The Exaltation Of Jesus

In my essay Still Docetic I have argued that at his incarnation the Word of God was made man (John 1:14) as the son of Adam (Luke 3:38), as the seed of Abraham and David (Mt. 1:1; Rom. 1:3) and born of woman (Gal. 4:4, cf. Heb. 10:5; Jer, 1:5). Though obviously still God in person, he laid aside his divine nature and took on human nature. On the face of it, without going further, both John in John 1:1-18 and Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 seem to teach this. However, history, as evinced not least in the Chalcedonian Creed, subverts this contention by positing two natures in one person (the hypostatic union). In other words, it is held that it was impossible for God the Word to divest himself of his divine nature in order to become man. This is apparently is a patent denial of what the Bible teaches and leads inevitably to what is known as docetism, that is, that Jesus appeared to be a man but was not really so. The idea that one human person can possess at one and the same time the nature of both God and man and still be a man, a true human being of the sort portrayed in Scripture, is logically impossible (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46 where Paul teaches that we are first flesh and then spirit finally transformed or ‘deified’ as in 15:50-53). Little wonder therefore that theologians like Berkhof (p.321), Berkouwer (p.285, etc.) and Milne (p.46) maintain that the two-nature doctrine is an inexplicable, incomprehensible or ineffable mystery. In fact it is contrary to reason and if allowed, it undermines all confidence we might otherwise have in the extensive use of logic throughout the Bible. Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisees (1* See espec. Stott on Jesus the Controversialist.) and Paul’s contentions regarding the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 especially involve logical reasoning, and it must be upheld on pain of death.


Apart from John and Paul, the author of Hebrews especially presents us with the a genuinely human Jesus who for a little while as God incarnate was made lower than the angels but then, having successfully finished his work, was crowned with honour and glory in accordance with the promise made to the first Adam (Heb. 2:7-9, cf. 1:3f.). In other words, he conquered as man (cf. Rom. 8:3) in a world where all other men failed, and it was for this reason that he had to die on their behalf. According to our author, unless he had become like his fellow human beings in every respect as a son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he could not have served as their representative and substitute (Heb. 2:17). Now, if the pre-existent Word had retained his divine nature, he could hardly be said to have been a true representative of man, a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) and one whom Paul regards as the second Adam. We are faced with two inseparable and apparently contradictory points: first, the OT tells us that salvation must be achieved by man (Adam) on condition of keeping the law (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) and, second, that God alone saves (e.g. Isa. 43:11; 45:20-25). In light of the failure of Adam and all his descendants (1 K.8:46, etc.), it was therefore necessary that God the Word became man as a true son of Adam (Luke 3:38), kept the law, gained eternal life and ascended to heaven, perfected as man in the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). This is precisely how the clearly human Jesus is presented in Hebrews. Having become like his fellows in every respect apart from sin (2:14,17; 4:15, etc.), at his exaltation he achieves not the divine nature which on Chalcedonian principles he already had and had never lost but the exact image of God as man (Heb. 1:3, cf. Col. 1:15-20; 2:9).

In sum, though eternally God in person and the human Son of God born of woman (Gal. 4:4), as man he fulfils the charge originally given to Adam as man made in the image of God and is perfected in the likeness of God. In other words he established the pattern of human salvation or pilgrimage from earth to heaven (John 3:13; 13:3; 16:28) in accordance with the plan of God. He was thus not merely representative man like Adam whose conduct all his descendants imitated (Rom. 3:23; 5:12, pace Augustine.) (2* On imitation, see my Imitation.), but, since he died on their behalf, he is the covenant representative and substitute of all who put their trust in him. As such he is their elder brother (Heb. 2:10-13), man the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

In dealing with Jesus’ exaltation, it is vital to see that his genuine humanity is paramount. If he had retained his divine nature, first he could not have been genuinely the human son of God like Adam (cf. Luke 3:38);  second, he could not for a little while have been made lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7,9); third, he could not have kept the law as man; fourth, he could not have represented his fellows as a true brother; and; fifth he could not have been exalted as man to sit at God’s right hand as the perfected image of God (cf. Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15). He would simply have confirmed his nature as God, but this is surely not what Scripture teaches.

