Philippians 2:9-11 – Exalted to the Highest Place

Jesus humbled himself by taking on the nature of a human. While humility is often seen as a virtue in modern culture, people did not “humble themselves” in the Greco-Roman world. Someone who was humble was lowly and weak, even servile. That man should humble or belittle himself is rejected. To suffer misfortune and humble oneself “is quite unnecessary, vain and irrational”  (Plutatch De exilio, 1 (II, 599b). In the Hebrew Bible, to “be humbled” is associated with punishment. God humbles the proud (1 Sam 2:7).  The word appears in LXX Isa 53:8, describing the humiliation of the suffering servant.

Not only did Jesus become a slave, he was a slave who was executed by crucifixion, the most shocking horror in the Roman world. Jesus therefore goes from the highest place imaginable, equality with God, to the lowest, death on the cross.

Because he was obedient and suffered innocently, God vindicated Jesus exalting him to the highest place imaginable. The verb Paul uses for “exalted” (ὑπερυψόω) is not the usual one in the New Testament, it only appears here, but it also in Ps 96.9 (the verb is repeated many times in Odes 8:52-88). It is possible Paul has this verse in mind in Phil 2:9-11, the Most High  ὁ ὕψιστος of that verse is God himself, and he is exalted above the earth and far above all other gods. This exaltation refers to the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15), but also the ascension in Acts 1 and Rev 4-5.

Because he was obedient and suffered innocently, God gave to Jesus the highest name imaginable. In the Roman world the name of the emperor was venerated as divine on coins and inscriptions. Yet Jesus has been given a name that is above every name, including the Roman emperor! And because he was obedient and suffered innocently, God will put everything under the Lordship of Jesus. Heaven, earth, and under the earth all will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.

CaesarAll this implies that Caesar is not the true lord of this world.  Paul was not anti-Rome, although his gospel did subvert the social order by advocating Jesus as the Lord.  As I read Paul, I think Hellerman (Embracing Shared Ministry, 168) is right that Paul is not consciously anti-Imperial, he in no way was advocating some sort of rebellion against the Empire. But the Gospel was so radical that it would erode the Empire if that Gospel practiced consistently. Perhaps the sad story of Church history is that by the time Christianity was the majority religion, it had become thoroughly Roman with respect to honor and status.

Jesus is therefore the true Lord of this world and all of creation ought to recognize that lordship. It is quite remarkable that Paul never suggested the Christians openly rebel against Rome. That would have been a futile effort since there were so few Christians. What he did tell the Philippian church is that they ought to have the same attitude as Jesus. This sort of humility was counter to the Greco-Roman world and slowly brought down the Empire.

More important, this sort of humility is counter to Western/American culture, even in the church. If Paul says “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not,” should we also say, “Jesus is Lord, America is not”?

6 thoughts on “Philippians 2:9-11 – Exalted to the Highest Place

  1. Being humble is one of the most respectful things you can have for a personality trait. Jesus was the most humble on Earth. He was so humble he went from being God to a regular human. It talks about in the article that a lot of people did not humble themselves real well. It felt like the entitled ones were the ones that were not as humble as they should be and the less fortunate were humbling themselves for no reason. When you talk about being humble there are two aspects to it. One where someone is getting humbled in a way where he or she is proven that they are not what they think they are and two is where you are being punished for something that will humble your life which makes you less arrogant about things. Jesus is the perfect example of what humble should look like. Everything he did was full of humbleness. From when he became human to becoming a slave to when he died on the cross for ALL of our sins. With all this innocent suffering it lead Jesus to be exalted to the highest place. He was named Jesus is Lord.

  2. As stated in this blog post, humility was not a staple of the Greco-Roman world. The imperial Roman empire featured the philosophy of dominating one’s opponents, showing great strength, and being in control. None of these ideas or concepts correlate with the idea of humility. This reflects the idea that Paul’s gospel is very anti-imperial because Paul’s gospel brings attention to the humility that Jesus Christ displays during His time on Earth. Jesus Christ sets an excellent example of humility for Christians and believers to follow and strive to live by. The problem is that this example of humility is sometimes opposed by societies such as the Greco-Roman society, as well as today’s American society.

