In the first part of this chapter the apostle Paul explained how the Believers are the ambassadors
for God and that we are lovingly called epistles, or letters, from God.
Now he is going to explain the difference between the old and the new covenants that God made with His children. I want to start with verses 5 and 6 just for the connection.
Verses 5-8. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but
our sufficiency is of God;
6: Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
7. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
8. How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?"
The "ministration of death" was the law, given in Exodus 20.
The Ten Commandments promised death to all who didn't keep them.
The "ministration of the spirit" is the gospel of grace.
It promises eternal life to the Believer.
There's an interesting story about the giving of the Law. The law was given twice. The passage here refers to the second time it was given. There is a difference.
The first time God gave the law at Mount Sinai He wrote it on two tablets of stone and gave them to Moses along with a display of thunder and fire and a mighty voice that filled the people’s hearts with fear. Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” He called it “God’s fiery law.” It was absolutely rigid; it's principle, given in Exodus 21, was “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, burning for burning, wound for wound.” It demanded absolute righteousness. Whatever punishment a man deserved according to that law, he would receive.
Exodus. 20: 3-5; the first commandment was, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” Click on Exodus 32.
Before Moses got to the foot of the mountain with the law, the people had broken it. They had made an idol, a golden calf, and were dancing around it. Exodus 32:3-4. "And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. 4: And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt."
Moses knew if he had brought that law into the camp there would be God's condemnation and judgment. The holy law, of necessity, would have demanded the death of all the people, so Moses broke those tablets on the side of the mountain and came down empty-handed.
Exodus 32:19. "And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount."
Moses wasn't having a temper tantrum, he was saving their lives. When he broke those tablets, he became the intercessor between them and God and he pleaded with God to show them mercy. When he did this he gave us a foresight of Christ who would intercede between God and all mankind and even die on the cross for us.
God wanted to destroy these people and create a whole new nation from Moses. But Moses asked God to sacrifice his life instead and save the people, and God relented.
Moses was 80 years old at this time and I don't think he would look forward to having teen age children to raise when he was in his mid 90's! That wasn't the reason he offered himself. He did it because he loved those people more than his own life just as Christ loved us.
God called Moses up on the mountain again for forty days, and this time God gave the law tempered with mercy because He knew that the people couldn't keep it. They had already demonstrated that fact.
He incorporated a system of sacrifices into the law so the person who broke the law could come to God with a blood sacrifice for their sin. Those sacrifices pictured the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. It was still law, but it was law tempered with grace.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the law the second time, his face was shining because he had been in the presence of God. He put a veil over his face after he finished reading the law to the people because the glory was so bright the people couldn't look at him. When he went before the Lord again he took the veil off.
I always thought the reason for the veil was that the people couldn't stand the brightness of his face but we're told here that the glory was a fading glory and Moses didn't want the people to see the glory fade. The glory of the old covenant couldn't last because it depended on man.
The second giving of the law also proved to be a "ministration of death" and not salvation. It still demanded obedience that man isn't able to give.
Verse 9: "For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory."
The law had an element of glory, but the gospel of God's grace, called the "ministration of righteousness" exceeds it in glory! God's grace gives righteousness to man who has none of his own. Romans 10:4. "Christ came and fulfilled the law for righteousness to them that believe." The law had been given outlining the holy requirements of God and Christ fulfilled those requirements in our stead.
Even though the old covenant is called the "ministration of condemnation" it had a glory about it because it's real purpose was to show man his true state before God. It still serves to convict all men that we're sinners and that fact condemns all men to death.
Just think what a wonderful thing the gospel offers with it's promise of righteousness before God
and eternal life for every sinner who accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior!
Verse 10-11: "For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious."
When you consider it, the old covenant did have some glory because it was God speaking to man. It makes man face up to something we would never admit on our own, our true state before God. But when it's compared to the new covenant it really seems to have no glory because it couldn't make man righteous before God. The glory of the new covenant really excels because it promises righteousness to the sinner who accepts Christ as Savior.
