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*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • 2 Corinthians 3:12
  • 2 Corinthians 3:13
  • 2 Corinthians 3:14
  • 2 Corinthians 3:15
  • 2 Corinthians 3:16
  • 2 Corinthians 3:17
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18

We have hope, for the Spirit lives within us. The veil that used to separate us from seeing God’s glory has been removed from our eyes. When believers turn to God, we see the true glory of the Lord. We are in the process of transforming into the image of Christ.

 

Paul has just explained that the ministry of the Spirit of Jesus Christ is eternal, it “remains in glory” (v 11). Thus, the Spirit of Christ will remain within each believer for all of eternity. This wonderful truth should give each believer great hope.

Accordingly, Paul says: Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech (v 12).

Paul has spoken openly, transparently, with great boldness to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:18-20). He knows that the love of God is his regardless of any circumstances (Romans 8:38-39). He knows that the difficulties he is enduring for the sake of the gospel are creating an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). His great boldness comes from his own experience of the glory of Christ in his own life. This “glory” comes from having Christ in us, which gives us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26-27).

This is a glory every believer can participate in. This is a glory that can be shared. It is not a glory that is only gained by one man. Therefore Paul is not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away (v 13).

Moses first used a veil because of the glory of God shining in his face after his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29-35). The people of Israel were afraid because Moses’s face shone, so he covered it. They did not want to see the glory of God. Paul is now speaking boldly to the Corinthians because, unlike Israel, they do want to see the glory of God.

Paul uses this picture to contrast the belief of the Gentiles with the unbelief of the Jews. This again infers that the one bringing “sorrow” to the believers in Corinth was attempting to capture them by placing them under the Mosaic Law (2 Corinthians 2:5-6).

Paul takes this image of the Jewish people not wanting to see the glory of God which shone in the face of Moses and uses it to describe the unbelief of many of those in Israel who did not believe in Christ as the Messiah: But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ (v 14).

The minds, or hearts of the Israelites, were hardened against believing that Jesus is the Son of David, the promised savior of Israel. They would not accept new truths from the Lord that did not match up with their own traditions and rituals. Any of us who believe we are religious can take warning from this. We can easily have a veil over our minds and hearts as we defend our own traditions, doctrines, and liturgies. Any rules can become a ministry of death if it causes us to miss the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Paul notes that the unbelief of the Jews has remained steadfast: But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart (v 15).

In saying a veil lies over their hearts, Paul is describing how the Jews do not see God’s glory due to their unbelief. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul defended an accusation that his teaching of grace nullified both the Law as well as God’s promises to Israel. But Paul raised a vigorous defense against these allegations, insisting that God’s promises are irrevocable (Romans 11:29) and because of His promises, eventually all Israel will be saved, just as God promised (Romans 11:26).

So, how do we have the veil of unbelief removed? It is the same for all peoples, Jew or Gentile: But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (v 16).

Turns to the Lord is a key phrase that is pivotal not only here, but in many places throughout Scripture. Turns to the Lord is basically a call to repentance, as the Greek word for repent (“metanoia”) means to change our mind, our purpose, or our direction. It is deciding to turn around and go a different direction.

Inherent in the word or phrase turns to the Lord is the confessional aspect of agreeing with God that we have been on our own path, a path of unbelief and/or sin. When we turn, we go from desiring our own glory, our own way, not wanting to see God’s glory, and so we have the veil covering God’s glory taken away. When we turn back to Him, we can now see His essence, His character. When Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17, He asked His Father to glorify Him even as He had glorified the Father (John 17:1-2). Jesus showed the essence of the Father to the world through His faithful testimony (glory).

Then Jesus prayed that His disciples might know both Him and the Father, saying:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
(John 17:3)

The phrase “eternal life” refers to the greatest possible fulfillment of life. This means that the absolute greatest benefit we can gain from life is through coming to know God and Jesus Christ as we walk in faith in this life. When we initially believe on Jesus, we are spiritually born into His family (John 3:3, 14-15). When we walk by faith, we come to know Jesus in experience, and in doing so glorify the Father (John 15:8). The veil is removed, and we come to know God, which is the source of our greatest possible benefit.

The glory of the old covenant is the perfect Law of God. However this becomes a ministry of death until we turn to the Lord, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and now the veil is taken away. The new glory comes in: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (v 17).

