Question: "What is the meaning of 'from glory to glory' in 2 Corinthians 3:18?"
Answer: “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 3:18, NASB).
With those few words—“from glory to glory”—Paul sums up our entire Christian life, from redemption and sanctification on earth, to our glorious eternal welcome into heaven. There is a great deal of content packed into those few words. It’s all so important that Paul labors at great length, from 2 Corinthians 2:14 through the end of chapter 5, to open his readers’ eyes to a great truth. Let’s see why that truth matters so much.
The same Greek word for “glory” is used twice in the phrase from glory to glory, yet each usage refers to something different. The first “glory” is that of the Old Covenant—the Law of Moses—while the second is that of the New Covenant, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Both have astonishing splendor.
The Old Covenant was given to Moses directly from God, written by God’s own finger (Exodus 31:18). That root of our Christian faith is glorious indeed; it’s the glory we’re coming “from.” Yet the New Covenant, the glory we’re going “to,” far surpasses that of the Old.
The transformation is from the glory of the Law. Like the stone it was written on, the Law was inflexible and absolute, applying to all Israelites without much regard for individual circumstances (Hebrews 10:28). Though holy, good, and righteous in itself (Romans 7:12), the Law was, for us sinners, the letter that kills us (2 Corinthians 3:6). The Law was an external force to control behavior. In addition, stone, despite its strength, is earthly and will eventually wear away. The Law was merely a temporary guardian (Galatians 3:23–25) until something better came along.
The transformation is to the glory of the New Covenant, which far surpasses the Old in every way. It forgives us of our sin and gives us sinners life (John 6:63). It is written on believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3), so our obedience to God springs up from within us by God-given desires rather than by threats of legal punishment. In place of a cold set of writings as a guide for pleasing God, we now have Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home with us, fellowshipping in loving intimacy, teaching us everything we must know and do (John 14:23; 16:13). That position in Christ is as permanent, eternal, and spiritual as God Himself, rather than temporary and earthly.
Paul is intent on directing Christians to focus on the spiritual glory of the New Covenant rather than physical glory of the Old, as many Jews in his day refused to do. He compared the two types of glory by recalling how Moses absorbed and reflected God’s glory for a time after being in his presence (2 Corinthians 3:7–11, 13; cf. Exodus 34:29–35). Though Moses’ glow had a spiritual cause, there was nothing spiritual about the effect—any person, regardless of his relationship with God, could see the glow on Moses’ face, which he covered with a veil.
Not so the glory of the New Covenant. That can be seen only with a believer’s spiritual eyes—what Paul is doing his best to open, so that we discern the gospel’s glory. So he writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
But, as we move from glory to glory, there’s something even more important about the glory of the New Covenant that Christians must understand: its supernatural power to transform us. And that brings us to God’s ultimate purpose and destination for every believer, to transform us into the image of his own beloved Son (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:28–30; Philippians 3:20–21).
Before he finishes with the topic of being transformed from glory to glory, Paul presents yet one more astonishing claim: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This is the invitation the Lord makes to all Christians, to have our lives radically transformed here and now, by opening our eyes to see the glorious journey He is taking us on “from glory to glory.”