What does 2 Cor 3:18 mean? Is this the moral glory of the Lord Jesus as a man on earth? Or is it His glory as a man in heaven?
This verse has been the subject of much discussion and debate, and is difficult to explain without looking at the context more fully than space allows. Briefly, Paul is showing the superior glory of the gospel ministry in which he is engaged, and is contrasting it with the limitations of the Old Testament system. When he preached Christ, he was offering what Moses never could have offered: life was communicated (v6), lastingness was guaranteed (v11), liberty was enjoyed (v17), and likeness (to the Lord) was possible (v18), because of the New Covenant based on the sacrifice of Christ.
It may be best to go through the verse taking the words in their order. “But we all” – the contrast is with Moses who alone went in to the presence of God with his face unveiled. All Christians now have this freedom. We have turned to the Lord, and the veil has been removed. There is an openness of face now which is permanent, in contrast to Moses, who later put a veil on when addressing the Israelites. The glory of the law still had condemnation, hence the need for a veil on Moses face. But the gospel preacher, and all Christians, can not only enjoy the freedom of access to the Lord, but can present the message with unrestricted confidence to others.
“With open face beholding” – Just as Moses went in to God’s presence and received revelations, we too can gaze upon the unveiled face of Christ in glory and learn more of the final and fuller revelation that is in Him. This of course has a practical challenge but, really, it is the essence of what it is to be a Christian. A lot of discussion has taken place about whether the idea of a mirror or of reflection is in the text. Most prefer the view that it is simply “beholding” the glory of the Lord, without including the thought of a mirror. It is stretching this text too far to introduce the idea of looking into the Word of God to see Christ.
“The glory of the Lord” is without question the glory of the risen Lord, which Paul first saw in Acts 9. While we may contemplate the life of Christ on earth, this in itself would never have brought in the new covenant. It is the Christ who has atoned for our sins and been raised again, that gives the Christian these blessings. Note that it is not simply beholding the Lord, but the “glory” of the Lord. This is what makes earthly things recede in importance. Not unrelated is the truth of Colossians 3:1-4.
“Are changed into the same image” – The effect will be continual transformation (same word used of the transfiguration, and in Rom 12:2), until eventually, we are “in glory to His own blest likeness brought.” God’s purpose is to reproduce the image of His Son upon His “many sons” (Heb 2:10).
“From glory to glory” – This change springs from contemplating His glory, and brings us to the ultimate glory which He will share with us, as in John 17.
“Even as by the Lord the Spirit” – The power to produce all of this is the Lord Himself, in oneness with the Spirit. This is an inward and gradual change. As we occupy ourselves with Christ and all that He is in glory, this change will become manifest in our lives before others.
– John Fleck, N. Ireland