In the second half of 2 Corinthians 3, Paul continues to use Moses as he speaks to the Corinthians. It seems likely that the false teachers opposing Paul were overemphasizing Moses and the law and underemphasizing the covenant brought by Jesus. This would explain why Paul continues on the Moses track as he contrasts the fading glory of Moses’ ministry with the “surpassing glory” (v. 10) of “that which lasts” (v. 11). Strictly speaking, Paul is not arguing the new covenant’s superiority to the old—that’s assumed. He’s building on that assumption by pointing out the greater glory of the superior covenant.
He sees Moses’ veiling himself as preventing Israel from seeing the truth of the covenant’s diminishing glory—and that a similar veil remained over Israel in his time when the Torah (Moses) was read and Christ wasn’t seen in it (v. 14-15). This goes back to his discussion in the first part of the chapter about how the covenant brought by Moses had remained an external letter to them rather than being internalized and leading to life (see Letters and life). In the same way, most of Israel in Paul’s day was doing the same thing. But not all! “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (v. 16). Even if they were reading the Torah! (After all, this was what Paul used as his basis for speaking about Christ in the synagogue). Remember, it wasn’t what they were reading but how they were reading that made the difference. When they internalized the message and allowed the Spirit to write on their hearts it led to life and freedom (v. 17). When the message wasn’t, it led to death (see 4:3-4 where Paul speaks of his gospel being veiled).
Paul goes on to say that with our “unveiled faces” (i.e., hearts and minds open to the Spirit), we are able to “contemplate the Lord’s glory” (v. 18). With our hearts open in such a manner, the Spirit is able to write on them in regard to “the Lord’s glory.” In other words, we see God and Jesus in ways we never imagined as unbelievers. And this should continue throughout our life. As this happens, all of us (not just a single person like Moses), find ourselves “being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory” (v. 18). While the glory associated with Moses was diminishing, the glory associated with Jesus is “ever-increasing” (v. 18). The closer we come to God the more we reflect His glory.
This says something powerful and needed about our life in the wilderness. God is with us in an intimate way—revealing His glory and transforming our lives into His image. Environment is not omnipotent—God is! In the midst of whatever we face, as we live with hearts open and minds alert, we are facing God and being made the better for it.