The Exaltation of Jesus

THE Book of Hebrews was written for the purpose of convincing the nation of Israel that all the prophecies given to them by God about the Messiah pointed to Jesus. Many prophecies concerning Messiah written in the Old Testament told of God’s plan for him, and especially his relationship to the angels. Most of Israel, except the Sadducees, believed in the existence of angels because their forefathers had experiences with them. Angels appeared to Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Gideon, and many others in Israel. If an angel had come and spoken to the Israelites, as Gabriel had appeared to Mary and Zacharias, they would have been impressed and believed his message. The Apostle Paul was aware of this esteem for angels and used prophetic scripture to show that God had exalted Jesus to a position next to himself, far above all principalities and powers and angels. Furthermore, Israel had received the distinct privilege of having Jesus, one destined to be greater than angels, speak to them, to convince them that he was sent by God. But only a few listened.

Although one of the ways in which God spoke to Israel included messages delivered by angels, he especially used the prophets who, guided by his Holy Spirit, wrote to convey to his people the precious promises of the kingdom. The Book of Hebrews begins with the statement, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.” (Heb. 1:1) The “divers manners” of communication used by God included types and shadows, events in people’s lives, experiences of nations, the Tabernacle rituals, dreams, visions, and, as mentioned before, messages through angels. We cannot help but marvel when we pause to reflect on the “divers manners” in which God corroborated his precious promises over and over again. These were largely hidden from the nation of Israel but were eventually revealed to his elect. As we trace the gradual illumination of these promises from the first vague statement in Eden that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, later in Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb, the saving of Noah and his family through the Flood, the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob foretelling blessings to all the families of the earth, and the elaboration of this promise through all the prophets, ending with Malachi, we see wonderful evidences of God’s wisdom, justice, power and love.

Yet no matter how perceptive we might be in our understanding of these Old Testament prophecies and pictures, the most wonderful revealment of God’s promises came when, at the close of the Jewish Age, God spoke to us by his Son. (Heb. 1:2) This honor and privilege, extended to those called from the nation of Israel, and to us, is beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend and appreciate.

This same Son in his pre-human existence was the Logos, and he was constantly God’s delight. (Prov. 8:30) He was obedient, humble, and zealous in doing the Father’s will. The apostle writes in Philippians 2:28, “Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” When he had finished the task of purging our sins, he was honored by being seated on the right hand of Jehovah. We read in Hebrews 1:2-4: “[Him] he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

The apostle, in telling us of the exaltation of Jesus, emphasizes that it was God’s intention to elevate his Son above all angels, principalities, and powers. Similar language is used by the apostle in Ephesians 1:21, where Jesus is said by Paul to have been raised “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Likewise, in Philippians 2:9,10, he reiterates this point, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”

This introduction to the Book of Hebrews makes reference to several Old Testament prophecies. In these prophecies God recorded his intention to exalt his Son and to give him immortality. A statement of the fulfillment of these prophecies is found in Hebrews 1:3, which says, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Part of this same prophecy is quoted later in verse 13 of this chapter: “To which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” Both references are from Psalm 110:1, “The Lord [Jehovah] said unto my Lord [Jesus] Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” In the Bible we note that the word “Lord” in the first instance is in capital letters, which indicates it is translated from “Jehovah” in the Hebrew. Jesus himself used this scripture to confound the Pharisees when he asked them a question, as recorded in Matthew 22:41-46: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” Although the Pharisees could not answer him, we know that Jesus will be David’s Lord when David is resurrected in God’s kingdom; yet when Jesus was on earth, he was David’s son, having descended from David’s line. We also note that this prophecy confirms that Jesus indeed has been exalted to God’s right hand, to the second highest position in all of the universe.

The account in Hebrews continues, “Unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” (Heb. 1:5) In this instance the Apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 2:7, “I will declare the decree: the Lord [Jehovah] hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” This second psalm describes the important position granted Jesus concerning earth’s affairs, and how all will be forced to recognize his authority.

Hebrews 1:5 is also a quotation from II Samuel 7:14, and is intended to show the special relationship of the Father to the Son: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” Here we see David’s desire to build a house for the Lord. That privilege was denied him, but was given to his son Solomon. The account might appear to be referring to Solomon, but Paul applies it to Jesus. However, Solomon was a picture of the glorified Christ.

