27. The Radiance of Christ
Gleanings in the Godhead
Part 2: Excellencies Which Pertain to God the Son as Christ
27. The Radiance of Christ
The law had "a shadow of good things to come" (Heb. 10:1). A beautiful illustration of this is in the closing verses of Exodus 34, where Moses descends from the mount with a radiant face. The key to the passage is found in noting the exact position it occupies in this book of redemption. It comes after the legal covenant which Jehovah made with Israel; it comes before the actual setting up of the tabernacle and the Shekinah glory filling it. This passage is interpreted in 2 Corinthians 3. Exodus 34 supplies both a comparison and a contrast with the new dispensation of the Spirit, of grace, of life more abundant. But before that dispensation was inaugurated God saw fit for man to be tested under Law, to demonstrate what he is as a fallen and sinful creature.
Man’s trial under the Mosaic economy demonstrated two things: first, that he is "ungodly"; second, that he is "without strength" (Rom. 5:6). But these are negative things. Romans 8:7 mentions a third feature of man’s terrible state, namely, that he is "enmity against God." This was manifest when God’s Son tabernacled for thirty-three years on this earth. "He came unto his own, and his own received Him not" (John 1:11). Not only so, but also He was "despised and rejected of men." Nay, more, they hated Him "without a cause" (John 15:25). Nor could their hatred be appeased until they had condemned Him to a malefactor’s death and nailed Him to the cross. Remember it was not only the Jews who put to death the Lord of glory, but also the Gentiles. Therefore the Lord said, when looking forward to His death, "Now is the judgment of this world" (John 12:31), not of Israel only. There the probation or testing of man ended.
Man is not now under probation; he is under condemnation: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10-12). Man is not on trial; he is a culprit under sentence. No pleading will avail; no excuses will be accepted. The present issue between God and the sinner is, will man bow to God’s righteous verdict?
This is where the Gospel meets us. It comes to us as to those who are already lost, to those who are "ungodly," "without strength," "enmity against God." It announces to us the amazing grace of God, the only hope for poor sinners. But grace will not be welcomed until the sinner bows to the sentence of God against him. That is why both repentance and faith are demanded from the sinner. These two must not be separated. Paul preached "repentance toward God. and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Repentance is the sinner’s acknowledgement of that sentence of condemnation under which he lives. Faith is acceptance of the grace and mercy extended to him through Christ. Repentance is not turning over a new leaf and vowing to mend our ways. Rather it is setting to my seal that God is true when He tells me I am "without strength," that in myself my case is hopeless, that I am no more able to "do better next time" than I am to create a world. Not until this is really believed (not as the result of experience, but on the authority of God’s Word) shall we really turn to Christ and welcome Him—not as a Helper, but as a Savior.
As it was dispensationally, so it is experimentally. There must be "a ministration of death" (2 Cor. 3:7) before there is a "ministration of spirit" or life (2 Cor. 3:8): there must be "the ministration of condemnation" before "the ministration of righteousness" (2 Cor. 3:9). A "ministration of condemnation and death" falls strangely on our ears, does it not? A "ministration of grace" we can understand: but a "ministration of condemnation" is not so easy to grasp. But this latter was man’s first need. He must be shown what he is in himself—a hopeless wreck, utterly incapable of meeting the righteous requirements of a holy God—before he is ready to be a debtor to mercy alone. We repeat: as it was dispensationally, so it is experimentally. It was to his own experience that the apostle Paul referred when he said, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9). In his unregenerate days he was, in his own estimation, "alive," yet it was "without the law," apart from meeting its demands. "But when the commandment came," when the Holy Spirit wrought within him, when the Word of God came in power to his heart, then "sin revived." He was made aware of his awful condition, and then he "died" to his self-righteous complacency. He saw that, in himself, his case was hopeless. Yes, the appearing of the glorified Mediator comes not before, but after, the legal covenant.
