The Exaltation of Christ
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (2:9–11)
When a Muslim with whom he was speaking slighted Christ, the nineteenth-century missionary Henry Martyn declared that he could not endure existence if Jesus were to be always dishonored (Constance E. Padwick, Henry Martyn [Chicago: Moody 1980], 225–26). His attitude is reminiscent of David’s, when he declared that “the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me” (Ps. 69:9). When the Lord is reviled and dishonored, those who love Him feel the pain of that reviling and dishonor.
Nothing else in history could possibly match the scorn and defamation that fallen, sinful, rebellious men inflicted upon the Son of God during His incarnation (2:6–8). But in the next three verses, which comprise the second half of this hymn of celebration, the apostle briefly depicts the magnificent and unequaled exaltation that the Father then bestowed on the Son. No passage of Scripture more beautifully portrays the depth of condescension and the height of exaltation experienced by Jesus Christ than does Philippians 2:5–11. The gospel message is not complete apart from these monumental realities.
It was because of “the joy set before Him” that Christ “endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). As Peter explains, the dominant theme of the Old Testament prophets was the suffering of the Messiah and His subsequent glory. They sought intensely “to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ [Messiah] within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1 Peter 1:11).
In 2:1–4, Paul establishes that the practical result of believers following the Lord’s example of humility is unity in the church.
If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Humility is the key to the unity in the church for which the apostle is so strongly appealing. It is the key for believers to be truly one in Jesus Christ as He is one with the Father (John 17:21).
In this day of overweening pride, self-love, and self-promotion, even among many professing Christians, it is important to understand that “whoever exalts himself shall be humbled” (Matt. 23:12). The self-righteous Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get,” was merely “praying … to himself,” not to God (Luke 18:11–12). Because he exalted himself, God would humble him (v. 14). Just as surely as God “gives grace to the humble,” He “is opposed to the proud” (1 Peter 5:5).
But for those who follow the Lord’s example of humility, who “have this attitude in [themselves] which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), there is promise of great reward. Like their Master, they will be exalted by their heavenly Father. As Jesus promised: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12; cf. Luke 14:11; 18:14). Echoing that principle, James said, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:10); and Peter wrote: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6). Philippians 2:5–11 is not simply a picture of the humiliation and exaltation of the Son of God. It is also a profound illustration of a divine principle that brings immeasurable blessing to God’s obedient and humble servants. By God’s matchless grace, just as they are humbled with Christ, they also will be glorified with Him. “The glory which You have given Me,” Jesus said, “I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:22).
The central truth of this hymn, as in this epistle and the entire New Testament, is the exalted sovereign lordship of Christ. Paul begins Philippians by proclaiming himself and Timothy to be “bond-servants of … the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1–2), and he ends the passage by declaring that one day “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:11). That cardinal truth of the gospel will be further developed later in this chapter.
The exaltation of Jesus Christ is nowhere more beautifully portrayed than in the first chapter of Hebrews.
In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.… And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’ … But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.’ ” (Heb. 1:2–3, 6, 8; cf. v. 13)
In the last days, only the exalted Son of God, Jesus Christ, will be worthy to take the scroll from His Father’s right hand and open it (Rev. 5:1–7). This scroll, which might be called the title deed to the universe, delineates Christ’s rightful inheritance of all creation, which He made and over which He will rule throughout all eternity (cf. Rev. 11:15). No wonder Paul exulted, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
The humble, incarnate Savior has been exalted as the almighty and sovereign Lord. Because of that, believers have the assurance that their redemption is certain and that their place in heaven is secured forever. He is also to be obeyed as divine Lord, and honored and worshiped throughout all time and eternity.
In the second half of this hymn, Paul presents four aspects of the Father’s exaltation of the Son: the source (2:9a), the title (2:9b), the response (2:10–11a), and the purpose (2:11b).
The Source of Christ’s Exaltation
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, (2:9a)
For this reason refers back to Jesus’ humiliation described in verses 6–8. His exaltation was “the joy set before Him” for which He willingly endured the cross, despised the shame, suffered the hostility of sinners, and was seated “at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2–3). The way to exaltation is always through humiliation. If that principle was true for the Son of God, how much more is it true for His followers?
Highly exalted translates the compound verb huperupsoō, composed of huper (over) and hupsoō (to lift, or raise up). God lifted up His beloved Son in the most magnificent way possible. It involved four steps upward: His resurrection, His ascension, His coronation, and His intercession.
First, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. When the women came to the tomb where Jesus had been buried, the angel said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). Peter explained to his hearers at Pentecost that “this Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32; cf. Rom. 1:4). Later, after being released from prison in Jerusalem, Peter and the other apostles with him testified before the Sanhedrin: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross” (Acts 5:30; cf. 13:33–39). Many years later, Paul wrote that God the Father “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20).
The second aspect of the Father’s exaltation of Jesus was His ascension. When the Lord appeared to Mary Magdelene after His resurrection He “said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” ’ ” (John 20:17). Later, after He had given last instructions to the eleven on the Mount of Olives, “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9; cf. John 14:2; 16:7; Heb. 4:14). As Paul explained to Timothy, Jesus was “taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
The third aspect of Jesus’ exaltation was His coronation. When giving the Great Commission, Jesus proclaimed, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Having ascended, Jesus “is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven” (1 Peter 3:22). Peter and the others testified to the Sanhedrin that “[Jesus] is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). As Stephen was about to die, “being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ ” (Acts 7:55–56; cf. Heb. 2:9; 10:12).
From heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ forever reigns “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,” because the Father “put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:21–22; cf. 4:10; Pss. 2:8; 89:27; 1 Peter 3:22; Jude 25). Because of His authority and power, Jesus will forever “be Lord both of the dead and of the living,” because it was “to this end Christ died and lived again” (Rom. 14:9). As the “myriads of myriads” of worshipers around the heavenly throne will one day declare: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.… The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 5:11–12; 11:15). The end will come “when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).
The fourth and final aspect of Jesus’ exaltation is His honored position of High Priest, from which He continually intercedes for believers. Christ, who died and was raised for us and “who is at the right hand of God … also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34; cf. v. 26). As believers’ great High Priest, “He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting,” the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:25–26; cf. 4:14; 5:1–6; 6:20; 7:21; 8:1–6; 9:24).
For the most part, Jesus’ exaltation involved the restoration of what He had eternally possessed before His incarnation. In His High Priestly Prayer, He implored: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Yet from the passages just cited, as well as from many others, it seems clear that in some ways Jesus received even more in His exaltation than He had surrendered in His incarnation. He was not, of course, any more divine or perfect. It was not possible for Him to be further elevated in any way as far as His essential nature and being are concerned. But because of His perfect redemptive work, the Father bestowed on the Son even more rights, privileges, honors, and responsibilities than He had before. The exaltation was therefore more than merely a reversal of the Incarnation. It was the Father’s giving the Son honor and tribute He could receive only after His redemptive sacrifice, which He made in obedience to the Father’s will.
Included in Jesus’ authority and power is that of being the final Judge. “For not even the Father judges anyone,” Jesus explained, “but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:22–23). Peter declared to the newly converted Cornelius and his household that God “ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; cf. Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:1). Every human being that has ever lived will stand before Jesus Christ the Judge:
For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.… Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:22, 25–29)
Every believer will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
In a way completely incomprehensible to the human mind, Jesus Christ not only became the God-man in the incarnation but also will forever continue to be that. As High Priest, He continually intercedes for all those He saves. Because a priest must represent both God and men, He could not have been believers’ High Priest apart from His deigning to become a man. If He had never been touched with the feelings of their infirmities, including being tempted in every way as they are, He could not have fully identified with them and thereby been able to encourage, strengthen, and encourage them in their temptations (Heb. 2:18; 4:15; 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24).
