Beholding the Glory of the Lord
2 Cor. 3:12-18
Paul is encouraged in the previous paragraph by the hope, and sufficiency of Christ (2 Cor. 3:6). This hope is revealed particularly in:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, ESV)
The Old Covenant came with glory that was passing but the glory of the Spirit is greater. The Old Covenant is one of condemnation and preparation; the New Covenant is everlasting – permanent. It brings glory and hope that sustains and transforms us until we are conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Paul puts it this way in, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV) This is hope that is better understood as assurance. It is this Christian assurance that is in the back of Paul’s mind as he begins 2 Cor. 3:12-18.
Paul contrasted Old Covenant and New Covenant ministry today we can consider this in terms of religious ministry – work for God or under God and real Christianity ministry with God through Christ. Skye Jethani put it this way, “Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest, professor, and author, found the answer (between religion as our using and controlling life and God and life with God) in the Flying Rodleighs, a trapeze troupe from South Africa. While in Germany, he attended a performance out of curiosity and found himself transfixed by the artistry of the acrobats. But in the flying and spinning Nouwen saw more than an exhilarating show—he saw theology in motion. Nouwen observed that the flyer—the person soaring through the air—is really not the star of the trapeze performance. While everyone is focused on the flyer’s arial maneuvers, they sometimes fail to see that the maneuvers are only possible because the flyer fully trusts that he will be caught. Everything depends on the catcher. This led Nouwen to a new way of understanding his life with God. “I can only fly freely when I know there is a catcher to catch me,” he wrote. To more fully engage his new metaphor for the Christian life, Nouwen was fitted with a harness and ascended the trapeze himself. The sixty-something former Yale and Harvard professor giggled as he flew. And like a child, after each descent to the net, he would ask to go up again and again. Knowing he was safe allowed any fear of heights or injury to be replaced with childish joy. He said,
If we are to take risks, to be free, in the air, in life, we have to know there’s a catcher. We have to know that when we come down from it all, we’re going to be caught, we’re going to be safe. The great hero is the least visible. Trust the catcher.2
Nouwen’s trapeze exemplifies faith. Faith is the opposite of seeking control. It is surrendering control. It embraces the truth that control is an illusion—we never had it and we never will. Rather than trying to overcome our fears by seeking more control, the solution offered by LIFE WITH GOD is precisely the opposite—we overcome fear by surrendering control. But surrender is only possible if we have total assurance that we are safe. We must be convinced that if we let go we will be caught. This assurance only comes when we trust that our heavenly Father desires to be with us and will not let us fall.
This kind of living and obedient faith that is realized in life comes from the kind of contemplation Paul encourages in our text.
12Ἔχοντες οὖν τοιαύτην ἐλπίδα πολλῇ παρρησίᾳ χρώμεθα
Therefore having this hope we take great courage
The hope is confidence in the working of the New Covenant which is permanent and lasting. The hope is the assurance that comes from knowing that because of the New Covenant cut in the pouring out of Christ’ blood and made effective through the Spirit’s work in our heart through participation with Christ’s work New Covenant ministry unleashes transformation. The courage and boldness of Paul was rooted in his confidence in the power of the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, ESV)
13καὶ οὐ καθάπερ Μωϋσῆς ἐτίθει κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου.
And not as Moses placed a veil upon his face so that the Son of Israel might not gaze upon the ceasing end
The OT background to this text is:
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.” (Exodus 34:29–35, ESV)
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 20.1
Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel freedom from the guilt of sin, from the condemning wrath of God, and from the curse of the moral law. He has also freed them from the evil world we live in, from enslavement to Satan, from the dominion of sin, the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and from everlasting damnation. In Christ believers have free access to God and can obey him, not out of slavish fear, but with a childlike love and a willing mind. All these freedoms were also held by believers under the law. However, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians has been enlarged to include freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected. Christians also have greater boldness of access to the throne of grace and a fuller gift of the
Spirit of God than believers ordinarily had under the law.
