After the utter humiliation of death on the cross, Jesus was exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above every name: Lord and Savior. Examining the Scriptures, Alistair Begg looks at the logic behind Christ’s exaltation and what this means for believers. One day, every knee will bow before Jesus, willingly or unwillingly. This truth should unite the Church to love and serve to the glory and praise of the Savior.
Turn with me to Philippians chapter 2, if you would. As we said this morning, Philippians 2:5–11 is one of the classic New Testament passages on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Between verses 5 and 8, we were looking at the matter of Christ’s humiliation, and now, in verses 9, 10, and 11, the matter of Christ’s exaltation. I say again to you what I said this morning: that these verses are worthy of a complete series of studies on their own. And maybe one day we will do that, but for now we have the challenge that is before us, in the time that remains to us, to look at these remaining three verses.
Now, having invited you to turn to Philippians 2 purposefully, can I now invite you to turn to John 13 by keeping your finger in the place there in Philippians 2? If you would turn then to John 13, so that you will be able to flick back and forth between these two passages. We noted this morning that John 13 played into this matter of Christ’s expressed humility. And we said we would come back to it, and so we’re fulfilling my word.
What Paul provides, if you like, theologically, in the verses in Philippians 2, John’s Gospel portrays graphically in the account of the washing of the disciples’ feet by the Lord Jesus. And let me just show you what I mean by this: if you are open at John 13, then I want you to notice verse 3, first of all, where it says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Now, if you’re able to move back and forth between the verses, then flip back over to Philippians 2, and look at verse 6: “Who, being in very nature God.” So, what you have stated, if you like, theologically, there in Philippians 2 is now iterated in John 13 and is about to be portrayed.
In verse 4, it says of Jesus that “he got up from the meal, [and he] took off his outer clothing, and [he] wrapped a towel around his waist.” You turn back to Philippians 2, and you look at the phrase “[who] made himself nothing” in verse 7. You go back to John chapter 13: “[He] wrapped [the] towel around his waist … and began to wash [their] feet,” verse 5. You go back to Philippians 2: “Taking the very nature of a servant … he humbled himself.” Back to John 13:12: “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes”—and notice the phrase—“and returned to his place.” Here in the upper room, Jesus leaves the head of the table, which is his rightful place, adopts the posture of a servant in washing the feet of his disciples, and then he returns once again to his rightful place. And what you have in John 13 is an acted parable, if you like, of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, which is described here in more theological terminology by Paul in Philippians chapter 2.
Jesus, then, in his high priestly prayer in John chapter 17, prays to his Father, “Now, Father, [honor] me in your [own] presence with the glory I had with you before the world [was made].” And there Jesus is referring to the fact of his preincarnate glory and making clear our statement from this morning in relationship to the present participle “being,” reminding us that Jesus Christ was always—and is always—truly, fully God. So much so, that when the Father views the baptism of his Son, as it is recorded in the Gospels, the voice from heaven, you will remember, says, “[Here] is my beloved Son, [with] whom I am well pleased.” And on another occasion, the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son.… Listen to what he says!”
Now, let me turn you to one other portion of Scripture, which is important in relationship to this, and that is to Hebrews chapter 1. Because, in Hebrews 1:3, you have a very similar statement to what you find in Philippians chapter 2 and in the prologue of John’s gospel. And I want just to remind you of this—you’re partly familiar with it, I hope, from our studies in Hebrews—but here is the writer to the Hebrews describing the nature of the Son of God. Verse 3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins”—which is a reference to his atoning death—“he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” In other words, he returned to his rightful place, à la John 13, à la Philippians 2:9–11. “[And] he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
And then, throughout the rest of chapter 1, the writer goes on to contrast Christ with the angels and with others who would have been regarded as the supreme characters in Old Testament history. When you go into chapter 2 and into verse 7, you find this statement, quoting from the Psalms: “You made him a little lower than the angels”—talking of his incarnation—“you crowned him with glory and honor … [you] put everything under his feet. In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him”—because we live our lives in the “not yet” dimension. We live between D-Day and V-Day. We live between the checkmate, which has taken place in the atonement, and the final wrapping up of everything, when the devil and his legions are cast down into the darkness of an eternal hell. And in the meantime, although God has put everything under the feet of Christ, we do not see that at present in its totality. But what we do see—verse 9—is “Jesus … made a little lower than the angels, now [presently] crowned with glory and honor.” Why? “Because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Now, with all of that there, turn again to Philippians 2. Now, do you understand the significance of the “therefore”? It’s the same progressive thought that I have just given to you in Hebrews 2:9. “Therefore,” says Paul, “God exalted him”—Jesus—“to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” You say, “Well, we know that verse.” Yes, but what is this name that he gave him? To what is he referring when he says, “[He] gave him the name that is above every name”? Because the emphasis on the name is quite striking, I think you would agree.
