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The Exaltation of Jesus & the Trinity

by Brant Pitre April 03, 2020 0 Comments


Learn more about The Mass Readings Explained >


Now, importantly, Paul doesn’t stop the hymn there though. It’s not where the story ends. It doesn’t end with the death of Christ; it ends with His resurrection and His exultation, His ascension into Heaven. So he says:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which 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)

Alright, so three elements here that are important. Paul is describing the fourth step in the hymn, the resurrection and the ascension. So he’s dealt with the preexistence, then the birth, then the Passion and death, and now he concludes with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And the three elements He highlights here are first His exultation. So although other passages will speak of the ascension of Jesus, Paul describes it as His exultation. In other words, God the Father is exalting Jesus to Heaven, to the throne in Heaven, to the heavenly kingdom. It’s kind of like a triumphal entry into the heavenly throne where the one who was regarded as a slave is now actually revealed to be king. Second, he:

...bestowed on him the name which is above every name… (Philippians 2:9b)

Now what is that name? Well, on the one hand, the name is Jesus, right? Because Paul says: the name of Jesus every knee should bow… (Philippians 2:10a)

...and every tongue confess… (Philippians 2:11a)

And Jesus’ name literally means in Hebrew “the Lord saves.” So the name of Jesus is very powerful. It tells you both who He is and what He’s come to do. It reveals His identity and it reveals His mission.

But in context here, when Paul says:

...the name which is above every name… (Philippians 2:9b)

...he’s not just talking about the name of Jesus. Because it says that:

...every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… (Philippians 2:11a)

And the Greek word there is kyrios. It literally means “Lord,” and it could be applied to a king or to a lord. But in Jewish Scripture, if you look at the Jewish Scriptures, you’ll see that the word kyrios is the Greek translation for the Hebrew tetragrammaton—the four sacred letters, YHWH, that are the sacred and unpronounceable name of the Hebrew God, the name of the God of Israel.

And so what Paul seems to be describing here is that when Christ ascends to the throne, the entire cosmos—everyone in Heaven, everyone on the Earth and everyone under the Earth—will confess that Jesus Christ is the kyrios, that He is the Lord, that He is the one God of Israel who has come in person. And although human beings regarded him merely as a slave, merely as a man, and they put Him to death on the cross, the reality is that through that cross and through that death, He has now been raised from the dead and exulted to be revealed as equal to God the Father, and as sharing not just the glory, but the name of the one who also has the form of God. So He’s being revealed not just as Christ, the Anointed One, not just as Jesus the Savior, but as kyrios, as the Lord of Heaven and the Lord of Earth.

And if you have any doubts about that, all you have to do is go back and look at the Old Testament passage to which Paul is alluding. So in the Philippian hymn, Paul describes every knee bowing and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, but when he makes that image, he’s actually alluding to the passage from Isaiah...which may be one of the strongest affirmations of monotheism in the Old Testament, where Isaiah is insisting there is only one God. Listen to this in Isaiah 45:22 and following. It says, the Lord speaking:

“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.’

So notice...Paul takes a passage, which in Jewish Scripture is referring to the one God of Israel, to the Lord, in which the Lord says, “I am God. There is no other. To me, every knee will bow and every tongue confess.” And Paul takes that text, and he applies it to Jesus. And he says that when Jesus is exalted, then every knee shall bow…

...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11)

So what Paul’s beginning to reveal there is the mystery of what would later come to be known as the doctrine of the Trinity—that although there is one God, we have (in this hymn he mentions) two divine persons, the person of the Son who is in the form of God and equal to God, and the person of God the Father...and that when the Son is exalted to Heaven with his human nature, his human body in the ascension, every tongue will confess that He is in fact the Lord, the one God of Israel, “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). So there’s a mystery of not just the cross, not just the resurrection, but also the mystery of the Trinity.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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