Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Attributes of Exaltation

Glossary: ‘BU’ stands for “Biblical Unitarian,” a non-Trinitarian Christian movement characterized as having a Socinian Christology—that is, a Jesus without a pre-human existence, as also seen in Christadelphianism. Biblical Unitarianism is distinguished from Unitarian Universalism. In contrast, other non-Trinitarian models maintain a Christological preexistence, as seen most readily with Jehovah’s Witnesses (the ‘JW-model’).

What were the attributes Jesus received upon his exaltation? In the BU-model, Jesus’ exaltation was 100% unique as he had never been in heaven or in the spirit realm before. In the so-called “Arian” model affirming Jesus’ preexistence, his exaltation returned to him what he had experienced before his human life (per its interpretation of John 17:5),[1] and added at least two more highly significant attributes.

To define it more specifically, in his prehuman life according to the JW-model, Jesus was honored as (1) God’s first creation (2) whom God created things through and (3) the archangel and leader of the angelic armies (Joshua 5:14) as well as the angel of the Exodus (Exodus 23:21) leading God’s people but who was nonetheless (4) mortal.

Following his exaltation, he now sat on God’s throne to rule in his name as immortal. So #4 was ontologically upgraded from mortal to immortal and indestructible. (Hebrews 7:15-17) (Prior to his earthly sojourn he was “immortal” only if he did not turn into an enemy of God. Thus his “immortality” was contingent on his loyalty and not being in enmity with God.) And, in addition to #1-3, he was now (5) granted authority to rule on par with God. (Revelation 3:21; Hebrews 1:3; Ephesians 1:20)

1 Peter 3:22 says that he was exalted to “God’s right hand” and “angels and authorities and powers were made subject to him.” In his new capacity as ruling in God’s place he had more authority than before, even though authority over the angels and God’s people was his beforehand. As such in his new, exalted capacity, he is now the intercessor of prayer to his Father Jehovah. Following his relinquishing of command in 1 Corinthians 15:24, “when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father” and sits on his subordinate throne, he will forever retain the experience of having acted in that exalted capacity, and he will always remain immortal and indestructible.

Regardless, some favor the BU-model of Jesus’ exaltation being 100% unique and on that basis exclude preexsistence. But does the Bible or 1 Peter 3:22 present that every element of Jesus’ exaltation was new to him? I’m not sure it does. However, what he enjoyed prior to his earthly life that was returned to him upon his exaltation was new in the sense of now being enjoyed from sitting on God’s throne—a position not enjoyed beforehand.

By way of comparison, the Trinitarian model presents a disaster where the preexistent Christ was the second person of the Godhead and never ceased being such during his early sojourn and beyond. Thus only his human body was somehow exalted. But the Bible presents the person as being exalted, not just an enfleshment, like his followers exalted to heaven.

Excursus: God’s relationship to Jesus
The Bible portrays Jesus as having an incredibly intimate and close relationship with the Father, which is unlike anything ever described by Adam, Moses or any prophet (Luke 10:22; John 5:19-22), his apparent knowledge and experience of the ancient past (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34; John 8:56-58),[2] and the way John 3:16 portrays the Father as ‘giving’ his only-begotten Son on a divine mission to be “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) can only be best explained by understanding that Jesus did in fact exist prior to his existence on the earth.

What the BU-model is proposing is that the Father manufactured His own son on earth, allowed human parents to raise him, formed some kind of relationship with him during his 33½ years of life on the earth, which is absent from the record, in order to explain the deep personal cost Jehovah endured. This was reflected in the earthquake happening right after Jesus died. Nothing like that happened when Adam was ejected from the garden or when Moses died. In prophetic foreshadowing, Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac on a funeral pyre (Genesis 22:1-12), like God was prepared to sacrifice his son. How would the BU-model even come close to paralleling what Abraham was prepared to do with Isaac? It would be like God asking Abraham to sacrifice someone else’s son!

There is also the account of Jacob weeping bitterly over the apparent loss of his son Joseph. (Genesis 37:33-35) As one journal explained: “The cost of the ransom can also be illustrated by an incident in the life of Jacob.” Then after explaining how bitterly and inconsolably Jacob wept, it continued: “Jehovah does not react to situations exactly as imperfect humans do. Yet, meditating on this incident in the life of Jacob may help us to grasp, to some extent, how God must have felt when his beloved Son was mistreated and cruelly put to death as a man on earth.”[3] Thus, similar with Abraham, it would be like expecting Jacob to bitterly mourn the death of someone else’s son.

In closing, from this perspective it is strikingly apparent that the only model consistent with the Biblical narrative is the one that includes Christological preexistence. It was with this close relationship with his pre-human son then that God established his kingdom of reconciliation to mankind “according to his good pleasure.”—Ephesians 1:9-12.

[1] In the BU-model, Jesus was referring to a prophetic promise of exaltation, not a preexistent position.

[2] These scriptures are discussed in greater depth here: Jesus’ life before his birth

[3] The Watchtower. August 15, 2010 page 15.

Further reading:

  • Ice cave by Erez Marom Photography.
  • The general reasoning and wording in the Excursus was inspired by Mark Davis, an online acquaintance of mine for years. (The material on Jacob is mine.)

Labels: , ,