Now, theologians say—and most of the commentators concur with this—that the reference here to the “name” can only be to “Lord,” or the Greek word is kyrios—kyrios in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament—and kyrios, translated “Yahweh,” which is a tetragrammaton, which is the Hebrew word for God, comprising four consonants, thus making it unpronounceable, and purposefully so, for the Jew would not take the name of God upon their lips. Now, what has happened is that God—Yahweh, the unpronounceable, ineffable God—has come in the incarnation in the person of Christ and has revealed God to man and to woman. And in doing so has gone to the cross, as in verse 8, and has now been raised to the highest place, to his rightful place. And upon this one has been conferred this name. And what you have here is a statement to the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Says one commentator, “He [has] changed the ineffable name into a name utterable by man,” a name “desirable by all the world”—a name, I might add, understandable by the world—and here “the majesty [of God] is … arrayed in robes of mercy.”
You may remember—for the Jew, remember—not so many evenings ago, we said, “And the curtain was torn in two”—I think it was on a Communion evening. And we said this was an amazing thing for the Jew, because that curtain said, “No way.” It said that you couldn’t meet God. It said that he was gone from you, and you were gone from him, and there was no approachability there. And he was altogether other. And then the curtain was torn in two. And he who was robed in majesty revealed the fact that his robes were mercy. And the unpronounceable God—the Yahweh—is revealed in the person of Jesus.
So, what you find is that most people say that the name is simply kyrios; it’s “Lord.” My good friend Sinclair Ferguson, whom I not only admire but read profusely, suggests that while that is true, there is more than an even possibility that Paul has in mind the meaning of Jesus’ name—or, if you like, the meaning of the name Jesus, which is “Savior.” Remember, “And you will call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” So, says Ferguson, while it would be true to say that that name is Lord, it is also true that the name is Savior. And he makes his case very convincingly by reminding us that Paul is using here Old Testament prophecy.
And you need to turn in your Bible again, this time to Isaiah chapter 45. For in Isaiah chapter 45, we have a prophecy, and in verse 15 we read this:
Truly you are a God who hides himself,
O God and Savior of Israel.
For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited—
“[I am Yahweh,] I am the Lord,
and there is no other.”
“Declare what is to be, present it—
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.”
Now, notice verse 23—and, incidentally, verse 22 is a wonderful verse, isn’t it?
“Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.”
Make a note of that; I want to preach on that someday soon. Verse 23:
“By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked.”
“Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone,’”
in Yahweh alone,
“‘[there is] righteousness and strength.”’
[And] all who have raged against him
will come to him and be put to shame.
So, says my good Scottish friend so helpfully, here with this in mind, Paul makes this great statement, pointing out that Jesus has been publicly exalted to the position which was his before his humiliation. And that, in this, we have a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In becoming man, the glory and majesty of Jesus was somewhat hidden. Now that he is exalted at the Father’s right hand, his majesty is there in all of its clarity, and his identity is unclouded.
The point is this: God is the only Savior. “And,” says Paul, “Jesus is that Savior.” God, the Lord, is the one before whom every knee will bow—every knee will bow before the Lord—and Jesus is that Lord. That’s why “We declare your majesty. We declare that your name is exalted, that you reign victorious.”
Now, I think if you’d ponder this for just a moment or two, you will agree with me that this is an impressive declaration of the deity of Christ, because if you think about the fact that Paul was once the most vehement monotheist, he was once the most vociferous opponent of Jesus and of his followers, and now he provides us with a classic exposition of the fact that Jesus is God. Because Isaiah 45 is a passage in which God, as the speaker, gives a description of himself, a description which applies exclusively to himself. “I am God,” he says, “and there is no other.” And now Paul takes up that very notion, and he applies that description to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, I told you this morning this is not easy stuff, and it’s not a lot easier this evening. In the vast majority of the references in the Septuagint—and there are over six thousand of them, over six thousand usages of the word kyrios for Lord—they are translating the divine name. The point is simple: a Greek-speaking reader of the Old Testament would immediately think of the holy name of the covenant God Yahweh when he heard the word kyrios used. So, for Paul to say that Jesus Christ is Lord is not primarily to make a statement which is about his own personal consecration, but it is to make a statement about the Savior’s divine identity.