"And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" (Ex. 34:28). Our passage abounds in comparisons and contrasts. The "forty days" here at once recalls the "forty days" in Matthew 4. Here it was Moses; there it was Christ. Here it was Moses on the mount; there it was Christ in the wilderness. Here it was Moses favored with a glorious revelation from God; there it was Christ being tempted of the devil. Here it was Moses receiving the Law at the mouth of Jehovah; there it was Christ being assailed by the devil to repudiate that Law. We scarcely know which is the greater wonder of the two: that a sinful man was raised to such a height of honor as to spend a season in the presence of the great Jehovah, or that the Lord of glory. Should stoop so low as to be for six weeks with the foul fiend.
"And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shown while he talked with him" (Ex. 34:29). Blessed it is to compare and contrast this second descent of Moses from the mount with what is before us in chapter 32. There the face of Moses is diffused with anger (v. 19); here he comes down with countenance radiant. There he beheld a people engaged in idolatry; here he returns to a people abashed. There we behold him dashing the tables of stone to the ground (v. 19); here he deposits them in the ark (Deut. 10:5).
This event also reminds us of a New Testament episode, very similar, yet dissimilar. It was on the mount that the face of Moses was made radiant, and it was on the mount that our Lord was transfigured. But the glory of Moses was only a reflected one, whereas that of Christ was inherent. The shining of Moses’ face was the consequence of his being brought into the immediate presence of the glory of Jehovah; the transfiguration of Christ was the outshining of His own personal glory. The radiance of Moses was confined to his face, but of Christ we read, "His raiment was white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). Moses "knew not" that the skin of his face shone; Christ did, evident from His words, "Tell the vision to no man" (Matthew 17:9).
Verse 29 brings out what is the certain consequence of intimate communion with the Lord, and in a twofold way. First, no soul can enjoy real fellowship with God without being affected by it to a marked degree. Moses had been absorbed in the communications received and in contemplating His glory. His own person caught and retained some of the beams of that glory. So it is still (Ps. 34:5, R.V.), "They looked upon Him, and their faces were radiant." It is communion with the Lord that conforms us to His image. We shall not be more Christlike until we walk more frequently and more closely with Him. "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" (2 Cor. 3:18).
The second consequence of real communion with God is that we will be less occupied with ourselves. Though Moses’ face shone with "a light not seen on land or sea," he did not know it. This illustrates a vital difference between self-righteous Pharisaism and true godliness; the former produces complacency and pride, the latter leads to self-abnegation and humility. The Pharisee (there are many of his tribe still on earth) boasts of his attainments, advertises his imaginary spirituality, and thanks God he is not as other men. But the one who, by grace, enjoys much fellowship with the Lord learns of Him who was "meek and lowly in heart," and says, "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory" (Ps. 115:1). Engaged with the beauty of the Lord, he is delivered from self-occupation, and is therefore unconscious of the very fruit of the Spirit being brought forth in him. But though he is not aware of his increasing conformity to Christ, others are.
"And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him" (Ex. 34:30). This shows us the third effect of communion with God. Though the individual himself is unconscious of the glory manifested through him, others recognize it. Thus it was when two of Christ’s apostles stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13, italics added). We cannot keep company very long with the Holy One without His imprint being left upon us. The man who is thoroughly devoted to the Lord does not need to wear some badge in his coat lapel, nor to proclaim that he is "living a life of victory." It is still true that actions speak louder than words.
"And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of His face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him." The typical meaning of this is given in 2 Corinthians 3:7, "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." Concerning this, Ed Dennett has said:
Why, then, were they afraid to come near him? Because the very glory that shone upon his face searched their hearts and consciences—being what they were, sinners, and unable of themselves to meet even the smallest requirements of the covenant which had now been inaugurated. It was of necessity a ‘ministration’ of condemnation and death, for it required a righteousness from them which they could not render, and inasmuch as they must fail in the rendering it, would pronounce their condemnation, and bring them under the penalty of transgression, which was death. The glory which they thus beheld upon the face of Moses was the expression to them of the holiness of God—that holiness which sought from them conformity to its own standards, and which would vindicate the breaches of that covenant which had now been established. They were therefore afraid because they knew in their inmost souls that they could not stand before Him from whose presence Moses had come.
