The Exaltation of Christ (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 2:9–11   |   Sunday, May 12, 2013   |   Code: 2013-05-12-MR



This morning we return to our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And I remind you that we have subtitled this marvelous letter that we call “the Book of Philippians” The Gospel-Driven Life. And we’ve chosen that title on the basis of the letter’s thesis verse, a verse that I hope by now is burned into everyone of your minds: Philippians chapter 1 verse 27, which says, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” All of the exhortations and instructions that Paul gives throughout the remainder of this letter are simply the exposition of this command.


And so the Book of Philippians is a call to live a life worthy of the Gospel, or—as we have put it—to live a Gospel-driven life. All of Paul’s concerns for the Philippians’ growth in grace are summed up by this overarching concern for them to bring the Gospel of Christ to bear on every aspect of their lives. He desires that this precious congregation—these brothers and sisters who have been so close to his heart—would live in a manner that is consistent with the implications of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on their behalf—that every facet of their lives would be shaped and driven by the Gospel by which they have been saved.


And after giving that general exhortation, Paul then begins to unpack what it will look like for the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. You see at that time, the Philippians were facing opposition from the outside world because of their commitment to Christ. And so living in a manner worthy of the Gospel meant standing firm in the face of that opposition, and continuing to preach the Gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ the midst of a hostile society. But in order to do that, they would have to be unified. An army of soldiers can’t hold their own ground amidst opposition and advance behind enemy lines unless they fight as a unified body. And so in the spiritual warfare of the Christian life, bringing the Gospel to bear on our everyday lives means walking in the unity with one another that Christ purchased for us on the cross. And so at the beginning of chapter 2, unity becomes the Apostle’s concern.


But then quickly we learn that in order to experience that Gospel-driven unity, God’s people must also be characterized by Gospel-driven humility. The only way we’re going to be unified is, verse 3, if we do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility of mind regarding one another as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. And then in verses 5 to 11, Paul gives us the supreme example—the perfect illustration—of that kind self-sacrificing humility when he calls us to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” And so, in verses 6 to 8 we studied in depth the humiliation of Jesus, with a view to imitating the perfect example of humble service that we have in our Lord Jesus. If the Highest of the high—the One worthy of all praise and honor—could descend to the lowest of the low, to the abject degradation of death on a cross, surely we can humble ourselves and lay down our lives in obedience to Christ and in service to His people.


But this morning we come to verses 9 to 11, in which Paul celebrates the exaltation of Christ that followed His humiliation. The sorrow and pain of Good Friday gives way to the glory and rejoicing of Resurrection Sunday, as Christ rises victoriously from the grave, and after 40 days is exalted to the right hand of the Father. But just like Christ’s humiliation serves an illustrative purpose, so does this text. What we’ll see this morning is that it is not only Christ’s humiliation that shows us how to live and minister in humble service of one another. Even Christ’s exaltation will prove exemplary, and will help us in our pursuit of Gospel-driven humility. Let’s read the text together.


5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


What we have in this text are three elements of the exaltation of Christ. We have the reason for His exaltation in the beginning of verse 9. We have the nature of His exaltation in the second half of verse 9. And we have the purpose of His exaltation in verses 10 and 11. And as we study Christ’s exaltation together this morning, it’s my prayer that (a) our hearts will be filled with worship as we behold this exalted Christ in all of His majestic glory, and that (b) the sight of that exalted glory would give us fuel for our pursuit of humility and our battle against pride.


I. The Reason for His Exaltation (v. 9a)


Let’s consider, then, that first element of Christ’s exaltation, number one: the reason. The reason for His exaltation. Read verse 9 with me: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…”


“For this reason.” Or, some of your translations will have, “Therefore.” Well what is the “this reason”? What is the “therefore” there for? It’s there to causally link Jesus’ display of humility to His exaltation.


As God, He emptied Himself—made Himself of no effect—by becoming man, taking the form of a slave; and as man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even though He never deserved to feel death’s sting. And not just death in general. But He humbled Himself even to death on a cross, subjecting Himself not only to the pain and shame of crucifixion, but also to the curse of God—even though He never deserved to taste the bitterness of the cup of His Father’s wrath. For this reason, Paul says, God highly exalted Him.