Throughout the NT we are taught that it is Jesus the man, the genuine Son of God born of woman when the time has fully come, who is finally exalted as Lord (Acts 2:33-36; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:3). As the second Adam he did what the first Adam (and all his descendants Jesus apart) failed to do, that is, achieve victory as man in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14). In fact, to argue that throughout his earthly sojourn he retained his divine nature is to undermine his exaltation as man altogether and to make nonsense of it. The NT makes it abundantly clear that Jesus, the man, was the Son of God by a woman. Just as Adam had been created literally in the earth, Jesus was created in his mother’s womb (Heb. 10:5, cf. Jer. 1:5). Since his mother was herself dust, that is, flesh as deriving from Adam (Ps. 78:39; 103:14, cf. Gen. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 15:47-49), so Jesus followed the same path as his father Adam (Luke 3:38) had but in his case, since he kept the commandment or law, to perfection. Indeed, he could not have become the second Adam apart from this.

The Second Adam

It may be asked at this point who the second Adam really was? Surely the answer must be that he was as Paul says the man from heaven. How could he be that since the very name ‘Adam’ establishes man’s connection with the earth? (See e.g. NBD, p.13, col.2.) The answer must lie in the fact that as man, the son of Adam (Luke 3:38), he uniquely kept the law in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) and was born from above in accordance with the promise originally made to the first Adam. It is thus as the second Adam that he became the firstborn representative of the new human creation (Col. 1:15, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).

Is all this borne out by the rest of the NT? The answer must be in the affirmative. First, it is the man who was born to a woman who is recognized as God’s unique Son in the birth narratives (Matthew and Luke). Next, he is the one who pleased his Father by keeping the law thereby qualifying to be his regenerate Son (given eternal life) at his baptism (Mt. 3:13-17; John 1:32, etc.), then at his transfiguration and again at his resurrection (Acts 13:33) and finally at his ascension (Rom. 1:4). Some may argue that the latter reference relates to the resurrection from the grave but this is to miss or ignore the fact that the resurrection is often viewed comprehensively in the NT. Sometimes it is shorthand for the whole process of exaltation and clearly includes not merely his resurrection from the dead as such but also his ascension, transformation, exaltation and heavenly session. It is doubtless used in this way by Paul in Romans 1:4 where Jesus is seen not in the weakness of his flesh (2 Cor. 13:4, cf. Mt. 26:41) but ‘in power’ as Lord. (3* Mt. 28:18 is surely proleptic like John 20:22, cf. 7:39; Acts 2:33, etc.)

Again study of such references as Luke 24:26, Acts 2:33; 5:31; Romans 8:17, Ephesians 1:20; 4:10, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:3, cf. 2:9, 10:12 and 12:2 all point to the same conclusion.

Eternal Sonship

Of course, church tradition would have us believe that Jesus was God’s eternal Son signifying his Sonship as the pre-existent Word. There is no evident support for this view in the Bible as even its advocates concede. (4* See e.g. Giles, p.66,88.) The idea of the eternal generation of the Son stems in part from the belief that God cannot change his nature for which again there is no evident Scriptural support. Rather it seems to be an inference from the Greek philosophical view of God which regarded God as utterly transcendent, immutable and impassible, but it flies in the face of the clear teaching of the Bible, especially John 1 and Philippians 2 and is implied in 1 John 1:1-3 (cf. John 20:27-29). In other words, what John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11 teach is implicitly denied, and as a consequence we inevitably have the docetic Jesus who has plagued the church for centuries. Instead of accepting that God became man, we are urged to believe that his eternal, implicitly subordinate, Son became man. If this is the case the cutting edge of the humiliation of God is inevitably blunted (Phil. 2:7f.). On the other hand, if it was God the eternal Word who truly became man, then his exaltation makes sense. It is difficult indeed to understand how one who retained his divine nature could be either humbled or exalted. As Creator, he was Lord of heaven and earth by nature (Col.1:16).

This is of basic importance. Jesus had to be a true man to serve as man’s representative and mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). If he had preserved his divine nature he would not, could not possibly be a genuine man, the elder brother of his fellows. He could not have been a true trail blazer and pioneer (Heb. 12:2) but an alien. His salvation would have been an act of power like that portrayed in Islam but apart from righteousness and holiness (cf. Isa. 45:21,24).

Let us thank God that he sent Jesus his incarnate Son Jesus to serve as our elder brother and author of our salvation. It is he who now sits at his Father’s side as the Lamb, the Lord of glory, on the throne of the universe interceding for his blood-bought people. While he may now be subordinate (1 Cor. 15:24-28) as Joseph was to Pharaoh (Gen. 41:40,43; 44:18, etc.), it is for our sake (cf.. Gen. 45:5,7; 50:20). What humility! What love!

Gloria Soli Deo.



L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology, London, 1959.

G.C.Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, Grand Rapids, 1954.

K.Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, Downers Grove, 2012.

B.Milne, Know the Truth, 3rd ed. Nottingham, 2009.

John R.W.Stott, Jesus the Controversialist, Leicester, 1970.