Commentary by David Guzik
1 Corinthians 13:12
b. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face: When we can fully see Jesus (not as in a poorly reflected image) the need for the gifts will have vanished, and so the gifts will pass away. The gifts of the Holy Spirit will be overshadowed by the immediate presence of Jesus. When the sun rises, we turn off the lesser lights.
c. Face to face: Paul is using this term to describe complete, unhindered fellowship with God. 1 John 3:2 tells us when we get to heaven, we shall see Him as He is. There will be no more barriers to our relationship with God.
i. In Exodus 33:11, it says the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. In Exodus 33:1-23, face to face is a figurative expression, meaning free and open fellowship. Moses had not – and could not – see the actual face of God the Father in His glory. This is the sense in which John says No one has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12). In the spiritual sense which Moses had a face to face relationship with God, we can have a free and open relationship with God. But in the ultimate sense, it will wait until then, when we are united with Jesus in glory.
ii. So, in a passage like Numbers 12:8, where the Lord says of Moses, I speak with him face to face, the phrase face to face is a figure of speech, telling of great and unhindered intimacy. Moses’ face was not literally beholding the literal face of God, but he did enjoy direct, intimate, conversation with the Lord. But the face to face Paul speaks of here is the “real” face to face.
d. For now we see in a mirror: This speaks again to the perfect fellowship with God we will have one day. Today, when we look in a good mirror, the image is clear. But in the ancient world, mirrors were made out of polished metal, and the image was always unclear and somewhat distorted. We see Jesus now only in a dim, unclear way, but one day we will see Him with perfect clarity. We will know just as I also am known.
i. The city of Corinth was famous for producing some of the best bronze mirrors in antiquity. But at their best, they couldn’t give a really clear vision. When we get to heaven, we will have a really clear vision of the Lord.
i. We couldn’t handle this greater knowledge on this side of eternity.
“If we knew more of our own sinfulness, we might be driven to despair; if we knew more of God’s glory, we might die of terror; if we had more understanding, unless we had equivalent capacity to employ it, we might be filled with conceit and tormented with ambition. But up there we shall have our minds and our systems strengthened to receive more, without the damage that would come to us here from overleaping the boundaries of order, supremely appointed and divinely regulated.” (Spurgeon)
e. God knows everything about me; this is how I also am known. But in heaven, I will know God as perfectly as I can; I will know just as I also am known. It doesn’t mean I will be all-knowing as God is, but it means I will know Him as perfectly as I can.
i. Heaven is precious to us for many reasons. We long to be with loved ones who have passed before us and whom we miss so dearly. We long to be with the great men and women of God who have passed before us in centuries past. We want to walk the streets of gold, see the pearly gates, see the angels round the throne of God worshiping Him day and night. However, none of those things, precious as they are, make heaven really “heaven.” What makes heaven heaven is the unhindered, unrestricted, presence of our Lord, and to know just as I also am known will be the greatest experience of our eternal existence.
ii. “The streets of gold will have small attraction to us, the harps of angels will but slightly enchant us, compared with the King in the midst of the throne.
He it is who shall rivet our gaze, absorb our thoughts, enchain our affection, and move all our sacred passions to their highest pitch of celestial ardour. We shall see Jesus.” (Spurgeon)
d. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are necessary and appropriate for this present age, when we are not yet fully mature, and we only know in part. There will come a day when the gifts are unnecessary, but that day has not come yet.
i. Clearly, the time of fulfillment Paul refers to with then face to face and then I shall know just as I also am known speaks of being in the glory of heaven with Jesus. Certainly, that is the that which is perfect spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13:10 as well. According to the context, it can’t be anything else.
3. (1 Corinthians 13:13) A summary of love’s permanence: love abides forever.