"The glory that excels" is Paul's theme in 2 Corinthians 3. Here Paul presents the new covenant in contrast to the law of Moses. We find this same contrast presented in Galatians 4 and Hebrews 8.
In his letter to the saints at Corinth, the apostle Paul speaks of the superior glory of the new covenant:
2 Corinthians 3:6-11: ... "who also made us sufficient as ministers of the 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, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, ... how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious."
Paul speaks of himself and Timothy (2 Corinthians 1:1) as ministers of the new covenant.
The Mosaic covenant is called the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation, for the law was given to show sin to be exceedingly sinful (Rom. 7:7-13). In this way, mankind becomes aware of his sinful nature, and recognizes his need of a Saviour.
By contrast, the new covenant is called the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness. The saints are reckoned righteous by means of the indwelling spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9-10). And Jesus says that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
The ministry of the Spirit is "more glorious". The ministry of righteousness "exceeds much more in glory". The new covenant is associated with the "glory that excels". Finally, the Mosaic covenant is "passing away", whereas the new covenant "remains".
In his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul speaks of two covenants:
Galatians 4:21-29,31: "Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar -- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children -- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. ... Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. ... So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free."
The Mosaic covenant is associated with Mount Sinai and the bondage of the law, the earthly Jerusalem, and the flesh.
By contrast, the new covenant is associated with the Jerusalem above, with freedom, with promise, and with the Spirit.
Paul explains that those who follow the Mosaic covenant are under the bondage of the law. By contrast, the saints enjoy the liberty of the new covenant, which is associated with the "heavenly Jerusalem":
Hebrews 12:24: "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, ... to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant," ...
The writer to the Hebrews also contrasts the Mosaic or first covenant with the new or second covenant:
Hebrews 8:6-9, 12-13: "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; ... For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.' ... In that He says, 'A new covenant', He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."
Christ has obtained a "more excellent ministry" -- the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness. He is Mediator of a better covenant which is associated with better promises.
The Mosaic covenant was imperfect, and so a second and better covenant was established at the death of Christ (Hebrews 9:15-17).
The new covenant is not like the covenant made with the forefathers at the Exodus. It is a new and different covenant -- not based on the law, but on the forgiveness of sins and imputed righteousness (Rom. 4:11,24).
Finally, the first covenant is "obsolete ... growing old ... ready to vanish away".
In the New Testament letters, the new covenant is presented in contrast to the law of Moses.
The Mosaic covenant is called the "ministry of death" and "the ministry of condemnation". It is that covenant which is associated with the bondage of the law, earthly Jerusalem, and the flesh. The Mosaic covenant is said to be "passing away ... obsolete ... growing old ... ready to vanish away".
By contrast, the new covenant is called the "ministry of the Spirit" and the "ministry of righteousness". It is that covenant which is associated with freedom, with promise, with the Jerusalem above, and with the Spirit. The new covenant is associated with the "glory that excels" and is that covenant which "remains".
Jesus is the "surety of a better covenant" (Hebrews 7:22) which brings in a "better hope" (Hebrews 7:19). He is "Mediator of a better covenant ... established on better promises." (Hebrews 8:6)
The Mosaic covenant is a "shadow" which points to the "substance" of the new and better covenant which is of Christ. (Col. 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1).
Hebrews 9:26,28: ... "but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. ... so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation."
[All scriptural quotations are taken from the NKJV unless marked
Copyright © 1996 by Deborah Cox
All Rights Reserved.