“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” ~ 1 Cor. 13:12
Is it possible to see God face-to-face? Obviously Paul believed that to be true. He told us that though we don’t see everything very clearly right now, one day all will be made clear and we shall see God face-to-face.
That makes me wonder. Remember when Moses asked to see God’s glorious presence? God told him, “You may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). But God said He would make His goodness pass in front of Moses. “As my glorious presence passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed” (Ex. 33:22).
Yet earlier in that same chapter, the Bible tells us that “inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Do we have a contradiction here? I don’t think so.
When the word face is applied to God, it often refers to God’s presence. It is not that God has a face like you and I. The human face is the part of our anatomy that we use to convey our feelings. God transcends the merely human, but it helps us to use anthropomorphisms (interpretations of what is not human in terms of human characteristics). Moses was allowed to speak with God face-to-face, but he was not permitted to see God’s face lest he die. To see God face-to-face is reserved for believers in the life to come!
What an incredible thought it is! You and I will have that privilege when Jesus comes or when He calls for us at our deaths—a privilege that even Moses was denied while here on earth. We will know and see the very presence of God, “the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
When we are in heaven, we shall fall at His feet when we see His face. But He will, without a doubt, put out His right hand and strengthen us to stand in His holy presence. And what is more, He will enable us to look into His face!
So the best is yet to come! But in His grace, God gives us little previews along the way. But “now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Mirrors were made in Corinth. In fact, Corinth was famous for some of the most beautiful bronze mirrors in antiquity. In those days mirrors consisted of a metal surface made of copper, silver, gold, electrum, or bronze. You can imagine how imperfect the image must have been, no matter how beautiful and polished the surface. Paul contrasts the imperfect image in one of those mirrors without seeing a person face-to-face.
The idea is to become as like Christ as it is possible down here but to allow the future appointment with God to motivate our behavior and give us hope. So how are we doing when we look in the mirror? When we get discouraged about ourselves and our spiritual progress, we can think a little bit about the fact that one day we will really understand ourselves. I will understand myself as God understands me. And one day I will even like myself! I will be like Christ! Do you have a hard time liking yourself? Well, one day there will be a lot to like and accept. One day.
John tells us that when we see Jesus face-to-face, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). So full knowledge of ourselves will come only when we see Jesus and know Him as perfectly as He knows us now. Full knowledge of Him will not be ours until that day. Now we live with the imperfect, but one day the perfect reality will be ours.
Just Between Us Magazine