The Exaltation of Christ
who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God,
angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
1 Peter 3:22 NKJV
Question 51 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What was the estate of Christ's exaltation?” It gives the answer, “The estate of Christ's exaltation comprehendeth his resurrection, ascension, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and his coming again to judge the world.” Last time we looked at the final state of Christ’s humiliation as He allowed death to hold His body for a time. This week we consider the exaltation of Christ.
As we move from discussing Christ’s humiliation to describing His exaltation, it is important to remember that we are only describing Him as respecting His human nature. Jesus Christ, as the second person of the divine Trinity, is very God of very God, infinite in glory, power, blessedness, and unchanging in perfection forever and ever. As respects His deity, our Lord cannot know the slightest humiliation and He cannot be exalted one degree more than He already is. The one and only God is perfect in every way. Nothing can add to or take away from any of His magnificence. Thus, it is only in reference to His incarnation as the God-man that Jesus was humiliated and then exalted. We must always keep this in mind when we speak of our Lord undergoing changing states of glory.
In the last few weeks we have been noticing the many aspects of Christ’s humiliation. From His incarnation throughout His life and up to and including His death and burial, Christ did not receive the honor and glory that His office, character, and deeds deserved. In categorizing Jesus’ entire life as one of humiliation, the Westminster divines were of course aware of the many episodes in Scripture where Jesus’ true person and worth were glimpsed. John the Baptist declared how great He was compared to himself (Matt. 3:11). Nathanael immediately recognized Him as the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel,” (John 1:49). There were others who recognized Him, praised or even worshiped Him (Luke 24:52; John 20:28). On one occasion some of His glory was allowed to be seen by three of His disciples when He was transfigured on the mountain (Matt. 17; Mar. 9; Luke 9). However, all of these episodes were exceptions to the general rule of His life, which was not exaltation, but constant, daily humiliation. So much so that He did not have a place where He could “lay His head” (Mark 8:20). Jesus came to serve, and thus He lived the life of a lowly servant although He was the King of kings and Lord of lords. But with His resurrection from the dead all of that began to change.
Accordingly, the first phase of Christ’s exaltation was His resurrection from the dead. Although others had been temporarily raised from the grave (the widow of Zarephath’s son, Lazarus, Dorcas, etc.), only Jesus was resurrected from the dead, never to die again. When others were raised it was a sign of the power of the prophet who raised them, but not so with Jesus. His resurrection was a display of His own power. Death could not hold Jesus, because He was more powerful than death (Acts 2:24). Jesus alone had the power to lay down His life and the power to take it up again (John 10:18), and this power was gloriously displayed in His resurrection from the dead. Similarly, Christ displayed His glory as the hero of the race and the savior of mankind when He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. The book of Proverbs, in speaking of ultimate wisdom and power asks “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know?” The answer of History is Jesus Christ! In ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of power, Christ proved that He was the seed of the woman who had crushed the head of the serpent. Finally, Christ will be fully exalted by every human being and by all of creation, when He comes again to judge the living and the dead. Nothing is so fundamental to the revelation of God’s supreme authority and glory as His being the only judge of all creation (Gen. 18:25). In committing all judgment to the Son, the Father reveals Jesus’ glory to be equal to His own, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:22-23).