Typically the covenant Jehovah made with Moses and Israel at Sinai, and the tables of stone on which the ten commandments were engraved, foreshadowed a new covenant.
For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God (Ezek. 36:24-28).
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah . . . After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write in their hearts . . . And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord (Jer. 31:31-34).
Spiritually, this is made good for Christians even now. Under the gracious operations of the Spirit of God our hearts have been made plastic and receptive. Paul refers to this at the beginning of 2 Corinthians 3.
The saints at Corinth had been manifested to be Christ’s epistle ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tables, but on fleshy tables of the heart. Their hearts being made impressionable by Divine working, Christ could write upon them, using Paul as a pen, and making every mark in the power of the Spirit of God. But what is written is the knowledge of God as revealed through the Mediator in the grace of the new covenant, so that it might be true in the hearts of the saints—"They shall all know Me." Then Paul goes on to speak of himself as made competent by God to be a new covenant ministry, "not of the letter, but of the spirit." (C. A. Coates).
"And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him; and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face" (Ex. 34:31-33). Does not this explain their fear as they beheld the shine of Moses’ face? Note what was in his hands! He carried the two tables of stone on which were written the ten words of the Law, the "ministration of condemnation." The nearer the light of the glory came, while it was connected with the righteous claims of God upon them, the more cause they had to fear. That holy Law condemned them, for man in the flesh could not meet its claims. "However blessed it was typically, it was literally a ministry of death, for Moses was not a quickening spirit, nor could he give his spirit to the people, nor could the glory of his face bring them into conformity with himself as the mediator. Hence the veil had to be on his face" (C. A. Coates).
The dispensational interpretation of this is given in 2 Corinthians 3:13: "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." Here the apostle treats of Judaism as an economy. Owing to their spiritual blindness Israel was unable to discern the deep significance of the ministry of Moses, or the purpose of God behind it, that to which all the types and shadows pointed. The "end" of 2 Corinthians 3:13, is parallel with Romans 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."
The veil on Israel’s heart is self-sufficiency, which makes them still refuse to submit to God’s righteousness. But when Israel’s heart turns to the Lord the veil will be taken away. What a wonderful chapter <0234001>Exodus 34 will be to them then! For they will see that Christ is the spirit of it all. What they will see, we are privileged to see now. All this had an "end" on which we can, through infinite grace, fix our eyes. The "end" was the glory of the Lord as the Mediator of the new covenant. He has come out of death and gone up on high, and the glory of all that God is in grace is shining in His face (C. A. Coates).
"But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him" (v. 34-35). Moses unveiled in the presence of the Lord is a beautiful type of the believer of this dispensation. The Christian beholds the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Therefore, instead of being stricken with fear, he approaches with boldness. God’s Law cannot condemn him, for its every demand has been fully met and satisfied by his Substitute. Hence, instead of trembling before the glory of God, we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2).
There is no veil now either on His face or our hearts. He makes those who believe on Him to live in the knowledge of God, and in response to God, for He is the quickening Spirit. And He gives His Spirit to those who believe. We have the Spirit of the glorious Man in whose face the glory of God shines. Is it not wonderful? One has to ask, Do we really believe it? But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). If we had not His Spirit we should have no liberty to look on the glory of the Lord, or to see Him as the Spirit of these marvelous types. But we have liberty to look on it all, and there is transforming power in it. Saints under the new covenant ministry are transfigured.
This is the ‘surpassing glory’ which could not be seen or known until it shone in the face of Him of whom Moses in Exodus 34 is so distinctly a type. The whole typical system was temporary, but its ‘spirit’ abides, for Christ was the Spirit of it all. Now we have to do with the ministry of the new covenant subsists and abounds in glory (C. A. Coates).
