IV. The glorified Christ in the letters of Paul (Chapter 16-23)
16. So that every knee will bow...
"For which reason also God highly exalted him, and granted him a name, that which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly and earthly and infernal beings, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to God the Father’s glory." (Phil 2:9-11).
Here the exaltation of the Lord Jesus is particularly emphasized. He is highly exalted and has received a name that is above every name. On earth, the name "Jesus" has often been called with the addition of "the Nazarene" to express contempt. But the time will come when his name will be recognized by all. Those who have rejected the gospel of grace will then no longer be able to convert, but they too will bow down before Him. They will have to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yes, even from the "underground"- from evil powers like demons, this name will then become known in submission.
The present exaltation and future recognition of Christ are presented here in a special light. The "therefore" at the beginning of the sentence refers back to verse 8, which gives us two reasons:
- The humility of the Lord: "who humbled himself"
- The incomparable obedience of Christ: to the absolute end and low point, to death, even to the shameful and agonizing death on the cross.
God does not leave this unanswered. The path of humility is alien to the world, even fundamentally repugnant, and we ourselves often find it difficult to follow. But Christ - "in the form of God" and "equal to God", who was himself God, He lived it as an example. He became man, servant and crucified. We (i.e. our flesh) find it hard to see that we are low. Christ has voluntarily made himself low.
God does not leave obedience unrewarded either. The message is clear: Looking at the glorified Christ shows us at this point that humility and obedience are rewarded by God and answered with glory. That this will happen in the gaze of Christ makes us especially happy.
17. Profit respected for loss
"But what things were gain to me these I counted, on account of Christ, loss. But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ... Not that I have already obtained the prize, or am already perfected; but I pursue, if also I may get possession of it, seeing that also I have been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not count to have got possession myself; but one thing—forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.. (Phil 3,7.8.12-14).
Here we have a man whose values had obviously been completely turned upside down: What he used to think of as profit, he now thinks of as loss (not only worthless)! It was not the bad things that he now considers "for filth"(which would have been right), but the noble and good things that had made up his whole reputation and of which many would have been proud. How could this happen, what was behind it? There is an answer: a gaze at the glorified Christ.
On the road to Damascus, the persecutor Saul of Tarsus had seen something of the glory of him whom he had known only as the despised Nazarene. He had been blinded by the light of the Syrian noon-day sun that "dazzled" (see Acts 26:13) and he had fallen to the ground as if dead. That had been the turning point. But then his eyes had been opened (literally and spiritually) and he had become the preacher of this glory (Eph 3:8). Now he could speak of Him as "Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8). This expression, which he only uses here, shows something of his close and intimate relationship with the Lord. For Him it was worthwhile to give up everything.
All the natural advantages that Paul had had were on one scale. On the other side of the scale was Christ-or more precisely, "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” To know Christ more and more is a lifelong but happy task. We do this on the one hand by dealing with Him in His Word (and this book is intended to encourage this). On the other hand, we also know Him through what we experience practically with Him.
One of the things we can discover in Christ is His work on the cross with all its results. Paul mentions here in particular the righteousness that He has acquired for us. Before, the proud Pharisee had thought much of his own (supposed) righteousness; now, he did not want to know anything about it (v. 9).
He sees the "man in glory" and as the next two verses show, he associates two desires with it:
- In his life on earth he wants to be united with Him, to experience the power of his resurrection (i.e. the spiritual power with which God works in us, cf. Eph 1:19) but also the communion of his sufferings. If Christ is raised from the dead and is in glory, then Paul would like to experience this power already in his life on earth, and for this he is ready to accept all kinds of suffering. In a way he says: this "path" pleases me; it contains divine power but also suffering- I would like to experience both.
- Secondly, he looks beyond his own life to the destination of his journey. He will be wholly with Christ at one point and enjoy Him unhindered "in the resurrection”, after the rapture. Here he refers to the resurrection because he had just spoken of his readiness to follow Christ into death, to be "conformed to his death". What most people want to avoid at all costs (to go through death), he now rater sees as a treasure to be gained.
He was not yet there, nor had He taken Christ in this form, nor was He with Him. But he had already been taken by Christ (v.12), he had only Him before him. This perspective had an impact in the life of the apostle. He forgot what was "back there" (not his sins (1 Tim 1:12-14), but his history, origin, descent, and achievements). He had a goal and he chased towards that goal: "looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus" (v.14).
Looking at the humbled Lord makes us humble. The gaze of the glorified Lord gives us a goal, equips us with strength and inspires our steps. We see this in Philippians 3.
18. The citizenship, the Savior and the incredible power
" For our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, who will transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of the power which he has even to subdue all things to himself." (Phil 3:20,21).
