Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians


May 3, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


II. Apology for Paul’s Ministry. (1:12–7:16)

B.     The Calling of Paul. (3:1-6:10)                                                                                     

               Lesson II.B.2: The Permanence of the New Covenant. (3:12-18)


2nd Corinthians 3:12-18 (NKJV)

12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—

13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

16 Nevertheless when one 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 by the Spirit of the Lord.





The Bible is basically a “picture book,” because it uses symbols, similes, metaphors, and other literary devices to get its message across. In this passage, Paul used the experience of Moses and his veil to illustrate the glorious freedom and openness of the Christian life under grace. Paul saw in Moses’ experience a deeper spiritual meaning than you and I would have seen as we read Exodus 34:29-35{21].





12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—

13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.


What is Paul referring to here?


We need to recognize that there was a first giving, and then a second giving of the Law. When Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai the first time God gave him the tablets of stone, and He wrote the Law on them with His own finger. That was the Law that the children of Israel were to live by, and be saved by (if they could keep it—which no one could). And they were going to be judged by it. While Moses was up on the mountain, the children of Israel were already breaking the first two commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3) and “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Ex. 20:4). The Mosaic Law was a very strict, rigid Law. Even Moses said, “. . . I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (Heb. 12:21). It demanded an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a burning for a burning, and a cutting for a cutting. It was absolute, inherent righteous and holiness. Whatever a man deserved according to the Law that was what he was to receive. In Exodus 32 the people were already breaking the Law. What is going to happen? God told Moses to go down to the people. When Moses went down the mountain, he could see from a distance that the children of Israel were breaking the first two commandments, and he didn’t dare bring the tablets of the Law into the camp. Why not? If he did the entire nation of Israel would have been blotted out at that exact moment. They would have been judged immediately because the breaking of those Laws meant instant death. So Moses smashed those tablets of stone; then he went into the camp.


Now, when Moses goes back to the top of the mountain into the presence of God, we see that something very special happens. Moses recognizes that all of Israel should be destroyed because of their sin, but he asks God for mercy. And God gives them a second chance as He gives them the second tables of the Law. Now Moses understands that God is tempering the Law with mercy and grace. At the very heart of the Mosaic system there is to be a tabernacle and a sacrificial system that will be the basis on which they can approach God, for “. . . without shedding blood [there] is no remission” of sin (Heb. 9:22). But “without holiness no man is going to see God” (see Heb. 12:14{1]). How in the world are we going to get into His presence? Well God is going to have to make a way for us, and God did make a way. What a glorious, wonderful revelation this is. No wonder Moses’ face shown!


When Moses came down from the mountain, he had the second tables of the Law, which was a ministration of condemnation and a ministration of death, demanding a righteousness of man he was unable to produce of himself; but there was also the sacrificial system that manifested the grace of God. It was the grace of God, fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ that Paul the apostle found—Paul who had been a man under the Law, a Pharisee of Pharisees, and that brought him to the place where he could say, “and be found in Him [Jesus], not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Now here is a ministration of Glory indeed, and this is the glorious gospel. The Law was glorious. It offered Man a way of salvation, but man was too feeble to grasp it, and fulfill its demands. It was a glorious way of life that was pleasing to God, but for man it became a ministration of death because of his lost condition.


However, the glory of the grace of God fulfilled in Christ, is a ministration of glory indeed. In another passage it is called “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” The word blessed means “happy”—the happy God. What is it that makes God happy? The thing that makes God happy is that He is a lover of men and He delights in mercy. He wants to save men. We are told in Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy.” It is not God’s will that any of the human family should be lost. To the prophet Ezekiel God said “Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'” (Eze. 33:11). God wants to save—saving man is the thing that makes Him happy. What a glorious picture this gives us.


When Moses came down from the mountain the second time, there was joy in his heart and his face shone, reflecting the glory of God. Now there was a way for the children of Israel to come into His presence through the sacrificial system.


Now let’s make this very clear again that the veil Moses put over his face was not because his face was shining with a glory so that they couldn’t look at him. It was because that glory was beginning to fade away. The fact that Moses’ face shone was a glorious thing, but the glory began to fade, so Moses covered his with a veil, after all, who wants a leader who is losing his glory.


