The Most High Is a Great King (Part II)

The Exaltation of Jesus

Editorial: Last week, Part I of this article showed that the whole Old Testament  (OT) emphatically exalts YHWH (Yahweh) as the supreme King over the whole earth. The OT repeatedly uses “high” and “exalted” language to describe God the Most High. Further, the OT shows us that God has a determined opposition to the vain pride of human kings, who attempt to lift themselves up. Israel’s kings are not exempt from this, but the hints are getting stronger and more clear: YHWH will raise up his anointed one, the Messiah, to be King, and through this King, he will bring his reign to bear on all the nations of the earth. When we come to the New Testament (NT), we see that this King is none other than Jesus, the Christ.

– David A. Larson


Luke-Acts contains the most developed treatment of “high” language with relation to Jesus and his kingship. It starts at the very first chapter when the angel promises to Mary, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). The Trinitarian nature of God’s high majesty is brought out: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (1:35).

Mary’s song reflects God’s character in relation to the rulers of the earth “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly” (1:51–52). When Jesus was actually born, the angels appear to the lowly (shepherds) and sing “glory to God in the highest” (2:14).

The devil tempted Jesus precisely in the matter of kingship. He took him up on a “high mountain” and offered him all the kingdoms of the world (4:5). Jesus overcomes the “ruler of this world” in this temptation and continues into his ministry in the power of the Spirit (4:14).

At a turning point in his ministry, Jesus takes three disciples up onto a mountain (Matthew 17:1—“a high mountain”), where he spoke with Moses and Elijah about the “exodus” that he was about to accomplish, a word reminiscent of YHWH’s “glorious triumph” over Pharaoh. When Jesus enters into Jerusalem, the crowds shout “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (19:38). He is riding on a donkey, which fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah: “Behold, your King is coming to you … Lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Jesus humbles himself to the death of a cross, above which is hung the inscription “This Is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:39). After Jesus rises again, he tells his disciples to wait at Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high” (24:49). In Acts, Peter preaches that Jesus has been “exalted to the right hand of God” and as a result, having received the Holy Spirit, which he “poured out” on the day of Pentecost (2:33). Jesus is the one who “God exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (5:31). Clearly, for Luke and the apostles, Jesus is the promised anointed King who has accomplished a great victory over his enemies, and is now exalted on high. 

Paul elaborates in his epistles on Jesus’ exaltation as king. Jesus gives gifts to his church for its edification and protection against deception, because “He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8).

In a rich passage, in Philippians, Paul explains that because Jesus humbled himself to the point of death:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)

Clearly, for Paul, Jesus is the promised anointed King who “made a public spectacle” of principalities and powers, “triumphing over them” in the cross (Colossians 2:15).

The Canonical Conclusion: Revelation Echoes Isaiah

The NT, and the entire Bible, comes to a climactic conclusion in the book of Revelation. Although the actual words for “pride” are never used, and the words for “high” or “exalted” are used only twice at the very end of the book, the book unfolds as the culmination of the age long conflict between our high and majestic God and the pride of the kings of the earth, using specific language and imagery drawn from the rest of the Bible.

Like Isaiah, John sees “a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (Rev 4:2). There are creatures with six wings who cry “Holy, holy, holy” (4:8). Then he sees a Lamb who is ascribed praise along with him who sits on the throne (5:13), who has redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and made them “a kingdom and priests to our God” (5: 9–10). The majestic reign of God over all the nations of the earth is being enacted through the Lamb who was slain.

When the seals of judgment are opened, “the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men” do precisely what is said in Isaiah 2: they “hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains” (6:15). The drama of judgment builds until it reaches a climax with the proud villain of Isaiah 14: “Mystery, Babylon the Great” (17:5). This scarlet woman dwells in a high place on seven mountains (17:9). When she is judged, the lament is cried, “Babylon the great is fallen” (18:2). God has repaid her double, because “she glorified herself, and lived luxuriously … because she says in her heart ‘I sit as queen’” (18:7).

This judgment is severe and final: “with violence the great city of Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore” (18:22). The true King, “the Lord our God,” is praised because he has defeated this rival queen, and “avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (19:2). After the final judgment, the saints dwell with their King on a “high mountain” (21:10). Finally everything is rightly ordered in the city of God as “the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it” (21:24). In the final picture, the true King reigns unrivaled, and his people are glad.