William Hendriksen cogently describes Jesus’ coronation in the following comment:
He who stood condemned in relation to the divine law (because of the sin of the world which rested on him) has exchanged this penal for the righteous relation to the law. He who was poor has become rich. He who was rejected has been accepted (Rev. 12:5, 10). He who learned obedience has entered upon the actual administration of the power and authority committed to him.
As king, having by his death, resurrection, and ascension achieved and displayed his triumph over his enemies, he now holds in his hands the reins of the universe, and rules all things in the interest of his church (Eph. 1:22, 23). As prophet he through his Spirit leads his own in all the truth. And as priest (High-priest according to the order of Melchizedek) he, on the basis of his accomplished atonement, not only intercedes but actually lives forever to make intercession for those who draw near to God through him (Heb. 7:25). (New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Philippians [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962], 114. Italics in original.)
The Title of Christ’s Exaltation
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, (2:9b)
Bestowed is from charizomai, which conveys the idea of giving freely and generously. The Father conferred upon the Son the name which is above every name with the most divinely perfect love. Jesus so completely satisfied the Father in fulfilling the work of His incarnation, in providing redemption for the elect, that He generously granted Him this exalted title. “Having become as much better than the angels,” the writer of Hebrews explains, “He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Heb. 1:4).
This name was given Him to emphasize His rank above all other beings. It reflects not only His divine essence and nature but also the new and unique privileges mentioned above that the Father gave Him in response to His redemptive work. This name is incomparable, the superlative of superlatives.
Paul does not reveal the supreme name, the name which is above every name, until verse 11, where he declares that “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (emphasis added). Lord is the title of majesty, authority, honor, and sovereignty. One day that exalted name will be expanded to “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). Obviously Lord, used in the sense of ultimate sovereign authority and command, ranks over all other names. Whoever is Lord is over everyone else—and that is precisely the point in so titling the Savior—has absolute supremacy and the right to be obeyed as divine Master.
In the marvelous grace of God, believers not only will be fellow heirs with Jesus Christ but also will share His names. Through the apostle John, God promises: “He who overcomes,” that is, every true believer (1 John 5:4–5), “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name” (Rev. 3:12; cf. 2:17). When they are glorified, all believers will be stamped with the name of God the Father (“My God”), with the name of heaven (“the city of My God, the New Jerusalem”), and with Christ’s supreme title of Lord (“My new name”). Those names will mark them out, brand them, as it were, as belonging to God and identifying with Him in the fullest and most intimate way.
The Response to Christ’s Exaltation
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, (2:10–11a)
When the Greek word hina (so that) is used with a subjunctive verb (such as kampsē, will bow; and exomologēsētai, will confess) it introduces a purpose clause. Paul is therefore saying: “Jesus is given the name which is above every name for the purpose that, or with the result that, every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess the supreme name of Jesus Christ, which is Lord.” It is critical to understand that this response will not be to the name Jesus. A form of Joshua (meaning “Jehovah, or Yahweh saves”), Jesus was a common name in New Testament times. It obviously could not be the unique, much less supreme, name intended by God as a title of exaltation. It is rather at the name of Jesus, that is, at another name (Lord) given to Jesus Christ in His exaltation by the Father, that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.
There had long been indications of what His supreme name would be. Kurios (“lord”) was a common term of respect in New Testament times, similar to the English word sir but carrying a much higher degree of respect (cf. Matt. 10:24–25; 18:27–34; Luke 12:42–47). During His earthly ministry, Jesus was sometimes respectfully addressed in this way. It seems probable that some of those who called Him “lord” did not, at least when they first encountered Him, consider Him to be more than a great teacher (cf. John 8:11; 9:35–38). Even the Twelve’s understanding of His true identity was gradual and often tentative. And, as Jesus Himself made clear, even calling Him Lord as an acknowledgment of His deity is not necessarily evidence of a saving relationship with Him.
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:21–23)
Because the Jews considered God’s name too holy to utter, they substituted the title Lord in place of His personal, covenant name, Yahweh (or Jehovah), whenever it would have been spoken. (Most modern English translations of the Old Testament therefore render the Hebrew YHWH [Yahweh] as Lord.) Consequently, God was called both adonai (“Lord”), a title of divine authority, and YHWH (“Lord”), referring to His covenant name, which has the basic meaning of “I am” (cf. Ex. 3:13–15). When Scripture was read, only a knowledge of the Hebrew text would enable a listener to know which term was involved. In preaching, teaching, or ordinary conversation, a listener could judge only by context.
In the present text, Lord obviously refers to Jesus’ deity and sovereign, exalted authority in the highest sense. It represents the divine title and name as well as all the divine rights, honors, and prerogatives. Ultimately, whether by choice or by force, every creature, human and angelic, will submit to Jesus Christ as the divine and exalted Lord.
In the first act of homage, every knee will bow, just as Isaiah had prophesied some seven hundred years earlier. Through him the Lord declared, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow” (Isa. 45:22–23). Jesus Christ is that divine Savior and Lord, to whom every knee will bow.
Those who will submit to the supreme authority of Jesus Christ will comprise three groups. First will be those who are in heaven, which will include the holy angels and the saints, the redeemed believers of all ages. That heavenly group, of course, has long been worshiping Jesus Christ as Lord (cf. Heb. 1:6; 12:23; Rev. 4:8–11; 5:8–14).
The second group will be those who are on earth, both redeemed and unredeemed. The redeemed will continue their worship of Him that began when they were saved. “When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day,” He will “be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thess. 1:10). At that same time, however, though unwillingly and in terror, the unredeemed will also be forced to bow their knees before Him. He will “[deal] out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, [who then] will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (vv. 8–9).
The third group who will worship the exalted Lord will be those who are under the earth, the fallen angels and unredeemed dead who are awaiting final judgment and eternal punishment. Revelation 20:11–13, perhaps the most frightening passage in all of Scripture, depicts the ultimate fate of the unredeemed:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
This third group will also include “the spirits now in prison,” the demons already bound in the abyss to whom Jesus “went and made proclamation” between His death and resurrection, by which He triumphed over them (1 Peter 3:19; cf. Col. 2:14–15).
As Isaiah predicted (Isa. 45:23), in the second step of this universal worship of the exalted Son of God, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Glōssa (tongue) is frequently used, as here, to represent a language. No matter what their language, every human and angelic being will declare Jesus’ lordship. The holy angels, the redeemed saints in heaven and on earth, and all the enemies of God on earth and in hell, forever confined by His unbreakable power that holds them in eternal punishment, will bow their knees before His sovereign authority. Even the damned demons, including Satan, will have no choice but to agree with and confess the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Exomologeō (will confess) is an intensive form of homologeō (to confess, agree with) and refers to an open, public declaration. At the time about which Paul is here speaking, however, such a confession will not lead to salvation, because that supreme blessing will already have been received or forever forfeited. Before death or the Lord’s return, the promise is that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). But as the apostle makes clear later in that same letter, in the day of judgment that confession will not change the spiritual status of those making it. Quoting Isaiah, he says, “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God’ ” (Rom. 14:11; cf. Isa. 45:23). On the lips of those who belong to God, this will be a willing, continuing, and loving declaration of allegiance and adoration. For those who have rejected Him, the confession will be unwilling but irresistible, a compelled acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the sovereign Lord of the universe by those under His immutable judgment.