Now, scholars work hard to deny this, and we must work hard to understand this, so that we will be able to give “a reason to everyone who asks of us the hope that we have.” Look at verse 10: “One day—willingly or unwillingly—every knee will bow before this Lord and Savior, and every tongue—either willingly or unwillingly—will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” You see the perfect symmetry there between the members of the Trinity?
Now, I’m not so sure that I am as clear with you as I am in my own mind about the logical connection that exists here between verses 5–8 and 9–11, and the “therefore,” which is the linking word between this notion of the humiliation and the exaltation of Christ, but there is a logical consequence that Paul refers to in these verses of exaltation. Theologians go to great lengths to underscore it. Let me tell you three ways in which this is most obvious—and I’m not going to take time with them at all. You can be relieved by my promise.
Why is it logical that he would be exalted to the highest place? Well, first of all, because Christ’s exaltation fulfills prophecy. The exaltation, the worldwide recognition of Jesus, which follows his humiliation, follows because the Father promised that it would. Now, again—you needn’t turn here, because I know your fingers are getting very tired—and let me just read to you what I mean. Isaiah 52:13: “See, my servant will act wisely”—God is speaking—“he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” This is Isaiah 52; this is six hundred years before Jesus arrived on the stage of human history!
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond [any] human likeness—
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Six hundred years before Christ, the Father prophesies that when his Son comes and bears the pain of sin and fulfills the role of the Suffering Servant, then the ends of the earth will see. You see how the Bible fits together?
God speaks to Abram, and he says, “And in [your] seed … all the nations of the earth [will] be blessed.” What could that possibly mean? It was pointing forward to the one who was to come, the one who yet still has not come six hundred years before his incarnation. But the promise of God is, “Ask of me and I will [give you] the nations [as] your inheritance.” Where does that come from? The Psalms. Psalm 2:
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.
Ask of me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
[and] the ends of the earth your possession.”
There it is, right there.
Why is there a logic, from humiliation to exaltation? Number one, because Christ was fulfilling prophecy and the Father had promised that it would be so. Therefore it is so. “For every promise of God finds its ‘Yes’ and its ‘Amen’ in the Lord Jesus.”
Secondly, it is a logical consequence, because the exaltation is Christ’s right, because Christ is himself God. And I needn’t beat this any further. The Bible teaches us that the Son is one with the Father in everything except the properties which distinguish him as the Son. It’s a very important phrase; you’ll find that always in theological textbooks. He is one with the Father in everything. And people say, “Well, how can that possibly be, because how do we have Christ on the cross and the Father somewhere else? How can you have God here and God there?” He is one with the Father in everything except in the properties which distinguish him as the Son. He is altogether equal with God. Therefore exaltation is a necessity, on account of his divinity. There is nowhere else for him to sit. There is no other seat that is suitable for this Christ, except on the right hand of the Father. Oh, we don’t go looking for the bones of Jesus as we would look for the bones of Buddha or Muhammad or Krishna or Gandhi. For “the highest place that heaven affords is his by sovereign right.”
There is a logical consequence—one, because he fulfills prophecy; two, because it is his by right—he, being God; and thirdly and finally, because he is the dear Son of his Father—because he is the dear Son of his Father. His Father watched the Son go to the cross. His Father observed the Son fulfilling the covenant of redemption, to which we referred this morning, when the Trinity—as we say it in the crassest of terms—got together and decided who was doing what. And the Father watched the Son become sin for us—2 Corinthians 5. The Father literally heard the cry piercing from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Father heard his Son in the high priestly prayer: “Father, glorify me [now] … with the glory I had with you before the world began.” So, the love of the Father for the Son made the Son’s exaltation the inevitable consequence of his humiliation. The Father would not leave the Son in that dire condition.
Now, that’s enough; let me conclude. Question: Has Christ’s humiliation for our sake brought us, as individuals and as a church, to the place where we have bowed our knees? Has this, does this, will this have a transforming impact on Parkside Church? Are we prepared to ask God so to use his Word, at this juncture in our history, in our lives, that we will actually never be the same again? Not that we will be perfect—that’s heaven—but that we will never be the same again. That the challenges of Philippians 2:1–4: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ … then make my joy complete … like-minded … same love … one in spirit and purpose .… Nothing out of selfish ambition … [no] vain conceit … humility [engendered in you, considering] others better than yourselves .… [Looking not] to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That’s, remember, what gave rise to these verses—not a theological paper, but a pastoral problem.
