The Exaltation of Christ

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

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9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  

Philippians 2:9-11

WSC 28. Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation? 

A. Christ’s exaltation consisteth in His rising again from the dead on the third day,1 in ascending up into heaven,2  in sitting at the right hand of God the Father,3  and in coming to judge the world at the last day.4  

1 1 Cor 15:4; 2 Mk 16:19; 3 Eph 1:20; 4 Acts 1:11; Acts 17:3. 

Our Shorter Catechism, Question 23 teaches us that “Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” 

We have considered how Christ is a prophet, priest and king. We have already considered what the humiliation of Christ means. We saw how Christ is fully God; how He emptied Himself of (1) His glory; (2) His riches; (3) His privilege as Law-Giver. And we saw how He humbled Himself to live in poverty and suffering and to die a shameful death. We took our text from Philippians 2:5-8. 

The Lord helping us, in this follow-up message, we want to consider the next three verses where Paul highlights the exaltation of Christ. What is the exaltation of Christ? Our Catechism, Question 28 answers: 

Christ’s exaltation consisteth in His rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.”  

Paul does not deal comprehensively with everything covered in this statement here, nor does he deal with it in a single text anywhere else. But since Paul is thinking about the exaltation of Christ after His humiliation here, our text is one of the best passages to begin looking at the subject. After all, the exaltation of Christ is only meaningful because Christ first emptied Himself and humbled Himself. If Christ did not humble himself, there is no exaltation. And here in our text, the apostle highlights this fact to encourage his readers to imitate Christ to humble themselves. Those who humble themselves to lay down their lives are not only imitating Christ but can expect to be exalted by the Father. This is an important biblical principle: one who humbles himself for the glory of God will be exalted by God. The Lord taught this principle on at least three different occasions during His earthly ministry when He said: “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Lk 14:11; cf. Lk 18:14; Mt 23:12).  

Both James and the apostle Peter reiterate this principle in their writings. James says: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (Jas 4:10). Peter adds: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet 5:6). 

This principle, which the Lord taught and the disciples confirmed, held true for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is why in verse 9, immediately after speaking of Christ’s humiliation, Paul begins to speak of His exaltation with the word “Wherefore.” “Wherefore, [for this reason], God also hath highly exalted Him…” 

It was on account of His obedient humiliation and suffering that this honour and reward was bestowed upon Christ. The apostle to the Hebrews, referring to the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of the Majesty on high, puts it this way:  

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour…

Heb 2:9a

If you find it hard to humble yourself or to put the interest of others above your own, remind yourself that the principle that held true for Christ will hold true for you. It has to be so, for the Lord cannot lie.  

But for our purpose in this sermon, rather than emphasising this principle, we want to study particularly what the apostle has to teach us concerning the exaltation of Christ. We want to do so that we may magnify His holy name and bow our knees to worship Him.  

Paul’s declaration can be conveniently studied under three heads. 

1. Christ Jesus Was Super-Exalted 

Verse 9 reads, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him.” 

a. How did God exalt Him? Well, we know from various parts of Scripture that His exaltation involves definite steps.  

i. It begins with His resurrection from the dead three days after He was laid in the tomb. We must remember that the minute Christ gave up the ghost, His human soul, which is united with His divine nature, was in the highest heavens. Remember how He told the penitent thief on the cross: “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” But the body of Christ remained in the grave for three days as part of His humiliation. On the third day, His body was raised from the grave, and His soul was united with it once again. 

ii. Then, the Lord remained on the earth for forty days (Acts 1:3). During this time, He appeared to His disciples, to James, His brother and to five hundred people at once. In each of the instances of His appearance, whenever the day is noted, it is always the first day of the week. We do not know what the Lord did the rest of the week, but His consistently appearing on the first day indicates to us that the church is no longer to gather on the last day of the week (as did the Jews). Instead, she is to gather on the first day of the week. This day became known as the Lord’s Day.  

iii. At the end of the forty days, in full sight of His disciples, the Lord was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of sight. That was recorded in Acts 1:9. Luke does not tell us what happened to the Lord when He left the disciples’ sight. But where Luke leaves off, the Prophet Daniel takes over in his prophecy of the resumption of the glory of Christ. We read this in Daniel 7:13-14: 

13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

The apostle to the Hebrews is referring to this resumption of the glory of Christ when he says: 

[Christ] being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. 