Jesus already possesses His full divine title and authority, but it is not yet the Father’s time for that authority to be fully manifested. Jesus already sits at the Father’s right hand on His heavenly throne, but not everything has yet been brought into subjection to Him (cf. 1 Cor. 15:27–28). While there is time, the Savior continues to call men and women to Himself in saving faith, to proclaim and receive Him willingly as Lord. Paul rejoiced that he had “found mercy, so that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16).
At Jesus’ birth, the angel announced to the shepherds that “today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Jesus told His disciples, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13), and after the Resurrection Thomas confessed Him as “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). At Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36; cf. 10:36). Paul told the Romans: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9; cf. v. 12). Later in the same letter he said, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (14:9; cf. v. 11). He reminded the Corinthians that “there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Cor. 8:6; cf. 12:3; 15:57).
Contrary to much popular teaching and preaching, Scripture nowhere speaks of a person making Jesus Lord. Although many people who use that phrase are merely referring to believers’ obedient submission to Jesus’ sovereign authority, such expressions are seriously misleading and confusing. The problem is especially serious because some evangelicals maintain that confessing Jesus as Lord is not an integral part of saving faith. They wrongly view that as an optional, though desirable, step that believers should take sometime after they are saved. The notion is that it is possible to be saved by confessing Jesus as Savior but not as commanding, ruling Lord. But as just cited, it was God the Father who “has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), and in order to be saved it is necessary for a person to “confess … Jesus as Lord, and believe in [his] heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9), a truth repeated a few verses later: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13). Acknowledging Jesus as Lord must include submission and obedience, because, by definition, the title of Lord assumes it.
The centrality to the gospel of the lordship of Jesus Christ is abundantly clear. In the New Testament, He is called Lord some 747 times. In the book of Acts, He is referred to as Savior only twice, but as Lord 92 times. The first known creed of the early church was “Jesus is Lord!” The lordship of Jesus Christ is the very essence of Christianity and the necessary confession of anyone who desires to be saved. Jesus frequently reiterated the necessity of obedience as an element of saving faith (Matt. 7:22–27; 19:21–22; Luke 14:25–33; John 8:31; 14:23–24; 15:14).
Jesus is Savior so that He may be Lord, and He will not save those for whom He cannot be Lord. As mentioned above, even verbally professing Him as Lord without allowing Him to be Lord is worthless. Early in His ministry He declared:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:21–23; cf. Luke 6:46–49)
Jesus was not, of course, teaching works righteousness—that salvation comes through obedience—but that a profession of faith that produces no true obedience to His lordship is worthless.
The argument that the title Lord refers only to the fact of Jesus’ deity is spurious in the extreme, robbing the term of its essential meaning. By definition, Lord denotes a master, a supreme authority, a sovereign ruler. Not only that, but the reality of deity itself inherently carries those same meanings. The notion of some critics of “lordship salvation,” that confessing Jesus as Savior is an act of faith, whereas confessing Him as Lord is a form of works righteousness, is absurd. Both saving confessions are made possible only through the gracious provision and power of God (Eph. 2:8; 1 Cor. 12:3).
I have commented on this very essential and often maligned requirement of Jesus’ lordship in my book The Gospel According to Jesus:
When we come to Jesus for salvation, we come to the One who is Lord over all. Any message that omits this truth cannot be called the gospel. It is a defective message that presents a savior who is not Lord, a redeemer who does not demonstrate authority over sin, a weakened, sickly messiah who cannot command those he rescues.
The gospel according to Jesus is nothing like that. It represents Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and demands that those who would receive him take him for who he is. In the words of Puritan John Flavel, “The gospel offer of Christ includes all his offices, and gospel faith just so receives him; to submit to him as well as to be redeemed by him; to imitate him in the holiness of his life, as well as to reap the purchases and fruits of his death. It must be an entire receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
A. W. Tozer wrote in the same vein, “To urge men and women to believe in a divided Christ is bad teaching, for no one can receive half of Christ, or a third of Christ, or a quarter of the Person of Christ! We are not saved by believing in an office nor in a work.”
He is Lord, and those who refuse him as Lord cannot use him as Savior. Everyone who receives him must surrender to his authority, for to say we receive Christ when in fact we reject his right to reign over us is utter absurdity. It is a futile attempt to hold onto sin with one hand and take Jesus with the other. What kind of salvation is it if we are left in bondage to sin? (Rev. ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], 235–36)
R. A. Torrey, second president of Moody Bible Institute, dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and a prominent evangelist, advised those who witness for Christ: “Lead [an unbeliever] as directly as you can to accept Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour, and to surrender to Him as his Lord and Master” (How to Work for Christ [Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, n.d.], 32). W. H. Griffith Thomas, a cofounder of Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote:
Our relation to Christ is based on His death and resurrection and this means His Lordship. Indeed the Lordship of Christ over the lives of His people was the very purpose for which He died and rose again. We have to acknowledge Christ as our Lord. Sin is rebellion, and it is only as we surrender to Him as Lord that we receive our pardon from Him as our Savior. We have to admit Him to reign on the throne of the heart, and it is only when He is glorified in our hearts as King that the Holy Spirit enters and abides. (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.], 371)
The Purpose of Christ’s Exaltation
to the glory of God the Father. (2:11b)
Finally, as for everything in the saga of redemption, the purpose of Jesus’ exaltation is the glory of God the Father. To proclaim the sovereign lordship of His Son is the greatest glory that can be given to God the Father. Christ’s universal acknowledgment as Lord does not make the Father jealous. Instead, that is the supreme objective and fulfillment of the Father’s divine will as He demonstrates His perfect love for the Son.
Herein, of course, is a great mystery, a mystery that confounds everyone who presumes to fully understand the Trinity. The three Persons are but one God, wholly united and indivisible. They never compete, disagree, or differ with one another in the slightest degree. Men therefore are not called to worship God through Jesus, but to worship Jesus as God. Jesus explained that “The Son of Man [is] glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself” (John 13:31–32; cf. 14:13; Rom. 9:5; 11:36; 16:27). It is the Father’s and the Son’s supreme pleasure to glorify each other. In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.… I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:1, 4–5). Whoever honors the Son honors the Father, and whoever dishonors the Son dishonors the Father (John 5:23). Throughout all eternity, the Father will continue to say of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17; cf. 17:5).
Christ’s Greatest Name
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The first statements of Philippians 2:5–11 cover many of the great doctrines that concern our Lord Jesus Christ. They have taken us from the high point of his glory as the eternal Son of God to the low point of his death on the cross. Paul now moves back up again toward his climax—Christ’s exaltation. It is symbolized in a name that is above every name: Lord, the equivalent of God’s own name, Jehovah.
A number of commentators have taught that this supreme name given by God is “Jesus.” But this is incorrect for several reasons. One writer argues, “First, no name other than Yahweh [Jehovah] has a right to be called ‘the name above every name.’ Secondly, the movement of verses 9–11 does not stop at the phrase ‘gave him the name …,’ but flows straight on to the universal confession that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ which suggests that the significant thing is the ascription of ‘Lord’ in addition to the names already known. Thirdly, verse 10 is a pretty direct quotation of Isaiah 45:23, where Yahweh [Jehovah], having declared himself to be the only God and the only Savior, vows that he will yet be the object of universal worship and adoration. It is this divine honor that is now bestowed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Name of Names
The full impact of the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord will be seen only when we realize that the name of Lord is above not only all human names but also all of the unique names that have already been given to Jesus.
