3:16 – The Rest of the Story – Our Response 3: 2 Corinthians

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response (Current location of study)

“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” – 2 Corinthians 3:16

There’s an old song that goes “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”. It references Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16) in which he said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” A Christian is expected to let the glory of God which exists within them to be revealed and apparent to those around them. It’s interesting that Jesus makes the analogy of lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. He says no one should do this. Yet we see this very thing happening with Moses and the nation of Israel.

Paul references Moses’ choice to “hide” the glory of God in the second letter to the church in Corinth. In chapter 3 he is talking about what it means to be a minister of the gospel. Beginning with verse 4, he says

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

In using the plural pronoun “we” Paul is specifically talking here about himself and his fellow ministers to address some divisions which are existing in the Corinthian church. However, as you’ll see in the continuing discourse, he shifts from direct application to his own situation to more general application to all believers.

Now he picks up the story of Moses, contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Paul is building the case that we who bear the gospel of Christ for the world (as Moses bore the commandments etched on stone tablets for the nation of Israel) represent God to the world around us. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the new stone tablets (he broke the first ones when Israel sinned by worshipping the golden calf), his face was shining because of his personal encounter with God. The Israelites were afraid and asked him to cover his face. You can read about it here (Exodus 34:29-35).

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

I’d like to make a few quick observations about this passage from Exodus before moving on to our 2 Corinthians 3:16 verse.

  • The light in Moses’ countenance was a sign to those around him that he had been in communion with God.
  • The people were afraid of being in his presence when this light shone because it reminded them that they had not been in communion with God.
  • The light would be “replenished” when Moses re-connected with God.
  • It was apparently Moses’ decision to “hide” the light.

It is this last observation that Paul focuses on in his continuation of the Corinthian letter.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 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 hearts.

In discussing Moses’ veil, Paul makes two observations. First, he implies that Moses was not “bold” enough to leave the veil off. In other words, Moses’ choice to cover the “light” of God was his effort not to be “offensive” to the people around him. Second, Paul implies that the veil Moses wore was actually done so at the behest of the people. They didn’t want to be confronted with God’s glory and this continues in perpetuity when they read the old covenant without the context of the new one (Jesus). So, Moses shouldn’t have hid his relationship with God, and the people should have desired to share in that light.

Now comes our 3:16 verse (bolded below) as Paul continues through the end of the chapter.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

When Jesus was telling his disciples about the coming Holy Spirit (John 16), he pointed out three things about the Spirit.

  1. He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (verse 8).
  2. He will guide disciples into all the truth, speaking what he hears from Jesus (verse 13).
  3. He will glorify Jesus (verse 14).

When Paul said that the veil is removed when one turns to the Lord, he said that where the Spirit is “there is freedom”. The presence of God’s Spirit inside us gives us the “boldness” – or freedom – to keep the veil off and let our light shine. Let God continue his renewing work in our lives through His Spirit. Don’t be like Moses and deliberately hide the glory of God, but rather boldly proclaim “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”

2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Next is Philippians 3:16.

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