“But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed.” 2 Cor. 3:14-18
The apostle Paul begins the 3rd chapter of 2 Corinthians with a statement about him not needing to have a letter of recommendation, as some other men of God do. Rather, he says, the converts at Corinth were his “letter of recommendation”. In verse 2 he says:
“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men.”
He’s saying that the change in the Corinthian’s lives is evident to all and confirms that Paul’s work was aligned with the work of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant. Paul goes on to explain this change in more detail, using an analogy of the old covenant and the instructions (or laws) written by God on the stone tablets and delivered by Moses to the Israelites. Paul compares the physical components and events of the old covenant with the spiritual components and events of the new covenant. Remember that the Lord used the physical things of the past as patterns for the spiritual things of the present, so that we can see more clearly the purpose and meaning of these unseen, spiritual things by comparing them to the physical things that we can see.
The old covenant event that Paul is referring to is in Exodus chapters 33 and 34. It’s about Moses going up to Mt. Sinai to speak with God and receive instructions from Him. There’s a lot more to this story, but here’s the short version: Moses went up by himself to the mountain and the Lord revealed His glory to him. He also gave Moses instructions for the people written on stone tablets. Moses returned to the people with the tablets, but the skin of his face was glowing because he had been talking with God. The people were afraid of Moses because of this glow on his face so Moses put a veil over his face to hide the glow. Whenever Moses went into the tent outside the camp to speak with the Lord, he would come out with his face veiled to hide his glowing skin.
This physical glow on Moses’ face represented the glory of God. It had been transferred to Moses as he talked with God in His presence. I believe that God purposely allowed this exchange of glory to be indicated by the glow on Moses’ face during the establishment of the old covenant. This was a physical symbol that represented a spiritual truth that would occur when the final covenant was established through Christ. In the new covenant, rather than a physical glow, there would be spiritual transfer of glory that occurred in our minds and our understanding of truth.
Paul continues (vs. 3 of ch. 3):
“…and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
God had promised that in the new covenant he would write the law on men’s heart, meaning that they would instinctively know right and wrong, and their conscience would bear witness, without needing a written code. Paul also refers to this same thing in Romans (2:14-15):
“When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.”
In verse 6 of 2 Cor. 3, Paul confirms that the new covenant is an internal spiritual happening:
“…who made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code, but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We must remember that the only physical manifestation of the glory of the new covenant is the changed behavior of the person who has turned to Christ, who is being transformed into a new creation. We must recognize that the glory of the new covenant surpasses that of the old, just as the temporary, physical items are surpassed by the permanent spiritual eternal things.
There was a time when we were blind to this truth, but now that we have turned to the Lord, we can see it. When we turn to Jesus through faith, we are able to understand and see the tremendous value and glory in what He has accomplished, and what He has promised to us. How precious it is that the veil has been removed from our eyes. Paul says it this way:
“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor and glory, but their minds were hardened; for to this day when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed.”
Notice that it is a hardened mind that prevents us from seeing the truth, one that is unwilling to turn or unwilling to soften. It is so very critical that we keep our minds unveiled, that we keep our minds softened and turned to the Lord, open to hear the Spirit. As we behold the truth, as we behold the glory and splendor of Christ, as we see more and more of it, this will transform us. We must not fear what we see of this glory, like the people of Israel feared the glowing glory on the face of Moses, but rather we need to embrace and pursue it.
Paul ends chapter 3 with this:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding (and reflecting) the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Because of the Spirit, we are free from the bondage of the written code; we are free from the bondage of sin; we are free from the bondage of our flesh that prevented us from changing; we are free from the bondage of lies and deception; we are free from the bondage of the devil.
Our minds will be transformed as we behold the glory of the Lord, which is the truth of the Gospel, that is, the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus, and the redemption that He has paid for us. As we continue our walk with Him, beholding His glory, we become more and more like Him, until He comes to take us home.
Paul ends this line of thought in 2 Cor. 4: 3-6:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”