Suppose that a king was about to bestow an honor on a subject who had never previously distinguished himself. The only names he had ever received from anyone were scoundrel, bum, crook, good-for-nothing, and a dozen others like them. But then he did something that deserved the king’s reputation. The king does not say, “Arise, Sir Thomas (whatever his personal name might be)” or “I wish to present you with the Order of Merit.” He says, “Well, you have certainly distinguished yourself. You are a faithful subject.” The name “faithful” is above all the other names that had previously been given to the man, but it would only be one step above nothing. Suppose, however, that there was also a knight of the realm who had already distinguished himself greatly and had been decorated on many occasions. Suppose he had risen to a very high position in the kingdom. To honor this man the king would need the highest title at his disposal, and it would be especially glorious when measured against the knight’s other names and honors. This is what God did with Jesus. Jesus was abased; now he is honored. Jesus is Lord. The glory of this title must be measured against his other names.
Think of the names that have already been bestowed on Jesus. There is the name Messiah, the anointed one. This means that Jesus is the promised deliverer through whom blessing comes to Israel and the gentile nations. In him God meets all our longings and brings to fruition all the currents of history.
Jesus is also the Son of man. Many people think that this refers only to Christ’s humanity, but the phrase means more than that. It refers especially to his coming again in glory. Originally it comes from Daniel, who writes, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13–14). How glorious that Jesus should be called the Son of man!
Jesus is also called the Son of God. This name points to his divinity. It is the title with which the devil addressed Jesus (Matt. 4:3, 6); on several occasions it is God’s own designation of him (Matt. 3:17; 17:5); and it is included in Scripture as the high point of the disciples’ verbal confession (Matt. 16:16). John writes, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God” (1 John 4:15).
Jesus is God’s Messiah. He is God’s Son. He is the Son of man. He is our prophet, priest, and king, the Alpha and the Omega, the door, the Beloved, and many other names. But the title “Lord” is above them all. It is at the name of Jesus Christ as Lord that every knee shall bow.
Jesus is God
Why is the name “Lord” the name that is above every name? Why not any one of the other titles? Or why not another name entirely? These questions have several answers, but the most important is that the title identifies the Lord Jesus Christ with God.
The truth is easily seen in both the Greek and Hebrew usage of the word. The Greek word for Lord is kyrios, the word used by citizens of the Roman empire to acknowledge the divinity of Caesar. This title was never used of the emperors until they were thought to be deified through a religious ceremony; therefore, it was used as a divine title. Within the empire there was a test phrase used to check the loyalty of the people. It was Kyrios Kaiser, and it meant “Caesar is Lord.” Christians who would not say these words were later singled out from pagans and executed. In those days when a Christian insisted that Jesus is Lord he meant that Jesus, not Caesar, is divine.
The same meaning is present when the word occurs in Hebrew, only more so. The Hebrew word is Adonai. It is a title somewhat like our “sir,” but it assumed an extraordinary importance in Hebrew speech because in practice it replaced the personal name of God, Jehovah. No Jew pronounced the word “Jehovah,” even when reading the Bible. Instead he said, “Adonai.” In the written Old Testament the vowel points of the printed word “Jehovah” are even altered to remind the reader to say “Adonai.” Against this background it is easy to see that not only in popular speech but also in Jewish literature and in the writing and transmission of the Old Testament Adonai became almost synonymous with Jehovah, the personal name of God. Consequently, when the early Christians made their confession—“Jesus Christ is Lord”—they were actually confessing that Jesus of Nazareth is the God of Israel, Jehovah, the only true God.
Is Jesus your Jehovah, your God? I know that it is not easy for a person to come to that confession, but it is essential. For all that you will ever know about God on this earth you will learn as you look to Jesus. Quite a few years ago when my wife was at the University of Pennsylvania she had a friend who acknowledged this verbally but did not understand it. She was not yet a Christian. She began to read the Gospel of John together with my wife. They read through three chapters, where Jesus is called God many times, but it was not until the middle of the third chapter and after many weeks of study that the girl suddenly exclaimed, “Why, I see what it means. It means that … that … Jesus is God.” She had been reading that for weeks and had only at this point come to a full realization of it. Two weeks later she committed her life to the One she now acknowledged to be God.
One more thing must be noted about this word Adonai. The word contains a personal ending. Adonai does not just mean “Lord” or “God”; it means “my Lord” or “my God.” It is the word that Mary used of Jesus in the garden on Easter morning. It is the confession of Thomas, made one week later, that John has used to provide a climax in his Gospel. Mary said, “my Lord.” Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” In both cases the words were personal. This means that it is not enough merely to acknowledge mentally that Jesus Christ is God. The devils also do that and tremble (James 2:19). Jesus must be your God. He must be your Lord. If you are to know God, you must receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and personal Savior.
Jesus is Sovereign
We have already seen one reason why the name “Lord” is a name that is above every name. It teaches that Jesus is God. But another reason is that the name indicates that Jesus Christ is sovereign. Jesus rules as God rules. Today he controls even the smallest things of life. One day he will subdue his enemies forever.
We need to be frank about the Christian life. The Christian life is not an escape from the world’s troubles and problems. If it were, God would have taken us out of the world. It is not an escape from temptations or from suffering. Christians experience these things, but they have victory in them. Moreover, they have peace within, knowing that these things are in the control of the One who loves them and who does all things well. Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
The doctrine of the sovereignty of God or the sovereignty of Jesus Christ has sometimes been called fatalism by enemies of the gospel, but it is not fatalism at all. A belief in fatalism or fate is found in the Moslem religion, where it is referred to as “kismet,” which means the impersonal force by which the universe is believed by Muslims to operate. They believe fate operates in ways that are totally insensitive to the needs or ends of individuals. This is not the Christian teaching. The Bible teaches that the God who controls all things is not an impersonal deity but a God who loves us and who orders the events of our lives to lead us into his perfect and desirable will. It is not meaningless or tragic when difficulties enter your life or when there are temptations. God knows about it and has even permitted it to come in order that he might accomplish something in you that will be for your good. In the moments when these things come you must turn to him and seek his way. As you do, you can be certain that he is making you more and more into the person he would have you be.
Jesus is Coming Again
There is one other great truth contained in the title “Lord.” The title means that Jesus is God. It means that Jesus is sovereign. But it also means that Jesus is coming again. In the second chapter of Hebrews the author says of Jesus that God has put “everything under his feet. In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him” (Heb. 2:8). This is wonderful, but at this point a break occurs in the thought, and the author adds, “But now we see not yet all things put under him.” Jesus is Lord. Jesus is sovereign. But if he is to be Lord completely, he must return to conquer evil and to establish his righteous will forever.
Have you ever noticed the names Paul uses to refer to Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, the well-known passage that speaks of Christ’s return? Paul has been writing to the Christians in Thessalonica about death and has argued that since God has raised up Jesus he will also raise up those who are united to him by faith. In these statements Paul refers to the Lord Jesus Christ by his personal, most human name: Jesus. That is natural. At this point he begins to talk about Christ’s return for those who are still living at the end of the church age. When he starts to speak about Jesus’ return, however, he no longer refers to Jesus as Jesus but to Jesus as Lord. From this point on the name occurs five times in the verses: “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:15–17). Paul associated the second coming with the fact that Christ is Lord.
