Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors, One God
By Kenneth Westby
Much of the confusion concerning claims for Christ's preexistence arises: from misunderstanding his exaltation and glorification following his resurrection. Since Christ was in God's plan: from the beginning, some have reread his glorified existence into the eternal past. They fail to see that the greatest work of God in all eternity was to bring a man, his begotten son, into this world, and after his sacrificial death to resurrect him to heavenly power and glory over all creation. The birth of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven took place in real-time human history before the eyes of thousands. His ascension to his God and Fa1her is what energized the beginning of the Church of God and made plain The Way to the Kingdom of God. This seminal event in God's Grand Plan is described by David, Daniel, Paul and Jesus and is illustrated by examining the claims of the title above.
Scholars can agree that not a scrap of the New Testament was written prior to the resurrection of Jesus. Notes may have been taken and some speculate that a book of "The Sayings of Jesus" may have begun to be assembled from which the Gospel writers later would reference. But no Gospels, no epistles, and no Apocalypse were penned until decades after Jesus was taken up into the clouds. This fact is not debated.
This point can be important when confronting the very few scriptures in the NT that seem to reference the preexistence of a glorified Christ. These scriptures are misunderstood, leading some to erroneously conclude that in order for Christ to have lived in the eternal past, he must have been a God.
Then the conclusion follows that he was the God of the Old Testament. Yet, this speculation gives us two Gods (or three if one regards the Holy Spirit as another God in the "Godhead"), and seems to:
1) Fly in the face of the hundreds of clear biblical expressions of one supreme God, admitting no others beside him. The application to Christ of the title (theos) is exceedingly rare, fewer than seven out of 1,315 NT uses of theos, and most of those are hotly disputed among scholars or are simply a question of interpretation within context;
2) Render the historical biblical accounts of the genesis of Christ-being born of a young virgin, etc.—impossible to take at face value. The birth account must be reinterpreted, with difficulty, to be the morphing of a preexistent God, now called Jesus, into a man for 33 years before going back to his previous role and duties in heaven. We are to believe that the eternal, self-existing God of the OT died. We are asked to believe that Jesus was a man like us who struggled and was tempted, yet was also God. We are asked to mirror the life and follow the footsteps of, not the Son of Man/Son of God, but of a God in man's skin.
When our NT authors wrote of Jesus they always had in view the risen, glorified Christ. How could they avoid that reality? Jesus was alive and had been exalted to Lord of the Universe under his Father. The Gospel writers did their best to be historians as they recounted the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. But even they on occasion (especially John) let the present reality of Christ's exalted position enter the telling of their history.
Paul, however, was not writing history. He said he no longer viewed Christ after the flesh (2 Cor 5: 16) as most everyone did prior to the resurrection. He was continually mindful of who Jesus was at that moment and who he is for all eternity. He and the other apostles gradually wrapped their minds around the fact of Christ's greatness. He was more than the Anointed One and David's seed, he was now the Lord of Glory, the King of the Kingdom of God, and seated at Yahweh's right hand in heaven.
What an emotional and intellectual upheaval the men and women who actually knew Christ must have experienced! They talked to, laughed with, walked with, and ate with the One who is now the Judge of the earth. It must have been both difficult and exhilarating to realize they had witnessed the zenith of all of God's great works, the magnalia dei—right before their eyes. They had seen the fullest expression of God's love for the human family (In 3:16).
As time went by, the apostles rethought the OT prophecies that spoke of Christ and saw that he was at the center of the Father's plan before the world was created. They now perceived that God had planned to have a son and make him ruler of all. The plan of God was coming clearly into focus, and the resurrection and ascension of Christ were the key to unlocking their new understanding. They understood that when God plans something it is already reality and that it must and will happen. This is why God can speak of those things that are not yet as though they have already happened (Rom 4: 17). The many God-given prophetic dreams and visions of future events are examples of this reality.
Paul, more than the other NT apostles, wrote of Jesus' position at the center of the Father's heart and purposes from the very beginning. Paul's projecting backward of the glorified Son's presence in the Father's plan should not be seen as some mystical preexistence doctrine he was obliquely introducing. As we shall see from a few examples, Paul is dedicated to explaining just how great the Christ event was and how superlatively great Christ now is.
This is the reason the resurrection of Christ dominated the preaching of the early church. It and Christ's ascension to heaven launched the Church and began what scholars call "The Jesus Movement."
