Descending into Greatness, part 1 (Philippians 2:9)

Over the last two weeks we’ve been examining Paul’s illustration of extreme selflessness in Christ’s example in His seven steps downward in voluntary humiliation from the incarnation to the crucifixion.  That was in Philippians 2:6-8:

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And it was all his own doing.  No one humbled him!  Herod did not humble him.  Pilate did not humble him.  The high priest did not humble him.  The Romans did not humble him.  Jesus “humbled himself.”  The humblest man who ever lived is Christ himself, the God-man.  No other man or woman has even come close!

But at this point, there is a radical reversal in the hymn.  Kent Hughes asks us to picture it like this:

So the down, down, down of Christ’s humiliation is followed by his soaring exaltation.  To get the feel of this, picture the gears of a catapult being ratcheted down ever tighter with the three movements of his self-humiliation, so that the final groaning click of the gears creates an explosive tension, and then the gear is tripped, launching indescribable exaltation.

Whereas in these three verses Christ is the active subject, humbling himself; in the second part (vv. 9-11) it is God who acts and Christ is the object of the divine action.  Whereas the first “verse” of the hymn focuses on Christ’s self-humiliation, the second “verse” describes His super-exaltation by God.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This part open with the double conjunctions dio kai, indicating that this act of God is the logical outcome of what Christ did in humbling himself…it is the direct result.  It was precisely Jesus’ humiliation that became the grounds for his exaltation. By humbling himself on the cross out of love, he demonstrated that he truly shared the divine nature of God, who is love (1 John 4:8).

Jesus had consistently taught His disciples that we must humble ourselves, and when we do God will exalt us.

In Matthew 23:12 we read:

12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 14:11 says the same.

When we get it all backwards and we exalt ourselves, then God is forced to step in and humble us.

Proverbs 18:12 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

You remember what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, right?  He was the mighty king of Babylon, and worse of all, He knew it.  He believed that it was His might and knowledge that had built Babylon into a worldwide power.

And because of that pride, God humbled him.

Jesus, of course, illustrates the principle of humility in John 13:13-17 and here in Philippians 2:5-8.

1 Peter 5:6 also says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…”

God is committed to exalting those who humble themselves.  We just have to trust God for the “proper time.”

The exaltation of Jesus, which is now the theme of this second part of the Christ-hymn, is not described in stages as the descent into humiliation was.  Rather, it is presented as one dramatic act, lifting Christ from the depths of humiliation to the heights of glory.

“He humbled himself as no other could ever humble himself.  He is exalted as no other is exalted” (When God Became Man, George Lawlor, p. 120).

Hebrews 2:9 confirms this move:

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned [now] with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

2 Corinthians 8:9 also shows us the purpose of this move:

9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

It was all for us.  All for you and me that He humbled Himself.

But now For this reason (“therefore”) God raised him to life and highly exalted him, entrusting him with the rule of the cosmos and giving him the name that is above every name.

This compound verb “highly exalted” is found only here in the New Testament and it means to “super-exalt,” to “raise something or someone to the very highest of heights.”

It is not comparative, that Jesus is just higher than any other being, or even higher than He was prior to the incarnation, but it is a superlative expression—He is the highest.  There can be no other higher.

He made Himself the lowliest of the low, now God make Him the highest of the high.  No one compares.

Interestingly, this verb is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament and it describes Yahweh as the one who is “exalted far above all gods” (Psalm 96:9; cf. Daniel 3:52, 53, 57-58).  So Jesus shares that with His Father as well.

Though Christ’s exaltation was a once-and-for-all event, it was the culmination of a process that began with the resurrection.  He had gone down, down, down through his incarnation and passion and death (which wrought such infinite spiritual compression), but then in a final, explosive upsurge the grave could no longer hold him.

Thus we have that brilliant moment on Sunday morning when Jesus came right through his grave clothes in the sacred body of his humiliation, glorious and radiant.

Rick Renner tells of coming across an old document in an antique shop in Russia.  It turned to be the birth announcement by a Russian Tsar.

The imperial insignia was still pressed into the broken wax seal, and on the back of the letter was an inscription with all the names and titles of this particular Russian Tsar. The beautiful handwriting described him as:

Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Tauric Chersonesos, Tsar of Georgia, Lord of Pskov, and Grand Duke of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, Finland, Jerusalem, [and so forth, and so forth, and so forth].

The point of these titles was clear: There was no higher name and no greater power than the Tsar of Russia in the realms of his rule.  But that is nothing compared to Jesus Christ.

His glory is now “21 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.22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:21-22).

There, in Ephesians 1, Paul says that Jesus is “far above.”  In the context of this verse, it means quite simply that no one in the universe has a higher rank, name, or position than Jesus Christ!

Furthermore, to affirm Jesus’ highest position, Paul added the word “all,” which is a translation of the Greek word pas, meaning anything and everything.  By using these two words together, huperano and pas, he left no room for misunderstanding or doubt regarding his message — that Jesus Christ holds the highest and most exalted position in the entire universe. He is literally “above all.”

Paul went on to describe the specific categories that Christ is above. First, he stated that Christ is “above all principalities….”  The word “principalities” is from the Greek word arche, and it denotes rulers of the highest level.  This encompassing term refers to all human rulers, including kings and politicians.