At this point we once again enjoy a glimpse of heaven, again from a particular angle and again with particular consequences. As redeemed people, we ourselves belong there. We already have "the passport in our pocket", so to speak. Our citizenship is there, so we are already "citizens" of heaven.
Secondly, we learn here that Christ is there and that we can expect Him, and that we can expect Him as Savior. When He came in grace over 2000 years ago, He also came as Savior. He laid the foundation for the salvation of our soul and body on the cross. The salvation of the soul (Heb 10:39; 1 Pe 1:9) is already complete, but our bodies are still waiting (Rom 8:23). In this sense, the Lord will come again as Saviour.
There are believers who suffer with extreme physical issues because of age or illness. Others feel limited by fatigue, etc. But all of us can gaze up into heaven. There we see Christ, who will come as Saviour and bring salvation to our bodies.
He will transform the weak bodies. Two things impress us:
- The result will be nothing less than "uniformity with his glorious body": We will not only get rid of disturbing factors like tiredness, pain and discomfort, but these new bodies will radiate glory and will be similar to His glorious body. God takes such pleasure in His Son and has such love for us that He does not and cannot give less than to make us outwardly conformable to Him.
- The power that brings this about is called "the effective power with which He is able to subject all things to Himself". This is the standard: Christ will one day subject the whole of creation to Himself. What kind of power will be necessary for this! This mighty power will also become effective on our bodies to bring about this transformation.
It is also noticeable that He Himself will do it. In Psalm 2, the Son is asked to demand the possession of the earth and the nations, and God would give it to Him: "Ask of me, and I will give you nations for an inheritance, and for your possession the ends of the earth" (v.8). Also in Psalm 110 it is said: "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies as footstool of your feet. (V. 1). But here we learn that this power is available to Him (Christ Himself) and that He Himself can thus subject all things to Himself.
This view into heaven shows us the power that Christ already has now (no problem is too great for Him), but also the end point at which this power will unfold in our favour. Christ will come back from heaven - as Saviour - to bring about this mighty transformation: "to be conformed with His body of glory".
Above all we see Him. He is already there in heaven. But He will come, as Savior, to take us there as well. We will see this in detail in other Bible passages.
19. The head of the body of the assembly
" And he is the head of the body, the assembly; who is the beginning, firstborn from among the dead, that he might have the first place in all things:" (Col 1:18).
For the Colossians, the view of the glorified Christ was a salutary view. In themselves they were in good spiritual condition (Col 1:2-8; 2:5). Nevertheless, as we learn in chapter 2, they were exposed to acute danger due to the influence of philosophy, Judaism and mysticism (v. 8; 16-18). Before Paul addresses these problems openly, he introduces Christ to them in His personal glory.
In doing so, he first names glories that are related to the first creation (Col 1:16,17). Then he speaks of glories related to the new creation (Col 1:18-22). The latter are all based on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He could never have become the head of the body if He had not gone to death (for only then could those who belong to this body be saved). Therefore, it says also directly afterwards that He is the "firstborn from the dead".
In the statement that He is "the head of the body of the congregation", the emphasis is on the word "He": the Creator of the universe, the firstborn of all creation, the One by whom and for whom all things were created and who then became man and died - He and only He is now the head.
Here it is not explicitly mentioned that Christ is in heaven, but He could only become the head of the body when He had returned there as a glorified human being, for only after His glorification could the Spirit come (John 7:39) and the body be formed through Him (1Cor 12:13).
This glorified Christ was the answer to the problems of the Colossians. Had they been more attentive to Him, they would not have been in danger of following people who wanted to make other things palatable to them, "not holding their head" (Col 2:19). They would have quickly realized that Christianity cannot be enhanced by asceticism or philosophy (if "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Him (Col 2:3), how can a philosopher add anything?)
Our potential for danger may be somewhat different from that of the Colossians. But how easily difficulties arise for us too: the desire to take a leading position in the local assembly, disharmony among brothers and sisters, lack of dependence on Him. Then we need to look to Him as the Head of the Body, to the One who has the good of the whole assembly in mind, who provides for the Body and who wants to direct and guide the individual believers - who are members of this Body.
He is the Head of the Body, of the assembly, He is the beginning of the new creation, the firstborn from the dead, and no one else but He has earned the position of guiding head and "in all things the preeminancy.
20. Seek and contemplate
"If therefore you have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above, where the Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God: have your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth; for you have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God. When the Christ is manifested who is our life, then will you also be manifested with him in glory" (Col 3:1-4).
This passage explicitly refers to Christ "sitting at the right hand of God" (v.1). This gaze is meant to shape our "seeking" and "contemplating" while we are still on earth.
