12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face in order to keep the people of Israel from seeing the full purpose and end of the glory in what was passing away. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Today we’re going to talk about veils, and being veiled and unveiled. There’s a lot to consider here, but the pressing question before us is, “what is the glory awaiting us in Christ when all is seen and known clearly?” For some, the answer to this question might involve harps and fat babies on clouds, but not Paul. Paul sees in the lordship of Christ a new future, a new creation awaiting us all, and the new community that this hope is birthing in the church.
To start discussing this closing section of chapter three, we need to get a few concepts straight. Namely, we need to understand why veils were important within the story of Israel. In Exodus chapter 34, verses 29-35, we see that Moses has gone up on the mountain, been in the glorious presence of God, learned about the very nature and essence of who God is (that he is merciful and patient and just), and has witnessed God himself renewing the covenant the people had just broken when the made the golden calf in chapter 32.
As he makes his way back down the mountain to give the people the stunning news that God has forgiven them and renewed the covenant, shown by the new tablets of the law he carries in his hands, he is unaware of something about himself: he is glowing. Exodus 34:30 tells us Moses’ face was shining so brightly and gloriously, everybody else became afraid and wouldn’t come to him to receive the covenant and laws of God. Yet, Moses called them anyway, they listened, and afterwards, Moses put a veil over his face to shield the people from the glory that Moses pointed towards and the covenant itself represented.
Another place a veil makes an appearance is in the very next chapter of Exodus. Chapter 35 verse 12 tells us that the ark of the covenant, which was to be placed within the tabernacle as the very seat of the presence of God, was to be set behind a screening curtain. Elsewhere in the OT, this is the veil separating the presence of God from everyone else, with only the high priest able to go behind the veil once a year directly into the presence of God.
I bring this all up because the whole purpose of the covenant, of the Law and its ordinances, complete with the tabernacle, ark, and all the other wonders that filled it was to create a community with God at its center, residing among them. The whole point was to have God invade our space and live among us. In his presence, we were to be transformed by God’s glorious presence such that we would become the new humanity through whom the whole of creation was to be renovated and renewed.
But here’s the problem: through a combination of the people’s disobedience and fear, as well as God’s purposes awaiting a further, final revelation, this “God dwelling among us” plan needed to be screened, veiled, and mediated as the people awaited the day when all could be seen clearly. Moses had seen it as God’s glory passed before him, and it made him glow. Interestingly, we see Moses again on another mountain at the transfiguration of Jesus, this time with Jesus’ disciples looking on at their master speaking with Elijah as well (Mark 9:2-8).
As the covenant and its ordinances for the tabernacle are given, a provision is made for God’s presence to be screened and veiled so that God’s holy and glorious presence might not overwhelm the people as they worshipped in his presence. God’s glory is experienced, in part, through what the Law mediates and allows, but time is needed to instruct the people, and for God’s redeeming purposes to be revealed such that God can dwell in us and among us directly.
And this is what Paul is on about in this passage. In Jesus Christ, the veil has been lifted. In his countenance, we have seen the very face and heart of God. The very thing that had made the people fear for their very lives was now revealed in the love of the Son who gave his life for us so that we might have fellowship with God. The “God dwelling among us” plan has been revealed in Jesus Christ, and as John tells us in John 1:14, in him, we have seen the glory, the essence, the purposes, the beauty, and the truth of God that Moses had to veil and the people, deep down, had longed to see.
At the heart of the matter, this show us that every promise of God is sure; God is eternally faithful. What God had revealed to Moses and to the people, though it took nearly two thousand years to come to fruition, came to pass in Jesus Christ. Secondly, because those promises have been confirmed in Christ, because the “God dwelling among us” plan is complete in him, we have direct access to this glory through Jesus Christ whereby God can dwell in and among us because we are the Messiah’s people. We no longer needs tents, veils, and covenants; we are the tabernacles and the priests who embody and mediate this glory out to the world as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
And so Paul tells us, because of all this, we are being transformed. Our lives are housing the presence of God; like a living tabernacle, we are being renovated day-by-day. Our countenances were made to glow with the glory of God’s indwelt presence, so our lives are being pressed upon to look more and more like the self-giving love of the Son who makes this new creation in us possible. We are the recipients of a grace first shown Israel, and brought to birth in the Lord Jesus who sets us free to be this new thing for the purpose of redeeming and renewing the whole creation by His power.
Here, I close on verse 18. It would be very easy from us to walk away and think about all of this as being centered on us individually. To a certain extent, yes, each of us are to house God’s presence through union with Christ by the gift of the Spirit. Each of us, individually, are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ as we are conformed to his image. But please note what Paul says. He says, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed…” All of us. All of us, together.
Where is the mirror that reflects this glory by which we are being transformed? Am I, individually, the mirror? Are you? I would suggest to you that we, the church, the living body of Christ are that mirror, and we are to reflect this glory to one another. All of us, together, reflect this glory as we are collectively transformed. Together, in our worship, praise, study, life together, and sharing of burdens, God’s glory is unveiled in us, to one another, and to the world as we become the outposts of new creation, living signs of the new world coming into being because Jesus is Lord. This life together that reflects the glory of God is the greatest gift of the Spirit, giving us fellowship with one another in glorious union with the triune God.