Humiliation & Exaltation: Christ's Session
The title of this post may seem a bit unfamiliar, so I’m glad you’ve decided to keep reading because this is an important theological truth with significant implications for our daily lives. You may be asking, “What does Christ have to do with a ‘session’?” The word is from the Latin for “sitting” and describes a person who is seated authoritatively in an assembly, like a court or legislative body. We hear it used of a session of Congress or a court that is in session.
So when we use the term, “Christ’s session,” think, “seated,” as in the line from the Apostles’ Creed, “…and is seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty….” This clause takes its cue from a number of important biblical passages. Let’s consider some of Scripture’s main points regarding Jesus’ session, especially his location and position.
At His Right Hand
The location of Jesus at the right hand of the Father (see Ephesians 1 along with Hebrews 1, 8, 10, and 12) is an important image that conveys both honor and power. It’s easy to see where this image comes from. For most people, the right hand is the favored hand because it is the dominant one with the greatest strength and the finest dexterity.
No doubt original readers of the New Testament who knew their Old Testament would have quickly understood the rich background signified by being at a sovereign’s right hand. It was common in the Ancient Near East for rulers to reserve the seat to the right of their throne as a place of honor. Recall 1 Kings 2 where the newly enthroned Solomon honored his mother by having a throne for her placed to the right of his. And the image of power is seen in the victory chant of Moses (Exodus 15), where he extols God’s triumph over Egypt with the lyric, “Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.”
Regarding Christ’s session, Paul instructs us in Philippians 2:8-9 that following the time of Jesus’ humiliation, the Father exalted his obedient Son to the place of supreme honor. And in Ephesians 1:20-23 Paul further specifies that this place of exaltation is at the Father’s right hand, where Christ has been enthroned in the highest place, with everything else at his feet.
Seated And Completed
The seated position of Jesus at the Father’s right hand also conveys rich theological truth. Since sitting requires less effort than standing, to be seated is to be (relatively) sedentary. The writer to the Hebrews tells us not once, but twice (1:3 and 10:12) that after Jesus – as both priest and sacrifice – had completed his work of atonement, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Here the writer clearly intends us to understand that when Jesus took his seat, he was signaling that his estate of humiliation, and the aspects of his active and passive obedience, had come to completion, having accomplished what the Father had sent him into the world to do. And this is significant, for, as F. F. Bruce states, “A seated priest is the guarantee of a finished work and an accepted sacrifice.”
Seated But Not Passive
We would be mistaken to think that having completed his passion and taken his seat at the right hand of God that Jesus has completely ceased his redemptive work. Far from it! In his estate of exaltation, begun with his resurrection, Jesus entered a new phase where he is quite active even today.
One of the most significant things Jesus is doing in his exalted session is ruling. Predicted in Psalm 110 and explained in Ephesians 1, Philippians 2, and 1 Peter 3, the Scriptures teach that the enthroned Christ’s rule is universal and absolute. As head of his church, Jesus rules and defends it, but further, there is no one or nothing in the physical world or the metaphysical realm that is not also under his supreme dominion. In this marvelous truth, we see the offices and estates of Christ intersect, for in his estate of exaltation, Christ occupies the office of king, “powerfully ordering all things for his glory.” (WLC Q. 45).
Another important part of Jesus’ present session ministry is his interceding as our mediator. As Paul reminds us, the crucified and risen Christ “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Again we see an overlap of Christ’s estates and offices, for in his priestly office, the exalted Jesus makes “continual intercession for us” (WSC Q. 25).
These truths are of tremendous comfort for us in our daily existence in our own estate of sin and misery (WSC Q. 17). Given these profound theological realities, let us, as Thomas Watson exhorts, “Exalt Christ in our hearts…exalt him in our lips…exalt him in our lives.”
Lifted up was he to die,
“It is finished!” was his cry:
Now in heav’n exalted high:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
James Rich is the Assistant Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Harleysville, PA, and holds a Ph.D. in Church History from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He taught high school history and Bible and is an adjunct professor of history at Cairn University.