2 Corinthians 3
An Epistle of Commendation & An Epistle of Christ (3:1-6)
The two great Covenants have to do with Israel, not the Church, as we clearly see from Rom. 9:4; "... Israelites; to whom pertaineth ... the covenants". Covenant theologians argue that the New Covenant is with the Church; but if we look at Jeremiah 31:31 we find that the New Covenant will be made with "the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah". The covenants are with Israel and for the earth. The Church is heavenly, and called out of the earth. If we compare the two covenants we will see striking differences:
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Made with:||Israel at Sinai in the wilderness||Israel and Judah in the Millennium|
|Character:||Blessings or cursings conditional upon Israel's obedience||Unconditional blessings|
|A system of:||Demand (works)||Supply (grace)|
The great difference between the two covenants is that the Old was on the basis of works, and the New is on the basis of grace. The language of the Old is "if thou shalt ... then I will...", but the language of the New is just "I will...". The prophecy of Jeremiah 31 was given after the utter failure of Israel under the Old Covenant was manifest, which set God on His part free to make a New Covenant. On the people's part, the cross must come in first, because it was necessary to transfer the issue of their responsibility to Israel's smitten Messiah. The guilt of breaking the Old must be cleared before the New could be established. Therefore, we can see that the death of Christ was needed to "take away the first and establish the second" (Heb. 10:9). If the New Covenant is made with Israel, why does the cup in the Lord's Supper represent "the blood of the New Covenant" (1 Cor. 11:25, etc.)? If we look at the blessings of the New Covenant we will see that Christians have those same blessings in Christianity, although we also have many blessings that go far beyond those of the New Covenant (Eph. 1; blessings "in Christ"). Therefore, it can be said that Christians share the blessings of the New Covenant, without being formally under the covenant. Paul clearly says that Christians are "competent, as ministers of the new covenant" (2 Cor. 3:6) although we are not under it as a binding contract; "not of letter, but of spirit". The spirit of the New Covenant is grace, and that is what characterizes our relationship to God in Christianity. The same blood that has secured the New Covenant blessings for future Israel has secured our blessings in Christianity today.
Will the “letter” of the New Covenant “kill” the Millennial Saints? No, because the New Covenant is for them. The Christian is not in relationship with God in the terms of a covenant, but the earthly people will be. Their position is consistent with a covenant, although it will be a covenant of grace.
Parenthesis: The Ministry of the Spirit vs. the Ministry of Death (3:7-16)
- It is called the “ministry of the Spirit” when it is God’s work in us (2 Cor. 3:8). The Spirit of God is working in us to transform us into the image of Christ. It is contrasted with the “ministry of death”, because the law worked death.
- It is called the “ministry of righteousness” when it is God’s work for us (2 Cor. 3:9). Rather than require righteousness from us, God has placed us “in Christ” in His sight. We are fully accepted by virtue of that righteous standing. It is contrasted with the “ministry of condemnation”, because the law could only condemn.
- It is called the “ministry of reconciliation” when it is God’s work through us (2 Cor. 5:18). Having been saved by grace alone, we are now ambassadors for Christ, and God is seeking to reconcile sinners through us.
- Grace justifies while the law can only condemn (v.9). The law, even though it condemned man, was glorious in that it revealed something of the excellencies of God; i.e. His minimum standard of holiness. But grace unfolds God’s plan to justify sinners through the Person and Work of Christ, and therefore reveals God in both His characters of light and love.
- Grace fully reveals the glory of God, while the law is only a partial revelation (v.10). The full knowledge of the glory of God is seen reflected in the face of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God, in writing Christ on our hearts, brings that full revelation to us. In this respect, the glory of the Old Covenant has been completely eclipsed, much the way the light of the stars is eclipsed by the light of the rising sun!
- Grace will continue forever, while the law has been annulled (v.11). The law could not endure, because it depended in part on the first man (Gal. 3:20). But with grace, we see God retreating from the entire ground of human responsibility into His own sovereignty, and thus we have the basis for something that “subsists in glory”!
Transformation: The Effect of Christ Written on Our Hearts (3:17-18)
The Ministry of Death
Given by Moses
The Ministry of the Spirit
Given by Christ
|Moses compared to Christ (2 Cor. 3:10, 13, 18; 4:6)|
|The reflection||Moses face was a partial reflection of God’s glory||The face of Jesus Christ reveals all the glory of God|
|The effect||The people had to avert their gaze||We gaze continually at the Lord’s face|
|The veil||Moses put a veil over his face||We look on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face|
|Moses compared to the believer (Ex. 33:23; 34:35; 2 Cor. 3:7, 18; 4:2-4)|
|The glory||Moses saw the Lord from behind only||We look on the Lord’s face directly|
|The access||Only Moses saw the glory of the Lord||We “all” see the glory of the Lord|
|The effect||Only the face of Moses shown||We are transformed into the image of Christ|
|The veil||When Moses went out to the people he put on the veil.||We manifest the truth everywhere we go, commending ourselves to every conscience, and our gospel is veiled only in those that are lost because the god of this world has blinded their thoughts.|
|Moses compared to Israel (2 Cor. 3:14-15)|
|The people||Moses put on the veil, so the people could not see his face.||Israel did not receive Christ, and God has governmentally blinded them.|
|The veil||When Moses went out to the people, he put the veil on. When he went in to the Lord, he took the veil off.||Whenever Moses is read, the people have a veil on their heart. When they turn to the Lord, the veil will be taken away!|
- Flint, Annie. The World’s Bible.
- There is often a difficulty to distinguish between the spirit of a Christian and the Spirit of God, and consequently whether it should have a large or small S, because the Spirit is so connected with what is put into our hearts. – Darby, J.N. Notes of Readings on 2 Corinthians.
- “For the letter kills, but the spirit [that is, the mind of God couched under the forms which unbelief never seizes] quickens.” And this is universally true; for if the letter were more glaringly perilous of old, there is always the danger of deserting the spirit for it, even under the gospel. – Kelly, W. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
- It says “letter,” instead of “law,” because it is general; if one take the letter of the gospel, it would kill people. So Scripture says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” And if I meet a brother in Germany or France, I always kiss him, but when I come back to England it seems so dreadfully cold; yet the spirit of that instruction is clear, and I can act on it here as well as in France. The letter always kills. Take a particular instance: If you brought a particular lamb to the priest, which had a black spot on it, you brought a curse on yourself. I have brought a lamb without a spot, and I get a blessing. The spirit here is the mind of the Holy Spirit in the letter. If you had the letter which in the main was the letter of the law, yet the Lord is the spirit even of that, because, if it say you must have a lamb without blemish, in Him I have that. – Darby, J.N. Notes of Readings on 2 Corinthians.
- “For it is an utter mistake to give ‘the spirit’ in the first clause a capital letter, which would imply the Holy Ghost to be meant; and where would be the sense, where so much as the orthodoxy, of identifying the Lord with the Holy Ghost? To me the meaning, without doubt, is that the Lord Jesus constitutes the spirit of the forms and figures and other communications of the old covenant. These, if taken in the letter, killed; if in the spirit, quickened.” – Kelly, William. Notes on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.