    Moreover, Paul’s gospel seems anti-imperial to me. Though I do agree that Paul may not necessarily call for a rebellion against the Roman empire, I believe Paul uses his gospel to teach and reveal to his audience and Christians of this time that the Roman empire that surrounds them is not something that correlates with the gospel and the story of Jesus Christ. Because of this, I would claim Paul’s gospel as anti-imperial. As stated in this blog post, the radicalness of the gospel of Paul also offers a sense of anti-imperialism. That being said, I believe American society today is relatively imperial. If Paul’s gospel is considered anti-imperial and something that believers and Christians need to be aware of, then I believe Christians and believers today must understand and apply this understanding to their lives today. The surrounding American culture is imperial because it favors popularity, money, personal strength. People in American society are taught to not show any weakness. Paul’s gospel teaches the idea that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar or the emperor. We should also say this about American society. If we truly believe that Jesus is Lord, then that means the president, or Donald Trump, is not Lord. It also means that money and power are not Lord. Jesus is Lord, and that idea needs to apply to people around the world. No society or governmental leader should take the place of Jesus as Lord, according to Paul’s gospel.

    Longenecker and Still (2014) point out many interesting differences between the gospel of Paul and the imperial ideologies of the Roman empire. They actually point out ten concrete differences that highlight the anti-imperial nature of Paul’s gospel (2014). The Roman empire placed a huge emphasis on the idea of submitting to the emperor because the emperor was the son of God in their eyes (Longenecker and Still, 2014). Obviously, Paul’s gospel would not agree with this idea. The Roman empire also viewed this figure (the emperor) as the savior and someone that needed to be worshipped (Longenecker and Still, 2014). These ideas are counterintuitive to the theological concepts of Paul’s gospel. These ten differences are found in the book “Thinking Through Paul” on pages 337-338.

  3. Yes, we should declare that Jesus is Lord and American is not, but this does not mean that we should disrespect our Nation’s leaders. I love what you said about how Paul told the Philippian church to have the same attitude as Jesus. It is not black and white when it comes to submitting to our authorities. I believe that our submission is having the same attitude as Jesus and loving our authorities no matter what they believe because they were appointed by God. If our leaders choose to go against God’s authority over them, then they will probably be presenting beliefs and morals that we do not agree with. This does not mean that we should hate our authority figures or shame them for their beliefs, but we should love them and pray for them as our Nations Leaders in hopes that they will someday follow God and His commands. This is all we can do as we continue to share God’s truth with the Gospel and even though we may not agree with our leaders, we must humble ourselves before them and show them respect.

  4. It is hard to wrap your mind around Jesus’s predicament (for lack of a better term). He was 100% man but he was also 100% God. It is impossible to understand or truly comprehend his greatness and I think in this bewilderment we feel when trying to understand is what makes his humble life even more amazing. God left his throne to become human to suffer, physically, mentally, and emotionally all out of his love for us. Because of Jesus’s obedience and faith after his death, after experiencing God’s wrath, he was exalted and as P. Long writes, he was given a name above all names, the highest name imaginable. And as a result of his servanthood and ultimate sacrifice, it is what exalts him over any earthly authority. So when Paul says that ‘Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not’ He is speaking the ultimate truth. Like it says above, this statement does not make Paul completely anti-imperial. For in Romans 13: Paul commands the church to obey governing officials and their higher authorities because those people were put in those leadership roles by God, their leadership was established by God. Paul is stating to obey earthly authorities because God is the ultimate authority. Therefore, Jesus is Lord and America is not is a wise thing to remember, especially in our political and controversial society. America is not Lord but it is our duty to obey our government because even though it may not always look good, our government was established by God, the higher authority, and he has everything under control.

  5. Comparing Jesus to the Roman emperors is not something that I had really considered before, but it definitely is an interesting comparison. The emperor was honored as lord and savior as he lived in his grand palace with all of the wealth, status, and power that went with it. Christ, on the other hand, left a place of far more grandeur than the greatest Roman could ever dream of, only to leave it, abandoning all of His outward glory for the form of a despicable slave, and dying in a way that would have seemed horrific to any proper Roman. However, because of this, Christ became our true Lord and savior, and was given a name insurmountably greater than any mere Roman emperor could have achieved. Yeah, I can see how this would have been challenging especially for those in the Roman elite to accept. But we can also apply this to our modern day as well. It might be useful for us to remember, as it was for the Philippian believers as well, that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Now one thing that we should not take away from this is a total sense of indifference to our governments, but we do need to live in the realization that hope lies in heaven and not in our lives here on earth.

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