What we see here, illustrated by the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, is the truth of that general principle stated in Proverbs 22 verse 4: “The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, honor and life.” Jesus Himself taught this principle on multiple occasions, always directed at the prideful Pharisees. In Matthew 23, just before He pronounces those eight woes on the Pharisees and scribes, He instructs His disciples not to be called “Rabbi,” or “Father,” or “Leader,” and tells them that the greatest among you shall be your servant. And then comes the principle, Matthew 23:12: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” He repeats this statement in Luke 18 as He concludes the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the proud and self-righteous Pharisee leaves condemned in the sight of God, but the humble tax collector, beating his breast and begging for mercy, goes to his house justified.


And Jesus repeats this principle yet again in Luke chapter 14, as He attends a banquet in the home of a Pharisee and sees that the guests were all choosing the places of honor at the table. And so He tells a parable to illustrate this point, Luke 14 verse 8: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” You see? Don’t arrogantly choose the place of honor for yourself, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. But choose the place of humility. Philippians 2 verse 3: “With lowliness of mind regard others as more important than yourselves.” And, having chosen the way of shame and humiliation, you will experience the blessing of honor and exaltation. And that is exactly what happened with the Lord Jesus. He humbly chose the path of degradation and disgrace, and for this reason God highly exalted Him.


Now, what’s Paul’s point here? Is it simply to narrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? No. Remember, as we’ve said, this look at the humiliation and exaltation of Christ has an illustrative purpose in Paul’s argument. He’s called the Philippians to the kind of Gospel-driven unity that can only exist when the members of a congregation are marked by a Gospel-driven humility. And in order to stir them up to that humility, he calls them to imitate the Supreme Example of that humility: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But Paul doesn’t stop with Christ’s example of humiliation. He carries straight through to His example of exaltation. He says that Christ’s humility was the very reason for His exaltation. Paul is encouraging the Philippians to pursue humility by entreating them to behold the glorious consequences of such humility!


This is such a glorious a principle for Christian living! Follow the reasoning here. The reason that you and I are tempted to be prideful—tempted to forego the path of humiliation and disgrace—is because that recognition and honor feels so good! And we think we’re going to miss out on that! If we’re constantly regarding others as more important than ourselves, and preferring one another in honor—serving humbly behind the scenes rather than stealing the spotlight, deferring to the interests of others rather than insisting on our own rights—we’re going to miss out on how good it feels to be admired, and vindicated, and exalted.


And Paul says, “No way! That’s not how it worked out for Jesus! Jesus went to the very lowest place: death on a cross. And for this very reason, God exalted Him to the highest place, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name! Do you want real honor? Do you want real exaltation? Well don’t settle for the cheap stuff! Don’t be so easily pleased by the temporary substitutes that the world offers! Pursue humility! That’s where true glory is gained!” I love that! Paul doesn’t say, “Stop desiring to be exalted! Stop desiring glory and honor!” He says: Enlarge your desire for true exaltation! Deepen your desire for true honor and glory, by pursuing the real thing in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Paul is teaching us to fight the temptation to seize the pleasure of earthly glory and recognition among men by alluring us—by enticing us—with the superior pleasure of heavenly glory and the recognition of God! We are to fight the temptation to sinful pleasures with the promise of a superior pleasure! Calvin summarizes the point perfectly. He says, “…for from the most abject condition [Christ] was exalted to the highest elevation. Everyone therefore that humbles himself will in like manner be exalted. Who would now be reluctant to exercise humility, by means of which the glory of the heavenly kingdom is attained?” (59).


Now, you say, “Wait a minute. Now that doesn’t sound right. You’re saying we should pursue humility because of the reward of exaltation that will follow. But that sounds selfish. We shouldn’t obey for what we can get out of it!” Many Christians have imbibed this notion that if our obedience is motivated by the pleasure that we gain from it or the reward that it will bring, it’s not real obedience. “True obedience is disinterested obedience,” they say. The problem is: God doesn’t love a disinterested giver! God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who” . . . keeps a stiff upper lip and disinterestedly grinds out his duty?  No! “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (John 14:21). The notion that it’s immoral to be motivated to do good because of the reward that will come of it has its origin in Kantian and Stoic philosophy, not the Word of God.


