the less and the more, the imperfect and the perfect in regard to what is true. The thought conveyed is that prophecies and tongues and knowledge shall fail, cease and vanish away, not because they are false, but because, as to their forms, they belong, as was said, to this present age, to the earthy, and thus can have no place in the perfected and glorified church in heaven Thus, the apostle does not by his reasoning bring our scriptures under a cloud, as though they are false or to a degree unreliable because they are earthy. The scriptures are the infallible word of God Though they speak of things heavenly in terms of an earthy language, what they reveal of things heavenly is true and adequate When that which is perfect is come, when God’s people see face to face, the earthy scriptures, too, shall vanish away, not certainly because they are false but because they are earthy, and because, as an earthy revelation of things heavenly, they shall have served their purpose.
In the light of what has been presented, we can now understand the apostle, when he says, “But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 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 I am known”.