The Permanence of the New Covenant: Part 1 of 4 (series: Lessons on 2 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

May 3, 2014
Tom Lowe
The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

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.

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