Those who lived when Jesus walked the earth never considered him to be God. Only gradually did his disciples grasp that he was the promised Messiah. Even that realization did not require they see him as a God. In Jewish theology the Messiah was never considered God, but a special one anointed and sent by God. But after God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him, these witnesses of the historical Jesus now saw him in a brilliant new light.
They now saw him as Lord and that they must obey him as they would God himself They realized that he personifies God's Word, speaks for God, and rules all creation from his throne next to God's in heaven. It was the work of God that made Christ so powerful and glorified. It was his place next to the Father that demands every knee shall bow.
Is it any wonder why we see NT writers, on occasion, project Christ's present heavenly position back to original creation, to his place in God's design before there was a creation? They make no attempt to overthrow biblical monotheism by such references. They carefully and continually make distinctions between God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. They never contradict Christ's claim that the Father is God and is greater than he is. This they knew. And the NT writers never contradict the OT by calling Jesus God.
It is a mistake to read his exalted position—given by God at a specific time (though predicted and planned from the beginning)—back into the ages before he was born to Mary. Had the church fathers stuck to Paul, the apostles, and the understanding of the early Jewish believers, instead of trying to understand the glorified Christ by Greek philosophy and religious notions, we wouldn't have a Trinity doctrine today.
Had the theologians of the 2nd to the 4th century not strayed from monotheism, they could have taken the story of Jesus at face value as written without having to find a mystical, extra-biblical, explanation for Christ's glory and power.
The answer to Christ's greatness is not to be found in a preexistence story. The simple truth is, and the biblical record states that, God glorified His Son, God put him on a throne next to his own, God made him Lord, and God accepted his sacrifice as mankind's savior.
We shall now focus on the truth of Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors. . .and One God.
There exists a strong connection between three Messianic passages from Scripture—a connection that can shed light on who Jesus was and is, and how he become Lord. This connection will also clarify Paul's comments in Philippians 2:5-11 concerning Christ's attitude of humility, which is commonly understood to be His giving up of His preexistent God-ness to become a mere man. More on this later.
Text #1: Daniel 7:9-14
"As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; then thousand times ten thousand stood before him . . .
". . .In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like the son of man, coming in the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worship him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" ( NIV -used throughout).
In the NT's most frequently quoted passage from Daniel, a God-given vision describes that greatest event in all history, which we referred to in our introduction. Scholars recognize this passage as one of the most powerful and specific Messianic predictions in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus himself regarded Daniel 7: 13 as predictive of himself and that the two elements "like a son of man" and "with the clouds of heaven" combined to constitute a Messianic title.
Daniel wrote down this vision hundreds of years before Jesus was born, and it is presented here in the context of the climax of man's earthly rule. It is the story of the Fifth Kingdom that follows the four failed empires with their iterations—with special focus on the fourth kingdom with its boastful beast. The vision describes who the ruler of that final and forever kingdom will be and how he received that honor. It graphically pictures the great coronation event that we refer to as Christ's ascension and glorification.
First notice the setting, "Thrones (Plural) were set in place. . ." The rest of the scene tells us there are two thrones—the second one being reserved for the Son of Man soon to enter God's presence. As is common with apocalyptic literature, events over time are conflated and various scenes appear and disappear. The first scene is God on His throne. Then (vs. 11) we are moved back to the scene of the disturbing and terrifying fourth beast introduced in vs. 7. God deals with this boastful little horn (Antichrist?). Then the scene quickly returns to the Ancient of Days being approached by one called the Son of Man.
We are now given insight into just who is going to be the new king to replace this parade of failed leaders and kingdoms. When this Son of Man comes through the clouds into the presence of God he is "given" authority, glory, power, dominion, a kingdom and made worthy of worship. This Son of Man title is the one Christ commonly applied to himself.
Following His resurrection, Christ was spotted by Mary (not His mother), who thought he was a gardener. When she recognized him as her "Rabbi" she wanted to embrace him, but Jesus said don't hold on to me for I have not ascended to my Father (In 20:17). Later, after His ascension he makes the remarkable pronouncement to His disciples that "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" (Mt 28: 16). The Ancient of Days has given Jesus His throne in heaven as pictured in the vision to Daniel. There are now two thrones in heaven—with Christ seated at His Father's right hand.
