Surpassing, Transforming Glory
So what is Paul saying in his use of the Exodus incident in relation to the new covenant?
In our session with Dr Gary Williams, referred to in Part 1, we looked at the comparison between the experience of Moses at Sinai and that of Peter, James and John on the mountain upon which they witnessed Jesus’ graphic transfiguration. Mark records that episode thus:
” After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.” (Mark 9 vs 2 – 10)
There are many similarities. Peter, in his second letter, refers to this also:
” For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1 vs 16 – 18)
It is not insignificant that Peter refers to this location as ‘the sacred mountain’. We can only imagine the stunning (and terrifying) impact these events had upon the onlookers. Dr Williams drew our attention to the fact that both incidents are restricted in their revealing, and following, their is some kind of concealment commanded. Moses veils his face. The disciples are commanded not to tell anyone what they have seen until after the resurrection. I will come back to this. Let us first note that in both we have:
- The revealer of the glory
- The observer(s) of the glory
- The receivers (ultimately) of the glory
With Exodus 34,
- The revealer is God Himself
- The observer is Moses
- The receivers are the Israelites
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul draws his parallel thus:
- The revealer is Christ – He ‘radiates’ this splendour in such a way as to radically alter His appearance – even His clothes. He is the source.
- The observers are the Apostles
- The receivers are the Corinthians (and beyond, all those who receive the Apostolic witness)
Therefore we see plainly that Paul’s ‘we’ in this chapter is the Apostles, the eye-witnesses to Jesus.As John says:
“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John1 vs 14)
We have noted before, but let me say again, that the giving of the Law on Sinai, and the incident in Exodus 33 where Moses asks to see God’s glory are distinct. Previous to the great sin of the golden calf incident, the stone tablets, with the Law inscribed, had been given with no reference to attendant glory. We conclude that it is not the Law itself which is glorious. The glory attends the Law, it is not synonymous with it.
Now we can clearly understand the impact of what Paul is saying. In their preaching of the Gospel, which also comes with glory, the Apostles are unlike Moses, who veiled his face. The Apostles deliver and pass on to their hearers the glory they have beheld in the revealed Person of the Son of God WITHOUT obscuring the full vision of those who receive it – such is their boldness. Although Paul was not on that mountain, as an Apostle, he too has been a party to the same vision of the resurrected Lord. Thus his apostleship is being substantiated.
What did Moses hide?
The question arises as to what it was that Moses did not want the Israelites to see. We have seen that they glimpsed the glory of the radiance in his face as he communicated with them after he had spoken with God. But when he had finished doing so, he veiled his face until he next entered the Tent of Meeting to stand before God again. The result was that the Israelites were not allowed to ‘look steadily’, or ‘gaze intently’ at him. Their examination of this phenomena was not allowed to continue. Paul says that this was …
“to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” (2 Cor 3 vs 13)
And this is where many have concluded that it was the radiance which ‘was passing away’. But why would Moses merely wish to hide from them the fact that the radiance was fading? What purpose would this achieve?
It is more probable that what Paul is referring to as ‘transitory’ is, in fact, the whole of the old covenant. When Christ came, the complete order would be fulfilled and exceeded by the new covenant, instituted by God’s Son. How could Moses, at God’s direction, be heard to construct an intricate system of worship, priesthood and law, for the governance of God’s old testament people in His given land, when all of it would ultimately give way to something far greater, with any degree of authoritative substance? Thus God directs that this eventual outcome would not be revealed to the Israelites until their covenant was at an end. In a similar way, the disciples of Jesus are not to pass on what they observe on the mount of Transfiguration until the full disclosure of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is made – only then would that revelation be fully meaningful. Only then would it achieve its given purpose. This was its ‘telos’ – its end. And, as in Romans 10 vs 4, ‘telos’ can mean ‘goal’ – ultimate purpose:
“Christ is the culmination(telos) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
Richard Hays, in his excellent book “Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul”, argues strongly for this:
And, in his paper entitled
“Did the Glory of Moses’ Face Fade? A Re-examination of katargeo in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18”,
William Baker makes a powerful argument for the view that the word normally translated ‘fade’ in many translations should really be rendered ‘obscured’. His summary:
“The translation of katargeo as “fade” in 2 Cor 3:7-18 has little justification outside biblical literature or within it. Most scholars have abandoned this translation as inaccurate. Yet, it persists in modern Bible versions. Examination of the lexical evidence finds no support for this translation nor does reexamination of the Exod 34:19-24 context that the word is intended to describe. Moses’ face does not diminish in its glory; it is merely blocked or “rendered ineffective” by the mask. Finally, examination of 2 Cor 3:7-18 reveals that a translation of “hinder “or “block” best accounts for Paul’s understanding of the Exodus situation within his own purposes.”
