Descending into Greatness, part 2 (Philippians 2:10-11)

Last week we were looking at Philippians 2:9-11, where Paul expresses the explosive result of Christ humbling himself by taking on humanity and dying the cruel, shameful, painful death on the cross.

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.

The name that God bestowed on Jesus is “Lord,” but more fully is “Lord Jesus Christ.”

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.

Now, look at vv. 10-11.  Here we find out why God has so highly exalted His Son Jesus Christ.

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.

Notice that v. 10 begins with the words “so that,” indicating that these verses indicate the purpose for which God highly exalted Jesus.

First of all, God highly exalted Jesus and gave Him the name “Lord” to promote universal submission to His Son’s sovereign authority.  God wants “every knee to bow” to His Son’s authority.

The interesting thing about this statement in vv. 10 and 11 is that it is attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 45:23 records Yahweh as saying, “

23 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.’

Of course, here in Philippians it is being applied to Jesus, another indication that God the Father and God the Son are equal in authority.

It is quite significant that this Old Testament quotation is taken from one of the Old Testament passages that emphasized so strongly the sole authority of Yahweh.  The verse immediately before this, verse 22, says, “I am God and there is no other.”

Kent Hughes emphasizes this:

As to how dynamic Paul’s application is, we must understand that the forty-fifth chapter of Isaiah is the Old Testament’s most forthright and forceful statement of God’s sovereign rule in history and salvation.  Four times in Isaiah 45 the Lord declares his absolute sovereignty.  Three times he says, “‘I am the LORD [Yahweh], and there is no other’” (vv. 5, 6, 18), and once he says, “‘For I am God ( El ), and there is no other’” (v. 22).  And it is with this fourth declaration of sovereignty that we have Yahweh’s call for utter allegiance: “‘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”’” (vv. 22, 23).

In the earthly, millennial sense, this was promised the Son in Psalm 2

7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

But the universality of this “change in status” is that even now every knee bows, literally “pertaining to heaven, pertaining to earth, pertaining to the underworld.”  Thus, every single member of the angelic, human and demonic realms, will ultimately join together in worshipping the one true God—Jesus Christ our Lord!

This high regard for the authority of Jesus Christ was once expressed by Charles Lamb in conversation with some friends: “If Shakespeare was to come into this room, we would applaud him; if Abraham Lincoln entered this world, we should all rise to honor him; but if Jesus Christ was to come into it, we should all fall down upon our faces.”

Notice that even unbelievers will bow down before the authority of Jesus Christ at that time.  While the Lake of Fire is not yet inhabited and the spirits of deceased unbelievers go to Sheol-Hades, it was still considered part of the “underworld.”  So not only every believer and every good angel, but the demons and unbelievers will bow before Jesus Christ.

No knee in the universe is excluded, be it human, angelic, or demonic.  This means that some will bow with spontaneous ecstasy, and others with grudging mourning and shame.  But bow they will!

The certainty of this was sealed with Yahweh’s oath in Isaiah 45:23: “‘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.”’”  So, regardless of your spiritual state, regardless of your might and power, regardless of your will, however steely and proud it may be, you will bow your knee to Jesus.  The only question is, when?  How much better to do it now!

Brian Doerksen has captured this important choice in his song, “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.”  In one chorus we sing:

One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God
One day ev’ry knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those,
Who gladly choose you now

Willingly we choose to surrender our lives
Willingly our knees will bow
With all our hearts, oh, mind and strength
We gladly choose you now

Don Richardson, who wrote Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts, a Canadian missionary to Western New Guinea, came to Citadel Bible College, where I went to school.

Don had an interesting theory about hell.

He said that often hell is pictured as the demons and the damned blaspheming and cursing God.  But, Don said, God isn’t going to allow that to go on throughout eternity.  Rather, those in hell will forever acknowledge the lordship of Jesus.

He explained by using the analogy of the threshold of pain.  Some people can endure only a small amount of pain before they will submit to anyone torturing them.  Others can endure much more pain before they are broken.  As a boy, you may have wrestled with a bigger boy who got you in a painful hold and increased your pain until you would agree to do or say what he wanted.  If he let up on the pain, you would defy him and say, “I’m not going to do it.”  So, he would increase your pain until you said, “Okay, I’ll do what you want!”

Don speculates that in hell, God is going to inflict on every person or demon the amount of pain necessary to bring that being into submission, where under duress he cries out, “Jesus is Lord.”  If God were to lessen the pain, the person would defy God.  So God increases the pain to the point where they submit and then holds them at that level throughout eternity.