14ἀλλὰ ἐπωρώθη τὰ νοήματα αὐτῶν. ἄχρι γὰρ τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης μένει, μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον ὅτι ἐν Χριστῷ καταργεῖται·
ἐπωρώθη passive made hard blind
τῆς παλαιᾶς former or old
But their minds were made hard, for until this day the same veil remain upon the reading of the former covenant, it is not removed because in Christ it is abolished (removed)
Moses covering of his face with a veil, Paul says resulted in a spiritual hardness. Moses approach was not up front. It concealed the fading glory but New Covenant ministers are meant to be transparent about the indwelling of the Spirit. The appearance of glory on Moses face was a façade but New Covenant minister are less self-conscious and prone to show their humanity but they also opened the door to a radiance that came from a deeper well: the indwelling Spirit of God. The veil that covered Moses face was transferred to the Law as they read to former covenant. All they could see was the glory of Moses and the Law he proclaimed. The veil over religious people is the stupor of human effort.
“But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4, ESV)
“For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).” (Isaiah 29:10, ESV)
15ἀλλʼ ἕως σήμερον ἡνίκα ἂν ἀναγινώσκηται Μωϋσῆς, κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν αὐτῶν κεῖται·
ἡνίκα at the time when
κεῖται lies over
But until today when ever Moses is read, deadness lies upon their hearts,
16ἡνίκα δὲ ἐὰν ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς κύριον, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα.
But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken from around them,
As Moses went before the Lord to receive the Law we are to go before the Lord in a new way. We are to behold God so that the veil is removed. By beholding the Lord the Holy Spirit burns God his likeness upon our hearts. Calvin wrote correctly, “…what is said of the law applies to all Scripture – that where it is not take as referring to Christ as it one aim, it is mistakingly twisted and peverted.”
17ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν· οὗ δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα κυρίου, ἐλευθερία.
But the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is: freedom.
It seems best to take our text as a form of short hand. Paul is simply saying that it is the Spirit who does God’s work in applying the work of Christ so that freedom results. Freedom is freedom from sin, death, guilt and freedom to come before God. Paul is not suggesting that Jesus is the Spirit in person but rather that Jesus works by means of the Spirit in the New Covenant.
18ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος.
Κατοπτριζόμενοι contemplate, reflect, beholding
And we all with unveiled faces contemplating (beholding) the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory into glory just as from the Spirit of the Lord.
Craig Keener writes, “Paul here presupposes two ideas his audience would share: first, God stamped his image on people through his logos, or wisdom, which was he archetypal image; for early Christians, this image is Christ …Greek-speaking Jews spoke of the divine Wisdom as a mirror perfectly reflecting God’s glory (Wis. 7:28); Christ as divine Wisdom may be the “mirror’ of 2 Corinthians 3:18. What was lost of God’s glory and image in Adam is restored in Christ …the “mirror” might also imply divine glory placed in the heart… Second, mentally beholding the supreme deity transformed on into that deity’s likeness. Believers’ continual, Spirit-empowered encounter with God in the gospel would transform their heart to reflect his image and glory … Moses reflected God’s glory in his face; new covenant ministers and those who embrace their message reflect it in the hearts and lives …sharing Christ’s resurrection power as they share his sufferings …Paul beholds not the passionless deity of Platonism, but the God of the cross who embraced human brokenness and mortality. (Paul) believed that Christians could choose to be transformed into Christ’s image by thinking rightly… 
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:1–11, ESV)
“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, ESV)
“by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,” (Hebrews 10:20, ESV)
Calvin led the way in the Protestant focus upon contemplation rooted in the Christ-centered gospel “a clear revelation of God.” He continues, “…we must be constantly making progress both in the knowledge of God, and in conformity to His image, for this is the meaning of the expression – from glory to glory. …the design of the gospel is this – that the image of God, which had been effaced by sin, may be stamped anew upon us, and that the advancement of this restoration may be continually going forward in us during our whole life, because God makes his glory shine forth in us by little and little.”
Westminster Larger Confession chapter 13.3 states, Although the old nature temporarily wins battles in this warfare, the continual strengthening of the sanctifying Spirit of Christ enables the regenerate nature in each believer to overcome. And so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.