The word translated “end” in 2 Corinthians 3:13 has two meanings: “purpose” and “finish.” The veil prevented the people from seeing the “finish” of the glory as it faded away. But the veil also prevented them from seeing the “purpose” behind the fading. The Law had just been instituted, and the people were not ready to be told that this glorious system was only temporary. The truth that the covenant of Law was a preparation for something greater was not yet made known to them.


From his discussion on the superiority of the new covenant over the old (Lesson II.B.1), Paul stated his conclusion: “Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech.” The Greek word translated “boldness” is the word the Greeks used to speak of the right of free speech. Here Paul used that word to indicate the public nature of his ministry. He would boldly preach the mysteries of salvation that had been obscured for centuries. Although the Jews had God’s promises regarding the coming Savior and Messiah in the Scriptures, not even their well-educated rabbis could fathom exactly what God planned to do. But to the apostles, God had revealed this mystery: God had planned long ago to reveal this mystery to both Jews and Gentiles through the death of the Messiah (Eph. 3:6{2]). Openly and publicly. Paul was proclaiming this great mystery in cities all over the Roman world.


Paul’s boldness was an outgrowth of his hope in the new covenant—the glorious, permanent ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Unlike the present-day use of the term “hope.” Paul did not mean “wishful longings.” As Paul explained in his letter to the Romans, Christian hope is a confident expectation that God will do what He promises to do. Just as Abraham fully expected that God would make him a father of many nations as part of His great plan of salvation (Rom. 4:18-21{3]). Christians, too, can confidently expect that God will give them eternal salvation (Rom. 5:5{4]). The type of confidence in the faithfulness of God inspired Paul to publicly proclaim the Good News of salvation.


14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.


The veil Moses wore over his face is now a veil over the minds of God’s ancient people. It is still there because of the fact that these people actually do not see that Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness. They do not see that He is the fulfillment of the whole Law. The blindness is still there in the form of wilful ignorance which keeps the Jews from rightfully understanding the Scriptures. The more men refuse His light, the more hardened their hearts grow. The eye is blinded by their refusal to see. The heart is blinded by truth it refuses to see.


As the missionary to the Gentiles, Paul was seeing many Gentiles trust the Lord, but the Jews—his own people—were rejecting the truth and persecuting Paul and the church. Apparently, it bothered Paul that not many turned to Christ when the gospel was preached to them. Paul’s common practice when going to a city was to preach to the Jews who would gather in the local synagogue (as he did in Corinth; 18:1-4{5]). But the Jews rejected his message of salvation (18:6-7{6]). At times Jews even pursued Paul to other cities to try to silence him (14:1, 19{7]). Paul most frequently found welcome with the God-fearing Gentiles (17:4{8]). But Paul knew that rejection of the Gospel by the Jews was part of God’s mysterious plan so that His free offer of salvation could extend to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:28{9]). God had let the Jews hearts become hardened and rebellious so that He could clearly show that He was a God of mercy to all people—both Gentiles and Jews had rebelliously rejected Him at one time (Rom. 11:29-31{10]). God, however, had mercifully included believing Gentiles as His people. In Romans Paul used the analogy of grafting a limb onto a tree. In the same way, God had broken off those unbelieving Jews and had grafted in a foreign limb—the Gentiles—into His tree of faith (Rom. 11:17-21{11]). Yet, Paul still refused to believe that God had completely abandoned Israel—God’s chosen people. One day, God would once again shower His blessings on the Jews (Rom. 11:32{12]).




15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.


When they read the Law, they actually think they are able to keep it. But in reading the Old Testament we do not find the confidence that you would expect in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Even David raised some questions. Job was in absolute bewilderment. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and wept when he faced death. However, in this day of grace in which you and I live, even the weakest saint who trusts Jesus has absolute assurance of his perfect acceptance with God.


This passage in 2nd Corinthians gives a short summary of Paul’s teaching on why the Jews had rejected the gospel. He was astonished that the Jews could not understand the One to whom the Scriptures were pointing: Jesus Christ. A real veil covered their minds and their hearts—the very center of their intellectual, social, and spiritual selves—so that they could not understand the truth. But in Christ the veil is miraculously lifted. Just as Christ had opened Paul’s spiritual eyes to the truth of Jesus, the Holy Spirit would also open believers’ eyes to how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures.