The ‘Same Veil’
Paul takes the picture further. He goes on to say that beyond Israel’s experience in the wilderness, even to current times, when Moses is read, there is the same failure on the part of the readers to be able to perceive and understand what it is saying. The ‘blindness’ persists. Now, however, the veil is not over the face of Moses, it is over the heart of the reader – of course, it must be so after Moses had died. But it is ‘the same veil’ – in other words, it operates in exactly the same manner. In Christ, it is removed – those Jews who believe in Him are then able to perceive that all of that former covenant pointed to Him. So, just as when Moses enters again into the very presence of the living God, he removes the veil, so it is that in Christ (what claim, there, to His divinity!) the veil is removed. Whereas the unbelieving Jew cannot see the glory of Christ in the writings of Moses, the believing Jew has full disclosure of all that this means. Another quote from William R Baker’s paper ” Did the Glory of Moses’ Face Fade? “:
” Even Jews, Paul says, who have been shut off from the full glory of the Lord since Moses donned the veil, will find the freedom to gain full access to God when they come to belief in Christ. This, Paul says in 3:12, is the message he preaches “freely,” or “boldly” (parrhsia), since he is not encumbered by a veil as was Moses. He preaches this message across the board which makes his ministry, though based on the same glory of God as Moses’, superior to his. What was denied Israel by Moses’ veil in Christ has been opened wide to all people. A personal relationship with God himself is now available to all. This is Paul’s gospel”
Paul draws magnificent conclusions from all this. First is an a fortiori argument – from a lesser to a greater:
If the ministry that brought death, and was transitory came with glory, then …
… how much greater glory must attend the ministry that brings righteousness, and is eternal.
“For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.”
Undeniable, is it not, that the revealing of the Son of God from heaven must be accompanied and attested by all the radiant glory of which creation is capable. So much so, that Paul says compared to this, what went before is as nothing. Like comparing a candle flame to the sun. ‘We beheld it’, the Apostles cry – ‘we ourselves were eyewitnesses’. We saw it with our own eyes, it was displayed before us with unremitting majesty. The Voice of the Father acclaimed Him. And, at the end, death could not contain that glory. It burst forth from His tomb to shine as an everlasting light. Paul likens this to Moses standing before the divine, holy throne. As he had once requested ‘Show me your glory’, and that revelation had changed his face for the remainder of his life to reflect what he had witnessed, so it was that the Apostles had viewed surpassing glory, and were thereafter emanators of that same glory before all who would approach with a heart of faith.
Now we can see precisely what Paul is saying. the ‘we’ to which he refers is the ‘we’ of the Apostles, who personally and directly saw this latter, surpassing glory in the face of Christ.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4 vs 6)
It is this Apostolic witness which Paul regards as the new covenant equivalent of the radiance emanating from the face of Moses. And of this greater glory, he says,
“We are not like Moses”
For whereas Moses veiled his face when he came from surveying that lesser glory, before those to whom he spoke, the Apostles do not. Here it is – the nature of that new glory …
“… the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4 vs 4)
And what the Apostles do, in their Christ-appointed ministry is to plainly set forth their witness, unveiled – unlike Moses. There is neither dissemination nor distortion. If there is a failure to apprehend, it is caused by the blindness of heart due to unbelief:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4 vs 3,4)
The veil is no longer over the face of those to whom the glory was revealed. It is now over the hearts of those who do not perceive.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3 vs 18)
But for those who see, there is the vision of all of the wonder of what God shows them, through the Apostolic witness, and …
… this reception, this view of Him, has the effect of transformation. It changes the observer to make them not only a reflector of that glory, but a ‘likeness’ of its source. We become like Jesus, even as we gaze. This privilege, this wonder is not reserved for the Apostles only. ‘We ALL’ are affected thus – the Apostles themselves, and those who see the radiance of the gospel light through them.
The Apostolic Word
It remains for us to mark what this means for us, who do not share the Apostolic age. The Apostles are no longer with us – how is this process now active? There is only one conclusion, is there not? That which they did once in their very persons is now done through their written works – the inspired word of God. Here is what now comes direct to us ‘from the Lord, who is the Spirit’. In it, we gaze upon the surpassing radiance of this infinitely greater glory. Through it, and our absorption of it, our meditation upon it, we receive what those blessed men were appointed to transmit to us. In it, we see His face and gaze upon that incredible beauty. And by it, we are being transformed into His likeness. Not by any given law. But by the Lord ‘who is the Spirit’. And we are exhorted to ‘open wide our hearts’ to them, even as they have opened wide their hearts in all they have written, in God’s wonderful word, our Bible.