Understanding the Bible depends a lot upon the context. A part of the context is audience relevance. In other words, to whom were the words originally spoken and what did they mean to that audience. Many would be expositors treat the Bible as though it has no historical or cultural context. This leads them to impose all kinds of applications that are beyond what the writer ever intended.
In our verses listed above, i.e. 2 Cor. 4:10-14, they are found within the context of "covenantal change". By that, we mean a transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. This change is not consecutive but concurrent. One covenant is on the way to obsolescence while the other is being inaugurated. (Heb. 8:13). Failure to grasp this fundamental contextual background creates errors in interpretation.
In chapter three, the text discusses a change from the Covenant of Moses to the Covenant of Christ. Such terms for the Old Covenant are:
- Glory (fading)
- Veiled Image of Moses
On the other hand, the New covenant is describe in terms such as:
- More Glory (eternal)
- Unveiled Image of Christ
The Hope of the Gospel
The transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is the one hope of the gospel. That has a deeply significant implication. Since the covenant and the promises belonged to ancient Israel, Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5, (not to be confused with the modern state). Israel's hope was resurrection from the dead, (Acts 24:14-15; 26;6-8), which is deliverance from sin-death for this is what defines the death of Christ and the Parousia, (Rom. 6:10; 11:26-27; Heb. 9:28)
The transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is is described from a Greek term from which we derive our word metamorphosis. It means a change in form which occurs after the original or initial form. The change being initiated was carried on through the eschatological Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit poured out in the last days according to Joel's prophecy, (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-20).
However, Micah defined the time frame of the work of the Holy Spirit as according to the days of Israel's coming out of Egypt. That means, it would occur over the 40 years beginning on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and continuing to the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70AD. It amounts to one generation.
Covenant Change Preceded By A Change of the Priesthood
According to Hebrews 7:11-12, a change of the covenant must be preceded by a change of the levitical priesthood. In other words, it is impossible for a covenant change to occur without first changing the priesthood. And, a change of priesthood and covenant also demands a change of the tabernacle.
This point helps one to understand why the Apostle spoke of the tabernacle (the tent or house made with hands) being dissolved in chapter 5:1. It stands over against the house not made with hands which is the kingdom of God, (See Dan. 2:34, 45; Acts 7:48-50; Heb. 12:28.
Now many people believe that Paul spoke of shedding our flesh as in dying physically or what is styled as biological death. This interpretation is forced because of a lack of understanding and appreciation for the covenantal change we've describe above. It stems from a surface versus careful reading of the text. One example of attempting to force-fit a biological death interpretation is seen when attempting to interpret 2 Cor. 4:10-12.
The Dying of the Lord Jesus
Paul wrote of their eschatological sufferings and said "we" are always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
The dying of the Lord was death to sin. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Rom. 6:10)
If it is the case that the dying of the Lord Jesus is death to sin, then it follows that the "life of Jesus" is resurrection from that death or salvation from sin.
Otherwise, the next verse would make no sense at all. "For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." So then death is working in us, but life in you". (2 Cor. 4:11-12).
How can physical death work in some members of the church but not in others? Are not all men appointed to die? Paul certainly did not teach that some who lived in the first century would not die.
We Versus You
The key to understanding Paul's language is to grasp the significance of his "we versus you" antithesis. "We" refers to the remnant from Judah. They were died to the law and were being transformed to the New Covenant of life. However, they could not receive their life until the goy, i.e. the Gentiles received. They are Paul's "you" in whom life was working. They were not under the law and were not allowed to enter that covenant. Thus, they were not dying to it. So death to the Old Covenant was working in the remnant while life was working in the Gentiles.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')", that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
God Will Raise Us Up With You
It was the hope of the remnant as expressed through Paul's "we" to be raised up with those who "lived" described as the "you." As we have established this is not a biological demise of the body, it therefore cannot be a resurrection to biological life. That which distinguished the difference between the "we" in whom death was working versus the "you" in whom life was working are the two covenants and the relationship of the believers to them.
Remember according to Acts 15 that some came down from Judea to Antioch saying that unless the Gentiles were circumcised and kept the law they could not be saved. After Paul and the elders met at the Jerusalem conference, they determined that this was an error and that they commanded no such thing.
Rather, Peter asked why tempt God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear, Acts 15:10. This is proof positive that the gospel distinguished for a time between the requirements for Judeans versus that of Gentiles (goy).
After Peter makes the statement, Peter said, but we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." Thus, as the Jews were dying to the Old Covenant, they hoped to receive the "life of Jesus" as the Gentiles, i.e. separated and apart from the Law.
The Outward Versus the Inward Man
In the next section, Paul discusses the inward versus the outward man. He says the outward man is perishing while the inward man is being renewed day by day. Commonly, it is believe that the outward man is the physical body, while the inward man is believed to be the soul or spirit as separate from the body.
Greek and Gnostic concepts of body and flesh versus a Hebraic mindset view the body as evil which the Hebrews did not. Man is fearfully and wonderfully made.
Paul uses outward and inward as covenantal terms. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Rom. 2:28-29).
How can there be an inward Jew and an outward Jew? Weren't they both circumcised, members of respective tribes, etc. Nothing in appearance distinguished them. It was the respective covenant which determined an outward Jew versus an inward Jew. The outward Jew did not have the Spirit of God. He had not submitted to the righteousness of God through the gospel. He was yet in the flesh (Old Covenant).
On the other hand, the inward Jew had accepted Christ, received the Spirit and began the process of dying to the Old Covenant aeon through the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:7-18). The inward man is the new man or the Lord Jesus Christ. See Eph. 4:22-24.
The light affliction through which those who were the following the inward man experience are the birth pangs and tribulation spoken of as preceding the new age. See Isaiah 26:16-21; Matt. 24:8, 21; Rom. 8:20-23.
The great tribulation would precede the parousia (return of Christ) and is directly connected to the resurrection of the dead, Dan. 12:1-3; Rev. 7:13-17.
From this context, Paul begins a discussion in chapter 5 further expounding upon the distinctions between the two covenants houses which he describes as the tabernacle made with hands, versus that made without hands.
Thus, the dying of the Lord in 2 Cor. 4:10-14 Jesus refers to the remnant of Israel who were dying to the Old Covenant or "body of Moses" and entering into the "body of Christ". The transition and transformation occurred over the 40 years between the interim of Jesus' death on the cross and his ascension until the Parousia of Christ when it was complete. This change of the two covenants is the outward man who was perishing while the inward man was being renewed. Eschatological resurrection is not a biological event of physical bodies rising from the graves but a covenantal change from the ministration of death to the ministration of life.