IV. The glorified Christ in the letters of Paul (Chapters 16-23)
16. 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)
In this passage, 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 used in connection with the addition "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 accept Him as Saviour, but they too will bow down before Him. They will have to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yes, even "infernal beings" – even evil powers like demons, will have to bow before Him 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 to the lowest point, to death, even to the shameful and agonizing death on the cross.
God does not fail to give a most wonderful answer to these points. The path of humility is alien to the world, even fundamentally repugnant, and we ourselves often find it difficult to follow. But Christ – who was "in the form of God" and "equal to God", who was himself God, He lived took this path. He became man and servant and He was crucified. We (i.e. our flesh) find it hard to accept how low we are. Christ has voluntarily made himself lowly.
God does not leave obedience unrewarded either. The message is clear: Looking at the glorified Christ shows us that humility and obedience are rewarded by God and answered with glory. That this will happen in relation to Christ fills us with great joy.
17. Gain counted as 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 turned upside down: What he used to consider as profit, he now thinks of as loss (not only worthless)! He is not saying that he considers old sinful practices as “loss” or "filth" (which would have been right as well), but he is speaking about all the noble and good things, his formidable distinctions, that had contributed to his reputation as a first-class Jew and Pharisee. Many would have been proud of these things. How could this happen, what was behind it? There is an answer: the 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 dead. That had been the turning point. Shortly afterwards, 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 His sake, anything and everything was worth giving up.
All the natural advantages that Paul had were on one side of the 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 engage in this, on the one hand, by seeking Him and discovering 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 had lost interest in this kind of righteousness (which was “on the principle of law”; 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 end of his journey. He will be 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 rather sees as a treasure to be gained.
He was not yet there, nor had He obtained 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 Saviour and the incredible power
"For our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, 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 Saviour. When He came in grace over 2000 years ago, He also came as Saviour. 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 extreme physical discomfort or pain through old 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 here:
- The result will be nothing short of "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 conformabed 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 Saviour, to take us there as well. We will see this in detail in other Bible passages.
19. The Head of the body, 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 one. It is fair to say that they were in good spiritual condition (Col. 1:2-8; 2:5). Nevertheless, they were exposed to acute danger due to the influence of philosophy, Judaism and mysticism (2:8.16-18). Before Paul addresses these problems explicitly, he presents to them Christ 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, had He not gone into death (for only then could the body be formed). Therefore, it says also directly afterwards that He is the "firstborn from the dead".
When it says that He is "the head of the body of the church", 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 (1. Cor. 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?)
The dangers we are exposed to may be quite different from those faced by 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. When these things raise their ugly heads, we need to turn to Him as the Head of the body, 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, the assembly, He is the beginning of the new creation, the firstborn from among the dead, and none but He deserves the position of leading us as head. He has "in all things the pre-eminence”.
20. Seeking the things above
"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 on Christ in glory 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 that the Colossians had died with Christ and had been buried with Him and raised with Him (Col. 2:11-12). He had explained that, consequently, they had nothing to do with dietary laws 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 the Colossians had died with Christ, had 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 central to their thoughts and aspirations. The Colossians are not here considered to be seated in the heavenly places in Christ (like the Ephesians). They are seen 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 this is where 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 well with us, we perform our duties 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 rise). 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 it 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 "hid 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 centre 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 and to await his Son from the heavens." (1 Thess. 1:9.10)
The Thessalonians had only recently been converted from the depth of paganism.
They had been idolaters. There had been a radical return, a 180-degree U-turn: they had "turned to God from idols." Since then, her life had taken direction, meaning and purpose. It was, so to speak, a life programme with two strands:
- "To serve the living and true God": they were converted only young, but they lived for God and God showed them fields of activity in which they could become active in order to serve Him.
- "And to expect his son from the heavens." Here we learn that the view into the open heaven, and thus the view of the glorified Christ even for these young believers, was open – and that they made use of it.
So they looked into the open heavens and saw the glorified Christ there, and knew Him as the Son of God. They also knew that He would return "from the heavens".
This short and concise expression "to expect his Son from the heavens" speaks volumes. It conveys, in a compact form, very important elements of Christian hope:
- At the heart of the Christian hope is a person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Thessalonians were waiting for Him.
- Christian hope is not a possibility, but a certainty. The question is not whether He will come (He will come, cf. John 14:2), but when He will come.
- Christian hope is an immediate hope. There is no event that should occur beforehand. Therefore, the Thessalonians did not wait for the judgment period, for the Antichrist, for the tribulation or anything else, but for him who will save them from these things: Jesus, who saves us from the coming wrath.
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 Thess. 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 departed to be with the Lord. In this well-known passage (1 Thess. 4:15-18) Paul instructs them on these points.
What is important to us here: After these explanations they were allowed to know that the Son of God would not only come again to rule on earth (this He will do), but that, before this, He would rapture them and take them with Him.
This event, the Rapture, will be a personal encounter between Christ and the believers. The Lord will not send angels, not even the archangel, but He will come Himself: "For the Lord Himself will ... descend from heaven" (v. 16). And this encounter is not a public event on earth, but a private event where believers are caught up "in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air". The event occurs where the devil exercises his power today (cf. Eph. 2:2) – but he will then no longer be able to hinder, tempt or disturb.
The result is: "And so we shall always be with the Lord". 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 granted a glimpse of heaven through this teaching. And there they saw their Lord – and His person and presence were what their future was all about: 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 Thess. 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 Thess. 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 fared 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 Thess. 1:7).
- The unbelievers who oppress them now will then suffer punishment (2 Thess. 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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