Near the close of his ministry, Christ challenged the Pharisees to identify the Messiah. "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They answered, "The son of David"
Jesus then asked them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says, 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet. If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" (Mt 22:4-46)
Text #2: Psalm 110:1
Jesus' quote of Psalm 110, in the context of his questions, left His adversaries speechless. Jesus wasn't playing games to flummox Pharisees, he was making a point central to His identity. This Psalm of David that Jesus quoted is the most quoted Psalm in the NT for the simple reason that it clearly describes the Messiah in terms of "Lord." Jesus declared that David spoke these profound, prescient words "by the Spirit."
Clearly, there are two different Lords in view. One is Yahweh, the first LORD (Heb adonai) who says to David's Lord (Heb adoni), the Messiah, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." David's "Lord" must be a greater authority than David, King of Israel, else David would not honor him as his Lord. This "Lord" of David would be asked to sit at Yahweh's right hand. Here again is the scene of Daniel's vision, this time given hundreds of years in advance of Daniel's birth.
This event, Christ's installation at the Father's right hand, is the seminal event of history. It represents Christ's coronation as King of Kings. This is what occurred at Christ's ascension, and because of it all mankind has a Savior, "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus' exaltation to His own throne and being given the title "Lord" is the fulfillment of his Father's plan conceived from the foundation of the world.
Jesus' title of Lord is not a title meaning he is God. It is a title given him by God, one that confers to him Lordship over all creation. He of course derives this Lordship from His Lord God. Both the glorified Christ and the Father can be correctly referred to as "Lord": Lord God, the Father, and Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses the title Lord (Gk. Kyrios) interchangeably in his letters, sometimes referring to the One God, other times referring to Christ. David acknowledged two Lords, so did Paul. One is God, the other is the Christ. (See Rom 4:8; 9:28-29; 10: 16; 11 :3, 34; 1 Cor 3:20; 10:26 for samples of Paul using Kyrios in reference to Yahweh.) Paul is always careful to make distinctions between the two Lords and never asserts that Jesus is God.
Paul writes that there "is but one God, the Father. . .and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ. . . " (1 Cor 8:6). He also confesses his prayer to the Ephesians in these words, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph 1 :7).
Paul immediately recounts that seminal event David described, Daniel saw in vision, and Christ himself predicted:
"His incomparable great power for us who believe. . .his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph 1: 19-23).
Two Lords, One God, Two Saviors
We have seen that the title Lord that can be applied to either God or Christ, since each is a Lord to us. Likewise, the title Savior is one that Father and Son share. Paul expresses the saving action of both God and Christ in 1 Tim 2:2 ,
"This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time."
Clearly, the Father is the Savior of all mankind and is called Savior throughout the OT and NT-five times in Paul's Pastorals. But, as Paul testifies, it is Jesus' self-sacrifice and the Father's acceptance of His sacrifice that entitles Jesus to also be called Savior. In the same paragraph Paul can speak of:
"God who has saved us. . ." and of the grace "revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim 1 :9-10). Peter segregates "God" from "Jesus," in his Second General Epistle's opening greetings: "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (vs. 2). In verse 1 he mentions both "God" and the "Savior Jesus Christ." In Jude's concluding doxology he writes:
"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen" (Jude 24-25).
This apostle, believed to be a brother of Jesus, acknowledges that God saves through the life and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Jesus was made a Savior by his Father, just as he was made Lord over all. It was his life that became a sweet savor to God. It is his blood that the Father honors. The birth, life, death and resurrection to glory of God's Son is the greatest display of the Father's love and of the Son's love for us.
The Christ event is so central to God's eternal plan that John's heavenly vision speaks of Jesus as "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 13:8). He wasn't actually slain then, as he wasn't actually invited to God's throne in the days of David or Daniel, but it was promised to happen—and God's promises never fail. Speaking of David, Paul states:
"From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus as he promised."
God the Savior made good his promise by providing salvation through his Son, the Savior Jesus. Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors....
Text #3: Philippians 2:1-11
We now make full circle and come to the "difficu1f passage in Philippians the second chapter. The context is Paul's homily for humility: "look not on your own interests, but also to the interests of others"
(vs. 4). To add authority and clarity to his exhortation, he references the attitude of Christ.
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
"Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even the death on a cross!
"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, 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" (vs. 5-11).
