This article on Philippians 2:9-10 looks at Jesus Christ as our Lord.

Source: Clarion, 2011. 2 pages.

Tension in the Ascension?

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.

Philippians 2:9-10

It was Martin Luther, I believe, who said something like, "Where I see tension, that is where I preach." In coming again to Philippians 2, and looking especially at verses 9-11 this time, a striking tension stares us in the face. Is Christ to be our example, or is he not?

The tension is present already at the beginning of this piece of exalted writing. Paul says that the Philippians should have the same attitude as Christ Jesus, but then immediately adds, "Who, being in very nature God..."

What now? Does anyone else feel like the bar is set a little high here? The tension continues in the verses 9-11: God "exalted (Jesus) to the highest place," or more literally, "super-exalted" him. And God "gave him the name that is above every name." Finally, every knee will bow to Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

It is possible that when you read this, the tension that you first discerned in the text begins to take shape as a knot in your stomach. Is Paul suggesting that we should aspire to cosmic dominion, deity, and universal obeisance? The short answer is: of course not.

Paul is not calling us to imitate the exalted status of Jesus Christ, but rather to be awed and amazed by his pre-eminence. In the verse 6 Paul displays Christ to us as God, who from eternity dwelt with the Father and the Spirit in the fullness of majesty and glory. In verse 9, the apostle shows how the extreme humiliation and suffering of Jesus Christ, although necessary and effective for our salvation, is not his present state. Now Jesus Christ has been super-exalted, lifted up by the Father from the grave through the heavens to the place of highest honour, power, and glory – the right hand of the heavenly Father. This is where he now sits and rules, not only as the eternal deity that he always was, but now also as the vindicated Messiah. Jesus, once mockingly hailed as King of the Jews, is now invested by God the Father.

What is more, God has lavished upon his beloved Son the name that is above every name, the name LORD or Yahweh. He was of course always LORD, but now the hidden is revealed. From the two men on their way to Emmaus, to the disciples who witnessed his resurrection, to everyone who hears the testimony of Jesus Christ and believes, the true identity and status of Jesus of Nazareth is revealed. And one day, in the final and ultimate vindication, when Jesus Christ returns in judgment, every knee and every tongue will be forced to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD.

What is striking is that even though we are awed by the glory of Jesus Christ, there remains even here a twofold example for us. The key to discerning this example is to go back to verse 5 and notice that Paul is speaking about attitude: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."

The first example is echoed by both James and Peter later in the New Testament: "Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up" (James 4:10, 1 Pet 5:6). This is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life. We are called to humble and obedient service. We are called to acknowledge our sinfulness and utter dependence on God. We are called to echo the words of the unworthy servants of Luke 17:10 and say, "We have only done our duty." And yet God promises us that when we pursue our calling in life with this attitude and expect nothing in return, God will reward us with eternal joy and pleasures at his right hand (Luke 6;35). The fullness of this will commence when we stand with Jesus Christ at the judgment, made righteous through his blood, vindicated through our union with him.

The second example in Christ's attitude is his goal in all things. Before his incarnation, during his life on earth, in his death on the cross, and while he exerts his Lordship upon the world, Jesus Christ fully and completely does everything for the glory of God the Father. This is to be our goal as well, that in all things God would receive the glory. It reminds us of another emphasis of Martin Luther: Soli Deo Gloria.

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