Ordinary Christian prophecy is a hallmark of the Christian era and a particularly desirable gift (Acts 2:16-21; 1 Cor. 14:1). Yet when prophecy has fully served its purpose, it will come to an end. The Apostle Paul explains: “We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. . . . Now we see but a poor reflection; 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. 13:9-12).
One day, when Jesus returns, God’s plan will reach its full and perfect goal. Meanwhile, as Paul notes early in this same Epistle, God gives his people spiritual gifts to equip them as they wait for Jesus to come again (1 Cor. 1:5-7). The final goal is not the completion of Scripture but the completion of Jesus’ people. The purpose of Christian prophecy is not the production of a Bible but the encouragement and building up of each local church. Prophecy helps move God’s people to maturity, until we attain to “the full measure of perfection found in Christ” (Eph. 4:13). We have not yet reached perfection, as those who are truly mature will quickly acknowledge (Phil. 3:12-15).
When perfection comes, then “we shall see face to face.” We “shall know fully” even as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). To see “face to face” means that we will see God directly and personally (Gen. 32:30; Ex. 33:11; Deut. 34:10; Ezek. 20:35). When Jesus returns, we will see him “as he is” (1 John 3:1-3). Then, in the new heaven and new earth, we will see God’s face (Rev. 22:4). Now we know only partially. Any man who thinks otherwise “does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:2). Then, when perfection comes, we will know as fully as God already knows us. God is faithful and he will keep us strong until that time (1 Cor. 1:7-9). Ordinary Christian prophecy — properly understood and properly used — is one of his gifts for accomplishing that result (1 Cor. 14:3).