Do you look for the Lord’s return? The early Christians looked for his coming, and it gave them strength even in their troubles, even in martyrdom. They had a prayer that expressed this hope. It is preserved for us in the Aramaic language at the end of 1 Corinthians. It is the word maranatha. Actually, the word is composed of two Aramaic words run together—the word for come and the word for Lord—and they can be read as “Maran-atha,” which means “Our Lord is coming.” Or they can be read as “Marana-tha,” which means “Our Lord, come!” The second interpretation is the better of the two. The phrase is a prayer of Christian longing. Moreover, John includes it in that sense in the next to the last verse of the Bible. John writes, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ ” And he adds, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Is your prayer to see him? to know him? to see the affairs of the world brought to perfection and to judgment in his own time and in line with his will? It should be. It has always been the great hope and consolation of Christians.
The Son Exalted for the Father’s Glory
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9–11)
People are innately, instinctively, incurably purpose-driven. We do what we do for reasons. We are drawn toward certain options and away from others because we expect that our choices and our actions will produce outcomes that we want. For some, the target that spurs them to action may be modest. Those just getting by at subsistence level struggle day by day just to find some food and a little shelter from the elements. Others strive after dreams that fly higher: education, marriage and family, interesting employment that supplies more than life’s bare necessities, a vocation that serves others and betters society. Our reasons may sometimes be unfounded, our purposes thwarted, and our hopes disappointed. Nonetheless, though our objectives sometimes elude us, most of us remain undeterred from setting goals, large and small, and undaunted from pursuing those goals. Ironically, even intellectuals who embrace a naturalistic worldview that repudiates the very idea that purposeful intentionality orders the cosmos cannot help but live their lives as purposeful persons—setting goals, laying strategies to achieve their aims, and investing effort to implement their plans. What is the source of this purposefulness that seems built into our personhood?
From its opening pages the Bible shows us a personal God who brings a universe into existence out of nothing by the power of his Word, who sets its contents all in order, and who pronounces the product of his creativity “good” and “very good”—meeting his criteria for approval, fitting his purpose and design. And this Creator designed one particular creature to bear his image and likeness—a creaturely replica of his personality and purposefulness and a creaturely representative of his authority over his handiwork. We are purpose-driven people because we are made in the image of our purposing Creator. Of course, God’s Word soon shows us how quickly our own purposing—the aims and objectives that motivate our choices—became deflected and disoriented from the Creator’s purposes for us, purposes that would have made our own plans and efforts flourish under his good pleasure. Still, our goal-setting and striving—even when reach exceeds our grasp—bear a quiet testimony that is hard to deny: we bear the image of a personal Creator who has and pursues and accomplishes his purposes.
What is the Creator’s purpose for his cosmos? Worship! God’s chief end is his own worship—the display of his unique magnificence to evoke the adoration of all his creatures, especially human beings, whom he designed to bear his image and enjoy his friendship. The last book of the Bible, the Revelation granted to John, shows us scene after scene, containing song after song, in which joyful worship is offered to God seated on the throne and to the Lamb, who has rescued people from all nations and transformed them into an entourage of priests who eagerly serve in the presence of their Creator.
Yet we live and we worship at cross-purposes with the Creator’s cosmic purpose. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul traced the source of human wickedness to our exchange of God’s truth for “a lie,” as we worship the creation instead of its Creator (Rom. 1:25). We look in all the wrong places for the contentment we crave, the unbreakable love for which we long. We direct our affection and devotion to objects that do not deserve our wholehearted allegiance and adoration. We rest the full weight of our hopes and our hearts on fragile relationships and fleeting resources that will, sooner or later, collapse under such pressure, bringing us down in the process.
Perhaps the most tragic scene in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire shows the great sprinter Harold Abrahams in the aftermath of his victory at the 1924 Olympics. He places his gold medal on his Jewish prayer shawl, latches his suitcase, and glumly slips away from his British teammates’ locker-room celebration. When one calls him to join their joy, a more experienced competitor hushes him:
“Let him be. He’s whacked.”
“But he won!”
“Exactly. One of these days, you’re going to win yourself. Then you will know it’s pretty difficult to swallow.”
The scene shifts to a close-up of Abrahams’ grim face as he and his coach, Sam Mussabini, “celebrate” their triumph late that night by getting drunk in a Parisian bar. His race won and his goal achieved, Abrahams had proved himself and chastened the anti-Semitic prejudice of England’s academic and athletic elites. Yet the viewer sees in the victor no jubilation but only a bleak numbness, perhaps from blending postcompetition depression with too much wine. Having grasped the object of his worship, he found his achievement small and unsatisfying. What purpose could give his life meaning tomorrow? Whatever god or goal we choose to define ourselves, our hopes, and our happiness, the heartbreaking disappointment of misdirected worship always ensues.
Christ’s redemptive mission as the Lamb was to reconquer, reclaim, and re-create us to be worshipers of the living God, who alone deserves worship. That gripping true story has been the theme of the song of the King who stooped to conquer (see Phil. 2:6–11), which we began to consider in the previous chapter. In the first two “stanzas” of the hymn, we heard of the divine and glorious height from which this King descended (2:6) and the depth of his humility in his incarnation, suffering as a servant, and death on the cursed cross (2:7–8). Now in the third stanza our hearts and minds are directed upward to the purpose and result of Christ’s self-humbling and sacrificial suffering, in his exaltation by God his Father above all creation, to receive adoring worship from every creature everywhere. We glimpse God’s purpose in creation and in redemption, reaching its divinely designed destination: his own worship by his creatures.
The Divine “Mutual Admiration Society”
Before we explore Paul’s exposition of the awe-evoking exaltation that reversed Jesus’ self-denying humiliation, we need to consider how this third stanza fits into Paul’s purpose for introducing this Carmen Christi, this “song of Christ,” in the first place. In Philippians 2:3–4 the apostle exhorted the Philippian Christians to replace their natural tendency toward self-centered ambition with a selfless readiness to “count others more significant than yourselves” and to pursue not only their own concerns but also those of others. He showed that the mind-set that should govern relationships among Christians is the mind-set of humble servanthood that Christ displayed in his incarnation and suffering, a mind-set that now belongs to believers because we have been united to this suffering Savior (2:5). Jesus is the great example of what it means to shun self-interest and to serve others selflessly.
To think of Jesus as an example to be followed may make you uneasy, if you are a Protestant who treasures the Reformation’s rediscovery of the biblical truth that we are justified through faith alone in Christ alone, so that God’s vindicating verdict and acceptance do not depend on our own efforts to obey. Centuries of church history have shown how easy it is for well-meaning Christians to reduce Jesus, in practice if not in theory, to a mere moral model to be imitated, urging us to make day-to-day decisions by asking and answering, “What would Jesus do?” Yet the abuses of the theme of the imitation of Christ should not blind us to the fact that the inspired biblical authors themselves call us to conform ourselves, by the power of God’s Spirit, to the character of our Lord and Savior. In his ancient Law the Lord told Israel, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44–45; 19:2; see 1 Peter 1:15). Paul insists that the forgiving love of the Father and the sacrificial love of the Son for us set the pace for our love for each other:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 4:32–5:2)
Peter likewise expects us to follow Jesus’ lead in accepting undeserved suffering with patience rather than retaliation: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). If we are serious about the Reformers’ principle that Scripture alone—and the whole of the Scripture—directs our beliefs and our behavior, we cannot turn a deaf ear to the Bible’s pervasive summons to follow our Lord’s example as he renews us and restores us into the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:9–11). But Jesus is certainly more than a mere example. His redeeming grace precedes and provides our response of grateful imitation, as Paul and Peter showed in the passages above. In our present text, Paul has already alluded to that glorious union that God’s grace forged between believers and the Savior: because we are “in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), his mind is ours through the Holy Spirit, and that attitude must control how we regard and treat each other, in self-forgetting, others-honoring humility.