16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.


It is the heart that must turn to God. When the heart turns to the Lord Jesus Christ, the veil is taken away. Man’s trouble is heart trouble. He is blinded because of the sin in his life. When he is willing to turn from his sin and receive the Lord Jesus as his Savior, “the veil is taken away.”


When Moses turned to God, he removed the veil (Ex. 34:34{13]). In the same way, when a person turns to Christ—God’s only Son—the veil is taken away by Christ Himself. The veil represents the sin that clouds the person’s understanding about God’s great plan of salvation. The idea of turning implies repentance—a conscious rejection of one’s old ways and a turning to God and His ways. The image of turning to God in the Old Testament always involves turning away from false gods (2 Chron. 34:2{14]).


When anyone turns to the Lord and becomes a Christian, Christ removes the veil, giving that person not only understanding of the true meaning of the Scriptures but also eternal life and freedom from trying to be saved by keeping the Law. Christ saves the person not only from sin but from the ignorance that his or her sin has created.



17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.


Only the Spirit of God can lift the veil and help us see that Christ is the Savior. He alone can do that. He is the One and only One; and no sinner—Jew or Gentile—can turn to Christ apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God. “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” This statement is a bold declaration of the deity of the Holy Spirit: He is God. The Judaizers who had invaded the church at Corinth were depending on the Law to change men’s lives, but only the Spirit of God can bring about spiritual transformation. The Law can bring only bondage, but the Spirit introduces us into a life of liberty. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).


Christ’s death on the cross brought freedom for anyone who believes (1 Cor. 6:20{15]). He saves us from sin and the condemnation that results from trying to obey the Law (Rom. 8:1-4{16]). He frees us from the fear of death, the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:17-18{17]). Jesus even saves us from the evil powers of the age (Gal. 1:4{18]). This passage cites another trap from which Christ frees believers: an ignorance of God’s plan of salvation. Christ saves believers from the same mental veil that covered many of the Jews to whom Paul was preaching (v. 14).


As a nation, Israel today is spiritually dead; but this does not mean that individual Jews cannot be saved. The church today needs to recover its lost burden for Israel. We are their debtors, because all the spiritual blessings we have came through Israel. “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). The only way we can “pay off” this debt is by sharing the gospel with them and praying that they might be saved—“Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1).


You notice that Paul here is saying the very same thing which Simon Peter had said: “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Dear reader, if you do not see the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is not your Teacher because the Spirit of God takes the things of God and shows them unto us. The Spirit of God brings you into the place of liberty. He doesn’t put you under Law. He delivers you from Law and brings you to Christ. When He does—



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 by the Spirit of the Lord.


This is a very wonderful passage of scripture. Paul has been talking about the veil being on the heart, then when we turn to Christ—that veil is taken away. Now as believers we are looking on the Lord Jesus Christ—but even as believers our eyes are veiled when there is sin in our lives. But when that sin is confessed, and we are in fellowship with him, we look to Him. Then we, with “unveiled face,” beholding (not reflecting as another version translates it) as in a mirror the glory of the Lord—the idea is not reflecting in order to transform, but rather that of beholding until transformed. Then we can reflect His image. The word translated “transformed” can also be rendered transfiguration (Matt. 17; Mark 9). It describes a change on the outside that comes from the inside. Our English word metamorphosis is a transliteration of this Greek word. Metamorphosis describes the process that changes an insect from a larva into a pupa and then into a mature insect. The change comes from within.  I feel that a more accurate translation is: we “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.” The idea is that we can become more like Him as we behold Him in the Scriptures.


Just as Moses took off his veil when he went into the presence of God, so too, all Christians can behold God’s glory without any veil covering them. Unlike the Jews who had to rely on priests to mediate between them and God, Christians through Christ’s saving work on the cross have direct access to the Father (Eph. 2:18{19]).


Under the new covenant all believers can reflect the glory of the Lord. In contrast, under the old covenant only Moses had access to the Lord’s presence and thus could reflect His glory. But now all Christians can be like Moses. Thus, when Christians, who are given access to the Father through Christ’s work, look at God’s glory, they begin to reflect His holy character in their lives. As a result of this encounter with God, they are forever changed. Through Jesus Christ, we may enter into the very holy of holies (Heb. 10:19-20{22])—and we don’t have to climb a mountain.