And there are literally dozens of other texts that we could turn to in order to substantiate this. But perhaps the clearest place this idea is supported in Scripture is Hebrews chapter 11. Turn there with me. It’s there that the author of Hebrews defines faith itself—the very cornerstone of the Christian life—as believing that God rewards obedience. Hebrews 11 verse 6: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” It is that belief that characterized the spiritual heroes in the hall of faith. They all obeyed because they believed that God was a rewarder of those who seek Him. Skip down to verse 25 where the writer applies this to Moses, “who,” verse 25, “[chose] rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” Moses fought the temptation to be satisfied in the passing pleasures of sin with the superior pleasure of the reward that is in Christ Jesus. And none of you reads that and thinks, “Oh, Moses is so selfish!” You think, “Moses was a man of faith whose heart was singularly devoted to the Lord.”


And if you skip down to verse 2 of chapter 12 there in Hebrews, we see that this was no less true of the Lord Jesus Himself, who, it says, endured the cross for the joy set before Him. It was the joy of gaining the Father’s glory that He had always enjoyed for all eternity that motivated Jesus to endure the shame and humiliation cross. And Paul is holding the Lord Jesus out to us as an example, enticing us to forsake the passing pleasures of notoriety, vindication, and the praises of men, and to consider the exaltation that comes from God after the suffering, and after the humiliation to be greater riches. Rather than seizing a plastic crown in this life, set your sights on a greater exaltation—that inheritance which is reserved in heaven for you, imperishable, undefiled, and which does not fade away (1 Pet 1:4). Don’t sabotage your own growth in grace by depriving yourselves of one of the most powerful biblical motivations for obedience: the joy set before us!


1 Peter chapter 5 verse 6 is a key text for us here. The Apostle Peter writes, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that [or so that] He may exalt you at the proper time.” James says the same thing in James 4:10: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Pursue humility for the express purpose of obtaining the true and greater exaltation that comes as a reward from God.


And so the major lesson from this text comes to us in this first point: the reason for Christ’s exaltation.


II. The Nature of His Exaltation (v. 9b)


Look with me now at the second element of Christ’s exaltation. Number two: its nature. The nature of His exaltation. Verse 9 again: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…”


The phrase that the NAS translates “highly exalted” there is the Greek word huperupsóo, which is a compound word that Paul invents in order to adequately express the magnitude of this exaltation. You could translate it: “super-exalted.” The Father did not simply exalt His obedient Son to a greater position than He had before; that’s not so much the point of this phrase. The point is that He exalted Him to the highest position anyone could ever occupy—to the position of the greatest honor and of supreme power.


And that is only re-emphasized by the phrase, “and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” This phrase is best understood as the manner in which the Father exalted Jesus. In other words, you could read verse 9 as saying, “God highly exalted Him by bestowing on Him the name which is above every name.” And the word translated “bestow” there is the familiar word charizomai, from charis, which is the New Testament word for grace. It means “to give as a gift,” or “to give freely or graciously.” It’s the same word used in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” It has the idea of abundant and gracious blessing. As a reward for Christ’s humility-driven obedience, the Father graciously bestows upon the Son the name which is above every name.


Now in that Ancient Near Eastern culture, a name was more than just a way to distinguish one person from another. One commentator writes that a name was “a means of revealing the inner being, the true nature of that individual” (Hawthorne, 91). And we see testimony of that throughout the Old Testament. Jacob is born grasping Esau’s heel, which is what ya‘akov means: to grasp the heel. And grasping the heel was a Hebrew idiom for deceiving or cheating someone. This is why when Jacob cheats Esau out of his birthright, Esau says, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times!” (Gen 27:36, ESV). Or even just in a general sense, in 1 Samuel 24:21, Saul begs David not to destroy his name from his father’s household. The enemies of Jeremiah plotted to destroy him, saying, “let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more,” Jeremiah 11:19.


