Christianity 201

May 29, 2021

Before and After: The Veil and the Big Reveal

This week a friend put me on to a 50-minute YouTube podcast of Mike Winger teaching on the prophetic nature of four verses in Proverbs 30 that ended with the passage in 2 Corinthians 3 which follows. I’ve linked to the podcast at the end of today’s reading for those who want to go deeper.

NIV.2.Cor.3.13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

BibleRef.com sets the stage:

Paul has been comparing the glory of the old covenant between God and Israel and the new covenant of God’s grace for all who come to Him through faith in Christ. The glory of the revelation of God through the old covenant was always fading away and being brought to an end. The glory of God’s revelation of Himself through Christ is eternal. Through faith in Christ, God receives Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for sin and gives credit for Jesus’ sinless, righteous life in return.

The result for him, Paul has written, is boldness and confidence while representing God to others. He has nothing to fear, because his standing before God is not based on his own performance. It is all based on Christ’s righteousness.

Moses, on the other hand, could not be so bold in representing God to the Israelites. Paul is referencing Exodus 34. Moses returned to the people after being with God visibly changed in his appearance. His face reflected God’s glory so powerfully that the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:30). The glory of God was painful to them in their sinfulness. Moses covered his face to protect them from God’s glory. He could not boldly reveal it to them as Paul revealed God’s glory in the person of Jesus.

The Bridgeway Bible Commentary suggests that the veil itself is both literal and symbolic:

After Moses had been away from the presence of God for a while, the brightness of his face faded, but the veil over his face prevented Israelites from seeing this fading brightness. To Paul, this fading brightness symbolized the fading away and eventual end of the old covenant. The permanence of the new covenant, by contrast, gives Paul confidence in all that he says and does (12-13).

At Authentic Christianity, Ray Stedman comes closest to the type of approach I heard in the podcast, even going so far as to title his commentary, “Who is This Masked Man?” (He refers to the veil as a mask, which, you gotta admit, is somewhat timely!)

God loves to teach with symbols. His favorite teaching method is to use a visual aid, a kind of symbol of truth which he holds up before us to instruct us. The “mask,” or veil, which Moses wore is a symbol of the old covenant, that is, the Law, the Ten Commandments, with their demand upon us for a certain standard of behavior. Also, it is a symbol of our natural, typical response to the Law — to try to obey it, either to the point of convincing ourselves that we have achieved it, or to the point of giving up and rebelling against it.

Stedman also gets into the possible motivation for Moses’ motivation for wearing the veil. It may not have been because his face was shining with the glory of God, but that the glory was fading. Just stop and think about that for a minute:

Moses, perhaps, did not understand all this when he put the veil over his face. It is somewhat difficult for us to guess what his motive may have been. Some commentators suggest that he felt that if the people saw that the glory was fading away, they would not pay any attention to the Law, they would disregard it and go on living as they wanted. Others have suggested that, perhaps, he was trying to preserve his own status symbol as a special mediator with God. That is the position I have taken in my book, Authentic Christianity, which deals with this passage. I think that Moses, like many of us, was trying to preserve the reputation he had with the people and he did not want them to see that when he came out from God’s presence the glory began to fade — as many of us do not like people to see what is really going on inside of us. We want to preserve an image of being spiritual giants when actually we are not at all. Our family knows it, but we do not want our friends or anyone else to know. That may be what Moses’ motive was.

The Bridgeway Commentary looks at what happens when someone steeped in the old covenant (i.e. the Jews) places themselves under the new covenant:

In a sense there is still a veil that belongs to the old covenant. It is the veil that covers the minds of the Jews, for they read the Old Testament but refuse to see Christ as its fulfilment. Consequently, they cannot properly understand it (14-15). When Moses went in before the Lord he removed the veil. Similarly, when Jews turn to Jesus Christ, the veil is removed. Through the work of the Spirit, Christ sets them free from the bondage of sin and the law (16-17). Christians also must make sure that there is no veil between them and their Lord. The better they know Christ personally, the more they will be changed so that they become increasingly like him (18).

As Stedman continues, we see the challenge of what we’re doing here, going back and forth between two commentaries where the interpretation of what the veil represents, and its practical applications, differs.

Notice what that is saying. The apostle is very clear that the nature of the darkness, the blindness that lay over the minds of the Jews of his day, which he calls a “veil,” is the same veil that Moses put over his face. Now, obviously, the veil on Moses’ face was a material veil; it was made of cloth. Paul is not suggesting that the Jews walk around with cloth veils on their faces.

Stedman sees the fading taking place as “the terrible end of self-effort,”

… They do not see that the end of all their efforts to try to live a righteous life by their own human resources is going to end in death and condemnation and emptiness and a total sense of futility and waste. But yet, that is what happens.

Paul also calls it a “hardening,” by which he means it becomes a continual condition. It is a state of mind that they enter into. Now, the amazing thing is that, in our day, 2000 years after Paul, this is still true. You can see it in the Jews today. In Orthodox Judaism, and much of Reformed Judaism, and certainly in Liberal Judaism, they are still trying to make it before God on the basis of how they behave.

Again, it’s a longer selection, but if you’re going to read one of the links here to better understand the passage, I would choose either taking the 50 minutes to listen to the podcast link, or read Ray Stedman.

BibleRef returns us to the historical context:

Now Paul adds that the minds of the Israelites were hardened by sin. Even as Moses was receiving the commandments from God, Israel built an idol to worship instead of worshipping the Lord. This disobedience and betrayal of God resulted not just in punishment from Him but in a hardening of their minds to see His glory. The glory was revealed in God’s Word to them, but they could not, would not, see it.

Nobody can see God’s glory, Paul adds, because of this veil created by sin. It keeps us from understanding what is true until it is removed through Christ. In other words, only those who come to God through faith in Christ are freed from the veil and given the ability to begin to receive God’s glory. Why? Because in Christ, their sin is forgiven and replaced with Jesus’ righteousness.

On a later page, it adds,

We cannot remove this veil ourselves no matter how sincerely we want to or how diligently we study or how desperately we try to obey.

I held back verse 18 to the end so it might be our final thought:

NLT.2.Cor.3.18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.


Here is the link to the podcast by Mike Winger that got me interested in this text: Jesus is Prophesied in the Book of Proverbs. (The Corinthians passage comes up close to the end.)


Teaching the text — advice to pastors at WorkingPreacher.org from Karl Jacobson:

…[I]t may be necessary to say a quick word about the inter-testamental tension here. There may be a tendency, and perhaps even a temptation, to read this allegory of Paul’s as an outright rejection of the Old Testament. Phrases like “not like Moses,” and “their minds were hardened,” and even simply the “old covenant,” may seem to suggest that Paul is doing exactly this, rejecting “Moses” and his obscured, clouded, veiled word. But for Paul, there is no true disconnect between the Torah and the Testament to Christ. As the second reading from last week showed the gospel (or as 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 has it, the truth) is very much in keeping with the Old Testament, with the scriptures of the tradition.

At stake here are questions of antinomianism, of supersessionism, of simplistic ideas of “Old Testament = Law, bad and New Testament = Gospel, good.” Along with these often goes “Christian believer = good, Jewish believer = bad.” This is not, finally, what Paul is about. Paul does not dismiss the Old Testament.

At the same time the essential claim for Christ is an essential claim, it is particular, and quite uncompromising. While Paul does not reject the Old Testament, the old covenant, he does argue for a particular reading of it, one that is possible only in the Spirit, who brings freedom from blindness, and veiled minds (3:17)…

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