Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, shares from scripture on the glorious exaltation of Jesus Christ:
In an American television cooking competition a couple of years ago one of the contestants was delighted to be speaking with one of the chefs she had admired for a long time. And she made this comment, ‘If Jesus Christ had suddenly appeared in front of me while I was speaking to the chef, I would have said to Jesus, “Hi, dude,” and kept on talking!’
While she may have thought that she was being very funny, on the contrary her flippancy was not only disgraceful but also exceptionally blasphemous.
Jesus was exalted to the highest place!
Paul, in breathless wonder, has written this about Jesus: ‘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, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-11, emphasis mine – as with other scriptures below).
Yet that foolish woman’s acknowledgement of him was with a disdainful comment and she dismissed him in a condescending way.
When I reflected on this incident recently, I realised that I should not have been too surprised for increasingly today Jesus Christ is mocked, and scorned and dismissed by secular society. But, sadly, even in the church there appears to be a failure to understand how inexpressibly glorious and exalted is Jesus Christ.
Complacency regarding sacred things generally and a diminished understanding of the nature of worship has desensitised us to a sense of God’s transcendence (that is, he is infinitely exalted above all things). While God has demonstrated his nearness to us in various ways (especially in the incarnation of Jesus), he is not like us.
- He is God and we are not! (Stating the obvious first!)
- He is perfect and pure and we are not
- He is all-loving, and we are not
- He is all-powerful and we are not
- God is not dependent on us, but (whether we acknowledge it or not) we are wholly dependent on him
- The psalmist has written, ‘The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high?’ (Psalm 113:4-5).
I cringe when I hear the word ‘awesome’ being used today to refer to anything that someone may consider quite good, yet we fail to grasp the fact that Jesus is the only one in the universe to whom the word can appropriately be applied. We have, as it were, brought Jesus down to our level whereas in the Bible we discover that Jesus is highly lifted up. We need to rediscover a truly biblical perspective on the awesomeness of the exalted Christ.
As we approach the time of the year when the church celebrates the events that are related to the Easter story, I think that it is appropriate to consider how Jesus is exalted (or lifted up) through his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
1. Jesus was exalted in his crucifixion
Jesus said, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15).
He was referring first to the story found in Numbers 21:4-9 in which venomous snakes attacked the Israelites in the wilderness and many died. Moses was instructed by God to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole in the midst of the camp. When those who had been bitten by the snakes looked upon the bronze snake, they were healed.
Jesus then went on to say that in a similar way he too would be ‘lifted up’ – referring to his coming crucifixion and death – and that all who put their faith in Jesus would be saved for eternity.
It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as ‘lifted up’ is hupsoō which means ‘to elevate’, ‘to lift up’ and ‘to exalt.’ So in Jesus’ referring to his being physically lifted up on a cross, he was pointing also to a profound spiritual reality, that is, his exaltation in his death.
While that death may be seen as a humiliating, degrading and disastrous way to end his life, Jesus spoke about it to his disciples in this way: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world (that is, Satan) will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up (hupsoō) from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:23, 31-32).
Notice that Jesus did not say, ‘When I am crucified …’ but, ‘When I am lifted up (or ‘exalted) …’ Therefore supremely in his crucifixion Jesus Christ was both glorified and exalted! When he was crucified, he was exalted in being wholly obedient to the will of God the Father and he was exalted in fully accomplishing the work of redemption for which he was born. While on the cross he gave the triumphant shout, ‘It is finished’ – which is better translated, ‘Accomplished!’
Paul too saw that the crucifixion was not an inglorious end to Jesus’ life, but a glorious and chosen action in which Jesus was truly exalted! With deep conviction he boldly stated, ‘We preach Christ crucified,’ (1 Corinthians 1:23) and ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14).
2. Jesus was exalted in his resurrection
On Easter Day the scene dramatically changed from that of Good Friday when the extreme exposure of humiliation, rejection and apparent failure of an individual was there for all to see, to one of extreme exaltation when that same individual was ‘declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4).