And so when Paul says that the Father bestowed upon Jesus the name above all names, he’s speaking here of the supremacy of Christ’s dignity. This is why the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 1 verses 3 and 4 that “when He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” John Calvin writes, “The meaning therefore, is that supreme power was given to Christ, and that he was placed in the highest rank of honour, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or in earth that is equal to his” (61).


Now you say, “Wait a minute. Was that ever not true of Jesus? Didn’t He remain God even in the humiliation of His incarnation?” Well yes, indeed, He did. Jesus didn’t renounce, or empty Himself of, His deity or any of His divine attributes at His incarnation. He didn’t give up His essential equality with God. But he did give up the dignity of authority by leaving the continual worship of the saints and angels in heaven, and by veiling the full expression of His deity during His time on earth. In other words, Jesus didn’t cease to be God while here on earth, but He did cease to be recognized and worshiped as God by all of His creatures. And as a result of that willingness to be humbled, the Father once again granted Him the rank and “dignity of station commensurate with His nature” (Kent, 125) by exalting Him to the place of supreme authority and universal dominion over all creation. He answered Jesus’ prayer in John 17, where He said, “Father I’ve accomplished the work You’ve given Me to do. Now restore to Me the glory I shared with You before the world began.”


And for a few moments I just want to celebrate Christ’s exaltation with you by looking at a number of texts that show what that supreme authority and universal dominion look like. The first step in Jesus’ exaltation was the resurrection. The Author of Life humbly submitted Himself to death—even death on a cross—to bear the curse of the Father’s wrath against the sins of His people. The One who had life within Himself, John 1:4—the One who had the prerogative to give life to whomever He wishes, John 5:21—that One humbly released His grip on His own life. He was forsaken by everyone—even by the Father Himself—in order to bear the curse in our place. But the crucifixion wasn’t the end of the story. Three days later He rose from the grave, victorious over death, demonstrating that the Father was satisfied by the sacrifice that the Son had made. As a faithful high priest, Jesus had made propitiation for the sins of His people. And Romans chapter 1 verse 4 says that He “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” Now of course Jesus was always the Son of God, from all eternity. But the resurrection was the Father’s special declaration that though Jesus had to cry out in humiliation, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?”, He was no longer forsaken. There was reconciliation in the Godhead because of the perfection of Jesus’ sacrifice. The God-man had defeated death, and was thus declared once again to be the Son of God.


Not only was Jesus resurrected, but He then ascended from the earth back to the Father, where He reigns over all things at the Father’s right hand.


Before His ascension, Jesus Himself declared in Matthew 28:18: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”


Hebrews 2:9 says, “…Jesus, because of the suffering of death [was] crowned with glory and honor…”


Acts 5:30 and 31: Peter says, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior…”


1 Peter 3:22 speaks of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”


And finally Ephesians 1, verses 20 to 22: “[The Father] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”


And friends, Christ’s exaltation includes not only His resurrection; not only His ascension; not only His coronation and present reign at the right hand of the Father. But it also includes the reality that He is coming quickly, and will soon manifest the fullness of His authority when He returns in judgment to set up His Kingdom over all the earth, and, as His Father promised in Psalm 2:8, to claim the nations as [His] inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as [His] possession. On that day, He will no longer be “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He is a fearsome, conquering King with a passion for justice and a holy hatred for all that is unrighteous. And so Paul declares in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 that “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” The Apostle John describes that moment of His coming as Jesus breaking through the clouds on a white horse judging and waging war in righteousness. Revelation 19:15 says, “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”


And for those of us who love Him, who trust in His righteousness and His atoning sacrifice on our behalf, for those of us who long to see Him vindicated and exalted—to see Him receive the worship and the glory that He is due—that day will be one of greatest rejoicing. That very same passage, 2 Thessalonians 1, after describing the judgment of the wicked, describes the rejoicing of the righteous. 2 Thessalonians 1:10: “…when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” “When He comes, our glorious King / All His ransomed home to bring / Then anew this song we’ll sing: ‘Hallelujah! What a Savior!’”