Now, some students of the Christ-hymn have questioned whether this final stanza tacitly undermines Paul’s appeal to selfless servanthood: When Paul tells the end of the story—Christ’s exaltation following humiliation—has he undermined his own pastoral purposes? If the happy ending of Jesus’ story implies that our story, too, will end happily, has not Paul invited us, either intentionally or inadvertently, to revert to a self-centered motive? Admittedly, it is a subtler and more patient self-centeredness than the competitive conceit that demands one’s own way this very moment. But does Paul mean to suggest that as Jesus patiently endured suffering and was then rewarded with glory, so Christians should let others win the little skirmishes of will in the present, for the sake of reaping the big rewards in the future? John Calvin seems to see the subtext of the movement from condescension in suffering to exaltation in glory in this way:
Now, that all are happy who, along with Christ, voluntarily humble themselves, he shows by His example; for from the most abject condition He was exalted to the sublimest height. Every one therefore that humbles himself will in like manner be exalted. Who will now refuse submission, by which he will ascend into the glory of the heavenly Kingdom?
The connection that Calvin draws between Christ’s trajectory from suffering to glory and ours is certainly taught by Paul and Peter elsewhere. In this same epistle Paul links our experience of sharing Christ’s sufferings and “becoming like him in his death” with the future hope to “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10–11). Paul tells the Christians at Rome that those who are coheirs with Christ “suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17). To Timothy the apostle quotes a trustworthy saying: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11–12). Peter likewise calls Christians to entrust ourselves to God as Jesus did (1 Peter 2:23; 4:19), knowing that as Christ’s path led through suffering to glory, ours does as well (1:6–7, 11). So Calvin’s explanation fits with the apostles’ teaching in other passages: believers in Jesus, like Jesus himself, can endure suffering patiently in the hope of coming glory. The exaltation of Christ portrayed in Philippians 2:9–11 implies our future exaltation with him.
But another explanation of these closing verses of the Christ-hymn might reveal the apostle’s pastoral purpose even more clearly. Notice how verses 9, 10, and 11 begin, and how they end. Throughout the downward trajectory of servanthood, suffering, and sacrifice, Christ is the subject of every attribute and the agent of every action: he “was … did not count … made himself nothing, taking … being born … being found … humbled himself … becoming obedient.” Now in verse 9, suddenly, as we begin the upswing from Christ’s humbling descent to his glorious ascent, God the Father takes the initiative and becomes the actor: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Then, at the finale of the Christ-hymn, as every creature’s knee and tongue respond to God’s elevation of Christ, the result is nothing less than “the glory of God the Father” (2:11). The Father delights to honor the Son for the Son’s accomplishment of his redemptive mission, and the honor bestowed on the Son displays in even greater fullness the glory of the Father.
These two divine persons, who with the Holy Spirit constitute the one triune God, are not in competition with each other. The envy, rivalry, and conceit that threaten our unity (Phil. 1:15; 2:3) have no place at all in the interpersonal relationships within the Trinity. Jesus’ supreme glory does not in any way reduce the glory of the Father. When the Father exalts Jesus with the title above every title, to receive worship on bent knees from every creature in heaven above, on earth below, and in even lower regions, we glimpse among the persons of the Trinity that very “mind-set of Christ” that now belongs to us by grace, through our union with him. The Father does not “look … only to his own interests” (recall 2:3) but rejoices to bestow supreme honor on the Son. And the Son does “nothing from rivalry or conceit,” but instead rejoices that his own exaltation further enriches “the glory of God the Father.” The purpose of stanza 3 is to invite us to honor each other above ourselves, reflecting the mutual affection of the Father and the Son (and, by implication, the Holy Spirit) and their delight to enhance each other’s glory.
We sometimes speak of close friends as a “mutual admiration society.” Each friend sees so much to appreciate in the other that they cannot help but find ways to speak compliments to and about each other, to call others’ attention to the friend’s kindness, integrity, intelligence, abilities, and achievements. When you meet friends like these, or a married couple who are more in love today than when they exchanged their vows five decades ago, you are glimpsing a creaturely replica, a miniature reflection, of the boundless and endless delight that three persons of the triune God enjoy forever in enhancing the display of one another’s beauties and excellencies.
Of course, the mutual love among the Father, the Son, and the Spirit infinitely transcends what we see in the closest of relationships among human beings. The infinite-personal God who is triune is three distinct persons who share one divine substance. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (answer 6) sums up the deep mystery of God’s tri-unity as revealed in the Bible: “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” We creatures, on the other hand, are distinct persons who are also distinct beings, so our societies, whether of “mutual admiration” or otherwise, are gatherings of discrete individuals. Then when we mix in the complications of our sinfulness—none of us is altogether admirable, none admires as we should, our admiration for another creature can cross over into idolatrous adoration—it is obvious that human “mutual admiration societies” at their best can be no more than faint and flawed shadows of the eternal reality of the perfect and eternal love among the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
Although our closest human relationships cannot replicate the bond of mutual delight among persons of the Trinity, nevertheless the infinite and incomparable Creator has been pleased to devise a creaturely community in which this triune love is tasted and displayed. This community is Christ’s church. The evening before his death, Jesus prayed for the church. Looking ahead through the coming generations of those who would believe in him, he asked his Father on our behalf “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). He even repeated the comparison between his oneness with the Father and his followers’ oneness with each other: “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (17:22–23). Though our unity with each other as members of Christ’s church cannot be identical with the profound unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit, surely our unity can and must be like the unity of our triune Creator. In fact, it should resemble the mutual love shared by the three divine persons closely enough and visibly enough that our bond becomes a signpost that points the world toward our Savior and his mission.
The glorious finale of the Song of the Condescending King, therefore, is not a summons to sublimate our self-centeredness for the time being, simply for the sake of satisfying it in the end. We could mistake it as such only by failing to grasp that the incomparable Creator is one God in three persons, whose glory is to enrich and display each other’s glory. In The Pleasures of God, Dr. John Piper speaks of God’s delight in being God: “From all eternity God had beheld the panorama of his own perfections in the face of his Son. All that he is he sees reflected fully and perfectly in the countenance of his Son. And in this he rejoices with infinite joy.” Then Piper asks whether the Father’s pleasure in the reflection of his own perfections in the Son means that God is vain, as we would be if we were to spend hours admiring ourselves in front of a mirror. Piper’s answer puts our Maker and ourselves into proper perspective. It is vain—empty, hollow (in Philippians 2:3 the kjv captured the sense of the Greek kenodoxia in the [now archaic] word “vainglory”)—when we mere creatures lavish adulation on ourselves. Such misdirected honor makes us idolaters. Only the incomparable Creator deserves such glory. Precisely because he is uniquely worthy of such glory, it is fitting for us to seek his glory as our ultimate objective: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” And it is right for God himself to seek that same aim: his own glory above all. In fact, Piper observes, if God did not delight in and promote his own glory, if he attributed ultimate value to anyone or anything less than himself, he would be the idolater!8
Our text, however, celebrates One whom God the Father has appropriately exalted above all, the Son who is eternally the Father’s equal and who thus deserves total worship from every creature everywhere. The three persons of the triune God (here, the Father and the Son are specifically mentioned) delight to magnify one another. They are right to do so, for each deserves the highest splendor imaginable—even beyond the bounds of our finite imaginations!
