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Exaltation of Christ

EXALTATION OF CHRIST. The term “exalt” is used with reference to Christ in Acts 2:33; 5:31, and Philippians 2:9, to which may be added Isaiah 52:13, where the servant of the prophecy may well be identified with Christ. (The same Gr. term is tr. “lift up” in John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34, where the reference is to the sufferings of Christ.)

The terms “humiliation” (q.v.) and “exaltation” are commonly used in theology to denote the two states of Christ the mediator; the former extending from Christ’s conception to His burial, and marking the period of His incarnation where the “form of the servant” was the dominant feature of His life on earth; the latter starting with the resurrection and including His ascension, His session at the right hand of the Father and His glorious second coming.

While some have attempted to interpret humiliation and exaltation as applying either to the divine or to the human nature of Christ, it appears wisest to view both in reference to Christ in the performance of His mediatorial office. It is along this line that Philippians 2:5-11 can receive the most natural interpretation.

There has been some question whether Christ’s “descent into hell” belongs to the exaltation of Christ, as commonly asserted in the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox and the Lutheran traditions. The major support for this approach—and for the view that the statement of the Apostles’ creed “He descended into hell” refers to a specific transaction performed by Christ between death and resurrection—is found in 1 Peter 3:19, 20. But to build such a heavy inferential superstructure of doctrine upon a passage so manifestly obscure and of which no one appears to be able to give a truly satisfactory interpretation (cf. Bo Reicke, The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism [1946], 276 pp.) seems precarious in the extreme. Those who view the “descent” as a stage of Christ’s exaltation frequently assume that He went to proclaim His victory to OT believers, so that they might share in the full benefits of His redemption (cf. Eph 4:8-10). But this picture does not fit well with the “spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey...in the days of Noah,” about whom Peter is speaking. One may perhaps conclude that the “descent into hell” is resting on a fragile basis and that it is not of primary importance to determine whether it belongs to the humiliation or the exaltation of Christ. (Cf. F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics. English tr. II [1951], 314-320. H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 3d ed, III [1917], 459-469.)

The resurrection of Christ (q. v.) is the first notable stage of His exaltation (Acts 2:32; Rom 1:4). By the resurrection not only was Christ’s body re-animated (as had been the case, e.g., for Lazarus), but His whole human nature was constituted incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual; that is to say, adapted to the purpose of the spirit (1 Cor 15:42-45).

In the ascension of Christ (q. v.) we see a perfecting of the glory inaugurated by the resurrection. In entering heaven Christ, the mediator, initiates a new form of relationship with His people, and prepares their ultimate reunion with Him (John 14:2, 3).

At the Second Coming of Christ (q. v.) the ascended Lord will return to bring to completion His redemptive work, raise the dead, judge mankind and the angels, fulfill His union with His Church as the heavenly bridegroom, and inaugurate His eternal reign.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Its Glorification of Christ

2. Resurrection Body--Identity, Change, Present Locality

3. The Agent of the Resurrection


1. Its Actuality

2. General Doctrine of the Church

3. Lutheran Doctrine

4. Theory of Laying Aside the Existence-Form of God

5. Necessity


1. Its Significance

2. Its Essential Necessity


1. Reality

2. Judgment

This term is given to that condition of blessedness, glory and dominion into which our Lord entered after the completion of His earthly career of humiliation and suffering, and which is to be regarded as the reward of His meritorious obedience, and the issue of His victorious struggle, and at the same time the means of His prosecution and completion of His work as Redeemer and Saviour of the world. The classic passage of Scripture, rich in suggestion, and the source of much controversy in the development of Christian theology, is Php 2:5-11. The word "exalted" of Php 2:9, huperupsoo, occurs only in this place in the New Testament and, like its Latin representative, is limited to ecclesiastical use. Compare Ro 14:9; Eph 1:19-23; 1Pe 3:21,22.

Christ’s Exaltation includes His Resurrection, Ascension, Session at the right hand of God, and Advent as Judge and Consummator of the world’s redemption.

I. The Resurrection.

1. Its Glorification of Christ:

The historic place and validity of this event will be found under other heads; our concern is with the event as it relates to the glorification of our Lord.

(1) It revealed His power over death.

(2) It confirms all His claims to Divine Sonship.

(3) It attests His acceptance and that of His work by God.

(4) It crowns the process of the redemption of the world.

(5) It forms the beginning of that new creation which is life eternal, and over which death can have no power.

(6) It is the entrance of the Son of God into the power and glory of the New Kingdom, or the restored Kingdom of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe.

2. Resurrection Body--Identity, Change, Present Locality:

3. The Agent of the Resurrection:

II. The Ascension of our Lord.

1. Its Actuality:

The exaltation of Christ consisted further in His ascension. Some have held that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus ought to be regarded as aspects of the same event. But Mary saw the risen Lord, though she was forbidden to touch Him, for "I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend," etc. (Joh 20:17). This, compared with the invitation to Thomas to touch Him, eight days later, suggests something in the ascension added to that which the resurrection implied, and the general thought of the church has consistently regarded the latter as a further step in the exaltation of the Lord.