Paul was saying that Jesus’ resurrection bore witness to the fact that Jesus was who he had claimed to be. When he rose from the dead, Jesus, as it were, stepped out of the shadows in which his identity had somewhat previously been hidden, into the full revelatory blaze of his true identity – the Prince of Life (Acts 3:15) and the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
The theologian John F Walvoord has written, ‘Just as the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ was a proof of his deity and Lordship, so also was his resurrection an indispensable evidence of the efficacious value of his death on the cross.’
Apart from Acts 5:31 where the word ‘exalted’ appears to be used in reference to Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the Greek word for ‘exalted’ is not used in the New Testament to refer exclusively to the resurrection. However the concept of Christ’s exaltation in his resurrection is expressed in many ways throughout the New Testament.
- It was indeed of central importance to the writers of the New Testament and was dominant in the sermons recorded in Acts
- It confirms the deity of Jesus Christ, it asserts God’s endorsement on Jesus’ ministry and it assures the future resurrection of believers
- Paul succinctly wrote, ‘Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living’ (Romans 14:9)
- Also, in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul powerfully and eloquently wrote about the glorious significance of the resurrection and its implications also for us: ‘But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57)
- Because Jesus was exalted by his resurrection, we too may share in the victory he achieved. The refrains of that old hymn by Edmond Budry (1854-1932) echoed this Calvary victory:
Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won …
No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.
Jesus’ whole life and ministry, from his birth to his death, depended on his resurrection. The resurrection declared that his gospel is true! It forever announced that he alone, among all the people throughout history who have been acclaimed as leaders of world religions, rose from the dead to confirm that all his claims and promises are true.
Jesus is unique! Only he deserves to be exalted as the victorious Lord of life.
The humble and humiliated servant, who endured the degrading death on the cross, was by his resurrection confirmed to be the exalted conquering King who was victorious over sin, Satan, death and hell.
Peter preached to the crowds on the day of Pentecost, ‘God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ (Act 2:24, emphasis mine). That cannot be said about any other person!
3. Jesus was exalted in his ascension
In many churches the ascension of Jesus Christ gets scant recognition, yet it is one of the most significant events that are recorded in the Bible.
In Paul’s great Christological hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 we find the amazing contrast between Jesus’ humiliation and his exaltation. Paul wrote about Jesus’ setting aside his deity for a time, his servant humility and his death on the cross. Verse 9 (RSV) says, ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name …’
The words ‘highly exalted’ are just one word in the Greek – huperupsoō. The prefix huper means that he was super exalted! Not only was Jesus exalted in his crucifixion and resurrection but he was super exalted in his ascension which placed him in his rightful place at God’s ‘own right hand as Prince and Saviour’ (Acts 5:31). In his sermon on the day of Pentecost Peter declared that Jesus was ‘exalted to the right hand of God’ (Act 2:33).
And the writer of Hebrews describes him as sitting ‘down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven’ (Hebrews 8:1). Paul wrote, ‘Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us’ (Romans 8:34).
Before he was crucified, Jesus prayed, ‘And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’ (John 17:5). When Jesus ascended, he again entered the glory that he had from eternity.
John gives us a glimpse of what it is like: ‘Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”’ (Revelation 5:11-12).
This time of the year can serve to remind us of the true, glorious, exalted character of the Lord Jesus Christ at whose name ‘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’ (Philippians 2:10-11).
I believe that Christians generally need to rediscover the exalted Christ, discard the flippant and shallow familiarity with which we often consider him and give him the honour of which only he is worthy.
Kirk and Deby Dearman’s1988 You Are Exalted (Above All Else) is so meaningful and appropriate:
‘You are exalted Lord
Above all else.
We place you at the highest place
Above all else.
Right now where we stand
And everywhere we go,
We place you at the highest place
So the world will know …’
Dr Jim McClure has authored several books and Bible study series.
In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God we worship. Normally $35 but obtainable from the author for $25 (plus postage). Link/orders/enquiries: email@example.com.