From our worship leader, Tyler Cowden…In the last section we considered the manifold significance of confessing Jesus as “the only Son of God.” Now we must take some time to explore the layered meanings of the word “Lord” as we apply it to our Savior in the Apostles’ Creed every week. We will consider three main aspects of Christ’s “Lordship.”
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, the New Testament consistently applies the term “Lord” to Jesus in such a way that it is clear the writers have in mind the Septuagint, which always translates the Hebrew “YHWH” (Yahweh, the personal name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3) as “Kyrios” or “Lord.” This was a practice that followed the tradition of the Jews in always speaking the word “Adonai” (Lord) aloud when publicly reading the Scriptures and coming across “YHWH” in the Hebrew text. The Jews refrained from speaking God’s personal name for fear of breaking the commandment about taking His name in vain.
The import of this for our confession of who Christ is, though, is that this explicitly attributes deity to the Son. The Son is God no less than the Father. We see this explicit attribution of the “tetragrammaton,” (“YHWH”—“LORD” in all caps in English Bibles), to Jesus in a number of places in the New Testament. Perhaps one of the most persuasive cases of this comes near the end of the first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. The author writes a double-whammy by applying not only Psalm 45:6 to Christ (which says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”), but by applying Psalm 102:25-27 to Him, which in their original context in the book of Psalms can only be speaking of Yahweh, the one true God of Israel.
Another instance of the clear New Testament application of the name of “Yahweh” to Jesus comes in Philippians 2:5-11, that famous text which was probably an early Christian hymn celebrating the humiliation and subsequent exaltation of Christ for our redemption. After poetically recounting Christ’s humble incarnation and obedience unto death on a cross, Paul says that, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11, ESV).
What is the “name” bestowed upon Jesus only after His exaltation back to glory? He already had the name “Jesus” on earth during His humiliation. It is, again, the name “Yahweh.” This is seen from Paul’s clear allusion to Isaiah 45 (particularly 45:23) in vv. 10-11. “But, then,” a cult member or skeptic might ask, “does that not make Jesus less than God before the time of His exaltation?” Indeed not. While there is a voluntary lowering of position, prerogative, or status from heaven to earth when Christ becomes incarnate, and chooses to undergo the suffering and death of atonement for His people, and then a restoration of that position (in a new, incarnate mode, even), upon His resurrection, ascension, and session, the Son never ceases to be truly the eternal, divine Son in His essential nature as God the Son.
There are plenty of theological ways to justify this, but the exegetical way here is simply to follow the flow of thought in Philippians 2:3-11. Paul is urging the church at Phillipi to be unified and bonded together in the Spirit, which will necessitate humility. And the ultimate example or model Paul gives is, of course, Christ Himself in His life, death, and resurrection. He describes Christ’s humility in His “not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). The answer should be obvious but at this point the question arises: for whom alone is it a thing of extraordinary humility to not grasp after divinity?? All creatures are, as a matter of course and nature and divine Law—nevermind any extra “humility”—to refrain from grasping after godlikeness the way the serpent tempted Eve to in the Garden. Therefore this passage affirms that even before the incarnation, let alone the death and subsequent exaltation of our Lord, Jesus was always the divine Son of God—“one in being with the Father” (see the Nicene Creed).
Another related and important aspect of Jesus’ “Lordship” as we confess it in the creed is that of “covenant Lord.” In surprising parallel to many Ancient Near East “Suzerainty treaties,” the covenant that God makes with His people includes a number of elements, including various stipulations and sanctions for both parties (both the sovereign Suzerain and the conquered “Vassal” nation), which are sovereignly imposed by the Suzerain upon the people He has conquered and bound himself to protect as his own people.
In this sense, Jesus is the Suzerain “covenant Lord” of His New Covenant people, the Church. He mediates and administers the covenant, and sets its terms (not independently from but in full union with and obedience to the Father’s own will). His people owe Him all thanksgiving for His redemption and provision, and all loyalty and obeisance—and indeed all worship as God—because He is truly “Lord.” We, the Church, belong to Him as His special possession, just the way the elect nation of Israel belonged to Yahweh under the Old Covenant. And He promises to be with and protect us.
Finally, Jesus is “Lord” not only of His unique people, the Church, but He is Lord of the entire world. All rulers throughout the world—kings, governors, emperors, senates—are ordained by God and would rightly view their vocation as a ministerial one under God. But there is only one Person to whom all ultimate “crown rights” are due, and that’s Jesus Christ the reigning King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). In the New Testament era, onward into the first few centuries of Christendom, this conviction and proclamation took the form of denouncing the hubris of the divine claims of the Roman emperors: “Jesus is Lord…and that means Caesar is not!”
Many Christians lost their lives by repeating such words, or by merely refusing to engage in pagan sacrifice expressing at least cooperation with or tolerance of the Caesar cult. Christians today, as always, have a duty to submit to the ruling authorities inasmuch as their decrees and laws do not contradict the revealed will of God—otherwise God must be obeyed and not men—and they also have a duty to pray for peace, and for wisdom and righteousness for their rulers.
But if and when a day comes when an executive order gets handed down to the effect that Bible-believing Christians gathering together on a particular Lord’s Day to confess the historic faith—and to teach and proclaim her biblical ethics and morality for society—ought to be rounded up and hauled off to the big house or, God forbid, the chopping block, it will be the duty of every true believer to confess boldly, “Kyrios Iesous.” Jesus is Lord. President “so-and-so” is not.
And he or she can rest in the promise that because Jesus really is Lord, no wicked ruler shall endure for long, and in the end, all ends of the earth will remember and turn to God, and all the Messiah’s enemies will be put under His feet (Ps. 2; 22:27-31; 46; 110; 125).