This rich passage incorporates both the man Jesus and the resurrected and glorified Christ. It honors the Father when we honor his son as Lord and Savior. While some translations are clearer than others, what is obvious is Paul's presentation of both Christ's pre-exaltation life and his post-exa1tation glory. Paul does not call Jesus God. In fact, Paul tells us it is God who exalted Jesus. And if Jesus refused to "grasp as being equal with God, plainly he is someone different from God.
Being in nature like God, or in God's image as some translations render morphe theou. is a clear reference to the words of God in Gen 1 where man (Adam) was made in God's image (likeness). Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that Christ comes in the role of the Second Adam (1 Cor 15:45)—not bringing sin into the world, but ridding the world of sin and its curse. As Second Adam, Christ is the true and spiritual image or form of Almighty God.
In typical Jewish teaching style, Paul continues the comparison to the Adam allusion by stating the contrast in their attitudes. Adam (and Eve), at the serpent's urging, took action to "be like God" (equal to God) by getting the knowledge of good and evil. Adam wanted to grasp at that forbidden fruit. There was another fruit God wanted him to seek and grasp at located at the center of Eden—The Tree of Life. Adam couldn't wait for God's plan to unfold He wasn't content to wait for his fatherly Maker to exalt him. He committed the first sin and set the wrong pattern for mankind to follow. He was impatient and selfish—just what Paul was advising the Philippians not to be.
Christ, however, did not rebel at his limitations and human flesh. He accepted God's gift of life and grew up to perfectly mirror the very nature and spiritual character of his Father. Sometime early in his life, he came to comprehend his calling and discover himself in the Hebrew Scriptures. At age 12 he could tell his parents, "Don't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" meaning the Temple. He pored over the prophecies, considered the miracles surrounding his birth, and as Luke writes, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk2:52).
We are not told when he came to fully understood that he was the only begotten son of Yahweh. Probably at an early age, long before he began his ministry at age 30. At that time he would have known that David's Lord of Psalm 110 was he. He would have known that Daniel's vision pictures him being given a throne of power and authority over all creation. He knew that the angels were subject to him. He knew that he could ask anything of the Father and it would be his. Yet there was no selfishness in him.
Jesus suppressed his fleshly pulls to yield to God's greater will. Even when facing the horrors of a torturous death and not wanting to go through with it, he humbled himself and said "not my will but yours be done." When confronted by the arrogant military powers of Rome, he acknowledged he could call down armies of heavenly angelic warriors and prevent a hand being laid on him. But he didn't call. He didn't grasp to be exalted. He waited faithfully and patiently for his Father's time. He did not claim his rights and honors before the time. He humbled himself as a servant, as a Iamb to the slaughter.
Jesus lived the principle he taught his disciples (and teaches us): "For everyone who exalts himself (like Adam did) will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 14:11; 18:14).
This is the meaning of Philippians 2:1-11. Humility to God's will, "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God" is "what the Lord requires of you" (Micah 6:8). This is the example Christ set for us. Did God exalt him? Did he rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and receive a throne of glory? Yes, all that and more.
Scholars believe verses 6-11 form an early Christian hymn that Paul used to illustrate Christ's example of humility and exaltation by God. Many creedal statements were put into hymns and sung by believers in the early church.
Jesus served, worshipped, imitated and prayed to the "One True God." He was faithful to his calling and he calls us to be true to ours. He who is now enthroned beside God in heaven, as Lord and Savior, invites us to follow him into his Father's Kingdom.
Christ's life, death, resurrection and exaltation to heaven brought the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world with unparalleled power. God had revealed through his mighty works that there are now Two Thrones, Two Lords, Two Saviors—but only One God and Father of all. NT writers realized Jesus fulfilled Daniel's vision in their lifetime. It was almost beyond belief that the man they knew, loved and followed had become the Lord of Glory. And to realize this was the Father's plan from the beginning served to roll back the darkness and give them the full and magnificent picture of God's Grand Plan. Is it any wonder that they from time to time discuss Jesus as being eternal in God's plan?
Just imagine the disciples' reaction to that scene of the Jesus they knew being brought into the fiery presence of the Ancient of Days. It was forever itself burned into their minds.
As righteous Steven was being executed by a spiritually blinded Saul (Paul), God graciously gave him a vision into heaven—to behold the sight above all sights—the scene Daniel saw. Steven exclaimed:
"Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56)
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