All the apostles had their part of the “mystery”, God’s divine strategy to present Jesus Christ to the world as an alternative to death and separation for eternity. The combination of the pieces, put together, is called the New Testament. It is the role of God’s church to “make all men see what is the fellowship (sharing to bring about a desired end) of the “mystery that had been hid in God”, it is OUR job to “preach the gospel to every creature”.
When the WHOLE came, the PARTS were absorbed into the whole like a child is changed into the adult, verse 11. To see the whole is to see how all the parts interrelate. It is to see the outline and details clearly!! That is what Paul is saying in verse 12. “We now see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” He explains his meaning in the next sentence, which parallels exactly. Than is, “I see in a mirror dimly” or “I know out of parts”, or ek merous, and then face to face, or “I know even as also I am known”.
“Face to face” does not require us to think of standing in the Lord’s presence after the resurrection of the saints. It may be a vivid expression of the wholeness and clarity of revelation which would be available after the completed Word of God made prophesying unnecessary!! There is one other time I recall the expression “face to face” mentioned. God was said to have spoken to Moses “face to face”. Exodus 33:11 yet, when Moses ask to see God, he was told, “Thou canst not see My face; for man shall not see Me and live.” Exodus 33:17-20 We often do not realize how full and intimate a knowledge of God has been given to us in His word. “Henceforth, I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what His Lord doeth: but I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.” John 15:15
Then there is the reference to a mirror. Paul says he looks into a mirror (a glass darkly). This refers to a partial look, not a clear look. The outline may be seen, but not any clear details. In the first century, the only mirrors available were polished metals. Polished metal NEVER allowed as clear or full a view as looking directly with the eyes!! So the term “look into a mirror” was commonly used to refer to a partial knowledge! The apostle James declared, James 1:23-25 “But who looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deeds.” Paul also wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image form glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord”. 2 Corinthians 3:18 Anyone looking into a mirror of the first century COULD NOT get all the details, it required a putting together of the pieces, THEN Revelation would be “face to face”. That is our way of saying we see something clearly-to see from a correct or holistic perspective so that both outline and details can be seen!! By the way, that is exactly what the Holy Spirit had Paul write next! ”Then I shall know, even as I am known.” Clarification did not wait long, Paul declared, “then I shall know fully”. What was Paul to “fully know”? The total strategy of God!! As the captains came to know fully the General’s plan after he put all the pieces together for them, so Paul as well as ourselves, could know God’s completed, WHEN THE GENTILES WERE BROUGHT INTO BODY OF CHRIST!! Ephesians 3:1-8 To put it another way; God would cease all operations WHEN the Gentiles had entered the Kingdom. Another way? God would stop tongues, knowledge, prophesying WHEN the ‘other sheep’ from another fold were brought in!! Do you not reject God’s strategy IF you speak in tongues?