Heb. 1:3

The apostle Peter, no doubt, has this same scene of the exaltation of Christ in mind when He declares in his sermon at Pentecost:  

Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.

Acts 2:33

b. The Word of God teaches us that believers, being united with Christ, will experience some form of exaltation or glorification too (cf. 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Pet 1:7). Our souls will be made perfect in righteousness upon our departure from this world, and our bodies will be raised incorruptible at the last day. So the principle of humiliation before exaltation is also applicable to us. 

However, we must realise that our exaltation pales in comparison to what the Lord experienced. Never had man suffered as the Lord did, nor plumb the depth of humiliation as He did. Accordingly, no man has been or will be exalted as highly as was the Lord Jesus.  

Paul makes this very clear by using a word he does not use anywhere else in his letters. This word is translated as “highly exalted” (ὑπερυψόω, huperupsoō). It is a compound form of the word for “exalted,” and may be rendered “super-exalted,” “exalted beyond measure,” or “exalt to loftiest height.” 

Believers will indeed be received into glory in heaven (Ps 73:24-25; Jn 17:24), but Christ is said to have “passed into the heavens” (Heb 4:14). He was “made higher than the heavens” (Heb 7:26). Indeed, as Paul says, He “ascended up far above all heavens” (Eph 4:10)! 

Christ, as we have seen, is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. This doctrine is taught in numerous other places in the Scriptures (e.g. Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Heb 12:2). Of course, this expression does not necessarily mean that He is literally sitting at the right hand of a literal throne. No, it speaks rather of the absolute divine authority vested upon Christ.  

Now, note that this is the same authority He always had, for it is impossible for Christ to give up anything of His divine nature. He emptied himself only in the sense that He took up human nature. Thus, in so far as the divine nature of Christ is concerned, it is, in a sense, a resumption of glory rather than an exaltation to glory. But now, we must remember that Christ’s human and divine natures, though distinct, cannot be separated. So, it is proper for Paul to speak of Christ, who is now the God-Man, being exalted. It is as a person, fully God and fully man, that Christ is exalted to this position of honour.  

This is why in the Scriptures, the exaltation of Christ is often tied to His being raised from the dead, for it is only as the God-Man that the exaltation of Christ finds any meaning. We see this, for example, in Ephesians 1, where Paul teaches us that after God had raised Christ from the dead, He set Him at His right hand, put all things under His feet, and gave Him a name above every name (Eph 1:20-21). 

This is essentially what Paul means in our text when he says: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him.” 

This leads us to Paul’s second point, namely, that every knee shall bow in Christ’s name. 

2. Every Knee Shall Bow in Christ’s Name 

Paul continues in the second half of verse 9:  

9b and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.

Names and titles were very important for the Jews and early Christians. Many parents today spend much time thinking about names for their children, but often one of our primary concerns is how it sounds rather than the meaning of the name. For the Jews and early Christians, it was different. The meaning of the names was most important. “Jesus” was Jesus because He would be the Saviour of the world. 

Therefore, the concept of “name” would mean a lot more to the apostle Paul than a mere label. In biblical times, when the Jew talks about a person’s name, he often refers to the person’s reputation, character, dignity, power and authority. Correspondingly, a change of name or a giving of a title to add to the name would indicate a dramatic change in the person’s reputation, character, dignity, power or authority. 

Abraham was known as Abram until God changed his name to Abraham because He was making him the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Abraham’s new name indicated his new status as the father of all believers. Jacob became known as Israel because he prevailed against God and man (Gen 32:28). His new name indicated that God would build His church of Old in his family and descendants. 

Similarly, as God super-exalted Jesus, He gave him a new name. Or, to be precise, a new title to go with His name, and so we can say that He was given a new full name when previously He was known only as Jesus.  

a. The Lord Jesus, despised and rejected by men of low degree and men of high degree, is now exalted high above all man, and indeed all rational creatures in power, dignity, honour and authority.  

