Session Five: From Glory to Glory
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
–Jeremiah 31:31-32 (NASB)
This is the fifth and final lecture in the series What About the New Covenant presented by D. Thomas Lancaster and produced by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). This sermon is the one that wraps everything up, at least hopefully. We’ve gone through the other four lectures and I’ve offered my thoughts and opinions. Let’s see how everything ends.
Lancaster says the above-quoted text from the New Covenant language in Jeremiah reminds him of the incident with the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). Moses smashed the first set of tablets, symbolizing how Israel broke the covenant, rebuked the people, then went back up the mountain to make atonement. He came back down with another set of tablets, symbolizing the renewal of the covenant.
It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the Lord had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.
–Exodus 34:29-35 (NASB)
There’s a lot going on in this paragraph in the Torah. The only time I’ve heard this passage explained before was on Christian radio, and the Pastor doing the teaching (I can’t recall who it was) used it as some sort of evidence to how bad the law was. I can’t remember his arguments, but it seemed more than a little allegorical and was yet another shot by the Church from its Replacement Theology arsenal. Lancaster gives this portion of scripture a fresh look.
When Moses was in the presence of God, his face took on the “radiance of the Divine Presence” but it eventually faded. The people were initially afraid of seeing the light of God’s Glory shining on Moses’ face but he called them back to him. When he was around people, he veiled his face, maybe to keep from scaring people, but maybe to keep them from realizing that the light eventually faded. Only when he was with God did he unveil his face and the shining glory returned to him. almost like Moses was being “recharged.”
This will all become important shortly as we get into Lancaster’s commentary on Paul’s midrash:
For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
–2 Corinthians 2:17 (NASB)
Lancaster and the rest of the FFOZ staff typically default to the ESV Bible when writing or teaching, but this time Lancaster switched to the NASB, explaining that the ESV Bible does a poor job at translating the verses he’s going to teach from. This matches what Pastor Randy told me one time, saying that he found the ESV Bible in general to give a certain amount of support to Replacement Theology by how it translates the original languages.
We start with Paul defending himself from allegations that he is not really an apostle because he was not commissioned as were the other apostles, by Yeshua (Jesus) during the Messiah’s “earthly ministry.” Paul explains that he did not come “peddling the word of God,” that is, asking for money, but he worked to support himself. He also said “we speak Christ in the sight of God,” explaining that he and his companions were commissioned by God as it were.
Then Paul got a little sarcastic (an attitude New Testament scholar Mark Nanos called “an ironic rebuke” in his book The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context).
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
–2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NASB)
Without stealing Lancaster’s thunder by explaining everything, he describes Paul as sarcastically asking if his Master or the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem, should have sent him out with a letter or recommendation, sort of like asking, “Should I have brought a note from my Mother?”
But he also says something interesting. He says “you,” his audience, “are our letter of recommendation,” indicating that their behavior, their lives changed by the knowledge of and faith in Messiah, are what establishes Paul’s “cred” as an apostle. But a letter written on hearts by the Spirit of God? Where have we heard that before?
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.
–Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NASB)
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
–Jeremiah 31:33 (NASB)
Lancaster says that Paul took those two passages, both of which end with the same declaration of Israel being His people and He being Israel’s God in New Covenant language, and leveraged them in this 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 commentary. Paul is continuing to establish himself as an apostle and emissary of the New Covenant, contrasting the Old Covenant and New Covenant, not that the conditions are different, because the Torah as the conditions, are the same between one covenant to the other, but that those conditions, written on stone tablets in the Old Covenant, are written on hearts by the Spirit of God in the New Covenant.
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
–2 Corinthians 3:4-11 (NASB)
Especially starting at verse 7, these scriptures are used by many Christian teachers and Pastors to substantiate the allegation that the Torah was “bad” and killed, and that it was replaced by the grace of Jesus which is “good” and gave life. I have to admit, if you had no context for interpreting Paul’s meaning, then “the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones” sounds pretty grim. The Torah brings death, the ministry of Moses was (and is) deadly, he seems to say. But look at the full message from the point of view of a val chomer or from lighter to heavier argument. I’ll paraphrase somewhat:
But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?
I guess this “ministry of death” thing needs some explanation. What brings death, obeying the Torah? That hardly seems likely since God gave Israel the Torah as the conditions of the Old Covenant at Sinai and, as we’ve seen these past several weeks, the Torah represents the conditions of the New Covenant as well. So how can the Old Covenant and the Torah be a “ministry of death?” What’s the difference between the Old and New Covenants?
Under the Old Covenant, if you disobey the conditions, thereby disobeying God, the consequences were exile and death. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). It’s not the Torah that brings death, and it is not fidelity to the Torah and to God that brings death, the ministry of death is disobedience and sin, the consequences for which, under the Old Covenant, bring death.
But as we’ve previously seen, under the New Covenant, the Torah or the conditions don’t change, it’s the people who change. It becomes possible for people to not sin at all thanks to what God does in the New Covenant, writing the Torah on people’s hearts so obedience to God becomes part of human nature. It is the ministry of righteousness because the people become righteous.
