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2 Corinthians 4:3-6

INTRODUCTION It’s a strange word, “transfiguration.” The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a “change in form or appearance” or “metamorphosis.” Such is the importance of the transfiguration of Christ on a high mountain that all three Synoptic Gospels recount the episode (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36). Sometimes overlooked is that immediately following the transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples must confront a demon who is torturing a young boy with epileptic-type symptoms. When the light of Christ shines brighter, the forces of darkness rise in opposition. This same dynamic is apparent in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, the text to which we now turn.   

BROADER CONTEXT OF 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6  The vocabulary of our passage echoes the preceding chapter. In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul describes the ministry of the New Covenant. Rather than affirming the traditional teaching that Moses had covered his face to protect his fellow Israelites from the blaze of the glory of God shining on Moses’s face (Exodus 34:35), Paul insists that the veil instead was meant to cover-up a troubling reality, that God’s glory on Moses’s visage was fading away (2 Cor. 3:13). The call of the New Covenant is for transparency; there is no longer any place for veils. Instead, we are to behold the glory of the Lord, a glory by which “we are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory” (2 Cor. 3:18b).     

2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6: CHRISTIAN TRANSFIGURATION The language of transfiguration from 2 Corinthians 3 sets up 2 Corinthians 4. The “ministry of the Spirit” introduced in 3:8 shuns “secrecy,” “shameful actions” and “deception” (4:2). Gone is the “ministry that brought death” (3:7) as typified by the stone tablets and Moses’s cover-up attempt. In its place is a stubborn refusal to “tamper with God’s word” (4:2a) accompanied by a confident “public announcement of the truth” (4:2b). 

Truth, however, does not have free reign; other forces are in-play. Paul returns to the metaphor of a veil, noting that those who are “on the road to destruction” (4:3) cannot perceive the glorious light of the gospel. Why? The “god of this age” has blinded the minds of those without faith (4:4). Unbelief is one symptom of an underlying spiritual conflict not always readily apparent, but nonetheless real.

Christ was transfigured on a mountaintop, and Paul believes that a similar transfiguration awaits the believer. Only light can overcome darkness (John 1:5) and God himself has chosen to shine in our hearts, giving us “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6), Christ who is the “image” (Gk. eikōn) of God. This is the divine work of sanctification, fostering a humble willingness to serve others. Paul notes: “We describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (4:5b).

FROM TEXT TO SERMON: APPLICATON Practical lessons emerge from our passage:

  1. Transfiguration results in transformation. The glory of the Lord always changes those whom it touches. To gaze at the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ burns away unworthy behaviors not pleasing to the Lord (4:2). God’s work of sanctification necessarily follows his work of pardon, conforming us to the image of Christ (3:18). The spiritual and the ethical are closely intertwined.

  2. Transfiguration empowers for service. The mountaintop of transfiguration was a resting place, not a dwelling place. They could have built shelters and taken up permanent residence on the mountain (Mark 9:5), but service called them back down the mountain to where the multitudes were. In the same way, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are slaves in service to others, for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 4:5b).

  3. Transfiguration provokes opposition. In Ephesians 5:11, Paul cautions: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (NIV). After the transfiguration, Jesus, Peter, James and John descended the mountain only to discover a demon-possessed boy whom the other disciples seemed powerless to deliver. Darkness does not willingly cede ground to the light. The “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) will attempt to keep as many people as possible blinded and veiled to the light of the gospel. God’s transforming work in our lives is a light the devil will go to any extreme to douse. Those attempting to reach others with the light of Christ must be prepared for spiritual conflict, offering “prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time” (Ephesians 6:18a).