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb 5:8). And He was subsequently raised up to absolute glory and power. “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (v. 10). Now, it is evident that the apostle is not saying that the sound of the name “Jesus” will now have magical powers and all who hear will fall on their knees. Paul is referring to the new name of Jesus as reflecting the new status, authority and power of the Lord Jesus. 

We should note that Paul is here alluding to the words of God revealed through Isaiah: 

I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

Isa 45:23

Paul elaborates on “every knee and every tongue” by speaking about “things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” Things in heaven will refer to angels: the thousands and thousands of cherubim, seraphim, and any other good angels, as well as the spirit of just men, made perfect. Things on earth refer to men, women and children who are still alive in this world. Things under the earth must refer to Satan and all demons and souls who were condemned and in hell. This does not mean that hell is literally in the centre of the earth. It is a way of speaking: just as heaven is spoken of as being above the earth, so hell is spoken of as being below the earth. 

No moral being, whether an angel, or a saint in heaven, or a person living on earth, or Satan, or a demon, or a reprobate in hell, will be exempted. All will bow their knees willingly. Some will bow joyfully, while others will bow with terror and trembling. 

b. Now, it is obvious that not every knee is bowed to Christ today. But that does not mean that Christ is not Lord over all. A king remains sovereign whether his subjects bow to him or not. Indeed, when the king calls the subjects unto Him, they will undoubtedly bow. 

This is perhaps why Paul speaks about knees bowing as something in the future. He says: 

… We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

Rom 14:10-11

Now, we shall stand before the judgement seat of Christ when we leave this world. But when Christ returns again as triumphant judge and king over the universe, we shall all appear before Him – whether we are alive on earth, have entered heaven’s glory, or have begun our torment for sin in hell. On that day, every knee shall bow.  

The fact that Christ has not manifested His supreme kingship over the world yet should not be taken to mean that He is not sitting on the throne now or that it is permissible for a man not to acknowledge Him as king. Christ is already sitting on the throne as the King of kings. Therefore, let the whole world bow down before Him. 

What will those who refuse to bow down their knees to Christ during their lifetime do when Christ returns visibly as King and Judge? John informs us that they will hide themselves in the caves and rocks of the mountains, and they will say to the mountains and the rocks: 

Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?.

Rev 6:16-17

What a terrible day it will be for all who remain in unbelief until then! 

But wait, what is the new name of Jesus that Paul is talking about? 

3. Every Tongue Will Confess That He Is Lord 

11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

a. You may, as you read verses 9-11, sense the climatic tension in Paul’s words. Paul has been talking about this new name in verses 9 and 10, but he keeps us in suspense until now, and now he burst out in the clear: “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  

Now, notice that the word “is” in “Jesus Christ is Lord” is in italics. This means that the word “is” is not in the original. In fact, the original can be rendered as “And every tongue confess Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle Paul is giving the full name of Christ: He is the “Lord Jesus Christ.” He is saying that every tongue will confess the “Lord Jesus Christ.” But what is so significant about this new full name of Jesus? 

I believe this question must be in most of our minds because we are so familiar with the designation: “The Lord Jesus Christ,” or the declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord. When something is said often, it becomes so common that we cease to notice it. It is needful, therefore, for us to pause for a moment to consider what Paul is saying. We must realise that for the apostle Paul, the confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is significant. This is why he brings us to a climax before he announces the full name of Jesus: “The Lord Jesus Christ.” 

First, do you realise nowhere in the Gospels will you find the complete and majestic name of Jesus, namely “Lord Jesus Christ”?  

If you search the Bible, you will find that it is only in Acts 11:17 onwards that you will find this full name of Jesus, and it occurs a total of 82 times in the New Testament.  

Search for the abbreviated “Lord Jesus,” and you will find that of the 33 occurrences in the New Testament, only once does it appear in the Gospels, and it is part of Luke’s narration.  

To be sure, the Lord’s disciples knew Him as Lord. They called Him Lord. But Jesus was not yet given His full name: “The Lord Jesus Christ.” 