III. The Purpose of His Exaltation (vv. 10–11)


And that brings us to the third element of Christ’s exaltation. We’ve seen the reason for His exaltation was His prior humiliation. And we’ve just celebrated the nature of His exaltation as including His resurrection, ascension, and coronation. And as we looked forward to His second coming, we come now, number three, to the purpose of Christ’s exaltation; namely, universal worship. Look at the text: “…God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”


The purpose of this super-exaltation of Christ to the place of highest authority, rank, and dignity—the purpose of the Father bestowing upon Him the name which is above every name—is that in honor of the name conferred upon Jesus every last sentient being will bow in submission to and will openly acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to the glory of God the Father!


And it’s here that this wonderful hymn of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation reaches its climax. Throughout verses 9 and 10 Paul has been speaking about this “name,” but he’s never actually said what that name is! He’s said that the Father exalted Christ and bestowed on Him the name. He’s said it was the name which is above every name. And here he says that at that name—or, better rendered: in honor of that name—every knee is going to bow. So what’s the name?!


Now, you might get the idea from the way that this sentence is translated that the name is Jesus: “…so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…” But I want you to notice that the text doesn’t say, “at the name: Jesus.” It says “at the name of Jesus.” The Father didn’t bestow the name Jesus on His Son at His exaltation; Joseph and Mary gave Him the name Jesus at His incarnation. So this is not the name which is Jesus. Rather, the name above every name is the name which belongs to Jesus.


Well, here we are again. What’s the name that now belongs to Jesus that the Father bestowed on Him at His exaltation? Jesus has a lot of names. Is it: Son of Man? Son of God? The Alpha and Omega? The First and the Last? The Faithful and True? The Beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased? Is it Christ? The Messiah? Is it the long-awaited prophet? Is it our Great High Priest? Is it the King of kings?


No. It’s none of those. Finally, the almost unbearable suspense is broken, and the Apostle Paul tells us that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is: Lord. It is unmistakable that this is the focus. The word is even brought forward to the beginning of the phrase in the original for extra emphasis.


The word “Lord” is the Greek word kurios and means “master,” “sovereign,” “one of ultimate authority.” It is a title of majesty, of sovereignty, of honor, and of authority. Pastor John writes, “Whoever is Lord is over everyone else…[He] has absolute supremacy and the right to be obeyed as divine Master” (MacArthur, 143). Such is the Father’s exaltation of the Son. Jesus submitted Himself to the lowliest of places, and God exalted Him to the very highest position and rank. The One who was equal with God, but out of love for the Father and love for us His people, did not count that equality with God as something to be held onto, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave. And as a result, Paul wants us to know that the slave has now been exalted as Lord. The slave is now once again shown to be Master of all, with all the divine rights, honors, and prerogatives (cf. MacArthur, 145) of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.


And this teaching of the exalted Lordship of Christ is absolutely central to the faith of Christianity. Salvation is defined in terms of faith in Christ’s resurrection and confession of His lordship. How can one be saved? Romans 10: “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  What’s the implication? If you do not confess Jesus as Lord, you will not be saved. In fact, the scholars tell us that the confession, “Jesus is Lord,” is probably the earliest of Christian confessions—one of the earliest ways of identifying yourself with Christ and His church. We see evidence of that even in 1 Corinthians 12 verse 3, where Paul says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” He doesn’t mean that unbelievers are physically incapable of mouthing those words. He means that only one indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God can be a true believer. And confessing Christ’s Lordship is so central to true Christian faith that Paul treats the two ideas as if they’re interchangeable. And so any notion of a Christian faith that can receive Christ as Savior without also submitting your life to Him and obeying Him as Lord is an absolute farce. There is no such thing as “no-lordship” salvation.


And the implications of this resounding note of Christ’s lordship would not have been lost on the Philippians. Remember, according to Acts 16:12 Philippi was a Roman colony, and as we’ve discussed throughout our study of this book, the Philippians were very proud to be Roman citizens——so much so that Paul has to remind them that they are citizens of heaven before they are citizens anywhere else, chapter 3 verse 20. But there was another character in Rome who was laying claim to the title of “Lord.” Any idea who? Caesar. In fact, the confession “Caesar is Lord” was just as widespread and just as central to identification and participation in the Roman Empire as “Jesus is Lord” was to the church. And so when Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, he knows what he was saying would be shocking. He was driving his stake in the ground. He was letting the Philippians and every other citizen of the Empire who would read this letter know that Jesus, not the Roman Emperor, was the exclusive Ruler of the world.