I don’t know that you can prove his theory from Scripture, but it does make sense. However God does it, there isn’t a rebellious creature on earth or in hell who will not acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. It will be a forced confession, but every knee shall bow before Jesus. (from the sermon “Every Knee Shall Bow” by Steve Coles)

There are many other passages in the NT that affirm Christ’s universal right to rule.  In Matthew 28:18 Jesus claims to have received all authority in heaven and earth.  In Ephesians 1:20-21 Paul says that Christ was seated in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be named not only in the present age, but also in the age to come.

The early preaching of the church recognized that Christ was exalted to the status of Lord (Acts 2:33, 36) and upon the basis of his universal Lordship offered the gospel to all men (Acts 10:34-36).  Thus, Christ’s lordship is viewed as universal and eternal.  But he got there by humble obedience—that is the message proper of Philippians 2:6-11.

A second reason God has highly exalted Jesus and given him the name “Lord” is to promote personal acceptance of Christ’s sovereign authority.

Paul says that “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”

Confession with the tongue is the spoken counterpart to bowing the knee.  The verb “confess” is exhomologeo.  The word homologeo is found in 1 John 1:9 where we “confess” our sins—we agree with God or say what He would say about our sins.

With the preposition attached, it means to “speak out fully, openly, loudly and joyfully” or to “speak out plainly and publicly in the presence of others.”

What the bended knee indicates, the open tongue now openly and clearly expresses.

Romans 10 teaches us that this is part of the response to the gospel.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

It is vital that the heart and mouth are working together for salvation.  There are those who speaks the words, but their heart has not believed.  That’s why Jesus uttered those chilling words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount…

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

The confession is that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  This threefold confession was the earliest baptismal formula of the church (Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

But this confession is not limited to the church, to true believers, but “every tongue will confess.”

Of course, this is not a call for universalism, the idea that everyone, in the end, is saved.  Rather, every one will confess this, but only those who do so before death are saved.  The others are compelled to do so, but it doesn’t save them.

To break it down: “Jesus ” (meaning “the Lord saves”), the name given to the Son of God at his incarnation, signifies that the Lord’s salvation came when Jesus was born.  This is why Simeon swept baby Jesus into his arms and declared, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29, 30).

Second, the title “ Christ ” (meaning “the Anointed,” “the Messiah” in the Old Testament) speaks of his being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy — “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

Third, “ Lord ” is here understood to represent the divine name Yahweh, which is a public declaration of his sovereignty — “I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5, 6, 18; cf. 45:14, 22).

“He has always (in Paul’s view) shared in the Divine nature.  But it is only as the result of His Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection and Exaltation that He appears to men as on an equality with God, that He is worshipped by them in the way in which Jehovah is worshipped.” (Kennedy)

We also should not miss the significance that at a later time in the Roman Empire, all residents of the Empire were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Emperor, declaring that Caesar is Lord, and burning a pinch of incense to an image of the emperor. Though the Roman state saw this only as a display of political allegiance, Christians rightly interpreted it as idolatry – and refused to participate, often paying with their lives.

Paul has no doubt who is really Lord – not the Caesar whom he will stand trial before; Caesar may be a high name, but it is not the name above all names, the name which belongs to Jesus Christ!

Ultimately, and thirdly, all of this is for one purpose—“for the glory of God the Father.”

The end-all of all of God’s plans and actions, and all of Christ’s work on earth and now in heaven, and the Spirit’s work here on earth, is that God would receive all the glory.

God created us for His glory.  Everything He has done has been for His glory.

But as George Lawlor says…

“It must not be thought that God has been selfish in arranging all things for His own glory.  When it is analyzed, we find that what might seem to superficial minds as a selfish arrangement really is absolute unselfishness.  God has all along looked upon the things and interests of others, and has laid himself out for their good.  This has characterized the plan of God throughout its entire history; and when eventually the universe recognizes, acknowledges and confesses the mighty self-forgetfulness of the eternal God, and this is hailed as the real glory, we cannot desire it otherwise.” (When God Became Man, pp. 138-139).

Jesus does not rival God, despite the exalted status He occupies.  Jesus’ authority, though great, was given to Him.

Therefore, whenever and by whomever the confession is made that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” God suffers no embarrassment; rather He is being glorified for what He planned and gave and worked out that it would be so.

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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