The Name above All Names
We sing it: “Jesus, name above all names…” What does it mean, though? Let’s think about Paul’s use of this phrase in Philippians 2. After speaking of the mind of Christ and His self-emptying actions that culminate in His death, Paul writes:
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).
Paul’s high Christology is on full display here. Jesus is God, but that did not stop Him from taking on flesh in order to die for our sins. He emptied Himself as the suffering servant promised by the prophets — “even to death on a cross.” As Isaiah put it: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isa 53:12).
The idea that the God of heaven and earth would be so humble as to submit Himself to the worst and most shameful death of its time is both shocking and amazing. We may not often associate humility with God’s attributes, but this is exactly what Paul is doing. The One with God’s very nature is said to be the one who emptied and humbled Himself. Then Paul makes the grand statement that this same One has the name above all names.
Think of the implications of what is being said: “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.” But is this just the vocal sound of the name “Jesus” we are talking about? If so, how exactly shall we say it? Is it a certain pronunciation in a particular language? No, there is something more to “the name which is above every name.” What name could this possibly be? What is Paul talking about? How can we honor the point Paul is making?
Our key to understanding is found in the passage Paul is referencing in Isaiah 45. In a context in which God (Yahweh) shows that idols cannot compare, the Lord says (vv. 22-23),
“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.”
Isaiah shows that only Yahweh can save, and He alone is worthy of worship. Earlier in the chapter, God said (vv. 5-6):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
No idol can stand up to Yahweh. The idols of men are worthless, cannot speak, have no authority, and cannot save. This provides the backdrop for Paul’s point. Now go back to Philippians 2:9-11. Jesus is the One before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess because He holds the “name which is above every name.” When Paul calls Jesus “Lord” here, it is not the generic “master” to which he refers, but rather he implies the divine name of Yahweh. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (often called the Septuagint or abbreviated as LXX), the same term for Lord is used for Yahweh. When Paul says that “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” he is using it in the context of what Isaiah was talking about. There is only one God, and to this one God every knee would bow and every tongue would confess.
In other words, Jesus bears the name of God. There is no greater name; there is no name above His name. Paul is affirming that Jesus is God, and that at His name (the name of God), every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. Note also, how Hebrews 6:13 echoes Isaiah 45:22, “since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.” There is none greater than God, and Jesus is God. At His name we should bow.
The divine Son, then, who bears God’s name, emptied Himself to death and is then exalted once again. On a practical point, if the divine One can empty Himself and treat others even as more important than self (vv. 3-4), how much more ought we as His people understand our need to do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit but to treat others with the mind of Christ? The question for us, then, is, are we bowing and confessing that He is Lord now? This is the only path to glorifying God.