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On Christ's Exaltation and Living for God Through Christ

Philippians 2:9–11: [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. (ESV)

We come now to the exaltation of Christ. The exaltation of Christ refers to the fact that Jesus not only ascended physically to Heaven, so that he is no longer on earth but is "up" in Heaven. Jesus also ascended in status.

Jesus Exalted as the God-Man

The first question we might ask is, "How can the Son of God be exalted any more than he already is, being God?" This is a reasonable question that perhaps too few have asked. Jesus, being the Son of God, already occupies from eternity the infinitely exalted position of being God, of being one with the Father and the Spirit. In that sense, Jesus cannot be exalted. He is God from eternity and by nature and necessity is exalted.

But it is at this point we come to face an incredible fact about Jesus. He is not only God; he is also man. As we have seen, Jesus Christ is God incarnate. The eternal God not only interacts in space and time with his creatures, but he even stoops so low as to take on himself the nature of man. Early church history witnessed multiple debates over the proper understanding of Christ and his relationship to God until at last the Athanasian Creed helped to stabilize the church's understanding in the fourth century. As the eternal Son of God begotten before time, there is no station to which the Son could be exalted. He is the LORD who does not change (Mal. 3:6).

And this is where Jesus's humanity enters the picture. As the Son of God became man in time, so the changes that occur as part of human nature so become possible for the Son within time. And as the Son is born in a stable and laid in a manger, growing up in a no-name town and in a no-name corner of the Roman empire, spending the last part of his life homeless and nearly possessionless, we might say that the Son could not have stooped any lower. As a result, as they say, it can only go up from here.

The exaltation of Christ refers to the event that our passage describes- that Jesus was not only raised to Heaven but was seated in the place of highest prominence at the right hand of the Father. The Father gave Jesus a name that is above every name. This means that Jesus is the superlative in every aspect of creation relative to importance, status, significance, honor, glory, dignity, and priority. Insofar as Jesus is the eternal Son of God, he is exalted as God eternally. Insofar as Jesus is the Son of Man, born of Mary, and the new Adam, he is exalted as man forever.

The Significance of Christ's Exaltation

What significance does the exaltation of Christ have for us? Much in every way. In the first, and perhaps most obvious, place, the fact of Jesus's exaltation is the motivator of our worship of him now. The text says as much in stating at least part of the purpose of the exaltation to be that every person everywhere (and from every-when) might eventually confess that Jesus is Lord. And all this is to the glory of the Father. Therefore, as the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, God has made glorifying him inseparable from worshipping Jesus. You cannot glorify God while failing to confess Jesus as lord.

In the second place, the exaltation of Jesus now is used by Scripture to motivate our humility now. Even in our passage from Philippians, the exaltation of Jesus isn't the point but grounds for his main instruction, which is to be of the same mind, which means being selfless, unconceited, humble, and looking out for others' interests as much as their own (Phil. 2:1-4). Then Paul tells them to have this attitude, which is the same one that Jesus had. Then Paul gives the description of Jesus's voluntary humiliation in his incarnation, tracing it all the way to his exaltation. In short, Paul is saying, "Don't be selfish and proud and divisive. Pursue unity together in humility and selflessness like Jesus did. Look how it worked out for him! Do you have a better plan?"

In the third place, Jesus's exaltation provides hope for our futures. This goes hand in hand with the motivation to our humility. We may be beaten down, tossed out, isolated, persecuted, ejected from society, abandoned by friends, plagued by controversy for our beliefs, but we have a hope that the greatest trouble on earth cannot reach. This is because our hope is in heaven, centered on the one whose exaltation provides the final seal of approval from the Father that Jesus not only completed his mission but is now our king. Our future lies secure with Christ, whose power nothing and on one can touch because he is Almighty God from everlasting in addition to the Son of Man who came to serve rather than be served.

In sum, understanding and knowing the exaltation of Jesus is crucial for living for God through Christ. We identify with his death in the past in baptism. We remember his death (and its effects) in the past in communion. But in our worship of Jesus we are not focusing on something about the past, or even the future, but the present. Jesus Christ is exalted now at the right hand of the Father, and all glory and honor and praise is due to him now. The exaltation of Christ is the part of the story arc of Christ's life in which we currently find ourselves. Therefore, if we are going to live for God through Christ, we need to live through Christ as he is now.