2. General Doctrine of the Church:

The fact of ascension is recorded in Mr 16:19, and Lu 24:50,51, and with greater detail in Ac 1:9-11. According to these accounts, the ascension was seen by the disciples, and this suggests that heaven is a locality, where are the angels, who are not ubiquitous, and where Christ’s disciples will find the place which He declared He was going to prepare for them (Joh 14:2). Heaven is also undoubtedly referred to as a state (Eph 2:6; Php 3:20), but Christ’s body must be in some place, and where He is, there is Heaven.

3. Lutheran Doctrine:

This is certainly the doctrine of the church in general, and seems to be consistent with the Scriptural teaching. But the Lutherans have maintained that the ascension of the Lord merely involved a change of state in the human nature of Christ. He possessed during His life on earth the Divine attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience, but He voluntarily abstained from their exercise. But at His ascension He returned to the full use of these powers. The ascension is Christ’s return to immensity. The community of natures gave these Divine qualities to the humanity of Jesus, which Luther declared involved its ubiquity, and that as He was at the right hand of God, and God was everywhere, so Christ in His human personality was in no specific place but everywhere. This omnipresence is not of the infinite extension of the body of the Lord, but He is present as God is everywhere present in knowledge and power.

4. Theory of Laying Aside the Existence-Form of God:

Another theory of the ascended humanity-of the Lord depends upon the conception of the Son of God laying aside at incarnation the "existence-form of God," and while affirming that Christ’s body is now in a definite place, it proceeds to hold that at the ascension the accidental and variable qualities of humanity were laid aside, and that He dwells in heaven as a glorified man. Ebrard says: "He has laid aside forever the existence form of God, and assumed that of man in perpetuity, in which form by His Spirit He governs the church and the world. He is thus dynamically present to all His people." This form of doctrine seems to involve as the result of the incarnation of the Son of God His complete and sole humanity. He is no more than a man. The Logos is no longer God, and as the ascension did not involve the reassumption of the "existence-form of God," Christ in glory is only a glorified man.

5. Necessity:

The ascension was necessary, in conformity with the spiritual character of the kingdom which Christ founded. Its life is that of faith, not sight. A perpetual life of even the resurrected Christ on earth would have been wholly inconsistent with the spiritual nature of the new order. The return of Christ to the special presence of God was also part of His high-priestly service (see Offices of Christ) and His corporal absence from His people was the condition of that gift of the Spirit by which salvation was to be secured to each believer and promulgated throughout the world, as declared by Himself (Joh 16:7). Finally, the ascension was that physical departure of the Lord to the place which He was to prepare for His people (Joh 14:2,3). The resurrection was this completion of the objective conditions of redemption. The ascension was the initial step in the carrying out of redemptive work in the final salvation of mankind.

III. Exaltation Completed at the Right Hand of God.

1. Its Significance:

The term "the right hand of God" is Scriptural (Ac 7:55,56; Ro 8:34; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; 1Pe 3:22) and expresses the final step in the Lord’s exaltation. Care must be taken in the use of the expression. It is a figure to express the association of Christ with God in glory and power. It must not be employed as by Luther to denote the relation of the body of Christ to space, neither must it be limited to the Divine nature of the Logos reinstated in the conditions laid aside in incarnation. Christ thus glorified is the God-man, theanthropic person, Divine and human.

2. Its Essential Necessity:

IV. The Second Advent.

The exaltation of Christ is to be completed by His coming again at the close of the dispensation, to complete His redemptive work and judge the world, and so to establish the final Kingdom of God. This belief has found a place in all the ecumenical symbols. Theology has ever included it in its eschatology. It is clear that the apostles and the early church expected the second coming of the Lord as an immediate event, the significance of which, and especially the effect of the nonfulfillment of which expectation, does not fall within the province of this article to consider. The various theories of the Parousia, the different ideas as to the time and the form of the second Advent, do not concern its relation to the exaltation of the Lord. Whenever and however He may return; whether He is ever coming to the church and to the world, His visible or His spiritual presence, do not affect the fact that He has been exalted to the position of ultimate Lord and final judge of men. We may therefore define this crowning condition of exaltation as:

1. Reality:

2. Judgment:

The Judgment is clearly taught by Scripture. our Lord declares that He is appointed Judge. (Joh 5:22; 9:39). Paul teaches that we must "all stand before the judgment- seat of God" (Ro 14:10). Here again there is the suggestion of the judgment which is ever being made by the Lord in His office as Sovereign and Administrator of the kingdom; but there is also the expectation of a definite and final act of separation and discernment. Whatever may be the form of this judgment (and here again a wise and reverent silence as to the unrevealed is a becoming attitude for the believer), we are sure that He who will make it, is the glorified Word incarnate, and it will be the judgment of a wisdom and justice and love that will be the complete glory of the Christ.