But that wasn’t all. When Paul says that “every knee will bow,” and “every tongue will confess,” he’s quoting Isaiah chapter 45. Turn there with me. Isaiah 45, starting towards the end of verse 21. God says, “And there is no God besides Me; a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me.” And then He issues a worldwide invitation to repentance, verse 22: “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, ‘Only in Yahweh are righteousness and strength.’” Every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to Yahweh. That’s our passage in Philippians 2:10 and 11! But in Philippians 2, Paul applies that to Jesus!


Chapter after chapter in this section of Isaiah, Yahweh is continually declaring His own supremacy over all the other supposed ‘gods’ of the nations. He declares His own uniqueness by saying over and over again: “I am Yahweh,” Isaiah 41:13; “I am Yahweh; that is my name,” Isaiah 42:8. As if to say, “It’s my name and no one else’s.” Isaiah 43:11: “I, even I, am Yahweh, and there is no savior besides Me.” Isaiah 44:6: “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.” He can’t make it any clearer that it will be Him and Him alone that receives all worship! But then Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Well if there’s no God and no Savior apart from Yahweh, and Jesus is the God and Savior who will receive all worship on the last day, then Jesus is Yahweh!


And in fact, that is the ultimate sense of the term “Lord” in Philippians chapter 2; that is the name that is above every name: “Yahweh!” Now, we’ve spoken about this briefly before, but many of you noticed that when we came to the word “LORD” in all capitals as I was reading Isaiah 45 I said, “Yahweh,” not “Lord.” And that’s because in the Old Testament, everywhere you see “LORD” in all capitals, it’s an indication that the Hebrew text has the divine name: Yahweh. But the Jews were so superstitious about breaking the third commandment, that they would never pronounce the divine name. They figured not saying Yahweh’s name at all was better than taking the chance of taking it in vain. And so when they would read the Scriptures, when they came to the divine name in the text they would substitute the word adonai for Yahweh. Adonai is the Hebrew word for “lord,” or “master,” and so the English translations—for reasons that have never really made sense to me—have followed that tradition and have translated Yahweh as “Lord” in all caps.


But that’s not all. The Jews have another name, even to this day, that they replace Yahweh with. And that is: HaShem. HaShem is Hebrew for, “The Name.” Again, this was another way of showing reverence to the divine name by never pronouncing it. In fact, to this day if you speak the name Yahweh in the presence of a devout Jewish person they will be offended.


So when Paul says that the Father highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, every Jewish person who heard this letter being read would have gasped. They would have said, “No, he wouldn’t dare!” And then the next phrase: “…so that at the name which belongs to Jesus…” And they would have said, “No! Don’t you do it!” “…Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess…” And they would have recognized the Old Testament quotation and said, “No! Don’t you dare associate the ineffable name of God with that blasphemer!” “…that Jesus Christ is Yahweh!” That is what Paul is doing here! That is the effect that this confession is supposed to have! Not only is this Jesus the exclusive Lord of the world against all claims of the lordship of Caesar. Not only is He the God-man who took the form of a slave and is now exalted as the Sovereign Master of the universe. This Jesus—the Son of Mary, from the no-name city of Nazareth, who was mocked, and despised, and spat on, and abused—this Jesus who suffered the shameful fate of death on a cross—is Yahweh Himself!


And because God has so highly exalted Him, there is coming a day, Paul says, when the whole world is going to make that same confession. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The bowing of the knee is the classic expression of reverence and subjection. It demonstrated intense religious devotion. This is “a mark of extreme abasement and submission” (O’Brien, 241). And “confess” means “to declare openly,” or “publicly acknowledge.” My friends there is coming a day when everyone will openly acknowledge Jesus’ sovereign authority and right to rule this earth—a day when everybody will publicly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.