The starting point is that we have been "raised with Christ". The apostle Paul had already pointed out in chapter 2 that the Colossians died with Christ, were buried with Him, and raised with Him (Col 2:11-12). He had explained that they consequently had nothing to do with dietary rules and rules of conduct. These were all "elements of the world". Before Christ came, such things had their place. Regulations of this kind were enshrined in Jewish law. But they had died with Christ, been raised, and moved into a new realm where life is not governed by rules but by a living relationship with Christ.
Now he goes one step further. If they had been raised with Christ, then He should be the center of their striving and thinking. The Colossians here are not considered to be with Christ in the heavenly places (like the Ephesians). They are on earth, - but their interests lie elsewhere - with Christ. They have crossed the Jordan, so to speak, but are not yet in the land. They can already see the land, and there their interests lie.
What do we now see "above"? The addition "where the Christ is" gives the answer. It is about everything that concerns Him. It is this view of the glorified Christ. He gives us plenty of food for thought: His Person, the work of redemption, His plans for the future, His coming again - all this is included in the good matter we are allowed to reflect on. Our thinking is formed through this and our affections are strengthened.
This does not mean at all that we neglect our earthly tasks or relationships. When things are going well we do them conscientiously, but in looking up to the Lord we see our job as a task we are doing for Him (not for the next promotion or pay raise). We see our family relationships as a sphere in which we have the task of pleasing the man at the right hand of God. The view that a heavenly-minded Christian is of no use on earth is simply wrong. Colossians 3 makes this very clear. The chapter begins with the invitation to seek and reflect on what is "above" - and then continues to show us exactly how we should live on earth. Looking at the glorified Christ leads us to honour Him in our actions on earth.
Our interests, our purpose and aspirations, yes, our life is there. It is "hidden with the Christ in God." Christ is already glorified in the Father, but the world does not yet see any of it. Our life is hidden with Him. But not forever. The moment will come when He will appear in glory and "be revealed" (v.4). Then we too will be revealed with Him.
Looking at the glorified Christ at the right hand of God shows us both: the center of our interest today and the certainty of glory tomorrow.
21. Expecting his son from the heavens
"For they themselves relate concerning us what entering in we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God," (1 Thes 1:9).
The Thessalonians had only recently been converted from deep paganism. But they knew the glorified Christ: He was the Son of God. They also knew that He was in the heavens - and that He would one day come "from the heavens". They were not waiting for the coming wrath, but for the One who would save them from it.
Their view into the heavens told them
- He is there!
- He will come again!
- Therefore, we have nothing more to do with the coming wrath. He will save us.
22. Always with the Lord
" then we, the living who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we will be always with the Lord" (1 Thes 4:17).
The Thessalonians were still not quite clear on how the coming of the Lord would take place. Nor did they know what would happen to the faithful who had already gone home. Paul explains this to them in this well-known passage. What is important to us here: After these explanations they were allowed to know that the Son of God would not only come again (for instance to rule on earth - that is what He will do), but that He would rapture them and take them with Him before that. They will one day be in the place where He is now, - and not only in this place, but expressly "with Him".
So we can say that the Thessalonians were allowed a glimpse of heaven through these teachings. And there they saw their Lord - and His person and presence was their future: they would be with Him, and that for ever.
No wonder Paul adds: "So now encourage one another with these words" (v.18).
23. When He comes to be glorified...
"When he will have come to be glorified in his saints, and wondered at in all that have believed, (for our testimony to you has been believed,) in that day.” (2 Thes 1:10)
Relatively shortly after the first letter, Paul wrote another letter to the Thessalonians. They were still persecuted and had massive existential worries. Moreover, there were still false teachers who took advantage of this situation to spread their false teachings. They claimed that the current persecution of the Thessalonians was part of the judgments associated with the "Day of the Lord" in the Old Testament (Joel 2:1,2; 2 Thes 2:2).
Paul gives several reasons why this could not be the case. One of them has to do with the glorified Christ: When the Day of the Lord comes, He will show His glory before the world - and the faithful will be on His side. He will be "glorified" and "admired" in them. If they fare badly at present, this was the best proof that the Day of the Lord had not yet come!
The look at the glorified Christ shows the Thessalonians that the tide will turn one day:
- The faithful, who are now still oppressed, will then receive rest (2 Thes 1:7).
- The unbelievers who now oppressed them will then suffer punishment (2 Thes 1:6,9).
For these young believers, this very gaze into heaven must have been a tremendous comfort and encouragement: there is One who will appear in power and show his glory - and they will then be vessels through which some of this glory will be seen.
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