So, the real impact of verses 5–11 is not the intellectual stimulation—is not even the theological erudition—which may come as a result of our grappling with these immense thoughts, but the real implication—the preeminent notion that is here for us—is that we would become, as Paul longed for the church in Philippi to become, the kind of place where these characteristics were at work. That’s really the test of our grasp of Philippians 2:5–11. Not whether we can talk about kenosis, or whether we can talk about “the great stoop,” or whether we can articulate the nature of God’s nothingness had to do with addition rather than subtraction, and so on. That’s all well and good, but it can still be a miserable place to come to church. It still could be a wretched kind of environment in which to spend one’s time. Then we would simply be like the Pharisees, who had a zeal for God but were devoid of any kind of knowledge.
And finally, here’s a striking question: Are we really keen on the idea of going to heaven? This is my last question for the day. Are we really keen on the idea of going to heaven? You say, “Well, why would you ask?” Well, because, look at verse 10:
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.
Now, I will resist going somewhere else in the Bible, but you can do as your homework Revelation 4 and 5. When you turn to Revelation 4 and 5 and you read it in relationship to these verses in Philippians 2, you will understand this—we will understand this: that Christ is at the center of the throne of God and that it is Christ who is crowned with glory and honor. And what heaven will primarily be is described here in verse 10—that we will know the wonder and the ultimate joy of being able to declare who Christ is, seeing him and being made like him.
If you think about it, most of the appeals that we make concerning going to heaven are a lot less than this—or at least a lot different from this: “Oh, I’m looking forward to going to heaven because I’m going to be reunited with my loved ones”—it’s understandable. “I’m looking forward to going to heaven because we won’t cry in heaven”—it’s fine; the Bible says that. “I’m looking forward to going to heaven because apparently the streets are paved with gold, and I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure keen to find out what it’s going to be like.”
Do you realize how earthly and materialistic most of our notions of heaven truly are? It would be like a bride saying, you know, “I’m so looking forward to my wedding because the flowers I’m having are spectacular.” True enough. “I’m looking forward to my wedding because my dress is beautiful,” and you know, “I can’t wait to show it to everyone. I’m looking forward to my wedding because all of my…” Any mention of your husband in this, at all? “Oh yes, him! Well, yeah, he’ll be there of course.” Do you get the point? “Oh yeah, Jesus will be there, oh yeah, yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, you’ll see Jesus, yeah.”
Let me tell you this: all of the attention, all of the praise, all of the time in all of heaven will be Christ’s! That’s what challenges me so much. Hence, my final question of the day: Are we really interested in going to heaven? Can I honestly say that I am looking forward to that in the there and then, when I am only marginally interested in that in the here and now?
That, you see, is why the pagan world comes in and says, “I don’t believe a stinking word you folks are saying! ’Cause if you really believed what you say, then this whole gig would be radically different from what it is.” And do you know what? It’s true.
And Jesus said, “And a time is coming and has now come when they that worship will worship in spirit and in truth, for those are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” “The bride eyes not her garment,” says [Anne Cousin], writing on the basis of the memoirs of Samuel Rutherford—the godly Samuel Rutherford:
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze on glory
But on the King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His nail-pierced hand;
For the Lamb is all the glory
In Emmanuel’s land.
Father, write your Word in our hearts this night, we pray. Clear up any confusion that lingers. Forgive us for our unalloyed preoccupation with ourselves and our territory and our glory and our whatever. “Open our eyes; we want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch him and say that we love him. Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen. Open our eyes, Lord, we do want to see Jesus.” Hear our prayers, and let our cry come unto you, for his name’s sake. Amen.
 John 13:4–5 (NIV 1984).
 John 17:5 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 3:17 (KJV).
 Matthew 17:5 (paraphrased).
 Jeremy Taylor, “Considerations upon the Circumcision of the Holy Child Jesus,” in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., Lord Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore, eds. Reginald Heber and Charles Page Eden, vol. 2, The Great Exemplar of Sanctity and Holy Life according to the Christian Institution; Described in the History of the Life and Death of the Ever-blessed Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, rev. ed. (London: 1864), 104.
 Matthew 27:51 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 1:21 (paraphrased).
 Source unknown.
 Source Unknown.
 Malcolm du Plessis, “We Declare Your Majesty” (1984). Paraphrased.
 1 Peter 3:15 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 52:14–15 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 22:18 (KJV).
 Psalm 2:8 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 2:7–8 (NIV 1984).
 2 Corinthians 1:20 (paraphrased).
 Thomas Kelly, “The Head That Once Was Crowned” (1820).
 See 2 Corinthians 5:21.
 Matthew 27:46 (NIV 1984).
 John 17:5 (NIV 1984).
 John 4:23 (paraphrased).
 Anne Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857). Paraphrased.
 Robert Cull, “Open Our Eyes, Lord” (1976). Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.