At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, . . . and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:10–11 –
The wonderful hymn of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation reaches its climax in these verses. Paul has said that the Father exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name. He’s said it was the name which is above every name. And here he says that at that name—which is better rendered: in honor of that name—every knee is going to bow.
So what’s the name? Jesus has a lot of names. Is it: Son of Man? Son of God? The Alpha and Omega? The First and the Last? The Faithful and True? The Beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased? Is it Christ? The Messiah? Is it the long-awaited prophet? Is it our Great High Priest? Is it the King of kings?
Finally, the almost unbearable suspense is broken, and the Apostle Paul tells us that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The Slave is Now the Master
The word “Lord” is the Greek word kurios and means “master,” “sovereign,” “one of ultimate authority.” It is a title of majesty, of sovereignty, of honor, and of authority. John MacArthur writes, “Whoever is Lord is over everyone else. . . . [He] has absolute supremacy and the right to be obeyed as divine Master.” Such is the Father’s exaltation of the Son. Jesus submitted Himself to the lowliest of places, and God exalted Him to the very highest position and rank.
The One who was equal with God, but out of love for the Father and love for us His people, did not count that equality with God as something to be held on to, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave. And as a result, Paul wants us to know that the slave has now been exalted as Lord. The slave is now once again shown to be Master of all, with all the divine rights, honors, and prerogatives of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.
Lord Jesus, Not Lord Caesar
And the implications of this resounding note of Christ’s lordship would not have been lost on the Philippians. According to Acts 16:12 Philippi was a Roman colony, and the Philippians were very proud to be Roman citizens—so much so that Paul has to remind them that they are citizens of heaven before they are citizens anywhere else (Phil 3:20).
But there was another character in Rome who was laying claim to the title of “Lord.” And that was Caesar. In fact, the confession “Caesar is Lord” was just as widespread and just as central to identification and participation in the Roman Empire as “Jesus is Lord” was to the church. And so when Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, he knows what he was saying would be shocking. He was letting the Philippians know—and letting every other citizen of the Empire who would read this letter know—that Jesus, not the Roman Emperor, was the Sovereign Ruler of the world.
Yahweh in the Flesh
But there’s more. When Paul says that “every knee will bow,” and “every tongue will confess,” he’s quoting Isaiah 45. In Isaiah 45:21. God says, “And there is no God besides Me; a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me.” And then in verses 22–24 He issues a worldwide invitation to repentance: “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, ‘Only in Yahweh are righteousness and strength.’” Every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to Yahweh. That’s Philippians 2:10–11! But in Philippians 2, Paul applies that to Jesus!
Chapter after chapter in this section of Isaiah, Yahweh is continually declaring His own supremacy over all the other supposed ‘gods’ of the nations. He declares His own uniqueness by saying over and over again:
- “I am Yahweh” (Isa 41:13)
- “I am Yahweh; that is my name” (Isa 42:8); as if to say, “It’s my name and no one else’s.”
- “I, even I, am Yahweh, and there is no savior besides Me” (Isa 43:11)
- “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me” (Isa 44:6)
Yahweh cannot make it any clearer that it will be Him and Him alone that receives all worship!
But then Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Well, do the math: if there’s no God and no Savior apart from Yahweh, and Jesus is the God and Savior who will receive all worship on the last day, then Jesus is Yahweh. And in fact, that is the ultimate sense of the term “Lord” in Philippians chapter 2. That is the name that is above every name: “Yahweh!”
In the Old Testament, everywhere you see “LORD” in all capitals, it’s an indication that the Hebrew text has the divine name: Yahweh. But the Jews were so superstitious about breaking the third commandment that they would never pronounce the divine name. They figured not saying Yahweh’s name at all was better than taking the chance of taking it in vain. And so when they would read the Scriptures, when they came to the divine name in the text they would substitute the word adonai for Yahweh. Adonai is the Hebrew word for “lord,” or “master,” and so the English translations—for reasons that have never really made sense to me—have followed that tradition and have translated Yahweh as “LORD” in all caps.
But that’s not all. The Jews have another name—even to this day—that they replace Yahweh with. And that is: HaShem, which is Hebrew for, “The Name.” Again, this was another way of showing reverence to the divine name by never pronouncing it.
So when Paul says that the Father highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, everyone reading the letter who was at all familiar with the Old Testament (especially the Judaizers who were troubling the church at Philippi, cf. Phil 3:1–3) would have gasped.
“No, he wouldn’t dare!”
And then the next phrase: “…so that at the name which belongs to Jesus…”
“No! Don’t you do it!”
“…Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess…”
And they would have recognized the quotation from Isaiah 45 and said, “No! Don’t you dare associate the ineffable name of God with that blasphemer!”
“…that Jesus Christ is Kurios!”
Yahweh in the flesh.
Not only is this Jesus the exclusive Lord of the world against all claims of the lordship of Caesar. Not only is He the God-man who took the form of a slave and is now exalted as the Sovereign Master of the universe. This Jesus—the Son of Mary, from the no-name city of Nazareth, who was mocked, and despised, and spat on, and abused—this Jesus who suffered the shameful fate of death on a cross—is Yahweh Himself.
Bow the Knee
And because the Father has so highly exalted Him, there is coming a day, Paul says, when the whole world is going to make that same confession. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For those of us who have already bowed in repentance to the saving Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ—who have forsaken our sin and our own efforts to be righteous, who in faith have cast ourselves on the merit of Christ alone, and who have confessed Him as Savior and Lord—that day will be the delight of delights. It will be the joyful victory cry of an army of triumphant soldiers in the processional march of our conquering King.
But if you persist in your unbelief and cling to your sin, this confession of the Lordship of Christ will not be the adoring praise of a worshiper at long last. No, it will be the despairing admission of a conquered enemy, bowing in resentful submission to the Sovereign King whose power you can no longer deny. And nothing will remain but for you to enter into His everlasting destruction.
Dear reader, be reasonable. Whether it’s today, or on that terrible day, you will have to bow your knee in submission to the Lord Jesus. I plead with you to bow it now. Despite all of your sin and stubborn refusal, the door of salvation yet remains open. Abandon your sin, and abandon yourself, and run to Christ.