Hebrews 1:6 states, “When he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” This scripture is a reference to Psalm 97:7, “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols; worship him, all ye gods.” The Apostle Paul is making an important point. Any angel sent to Israel would have greatly impressed them, yet they saw and talked to one whom Jehovah intended to exalt above the angels, and one whom the angels would worship. These same mighty angels were also intended to be our Lord’s ministers, and the apostle tells us so. “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.”—Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:7

The Apostle Paul also quotes scripture which tells why Jesus was exalted above his fellows. “But unto the Son he saith, thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” We note that Jesus was destined to be exalted above his fellows (angels) of his pre-human existence, as well as above his fellows (the church) of his earthly experiences. Finally, the apostle says in Hebrews 1:10-12: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands; they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” This is a quotation from Psalm 102:25-27: “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”

This latter psalm is a most interesting prophecy. It has been suggested that it bespoke the agonizing prayer of our Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is probable that in the New Testament only a few of the words spoken by Jesus on this occasion have been recorded. The following references are a complete record of what we know: Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46, and John 18:1,2. As these are similar in content, we quote only from Matthew 26:36-46: “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” It is reasonable to suppose that much was said by Jesus in prayer that was not recorded, since the disciples were asked to watch with our Lord but could not stay awake. It appears that the first time he woke them he had been praying for at least one hour; and the words recorded in the four Gospels do not indicate a prayer of one hour’s length!

We can safely assume Psalm 102 prophetically presents some of the thoughts of our Lord as he faced his final hour of trial, because Paul quotes two of the verses from this psalm in telling us that Jesus was to be the greatest being in all creation next to the Heavenly Father. It almost appears to be a quotation that is out of context. But it is not really so. As the apostle reviews the position of our Lord relative to all the angels, he is not forgetting Satan and his angels, and their apparent triumph when Jesus was abused by the world and Israel’s rulers, and put to death. This quotation starts with the phrase, “And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth.” “In the beginning” is a very general expression and can refer to any type of beginning. There are two prominent uses of the phrase “in the beginning” mentioned in the Scriptures. (Gen. 1:1 and John 1:1) We know that at some time in God’s great creative program, our planet Earth became a part of his plan. But before activating this feature of his design, God created the Logos (Jesus in his pre-human existence). Jesus was the first and last direct creation of God. (Rev. 3:14) He assisted his Father in the creative works that followed, which included preparing the earth for habitation. In Genesis 1:26 it is stated, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” The working relationship between the Father and the Son is corroborated in the following scriptures: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with the God, and the Logos was a God.” (John 1:1, Diaglott) It is noteworthy that this relationship of Jesus to the Father is made at the beginning of the Book of Hebrews. “God … hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.”—Heb. 1:1,2

Let us examine the 102nd psalm in detail to see why the Apostle Paul quoted from it. The psalm records a prayer addressed to Jehovah. The first eleven verses seem to be expressive of our Lord’s trial: his loneliness, his agony, his bitter experiences ahead. “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down. My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.” (Ps. 102:1-11) In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 5, speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4. He makes the point that Jesus did not exalt himself but was appointed by God for certain tasks, and that his testings included sufferings and trials. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” (Heb. 5:7) As indicated in this text, Jesus underwent much stress and strain similar to that expressed in the 102nd psalm.

Verses twelve to seventeen of the 102nd psalm are an extolment of Jehovah: “But thou, O Lord, shalt endure forever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” Jesus was able to look beyond his own personal sufferings and see Zion (the church) profit by his ransom, and he mentions this fact. The Apostle John in his Gospel has the least to say about our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane, stating only: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.” (John 18:1-3) Yet prior to their going to the garden, John recorded a beautiful prayer by Jesus on behalf of the church in the 17th chapter of his Gospel. The spirit of that prayer can be summarized in the thirteenth verse of Psalm 102, “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favor her, yea, the set time, is come.” The sixteenth verse voices the important fact: that when the church class is completed, the glory of the Lord (Jehovah) shall appear: “When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.” This same thought is expressed in Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”