The authority of Paul’s apostleship had been called into question by certain Judaizers. In the first verses of 2 Corinthians 3 he appeals to the Christians there as the proof of his God-commissioned ministry. He defines the character of his ministry (v. 6) to show its superiority over that of his enemies. He and his fellow gospelers were "ministers of the new testament" or covenant. He then draws a series of contrasts between the two covenants, Judaism and Christianity. What pertained to the old is called "the letter," and that relating to the new "the spirit." One was mainly concerned with what was external, the other was largely internal; the one slew, the other gave life, one of the leading differences between the Law and the Gospel.
In what follows, the apostle, while allowing the Law was glorious, shows that the Gospel is still more glorious. The old covenant was a "ministration of death," for the Law could only condemn. Therefore, though a glory was connected with it, yet it was such that man in the flesh could not behold (v. 7). Then how much more excellent would be, must be, the glory of the new covenant, seeing it was "a ministration of the spirit" (v. 8). Compare verse 3 for proof of this. If there were a glory connected with what "concluded all under sin" (Gal. 3:22), much more glorious that ministration must be which announced a righteousness "unto all and upon all them that believe" (Rom. 3:22). It is more glorious to pardon than to condemn; to give life than to destroy (v. 9). The glory of the former covenant therefore pales into nothingness before the latter (v. 10), further seen from the fact Judaism is "done away," whereas Christianity "remaineth" (v. 11). Compare Hebrews 8:7-8.
The apostle draws still another contrast (v. 12) between the two economies, namely the plainness or perspicuity over against the obscurity and ambiguity of their respective ministries (vv. 12-15). The apostle used "great plainness of speech," while the teaching of the ceremonial law was by shadows and symbols. Moreover, the minds of the Israelites were blinded, so that there was a veil over their eyes. Therefore, when the writings of Moses were read they were incapable of looking beyond the type to the Antitype. This veil remains upon them to this day, and will continue until they turn to the Lord (vv. 15-16). Literally the covenant of Sinai was a ministration of condemnation and death, and the glory of it had to be veiled. But it had an "end" (v. 13) which Israel could not see. They will see that end in a coming day. But in the meantime we are permitted to read the old covenant without a veil, and to see that Christ is the "spirit" of it all.
The language of verse 17 is somewhat obscure: "Now the Lord is that Spirit," which does not mean that Christ is the Holy Spirit. The "spirit" here is the same as in verse 6, "not of the letter, but of the spirit" (cf. Romans 7:6). The Mosaic system is called "the letter" because it was purely objective and possessed no inward principle or power. But the Gospel deals with the heart, and supplies the spiritual power (Rom. 1:16). Moreover, Christ is the spirit, the life, the heart and center of all the ritual and ceremonialism of Judaism. He is the key to the Old Testament, for "in the volume of the book" it is written of Him. So also Christ is the spirit and life of Christianity. He is "a quickening spirit" (1 Cor. 15:45). And "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Apart from Christ, the sinner, be he Jew or Gentile, is in bondage; he is the slave of sin and the captive of the devil. But where the Son makes free, He frees indeed (John 8:32).
Finally, the apostle contrasts the two glories, the glory connected with the old covenant—the shining on Moses’ face at the giving of the Law with the glory of the new covenant, in the person of Christ. "But we all, with open [unveiled] 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." Note here, first, "we all." Moses alone beheld the glory of the Lord in the mount; every Christian now beholds it. Second, "with open face," with freedom and with confidence; whereas Israel was afraid to gaze on the radiant and majestical face of Moses. Third, we are "changed into the same image." The law had no power to convert or purify; but the ministry of the Gospel, under the operation of the Spirit, has a transforming power. Those who are saved by it and who are occupied with Christ as set forth in the Word (the "mirror"), are, little by little, conformed to His image. Ultimately, when we "see him as he is" (1 John 3:2), we shall be "like him"—full, perfectly, eternally.