Jesus vs. Caesar (Phil. 2:11)

Philippians 2:11- “and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός)

 

Every tongue will profess that Jesus Christ is the kurios. This draws together two important images. First of all, any talk concerning “being exalted by God” paired with the title of “lord” strongly suggests an allusion to Psa. 110:1, where God exalts the human lord to his right hand. Secondly, in the Roman colony of Philippi the current reigning kurios was the emperor Nero. This fact suggests that Paul is deliberately and subversively giving titles and claims to Jesus which most of his audience would have assumed belonged to Caesar. Consider the following data:

1.  Phil. 2:6-11 offers Christ the universal authority given by God. This was a direct challenge to the emperor. A local inscription in Greece states, “Nero, the Lord of all the world.” Therefore, the suggestion that every knee will bow to Jesus would certainly include the knee of Nero, a quite dangerous thing to say in the imperial world.

2.  The authority of Jesus was granted to him by God. The emperors of Rome did not possess authority in themselves. They claimed that the previous emperor, now deceased, had bestowed the authority and power unto the current ruler (i.e. Nero).

3.  The claim that glory is given to God the Father was also controversial for Paul’s audience. Augustus was named Pater Patriae (“father of the fatherland”). The Apostle Paul argues otherwise.

4.  If Jesus is kurios, then Caesar is not. This title was commonly ascribed to various emperors in the first century CE, especially Nero. There is a deliberately subversive effort on the part of Paul.

As a footnote to our study, I should indicate that the worship and attention given to the exalted Jesus ultimately brings glory to the person of God the Father. This implies that the Father continually ranks as superior to Christ (cf. also 1 Cor. 3:23; 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:5).        

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