And I mean everybody! Paul says, “…those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth…” (a) Those who are in heaven at the time of Christ’s coming would be the saints of all ages who have died and gone to be with the Lord, along with the angels of the host of heaven. (b) Those who are on earth will be all those who are alive at His coming, both the redeemed and the unredeemed. (c). And “those who are under the earth” refers to those who have died outside of Christ who are already perishing for their sins in hell, along with the demons who are their unhappy companions in that terrible place.


Now for the saints, dead and alive, along with the angels, this will be a happy bow of adoration and true worship. It will be the glad confession that they have been making all their lives. For those of us who have already bowed in repentance to the saving Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ—who have forsaken our sin and our own efforts to be righteous, who in faith have cast ourselves on the merit of Christ alone, and who have confessed Him as Savior and Lord—oh that day will be the delight of delights! That bowing of the knee and confessing of the tongue will be the great consummation of all of our labor, all of our prayer, all of our suffering, all of our faithful obedience and service to our Lord! That happy confession that will ring from our lips will be the joyful victory cry of an army of triumphant soldiers in the processional march of our conquering King!


Oh, but for those of you— I want everybody within the sound of my voice to take your hand and touch your knee. — For those of you who remain dead in your sins—for those of you who continue to trust in your good deeds to admit you into the holy presence of God, who think too much of your own righteousness and too little of God’s holiness—for those of you who continue to cling to your pride, and your greed, and your drunkenness, and your sexual immorality, and your jealousy, and your selfish ambition—for those of you who refuse to be ruled, who refuse to bow the knee and submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and the authority of His holy Word—for all those who have arrogantly declared, “I am the Lord of my own life! I answer to no one! I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!”— …my friend that knee that you’re holding in your hands is going to bow! That tongue in your mouth that you have used all your life to blaspheme the name of the God who gave you life is going to confess!


And this will not be the adoring praise of a worshiper at long last! Paul is not speaking about a universal conversion here. No, together with the demons, and the rest of the unbelieving world who mocked the Lord Jesus Christ, who belittled His glory, who slandered His Church calling us narrow-minded bigots, who disregarded the Scriptures as the word of mere primitive men, and who regarded the Gospel of Christ crucified as foolishness to your utter shame and horror, you will make the despairing admission of a conquered enemy, and will bow in resentful submission to the Sovereign King whose power you can no longer deny.


Oh I can barely stand to imagine the horror of that moment when it finally dawns on you in fullness that everything you based your life on so confidently was a sham. I can almost hear your cry of utter bewilderment and disbelief: “I was wrong… I was wrong my whole life! All this time I was so sure… and I was wrong!” And by that time it’ll be too late.


Oh dear friend, be reasonable! You must bow your knee! Whether it be this day or on that terrible day, you will have to bow your knee in submission to the Lord Jesus. Oh bow it now! Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! And, miracle of miracles: This Sovereign King stands yet willing to receive you! Despite all of your sin, and despite your stubborn refusal up until this point, the door of salvation yet remains open! Abandon your sin, and abandon yourself, and run to Christ.




And for my dear brothers and sisters who eagerly await the day when He comes in His glory to set up His Kingdom and rule the earth in righteousness: remember the point of our passage in context. Remember that Paul is speaking about the exaltation of Christ at this particular time in his letter in order to entice us to a life of humility. This is the kind of exaltation that God bestows upon His faithful servants who choose the path of humble service and obedience. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Pet 5:6).


And: How can you not be humbled in the presence of such majesty? In the light of the exalted glory of Christ, how can you continue to seek glory from men? How can you continue to exalt yourself via selfish ambition and empty conceit? How can you continue to insist on your own way in your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ? How can you continue to hold that grudge against your husband or wife?


Dear friends: Let this glorious Gospel of Christ’s Lordship which we have celebrated together for the past hour—let this Gospel compel you to the kind of Christlike humility that leads to the true Christian unity that Paul has called us to in Philippians chapter 2.


Is there any encouragement in Christ? Is there any consolation of love? Is there any fellowship of the Spirit? Is there any affection and compassion? Well then make my joy complete by being unified.