After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)
What does it mean when we say that Jesus is “exalted”?
Perhaps you’ve thought of this is terms of our exalting him. We exalt him in our praises. As we sing over and over again in one popular chorus, “I exalt thee.” We do exalt Jesus when we declare his worth, and speak of his greatness, and sing words of praise. He is exalted in our praises. A significant aspect of what it means to be a Christian is that Christ is our Lord, and we exalt him in our worship and aim to exalt him with our lives.
But when we say that Jesus is “exalted,” the first and most important thing to draw attention to isn’t our exalting him, but God’s exalting him. As Philippians 2:9 says, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” First God exalts him; then we follow suit.
When God Exalted His Son
The whole first chapter of Hebrews is a kind of celebration of the Father exalting the Son upon his return to heaven following his successful sacrificial mission to earth. It pictures the climactic coronation ceremony of the universe, as the Son, having ascended to heaven in his resurrection body, processes into the very presence of his Father and the angels, and in fulfillment of ages of regal prophecies, ascends to the throne and sits down, having accomplished his work of redemption.
As the divine second person of the Trinity, the Son always has been worthy of exaltation as God. From the beginning, he was the one “appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:2–3).
But something new altogether happened when the Son took our humanity and was born in Bethlehem. Now he was not just God, but the God-man — always fully God and now also fully man. He started life from scratch as human, from the very bottom, as an infant, born into poverty and humility. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7–8).
He began as lowly as any human, but in his holiness and freedom from sin, and decisively in the love with which he died sacrificially for sins that were ours, not his, he showed himself worthy of heights greater than any human in history. He fulfilled the very destiny of man as the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Now Jesus is worthy not only as God, but as man. And so, “after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3–4).
The Thunderclap of Exaltation
He was always the divine Son. But by virtue of accomplishing his sacrificial work, he was, now as man, “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). In one sense, all authority was always his as God. But in another sense, as man, now he can say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
God now has crowned him king of all kings, at the very apex of the universe, not just as God, but as man. The man Christ Jesus sits in the very seat of God, and “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
This is what it means first and foremost that “he is exalted.” The Father has highly exalted the Son, to the very highest of places. The Ancient of Days, the original creator and king, has acknowledged the fullness and completeness of the work of his Son, the God-man, and has crowned him to the throne at his right hand.
And in response to this thunderclap of God exalting his Son, we chime in our whispers of exaltation. God has exalted his Son to the highest of perches that we might catch a glimpse of such glory and echo our exaltation in our words and songs of praise.