However, it must be noted that the word arche is also used in Scripture to refer to angelic beings.  This means Paul was declaring that Christ’s exalted rank is far above all human rulers and angelic beings.  The natural and the spiritual realms are both under the dominion of Jesus Christ, and there is absolutely no one in any realm more highly exalted than Him.

Paul then mentioned Christ’s superiority over “powers.”  The word “powers” is the Greek word exousias.  This word describes people who have received delegated power, and therefore is often translated authorities.

In the context of Ephesians 1:21, this word exousias refers to people who hold public office and wield authority entrusted to them by their superiors or through an election. Paul was teaching that although these individuals yield substantial power and influence in the affairs of the world, their authority pales in comparison to that of Jesus Christ.

At the time Paul penned these words in the First Century AD, this was a very dangerous and powerful statement to make, because Roman political powers were actively persecuting the Church and attempting to suppress the message of the Gospel.  However, Paul wanted his readers to know that no matter what authority a politician might try to exert over the Church, Jesus had a rank that was even higher than most powerful human authorities.

Next Paul wrote of “might,” which comes from the Greek word dunamis. The word dunamis denotes explosive power, but it also was regularly used to describe the full strength of a military force.  By using this word, Paul declared that Jesus is exalted in His authority and power even above all the military forces in the world today.

As if this list is not already complete enough, Paul added one more word.  He stated that Christ is supreme above all “dominions.”  This is the Greek word kuriotes, which means lordships.  It could refer to any world system, political, financial, or any system of any type.  There simply is no system more high-ranking that the Lord Jesus Christ!  Jesus is the Lord of lords.

Finally, to make sure he has included everyone and everything on his list, Paul added “…and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come….” In one sweeping statement, Paul declared that Jesus is Lord over all.  He is literally superior to rulers (arche), elected leaders (exousias), military powers (dunamis), and constitutional authorities (kuriotes).  He is literally Lord over all!

Christ is now in Heaven with myriads of angels singing, “‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:12)—and you could probably add a few hundred more attributes as well.

Now back to Philippians 2.

It is difficult to imagine here that Jesus could be actually moved to a higher place than “being in very nature God” and “equality with God” (v. 6).  So I think what Paul means here is that God is making Jesus’ great superiority more fully evident to all humanity and all angelic beings.

I find this similar to the meaning of Romans 1:4,

4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

This doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God until after the resurrection, but that the resurrection made it patently clear that Jesus was the Son of God.  It removed all doubt.  At least, it presented convincing evidence that He was the Son of God.

The resurrection did not “make” Jesus the Son of God.  That has been His nature since before time began; but it was the resurrection in particular that so powerfully demonstrated the reality of that divine nature.

Jesus’ place now is at God’s right hand, the place of supreme authority and honor.  Stephen saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  The writer of Hebrews makes a point of having Christ sitting at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

And verse 13 says, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13)

Sitting (cf. Hebrews 10:12) indicates that Christ’s atoning work is finished.  His humiliation is over and now He sits in glory.

And this act of “super-exaltation” is accompanied by the parallel statement that God “bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”

This is a little harder to picture than the idea of Christ being exalted far above all earthly and heavenly authorities.

What does it mean that He has a “name that is above every name” and what is that name?

In comparison with the Tsar of Russia, Jesus has these names:

King of kings, Lord of lords, The Blessed and Only Potentate, The King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, The Anointed One, The Christ, The Messiah, The Chosen One, The Lamb of God, The Glory of God, The Word of God, The Only Begotten of the Father, Emmanuel, Son of Man, Son of God, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, The Power of God, The Wisdom of God, The Only Wise God, Prince of Peace, Redeemer, Chief Shepherd, Great Shepherd of the Sheep, Great High Priest, Universal and Supreme Head of the Church — God in the Flesh!

Those names are definitely superior to any earthly name.

But what is that name?  The option which seems to fit best is that it is “Lord Jesus.”  The name Jesus, of course, means Savior.  He is Lord and Savior.

The clue lies in the fact that it is “above every name.”  It is greater than any other name  conferred on Jesus.  In fact, it is God’s own name kyrios (Lord), which was used in the Greek Old Testament to represent Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel.  The name given to Jesus that is above every name is indeed Yahweh, God’s name, which fills so much of the Old Testament.

How can we be sure?  Verse 11 identifies Jesus as “Lord” (kyrios), Yahweh —“every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Giving Jesus the name “Lord” (Yahweh) is the ultimate of all honors because he says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD [Yahweh]; that is my name.”  It is no one else’s name.  Yahweh is the name that trumps all other titles — the awesome covenant name of the God of Israel — “the name that is above every name.”

What a moment it must have been those 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered Heaven and Paradise — to super-exaltation and a new name!

That is the name we bow before and worship and adore.  We pray, “hallowed be Thy name” and we pray in the name of Jesus.

Notice that this name is “bestowed” upon Jesus by the Father.  It was not exactly earned through obedience and sacrifice, but was “freely given” as an act of grace from the Father.

It reminds us that even the rewards we get for our obedience are not earned, but rather given to us as gifts.  We can never earn or “pay back” God for the grace He has given us.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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