The Exalted Jesus
A belief in Jesus is absolutely necessary to salvation. Jesus said, "…for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8: 24). The original is more emphatic, "…if ye believe not that I am…." The affirmation "I am" is more than just believing that Jesus existed, I am convinced (cp. Exodus 3: 14). Philippians 2: 5-11 is among the richest texts pertaining to the exalted Jesus. Consider Paul’s statements:
"5: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 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."
Notice very succinctly (we shall treat these terms later) that Paul is affirming that Jesus was in the "form of God" and in "the form of a servant." He was "made in the likeness of man," presupposing a prior existence, and prior to "being found in fashion as man," he was "equal with God." Verses ten and eleven set forth the consequences of Jesus’ exalted position.
It is apparent from even a cursory reading of the New Testament that Jesus the Son of God is special, even to the point of being "one of a kind." Jesus' Sonship was understood as indicative of deity (John 10: 36, 38). The Greek monogenes (only begotten) is peculiarly applied to Jesus (I John 4: 9). "Single of its kind," comments Thayer, "…used of Christ, denotes the only Son of God or who in the sense in which he himself is the Son of God has no brethren…he is of nature or essentially Son of God, and so in a very different sense from that in which men are made by him children of God" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pgs. 417, 418).
Notwithstanding Paul’s plain statements regarding the exalted Christ, there were those in the early history of the church who attacked Jesus’ nature and deity. The Gnostic said that Jesus and Christ were two separate entities, arguing that God (Christ) cannot indwell matter (Jesus, they explained), which they said is inherently sinful (see I John 4: 3). The influential Arius (256-336 AD) contended that Jesus was inferior to God the Father, being of a different "substance" and created. Origen about the same time period presented the view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprised a gradation model, the Father at the top and the Son and the Spirit decreasing in "deity" compared to the Father and one another. Then there was the teaching known as Sabellianism that esoterically taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were "aspects" of the one God.
One reason for the Nicene Creed of 325 was to discuss and arrive at what some called the official position relative to the nature of Jesus Christ. The view reflected in this creed was considered the "orthodox view" of the church:
"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made" (see addendum 1).
Even today, there are not a few who hold views of Jesus that would reduce Him from His lofty and exalted state. There are about one billion Hindus, for instance, half a billion Buddhists, and one billion atheists and skeptics. Perhaps of the greatest threat to the exalted Jesus of the scriptures is Islam, containing an estimated one billion practitioners. Hence, more than one half of the contemporary world’s population, not even including Scientology, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and all the various other cults, deny the exalted Jesus, the unique Son of God (see Addendum 2).
Paul in Philippians 2, presented the exalted Jesus (vs. 10, 11). He is so exalted that he has a name "above every name" and "every knee shall bow unto him." Furthermore, "…every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." This exaltation is based on two matters, who Jesus is and the fact that he, especially in view of who he is, endured death, even the death of the cross (vs. 5-8). Paul said that Jesus was in the "form of God" and the "form of a servant" (Phili. 2: 6, 7). The phrases "form of God" and "form of a servant" in the Greek grammar are essentially identical. "Form of God" (morphe theou) and "form of a servant" (morphe doulou) refer to Jesus’ essential nature. Jesus was in reality and in every way God and he also was in reality and in every way man, this is the meaning of the morphe (see addendum 3). One is reminded of the expressions, "Son of God" and "Son of man." "Son of God" (uios tou theou, John 10: 36) reveals Jesus' deity, he partook of the nature of his Father (John 10: 30-38). "Son of man" (uios tou anthropou, Matt. 16: 13) suggests Jesus' manhood and relation to man.
It is of interest that the Holy Spirit (cp. I Cor. 2: 13) in this frame of reference of Jesus being in the "form of God" and "the form of a servant" introduced "…made in the likeness of men" and "found in fashion as a man" (Phili. 2: 7, 8). I say of interest because the Greek homoioma ("likeness") and schema ("fashion") do convey the idea of external appearance. Hence, regarding Jesus, there was more to see than what met the eye, if you will. Is this, then, a contradiction? No. Jesus was God, all God and Jesus was man, all man. Every thing about the nature of Jesus was deity and every thing about the nature of Jesus was man, all of this at the same time and in the same circumstance (cp. Col. 2: 9). While he was man, real man, he was more than just a man. Hence, "likeness" and "in fashion."
The expression, "…thought it not robbery to be equal with God" is also very revealing. The word "equal" under consideration was a condition that had prevailed. Some have contended that the Greek isos (equal) means identical in every respect and it does, but they explain that "thought it not robbery to be equal with God" proves that Jesus in the flesh gave up deity. While the idea is that Jesus did not consider His equality with the Father a matter to be retained, the "equal" is referring to all the nuances of Jesus’ place in heaven as the logos or Word. There he was "face to face with God" (cp. John 1: 2, the Greek preposition pros appears to have such a meaning in John 1: 2, itself showing equality). Jesus did not retain all the splendor of heaven, but gave it up to come to earth (cp. 2 Cor. 8: 9). However, it is unthinkable to try to force Paul who said Jesus was in the "form of God" to, in the same breath deny Jesus’ deity.
In the first recorded sermon during this final age, the apostle Peter presented the exalted Jesus. Hear him:
"22: Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it…. 31: He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32: This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33: 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. 34: For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35: Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."
Relative to Jesus’ exaltation, Paul penned the following:
"20: Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21: Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23: Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1).
Perhaps one of the greatest comparison circumstances is that seen in Matthew 17: 1-5. Jesus, Moses, and Elias are observed by the chosen apostles. Moses, the great law giver and Elias the head of the prophets. What greater men could have been selected to compare with and to Jesus. Peter wanted to equally recognize and memorialize the three (vs. 4). Notwithstanding, the voice from heaven exclaimed, "…this is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him" (vs. 5).
Paul wrote to the Philippians that all shall acknowledge the exalted Jesus and bow to him, the One who has all authority in heaven and earth (Phili. 2: 10, 11, Matt. 28: 18). However, acknowledging Jesus will be too late as far as salvation is concerned. Now, before the Judgment, is the time to confess Jesus to the salvation of our souls (Rom. 10: 9, 10).
Addendum 1: Much of what is contained in the Nicea meetings is true, but not because men formed a council and issued a binding creed. Human creeds are dangerous and should not be a serious part of arriving at the truth. The word of God constitutes truth (cp. 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).
Addendum 2: Most of the referenced groups in some manner acknowledge that Jesus lived and that in some way he was special. Some claim he was a prophet, some a special angel, but they do not embrace the exalted Jesus of the scriptures, the one of whom Paul wrote.
Addendum 3: In an effort to deny Jesus’ deity as stated in "form of God," modernists and materialists sometimes refer to Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3: 5. "Form of godliness" does not mean actual godliness, but pretended or fained godliness; hence, "form of God" proves Jesus was not really God, but that Jesus only pretended to be God," reason they. However, "form" in 2 Timothy 3: 5 is morphosis, not morphe as in "form of God." As seen, "form" (morphe) means that which is actual, nature, and essence; while morphosis does suggest, especially in such texts as 2 Timothy 3: 5 an outward semblance.