In the following verses, it appears that Jesus through the prophet looks beyond the experiences of the church and toward the time when his ransom will benefit the world. “This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord. For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; to declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem; when the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.” (Ps. 102:18-22) The world of mankind is described as “prisoners” (RSV), and as those “appointed to death” (RSV “doomed to death.”) In the Rotherham Translation, the footnote indicates that a proper expression would be “sons of death.” All of these are apt descriptions of the world of mankind under the condemnation of death. This prophetic psalm of Jesus’ prayer tells of Jehovah looking down upon the earth and hearing the groanings of the prisoners, and his determination to set them free; we can see that Jesus was aware that this was possible only through his willing sacrifice. As Jesus contemplated his final hours ahead, he saw the end result would be the assembling of peoples and kingdoms “to serve the Lord [Jehovah].”—vss. 21,22

Jesus was reminded of the stark reality of the moment before him, “He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened his days.” (Ps. 102:23,24) This reminds us of the words recorded by Mark, “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”—Mark 14:36

The remainder of Psalm 102:25-28 are the words of the Father in answer to his Son’s prayer: “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee.” Two of these verses are quoted by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 1:10-12. Thus when Jesus faced his darkest hour—when this present evil world under the domination of Satan was clamoring for his life—God assured him of a resurrection to everlasting life. Furthermore, Jesus was assured that this evil world would pass away; it would be as an old coat so badly worn-out that it is discarded and changed. “They all shall wax old as doth a garment: … they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”

Before Jesus went forth to face the mob—members of the race he originally helped to bring forth when he assisted his Father in the creative work, and which now spat upon him, cursed him, and shouted “crucify him”—God assured him that these who were under Satan’s influence would not prevail. Neither would Satan nor any of his angels triumph over Jesus; but with the Father’s help, he would overcome. Hence, Paul quotes this remarkable prophecy to show that the position of our Lord’s greatness was prophesied, including his overcoming of Satan and the fallen angels associated with him.

A closer analysis of this prophecy is worthy of our attention. First, it should be noted that “the earth and the heavens” which were formed by the Logos, working with his Father (see also Hebrews 2:10), are sometimes used as symbols for the social order or arrangement on the planet Earth, and the spiritual ruling powers, respectively. The use of “earth” and “heavens” in this way occurs many times in the Scriptures. The Apostle Peter uses these symbols in II Peter 3:6-12 to tell us that the social arrangement on earth (symbolized by the literal earth) and the heavens (the spiritual powers) of the first age, perished in the Flood. The present symbolic earth and heavens are doomed to perish by fire, that being used as another symbol to illustrate a complete destruction. Then Peter tells us that a new earth and a new heavens are to be created wherein dwelleth righteousness. This was also prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah, “For, behold I create a new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”—Isa. 65:17

We know from other scriptures that the physical earth and the physical heavens are not to be destroyed and replaced by a new planet and a new celestial sphere. In another prophecy the social arrangement on earth is also pictured by a garment. (Isa. 51:1-6) This is a prophecy of the coming promised kingdom of God, following the passing away of the present symbolic heavens and the earth. In this instance, the identical phrase in Psalm 102:16 and Hebrews 1:11 is also used, namely, “The earth shall wax old like a garment.” The picture is one of the planet Earth wearing a garment that is old, tattered, and worn and is to be taken off and discarded. This then is the meaning of “the [symbolic] earth being burned up” or “passing away” and is consistent with Ecclesiastes 1:4, which says, “the [literal] earth abideth forever.”

All these prophecies concerning Jesus have been or are in the process of fulfillment. We can rest assured, therefore, that other prophecies concerning his kingdom will be fulfilled as well. As God, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17), is unchangeable and will bring to pass all that he has promised, so also is his Son Jesus, “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) It is assuring to know that neither the Father nor the Son will ever change in their love, their power, their wisdom, and their justice.

The Apostle Paul concludes the matter with the logic of the remaining verses: “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:13,14) “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will? For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.”—Heb. 2:1-5

The conclusion of the matter should be clear to us. Since we have been privileged to hear His Son and be invited to share in his experiences, let us not neglect this most wonderful opportunity but let us show our appreciation to God for his favor and love. It is an honor that has not been extended to angels, but to us, because it is God’s purpose to have us share in the future inheritance of Jesus, his beloved Son.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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