We are created in the image of this God who is One-in-Three. We most closely resemble the God who made us in his likeness when we rejoice to exalt each other, as the Father exalted Christ. We are most like our Maker when we discover that the sweetest dimension of his grace, the mercy that confers on us a share in Jesus’ glory, is that both Christ’s exaltation and ours find their purpose and goal in “the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).
Have you discovered the emptiness, the vanity, of setting your sights on yourself—your own agenda, your own reputation, your own satisfaction? The exaltation that God bestowed on his beloved Son, who became the Suffering Servant, sets before you a far grander purpose. He calls you to break free from the narrow confines of self-interest, to take an active role in the Trinity-reflecting community, Christ’s church. Even now, for all of the church’s flaws, the risen Lord is working on and in his people to make them a “mutual admiration society” in which the Father’s pleasure to honor the Son and the Son’s delight to glorify the Father are reflected in gentle words and serving deeds, which reflect a Christ-formed mind-set that counts others more significant than ourselves and attends to others’ needs before our own.
The King’s Ascent to Wield Universal Authority
Philippians 2:9 marks the dramatic turning point in the hymn, where Christ’s downward plunge is reversed by the Father’s upward pull. Paul seizes on a striking verb that appears nowhere else in the New Testament. The esv’s “highly exalted” captures his meaning acceptably; but the components of this compound verb—the preposition “above” (hyper) prefixed to the root “exalt” (hypsoō)—may foreshadow the contrast between Christ’s exalted status and all the creatures who are subordinate to him “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Such a contrast is explicit when this verb appears in the Greek (Septuagint) translation of Psalm 97:9 [lxx 96:9]: “you are exalted [hyperypsoō] far above [hyper] all gods.” Likewise, here Paul explains the verb “exalted above” [hyperypsoō] by mentioning “the name that is above [hyper] every name,” which God conferred on Jesus. Christ’s ascent from the depths of despicable death has carried his whole person—including the humanity in which he served and suffered—to a point higher than the highest of all his creatures. As the victorious Redeemer of God’s guilty but beloved people, he emerged from the grave the third day, entered heaven forty days later, and soon thereafter celebrated his enthronement by pouring out his Holy Spirit in power on his people. He has carried our humanity, now bursting with new creation life, up from the grave, into the heavens, to take his seat at the Father’s right hand.
To the glory that has always been Christ’s as the eternal God and Creator of the universe, a new and unprecedented splendor has been added: through his descent he has rescued his enemies and turned us into beloved children of his Father! Christ’s request of his Father en route to the cross has been magnificently answered: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:4–5). And his ascent is not merely a return to the preincarnation status quo. Now, because of his obedient suffering, an enlarged audience adores the glory of God’s grace: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24).
When God highly exalted his obedient Son in reward for his suffering, he “bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Initially we might think that this is the personal name Jesus, since Paul goes on to say that every knee will bow “at the name of Jesus.” It is better, however, to understand the “name that is above every name” not as a personal name but as an official title—the title Lord that was conferred on Jesus at the time of his resurrection, signifying his supremacy over all as the glorified God-man. After all, the personal name Jesus was given to the Son at his birth, in anticipation of his mission to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). It was through his resurrection and ascension that God made Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36; see Rom. 10:9). After his resurrection, Jesus declared his universal authority as Lord: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18; see Dan. 7:14). Paul’s affirmation that the Son’s “name” ranks above all others shows that he is referring to Christ’s supremacy over all the powers in the universe. In Ephesians 1:20–21 Paul makes explicit this titular supremacy of the “name” bestowed on Jesus: God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The superior name granted to Christ in his exaltation is the title Lord, as the hymn’s climax shows: “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As Lord, Jesus Christ is the Supreme Emperor of the entire universe, infinitely above the puny Caesars who had the presumption to claim the title lord, though they ruled an empire that, in global and historical perspective, proved small and short-lived. As Lord, the exalted Son outranks the superhuman spiritual forces, gods and demons benign and malevolent, that vied for worshipers’ fear and allegiance in cosmopolitan colonies such as Philippi, where local Macedonian and Greek polytheism absorbed the influences of Asian East and Roman West.
Rome’s imperial dominance long ago succumbed to brutal invaders who showed no deference for the Caesars’ glory and the empire’s administrative, military, and cultural achievements. On the other hand, the living Lord whom Paul served is still extending his reign to the ends of the earth through the gospel of his grace and the power of his Spirit. Macedonia’s homegrown deities, as well as those imported from Achaia (Greece) to the south, from Asia to the east, and from Rome to the west, remain subjects for scholarly research but no longer compete for worshipers’ allegiance. Jesus, however, continues to lay claim to the hearts and minds of the peoples that cover the globe, and he does so through a strategy that seems surprisingly fragile. This Lord conquers nations not through force of arms but through the message of his cross, the instrument of his execution and symbol of shameful weakness, carried outward to the nations through his heralds’ words and inward into human hearts through his Holy Spirit.
When the Father exalted Jesus his Son, raising him from the dead and installing him as Lord of all at his right hand in heaven, the whole course of history turned a corner, from decay and death toward healing and everlasting life. So how should you respond to Christ’s coronation and enthronement? You may have been feverishly slaving to win the “blessing” of other “lords”—financial security, others’ approval, romantic love, academic achievement, pleasures of various kinds. If that is true of you, the fact that the Servant who once suffered now wields all authority “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” is your wake-up call. No other lord can deliver on its promises; no other lord deserves your unquestioning allegiance. Only Jesus does. His resurrection from the dead turned human history and cosmic history in a new direction, which is leading to the day when every knee will humbly bow and every tongue express devotion to this living Lord. He already bears the name above every name, the title that transcends all titles. This reality demands that you submit to his dominion today.
The King’s Ascent to Receive Universal Worship
The result of the Son’s exaltation is “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10–11). This is precisely what Saul was compelled to do when he was confronted by the overpowering glory of Jesus on the Damascus road: he fell on his face and called Jesus “Lord” (Acts 9:4–5).
Saul was dashed to the ground by a blinding light from heaven and could find no other word but Lord to address the august Speaker who confronted him. His awestruck behavior was understandable, in view of the intensity of his experience that day. But Paul’s epistles show that such expressions of awe and adoration typically characterized the worship services of the early church. The gathered church confessed Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3). The conscience-piercing truth of God’s Word and the heart-searching presence of God’s Spirit in the assembled congregations proved undeniable and irresistible even to unbelieving visitors: “the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). A psalmist summoned ancient Israel to worship: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Ps. 95:6). Peter and Paul knelt in prayer, and Paul’s prayer was in the midst of the church at worship (Acts 9:40; 20:36). Bent knees and confessing tongues expressed a profound sense of the presence of the living God in the homes and halls where Jesus’ followers gathered for worship.
Is the worship of our churches today—the worship of your church—focused on Christ’s mercy and his majesty so that hearts are bowed in humble adoration and lifted in hope, so that knees bend in humble wonder and tongues joyfully confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11)? Of course, physical postures—sitting, standing, kneeling, lying prostrate—may be merely “scripted,” either by liturgical tradition or by unspoken expectations about how spontaneous spiritual experience is to be expressed. What we do with our bodies is not an infallible indicator of the state of our hearts. Jesus observed, quoting Isaiah’s prophecy: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8). On the other hand, our knees and our tongues are not disconnected from our hearts. Jesus also said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (12:34; see 15:18–19). The posture and pronouncement of the earliest Christians challenge you to ask yourself, “As I come to worship, am I alert to the awesome holiness of God among his people? Does his powerful presence, which bent their knees in prayer and set their tongues to praise, grip my heart, too? If so, how can I, how must I, express my wonder with my whole being?”