Keep in mind that Paul was contrasting not only the old covenant with the new, but also the old covenant ministry with the ministry of grace. The goal of old covenant ministry is obedience to an external standard, but this obedience cannot change human character. The goal of new covenant ministry is likeness to Jesus Christ. Law can bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24), but only grace can make us like Christ. [By the Law I do not mean the Old Testament, but rather the whole legal system given by Moses.] The result of Old Testament ministry is bondage; but the result of new covenant ministry is freedom in the Spirit. Legalism keeps a person immature and immature people must live by rules and regulations (Gal. 4:1-7{23]). God wants His children to obey, but not because of an external code (the Law), but because of internal character. Christians do not live under the Law, but this doesn’t mean we are lawless! The Spirit of God writes the Word of God on our hearts, and we obey the Father because of the new life He has given us within. Legalistic teachers and preachers may get their listeners to conform to some standard, but they can never transform them to be like the Son of God.


The glory that the Lord imparts to the believer is more excellent and lasts longer than the glory Moses experienced. By gazing at the glory of God with unveiled minds, all of us Christians can be more like Him.


The Bible reveals the truth about Christ, and the Spirit of the Lord works within us, transforming us morally as we understand and apply it. Through learning about Christ’s life, we can understand how wonderful God is and what He is really like. As our knowledge deepens, the Holy Spirit works within us to help us to change and become more like Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).


Becoming Christlike is a progressive experience (Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19; Phil 3:21; Gal. 6:15{20]). Being transformed into Christ’s likeness is a continual process, through which the Holy Spirit works within us—step-by-step—to bring us closer to God’s perfect way of living. It occurs little by little as the Holy Spirit points out more areas of our lives that need to be submitted to God’s will; and we, then, freely submit to God. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of God’s Word, the reading of Scripture, our prayer life, and the wise guidance of other mature believers, to lead believers on God’s wonderful path of righteousness.


God works according to His timetable. The Holy Spirit brings about change in our lives and hearts through a slow process. So never give up if you don’t see the spiritual progress you desire. The Holy Spirit works in His own ways and His own timing.


It is true that the Word of God is the mirror that we are to look at, and we are beholding Him—just looking at Christ. That is the reason we need to stay in the Word of God and behold the Lord Jesus. As you behold Him, you are transformed. In other words, the Word of God does more than regenerate you (we are regenerated by the Spirit of God using the Word of God.) “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pe. 1:23). Also the Word of God transforms us. Oh, this is so important! I wish I had spent more time looking in the mirror, beholding Him more. We see Him, my friend, in the Word of God. He is not a superstar; He is not just a man. In the Word of God we see the unveiled Christ. Oh, how wonderful He is!


Do you want to be Christlike? Then spend time looking at Jesus.


Turn your eyes upon Jesus;

Look full in His wonderful face;

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.


I need this. I hope you, too, sense a need of seeing Jesus Christ on the pages of the Word of God, so that you might grow more like him.



Scripture reference and special notes


{1] (Heb. 12:14) Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:


{2] (Eph. 3:6) that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,


{3] (Rom. 4:18-21) who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.


{4] (Rom. 5:5) Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.


{5] (Acts 18:1-4) After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.


{6] (Acts 18:6-7) But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.


{7] (Acts 14:1, 19) Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.


{8] (Acts 17:4) And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.


{9] (Rom. 11:28) Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.


{10] (Rom. 11:29-31) For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy.


{11] (Rom. 11:17-21) And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in."

20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.


{12] (Rom. 11:32) For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.


{13] (Ex. 34:34) But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded.


{14] (2 Chron. 34:2) And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.


{15] (1 Cor. 6:20) For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.


{16] (Rom. 8:1-4) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.


{17] (Rom. 5:17-18) For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.


{18] (Gal. 1:4) who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,


{19] (Eph. 2:18) For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.


{20] (Gal. 6:15) Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.


{21] (Ex. 34:29-35) Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses' hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.


{22] (Heb. 10:19-20) Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,


{23] (Gal. 4:1-7) Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. 

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