The fact that the old covenant was given by God gave it a measure of glory, but the gospel of God’s grace is glorious just in itself.
Verse 11 contrasts the temporary character of the law and the permanent character of the gospel. “That which is done away” refers to Law and the Ten Commandments, "the ministration of death, written and engraved on stones." "That which remains" is the gospel.
We can't meet God's requirements if we are tested under the law, but through the blood of Jesus
shed on the cross for us, we can meet those requirements. Philippians 3: 9. “That I might
be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which
is through the faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
God can meet every sinner's need through faith in Christ Jesus.
Verses 12-13. "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
13. And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:"
Paul is telling it like it is. He "uses great plainess of speech,” stating that the glory of the gospel and the certainty of it, called "that which remaineth," in verse 11, will never fade.
I know some people believe that to say you're saved is a sin. They call it "the sin of presumption." They're not taking God at His Word. In fact, they're calling God a liar.
God tells me in His
Word that by trusting Him I can know my sins are forgiven. Acts 16:31: "And they said,
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." [And I did, and I am!]
We hold such a blessed position under grace. It seems as though under the law some of the most devoted Old Testament saints were never absolutely sure of their final salvation. Job was bewildered many times. He asked, in Job 14:14: "If a man die, shall he live again?" David asked for assurance many times. Psalm 51:11: "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me." When King Hezekiah was about to die, he was very upset. 2 Kings 20:2-3; "Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, 3: I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore." But they all professed faith in God.
Under this new covenant of grace, the soul that trusts in Jesus has absolute assurance of his
acceptance by God, because the sin question has been settled eternally.
Moses had seen some weird things done by the magicians in Egypt and being a careful man, he asked for visible proof that God existed and that He was the One who was dealing with him, and God gave it to him. Exodus 33:20-23. "And he [God] said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live. 21: And the LORD said, Behol, not realizing that the work has already been done by their Messiah on the cross of Calvary. They are trying to obtain God's favor by their own merit.
There are many Gentiles doing the same thing. They don't realize that the law utterly condemns them, and their only hope is in the blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When God’s chosen earthly people turn to God and accept Jesus as their Messiah, the veil of
un-belief will be removed from their hearts. They'll understand that the old covenant was
fulfilled by Jesus' sacrificial death and that ushered in the new covenant.
Mark 14:24. "And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many."
Their "heart turning to the Lord" applies to the individual Jew who believes as well as the nation of Israel. Many of the common people believed on Jesus when He was here the first time, but the leaders of the nation rejected Him. In the Tribulation period, many of the nation's leaders will believe and will turn to the Messiah and Israel will be restored as God's chosen nation.
Verse 17-18: "Now the Lord is that spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
The word "spirit" is used in two different ways in this verse. In the first part of the verse, it's used to describe the new covenant which is the gospel. In the second part, it refers to the Holy Spirit. The Lord is the basis of the new covenant and the provider of the new covenant. The types and pictures of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Him. Today the Holy Spirit reveals Him to the Believer and then reveals Him to the world through the Believer.
Under the old covenant, only one man, Moses, reflected the glory of the Lord. Under the new covenant, all Believers reflect the glory of the Lord.
There is one theme in the Old Testament and that is Christ. He's the Spirit and if you just see the letter and don't see Him, you've missed the reason God gave us His Book and His Son.
When we're occupied with the glory of Christ, we'll be changed into His image “from glory to
glory." It's not an instant change. It's a life centered on Jesus Christ. The Spirit of the Lord
provides this change in our life.
It's like looking in a mirror and seeing our reflection show some of the glory of the Lord in ourselves. The mirror we have is the Word of God, and in it we see the Lord Jesus revealed in all His glory, both in the old covenant as well as the new covenant.
The glory of the Lord that we see is His present glory, seated on God's right hand on the throne. One old saint said; “He shares the Father’s throne, He is the Head of the Church, possessor and bestower of all the fullness of divine grace, the coming Judge of the world, conqueror of every hostile power, intercessor for His own, and bearer of all the majesty which belongs to His Kingly office.” Verse 17, “The Lord is that spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”