In our passage, Paul looks forward to a global—rather, universewide—celebration, of which the church’s weekly worship is a foretaste. The scene that Paul portrays—the consummation that is sure to come—far outstrips the splendor of the grand finale of any blockbuster cinematic epic. Only the most jaded viewers can keep their pulses from racing and their eyes from moistening at the end of Star Wars Episode IV, as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Chewbacca enter the great hall of the Rebel Alliance, to be rewarded by Princess Leia and applauded by crowds for destroying the empire’s Death Star. Simpler in ceremony but no less majestic and moving is the climax of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings epic, when, at the end of The Return of the King, the peaceable peoples of Middle-earth gather under open skies to extol King Aragorn and his hobbit friends for destroying the evil Ring of Power. If you can picture such scenes, then realize that the best that filmmakers can muster with special effects and thousands of “extras” cannot begin to do justice to the splendor of the scene that Paul is portraying. What a jubilant festal assembly that will be, when every creature “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” will bow the knee and acknowledge the utter supremacy of Jesus as Lord of all!
We concluded earlier that the “name” now conferred on the Son is not his personal name Jesus but the title Lord, signifying his investiture with absolute dominion over the entire universe as he has taken his seat at God’s right hand. And yet Paul also wants us to understand that the name Lord is not only a title of office. It is also an indication of identity. Paul was well aware that the biblical scholars who had translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint) had used the Greek term Lord (kyrios) to represent the distinctive name Yahweh, by which Israel’s covenant God identified himself to his people. Jews and Gentile converts who frequented the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Dispersion were bound to associate the Greek term kyrios with the personal name of God, the Creator of the universe and Redeemer of his people Israel. English speakers today do the same when we read “the Lord” in our Bibles (the small caps are our translators’ signal that the Hebrew original reads Yahweh). Even Gentile believers in cities that had no synagogue, such as Philippi, were quickly introduced to the Old Testament Scriptures in Greek translation. (This is why, even when the apostles wrote to congregations with thoroughly pagan pasts, they peppered their epistles with references to the Old Testament.) Even the Gentile Christians at Philippi could be expected to recognize that sometimes kyrios, “Lord,” was nothing less than a name of God himself. That is how they should understand the name here, as Paul’s allusion to an Old Testament passage makes clear.
Paul drew the language about every knee bowing and every tongue confessing from Isaiah 45, where we hear the Lord, the God of Israel, declaring: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’ ” (Isa. 45:22–23). In this section of Isaiah, the Lord challenges the pagan idols to do something or say something to back up their claims to be gods. He confidently announces that he alone stands at the beginning and the end of history (41:4; see 48:12–13). He alone can announce the future and bring it about (41:21–24). He is Yahweh, the Lord, the only living God. There is no other (43:10–11)! Therefore, he alone is worthy to receive universal worship (every knee bowed) and a universal confession of absolute allegiance.
Several years earlier, Paul had quoted this very text from Isaiah in his epistle to the Romans, substantiating the sobering truth that everyone will stand before God’s judgment seat and give an account to our Creator: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. 14:10–12). Now Paul takes up the words in which the Lord God asserted his supremacy and uniqueness, words that the apostle himself had applied to God’s authority as Judge of all. And Paul applies those words directly to Jesus! It is hard to think of a section of Scripture that argues more forcefully and explicitly than Isaiah 40 through 48 that Yahweh, the Lord, is the one and only eternal and living God; that he alone is the source of salvation for his people; and that he alone is worthy of every creature’s complete loyalty and adoration. The fact that the apostle applies such an unmistakably monotheistic text from Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus, who became human and died on the cross, shows who he considers Jesus to be: Creator of the universe and covenant Lord of Israel, equal with the Father.
So when visitors from the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) come to your door and insist that it is blasphemy for you to worship Jesus as though he were Jehovah God, you can calmly—but compassionately!—take them to Isaiah 45, and then to Philippians 2:10–11: The Lord who in Isaiah insists that he alone is God, the God to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess, is Jesus, who stooped to die the cursed death of the cross. This Jesus is the only One to whom the ends of the earth must turn, in order to receive salvation! Peter confessed the same truth to Israel’s leaders: “This Jesus … has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11–12). Gently invite your Watchtower visitor to turn with you to Jesus the Lord in humble trust and deep submission, and be saved.
As you invite your visitor (and others as well) to appreciate the divine majesty of Jesus, you yourself need to remember that both submission and trust are included in confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. You may have noticed that our English version of Isaiah 45:23 reads, “To me … every tongue shall swear allegiance.” That is an accurate reflection of Isaiah’s Hebrew. The Hebrew verb shaba‘, which stands behind the esv’s “swear allegiance,” typically refers to the taking of an oath and the resultant demand of loyalty (for example, see Gen. 21:23–24, 31; 1 Sam. 24:21; 2 Chron. 36:13). In the Greek Septuagint, this term was rendered exomologeō, a term apparently flexible enough to encompass both swearing an oath of loyalty (as in Rom. 14:11) and declaring a solemn conviction (as in Phil. 2:11). In our text, the content of the conviction confessed—that “Jesus Christ is Lord”—implies exclusive and ready commitment to this Lord. Both the bent knees and the confessing tongues of all creatures will one day express their universal allegiance to Jesus the King. You realize, I trust, what this means for you today: If you confess “Jesus Christ is Lord” as his follower and a member of his church, that announcement must be far more than a theological thesis that you affirm and defend. To say that simple but profound sentence is to renounce your independence and submit to the will and word of this Lord, “who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5). It is to bend the knee of your heart, to embrace his agenda for your life and his priorities over your preferences. It is to say and really mean, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Delight in His Glory
The glorious finale of the Song of the Condescending King brings us to the brink of eternity. We look ahead to a future day in which the reality that already defines world history—that God has exalted Jesus the eternal Son and Suffering Servant to the highest place—which remains partially hidden for the present, will be displayed for all to see. Christ’s vindication through his resurrection, ascension, and enthronement as Lord at the Father’s right hand has reversed the humiliation and suffering that he voluntarily embraced in his incarnation and redemptive mission, his obedience to the Father’s purpose, even though it led to the death of the cross. Because Jesus the Son gave all, the Father was pleased to give him the name above every name. Not only has Christ been the Father’s eternal equal from the standpoint of his divine nature, but now as the incarnate Son, still sharing our humanity and now abundantly alive from the dead forevermore, he bears the divine name Lord. His descent into suffering and ascent to glory have blazed the path for those who trust him, whose spiritual well-being he served in preference to his own interests. To know that he now reigns over all and one day will certainly be acclaimed as Lord by all gives you reason for hope in your current troubles, but it provides even more than the prospect of relief from pain and shame. As you hear of God’s pleasure in exalting his Son and of the Son’s delight in fulfilling the Father’s plan and advancing the Father’s glory, you can glimpse your own destiny from a distance. You who trust Jesus can anticipate the day when your love for each other has displaced your inborn self-interest, and the heartfelt unity of affection seen in Christ’s church shows the world a reflection of the infinite love among the persons of the triune God. Surely such hope gives you the strongest of reasons to replace competition and conceit with compassionate service to others this very day.