What do all these show us but that the Lord Jesus Christ did not assume His full and majestic name and title until it was conferred upon Him by His Father when He had completed the redemptive work which He came to do? And accordingly, the Church did not know the Lord’s full and glorious name until it was conferred by the Father and revealed to the Church by the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul says in verse 9 that God has “given [Jesus] a name which is above every name.” The full name of Jesus, “the Lord Jesus Christ”, is not simply a pious way the church calls our Lord. It is a name which the Lord earned through His humiliation. 

Secondly, do you realise that the declaration “Jesus Christ is Lord” was the earliest Creed of the Christian Church? Notice how the apostles mention it repeatedly in different forms after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. 

In Acts 2:36, we read: 

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Likewise, in Romans 10:9: 

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

And 1 Corinthians 12:3: 

No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

What is the significance of acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord or calling Him Lord Jesus Christ? 

It is, we must realise, no less than a confession that Jesus Christ, the Anointed Saviour, is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. He is the I AM. He is the self-existent, uncreated Creator of all things. We know this because the title Lord was very significant to the Jews when used in the religious context. 

You see, the word κύριος (kurios) was a common word that is used to address a highly respected person. But it became, for the Jews, a word that is often used as a synonym for the name of God, Jehovah.  

You see, the Jews would never read the name of God when they read the Old Testament. It was regarded to be too sacred to be read by sinful lips. So whenever they come to the four-letter name of God (יהוה, yodh- he-vav-he), they would read it as Adonai (Lord). So when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, they used the Greek word for Lord, which is κύριος (kurios), to translate almost every occurrence of the name of God. Now, most of the apostles used the Septuagint and were also mindful that the title “Lord” often refers to Jehovah. Therefore, when we call Jesus Christ Lord, we say a lot about Him. We are declaring that He is no mere man. He is the “I AM”: The God who appeared to Abraham, Moses, Isaac and Jacob. He is very God of very God. And if He is God, He must have sovereign rights over our lives (cf. Rom 14:10-11, cf. Isa 45:18, 23). 

b. Though not everyone will do so today, one day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the day referred to in our Catechism, Question 23, even the last day when Christ will come to judge the world. 

What a glorious day it will be for the church as she is vindicated and shares in the glory of Christ, only to redound to the glory of God the Father! 

Now, there will undoubtedly be many in that day who profess Jesus Christ to be Lord for the first time. They will bow their knees to the Lord. But alas, it will be too late. They will see Christ as the Lamb of God slain for sin, but they will see that their sin has not been covered by the lamb’s blood. And they will know they are guilty. So they will experience the wrath of the Lamb, which is why they call the mountains and the rocks to fall on them. 

O friend, if you are still unbelieving, I would beseech you to cast your lot with Him. The Bible is the Word of God. And the Bible has revealed the will of God in the humiliation and exaltation of Christ so clearly, consistently, and beautifully that none can be mistaken. Do not harden your heart against the truth! 


9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Phil 2:9-11

What a magnificent confession of the Lordship and exaltation of Christ! But wherein consists Christ’s exaltation? Our Catechism summarises beautifully:  

Christ’s exaltation consisteth in His rising again from the dead on the third day,1 in ascending up into heaven,2  in sitting at the right hand of God the Father,3  and in coming to judge the world at the last day

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Because Christ did not remain in the grave, we have the assurance that our sin has been paid for and the Father has accepted the payment.  

Because Christ conquered death, we know we will be raised from the dead.  

Because He ascended up on high and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, we have the assurance that we have a perfect intercessor with the Father so that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.  

Because Christ is our mediator, we have the assurance that all our prayers will be heard and answered, and all our worship will ascend unto God a sweet savour sacrifice.  

Because Christ will return again as Judge and King, we have the assurance that justice will prevail and that vengeance belongs to Him, and we have the assurance that our labours in the Lord are not in vain. 

But, once again, if you have not confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord, I want to urge you to flee to Him while there is yet time. Now is the time of salvation. Now is the time to acknowledge Him as Lord and Saviour. When you are called to meet Christ face to face, it would be too late to confess Him as Lord. When the Lord comes as triumphant Judge and King, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  

The question is: Will you bow and confess in compulsion and fear, or will you bow with joy and love? Oh, may the Lord grant that in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be there praising Him with a heart full of joy and gratitude toward Him!  

—JJ Lim