2 Corinthians 3:18
Ever-increasing Eikonic Reflection
Closing out chapter 3 is a deeply eschatological verse (speaking of our end goal and our present trajectory thereto). As he begins the verse, there is a definite dividing line between those who’ve been graced and mercied by the Lord who is the Spirit and those whose minds are still darkened, whose hearts are veiled from the truth. Although the latter remain veiled, the former have been given illumination. The veil has been lifted. They freely see Christ for who he said he was, for who Moses proclaimed him to be.
The image in v. 18 is beautiful. God’s elect are beholding the glory of the Lord. This imagery points us back to the glory of the Lord that filled the Tabernacle in Moses’ day (Exodus 40:34-38). It also harkens back to Jesus’ high priestly prayer for us to see the glory that the Father gave the Son (John 17:24). We are better off than Moses, because we are beholding the fullness of the Lord’s glory. But what is the glory of the Lord in this verse? Wrong question. Who is the glory of the Lord? Answer: the Lord, who is Christ himself! Another way of reading the “glory of the Lord” is, “the glory, which is the Lord.” Verse 18 is connected to 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6. In 4:4, Paul tells us that the glory of Christ is the image of God (eikōn). Then in 4:6, he says that the glory of God is shone in the face of Jesus Christ. To behold the glory of the Lord, then, is to behold Christ, who is the perfect image of God. Herman Ridderbos, connecting 3:18 with 4:4, says, “When in this context he [Christ] is called at the same time the Image of God, this is to say nothing less than that in him the glory of God, indeed God himself, becomes manifest.”
The term that Paul uses for “beholding” is better translated “reflecting.” The noun form of this verb just means “mirror,” and the verb form can be properly translated “mirroring” or “reflecting in a mirror.” Since there’s a direct object in the sentence (i.e., “glory”), choosing “reflect” will work well. Connecting this fact of reflection with the truth that the glory of the Lord is Christ the Risen and Ascended Lord, we are reflecting/mirroring Christ. How can this stunning reality be real? Because we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We are in the Son. Like Son, like son. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23), and now from an already-not-yet perspective, we are becoming more like the Firstfruits, as our old man passes away and is put off, and the new man reigns and is regularly put on (Eph. 4; Col. 3). It ought to go without saying that this reflection is dependent upon that which it reflects. When you look at yourself in the mirror, your self-reflection depends on the original you. Similarly, when we reflect the glory of the Lord, it’s Christ the Lord as Original upon whom our reflection depends. No Son, no son. No Image, no image.
As we are beholding/reflecting Christ, furthermore, our very transformation (metamorphosis) into Christ is taking place. We’re being transformed into the same image (eikōn). What image? The Image! We are being transformed more and more like Christ (1 Cor. 15:49). This is because we, by grace, are seeing him as he is (1 John 3:2). Our God has predestined us to be conformed to this very Image (Rom. 8:29). Christ has come. The veil has been lifted. He has set us free from guilty and polluted hearts, darkened minds, and sin-scaled eyes.
All this talk about imaging God brings us back to Genesis 1:26-27. We were all created in God’s image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Although that image has been defaced, and although knowledge, righteousness, and holiness were lost at the Fall (Gen. 3; James 3:9), that image is being renewed (Col. 3:10). But it’s not being merely restored to the original image at creation. God’s goal for our image-renewal is not a return to Eden. Our image-renewal is “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). What is that other degree? It’s the glory-degree of the Son of God as incarnate, risen, and ascended. That’s what I meant when I began this post by saying that this verse is deeply eschatological. Adam and Eve weren’t promised a stagnant state of integrity upon obedience to the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were promised life (Gen. 2:17). That reward of life, as seen in the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9), was eternal life in the Son (John 3:16). They were created in God’s image, that they might image the Image, the eternal Son of God, their reward. What other conclusion could we come to when we are faced with God’s expressed goal of bringing his many sons to glory as they are ever-increasingly conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29)?
This transformation, Paul concludes, comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. What else do you expect from the Last Adam who became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45)? This transformation is a divine operation. Only the Son can transform the sons into the Son from one degree of glory to another. Who but God himself has the qualifications to change image-distorters into Image-reflectors? This verse is yet another testimony of the astounding grace of our God who works to make us more like him for his glory.
 Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 70 [Eerdmans].