Under the Law, we are under obligation. But liberty or freedom is where the Spirit of the Lord is. Liberty or freedom is the power/ability to make choices. Slaves do not get to make choices, others choose for them. Free people make their own choices. When we have the Spirit of the Lord we have the power/ability to make choices apart from sin and the flesh. Without the Spirit we are doomed to obey sin and the flesh. Human willpower is finite. With the Spirit we have an infinite source of power to make choices apart from the demands of sin and the flesh.

This is a big, big deal, because the consequence of choosing the ways of sin is death. Death is separation. Sin leads to the death of separating us from God’s design. That leads to malfunctions within ourselves, between us and others, and between us and God (Romans 6:21-23; Galatians 5:19-21).

Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Galatians, admonishing them to live in freedom rather than being slaves under the Law (Galatians 5:1, 13). In Christ we are free from the Law. We are out from under obligation. Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12)

Paul recognizes that he is free in Christ to make his own choices. But he also keenly aware that his choices have consequences. And Paul is determined to only make choices that “are profitable” for himself. He does not want to make choices that lead to his own harm. Although we are free in Christ, our choices still have great consequences, which is why Paul admonishes the Galatians:

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
(Galatians 5:13)

The condemnation of the Law is gone. Paul writes to the Romans:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
(Romans 8:1-2)

In place of condemnation is liberty. We were shackled in the irons of sin, and now are set free in Christ. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (v. 17). Liberty makes us “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Sin no longer possesses those who are in Christ Jesus. We are free to make choices apart from the demands of sin and the flesh.

Now that the veil has been removed, we are able to see the glory of the Lord. But not just in the glow of Moses. The Law indeed reflects the glory of the Lord. But it is not the Lord Himself. Through the Spirit, we are now able to see the Lord face to face:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (v 18).

In saying But we all, with unveiled face, Paul is referring to the removal of the veil of unbelief and hardness of heart for we all who are in Christ. Instead of merely seeing the remaining glow of Moses’s face (which had to be veiled), left over from having been in God’s presence, we are now beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.

How are we beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord? When we look in a mirror we see a reflection. When Israel looked at Moses, they saw the remaining reflection of the glow of the glory of God remaining upon Moses from having been in God’s presence. It seems here Paul is saying that each believer in Jesus is now like Moses who reflected the glory of the Lord. When we see another believer walking in the Spirit, we are beholding the glory of the Lord shining through that person. That faithful believer reflects God’s glory, in that they are following the leading of the Spirit, abiding in Christ, and producing the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:7-8).

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that believers are transformed through the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). Here he says believers are being transformed into the same image they see reflected in other believers who walk in the Spirit, referring to the image of the Lord.

When we walk in the Spirit, we are being transformed into the image of the Lord. Paul calls this from glory to glory. This journey from glory to glory could refer to moving from the glory of the Law (Moses) to the glory of the Spirit sent by Christ (2 Corinthians 3:7-8). Christ fulfilled the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18 as the second Moses who spoke the words of God directly to the people. Through His Spirit, believers have the privilege to fulfill His commission to share His teachings and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

The phrase from glory to glory also could refer to each believer’s journey from reflecting God’s glory in this life, as Moses reflected God’s glory after being in His presence, to gaining glory from God as a reward for faithful service (2 Corinthians 3:7, 11, Romans 2:6-7). It could be this as well as the transformation from Law to Spirit.

And just as Moses’s face was transformed through being in God’s presence, we are being transformed into the same image. The image Paul refers to here fits from the context to be the image of Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul asserted that the inevitable destiny for every believer is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

We are conformed to the image of Christ now, in this life, through obedience and suffering rejection from the world. If we take this road, we gain unimaginable rewards (1 Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 3:21). However, if we conform to this world, we gain only the rewards of this world, all of which will be burned up at the judgement seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

As Moses went to Mt. Sinai and experienced the presence of the Lord, his face reflected the brilliance of the glory of the Lord. We can reflect the essence, or glory of the Lord through walking in the Spirit of the Lord.  The glory of the Old Covenant through the Law has begun to fade, and will pass away. Not so with the glory of the new covenant, in the Spirit.

We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. As we walk in the Spirit, we reflect the mirror image of Christ from glory to glory. Rather than fading, this glory increases as we are transformed into the image of Christ. This is not in our own strength, as though we can reform ourselves through following religious rules (Law). Rather, it is from the Lord, the Spirit.

The gospel of Christ is the power to be saved from the power of sin in our daily walk (Romans 1:16-17, Galatians 5:13, 16). Through walking in obedience to Christ, we can reflect His glory to others, be transformed into the image of His glory, and lay up rewards in heaven, which will gain us glory from Christ, and be to the glory of Christ.

Biblical Text

12 Therefore having such a hope we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.




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