Paul is saying something like:
If you thought the Old Covenant came in tremendous glory, just you wait. The New Covenant comes with even much more glory, so much in fact that, by comparison, the shining of the New Covenant will make the light and glory of the Old Covenant seem like a dim night-light!
Paul isn’t saying that the Old Covenant had no glory, only that by comparison, the New Covenant, because it makes it basically impossible for people to sin, will seem so much more glorious. In a val chomer argument, the second condition cannot be true unless the first condition is true, so if the New Covenant has tremendous glory, the Old Covenant is glorious as well (present tense), just not quite so much.
Like the glow on Moses’ face, it was brilliant in its illumination, but it had a tendency to fade and needed to be renewed. Something like the pattern of Israel under the glorious Old Covenant. Israel’s faith tended to fade and they sinned, requiring repeated renewal efforts. Christianity has a similar problem but then, we’re still living in Old Covenant times, too. We do however have a pledge of the coming New Covenant, just as all believers do, Jew and Gentile alike.
Lancaster previously talked about a Heavenly Torah that, in order to be understood and accessed by man, had to be “clothed” so to speak, to “translate” from Heaven to Earth. The Torah of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul (Psalm 19:7), but since it exists in our world, it is also temporal. Basically, it’s glory “fades.” The Torah of Messiah in the New Covenant is the Supernal Torah and will never fade but instead, Messiah will reveal what is now concealed in the Torah, removing the veil, as it were, from the Torah and from in front of our eyes, so we can see the full glory, just as Moses saw God’s glory on the mountain.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
–Matthew 5:17-18 (NASB)
The Old Covenant does not change at all while Heaven and Earth are still here, but eventually, we get a New Heaven and New Earth, so the Old Covenant will eventually cease. Actually I had a problem with this example of Lancaster’s because what I see Yeshua (Jesus) saying is that the Torah, the conditions of the Old and New Covenants, don’t change as long as Heaven and Earth exist, so it seems that the conditions of even the New Covenant will change once we get a New Heaven and a New Earth. Of course, until then, we are living in Old Covenant times, holding only a pledge of the New Covenant through receiving the Holy Spirit, so the conditions are still with us under the Old Covenant and the emerging New Covenant.
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
–Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)
Sure, the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete, but that’s a long, drawn out process, and it won’t disappear until Messiah returns bringing the fully realized New Covenant with him.
Let’s finish up with chapter three of 2 Corinthians:
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
–2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NASB)
Lancaster goes through this line by line, but what I found important was how his interpretation of Paul redeemed Paul from the criticism of many Jewish people or for that matter, the mistaken understanding of many Christians, who saw Paul as anti-Torah and Law-free, and was teaching Jews and Gentiles to also forsake Torah and to believe the Torah was a “ministry of death”.
Lancaster describes why the Jewish people couldn’t simply obey the Torah as they had always done and have that be enough. It’s why there aren’t two paths to salvation, Moses for the Jews and Jesus for the Gentiles. Hear me out. I think this explanation makes sense.
Under the Old Covenant, as hard as a Jewish person might strive, being only human, sooner or later he would sin and require atonement under the conditions of that Covenant, that is, the Torah. When Israel sinned greatly and did not repent, the conditions of the Old Covenant required exile and death. Nothing in that Covenant made Jewish people “sin proof,” so to speak.
Look at Israel’s history. It’s glorious but it’s also terrible. How many exiles have there been? How many times has Jerusalem been destroyed? How many times has God (temporarily) withdrawn His presence from among Israel due to their “hearts of stone?”
But under the New Covenant, God makes it possible for Israel not to sin at all and further, God promises to forgive all of Israel’s sins past and present. Apprehending the first fruits of the New Covenant through faithfulness to Yeshua HaMashiach, the conditions of the Old Covenant and New Covenant, that is, the Torah, don’t change, so Jews are still required to perform the mitzvot, but God starts writing on their hearts, starts softening hearts, begins to lead His people Israel into the better promises of the New Covenant.
The veil is lifted and the concealed Torah is revealed. Israel is liberated, not from the Torah but liberated from sin.
What does from glory to glory mean?
From the glory of the Old Covenant, which was and is glorious indeed, but to the greater glory of the New Covenant, which will be eternal and in which all men will know God face to face, the way Moses knows God, not dimly through a mirror, as we know God now.
The glory of the Old Covenant forgives sin but does not make people sinless. The glorious New Covenant forgives all sins past and present, and then makes it possible for people to naturally obey God so that we will never again sin. The Old Covenant was and is good, but the New Covenant really is the better deal. It’s incredibly fabulous.
I’m kind of sad to see this study end. I was really enjoying it. Of course, I’ve got about a year’s worth of Lancaster’s Epistle to the Hebrews study to still work through, so it’s not like I’m out of material to review.
I deliberately left out quite a bit of detail from my reviews, so if these “meditations” have piqued your interest, I’d recommend you order the full five-disc set of audio CDs What About the New Covenant. May you be as illuminated as I have been.