June 29, 2024

Isaiah 2:17, "And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day"


If Jesus is not the LORD God, how does worshiping Jesus reconcile with Isaiah 2:17, which states the LORD (YHWH) alone will be exalted in that day?

Unitarians reconcile the worship of Jesus with Isaiah 2:17 by emphasizing that any worship of Jesus is ultimately directed towards God. Jesus is honored and exalted because of his unique role and mission given by God, but this does not diminish the supremacy and singular exaltation of God as highlighted in Isaiah.

The Context of Human Pride and Divine Supremacy

Isaiah 2:17 declares, “The haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” This verse is often interpreted as emphasizing God's ultimate supremacy over all human pride and arrogance.  The passage highlights the need for humility before God, as all human arrogance and self-exaltation will be brought low in the light of God's ultimate authority. This message serves as a timeless reminder that human achievements and pride are insignificant compared to the divine majesty of God.

Jesus' Humility and Exaltation

Unlike the prideful humans described in Isaiah, Jesus is depicted in the New Testament as the epitome of humility and obedience to God. Philippians 2:5-11 profoundly illustrates this:

Philippians 2:5-11 (AICNT) Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be seized, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those 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.

This passage reveals that Jesus’ exaltation is directly linked to his humility. His willingness to humble himself, even to the point of death, stands in stark contrast to the prideful humans described in Isaiah. As a result, God exalted him to the highest place of honor.

Jesus as the Exceptional Humble Servant:

A nuanced understanding recognizes Jesus as an exceptional figure who, unlike prideful humans, fully humbled himself and thus occupies a unique and exalted position in God’s plan.

The phrase “the Lord alone will be exalted” in Isaiah 2:17 can be understood in the context of human pride versus divine humility. While the verse underscores that human pride will be humbled and only God will be exalted, it does not preclude the exceptional case of Jesus, who humbled himself completely. Jesus' exaltation by God is unique because it is not born of human pride but of divine obedience and humility.

Jesus' unique role as the Messiah and his exaltation serve to glorify God. His humility and subsequent exaltation highlight God's plan of salvation and the ultimate triumph of divine grace and humility over human arrogance. Thus, Jesus' exaltation does not compete with or diminish God's supremacy; instead, it magnifies it by showcasing the profound relationship between humility and divine glory.

Jesus as an agent of God

Agency in biblical terms refers to the concept of a person acting on behalf of another, with the authority and power of the one who sent them. In the New Testament, Jesus is often depicted as the ultimate agent of God, carrying out God's will and embodying God's presence on earth. This relationship between Jesus and God can be seen as symbiotic, particularly in the context of Jesus' exaltation.

Jesus’ role as God’s agent means that his exaltation is inherently tied to the exaltation of God. When Jesus is exalted, it reflects back on God’s power and authority, since it is God who has raised Jesus to this high status. Unitarians believe that Jesus, as the Messiah, acts as a mediator and representative of God. While Jesus is highly honored and respected, any worship or reverence directed towards him is ultimately seen as honoring God who sent him. 

Jesus’ role and exaltation are viewed as being granted by God. Philippians 2:9-11 states, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This passage can be interpreted to mean that Jesus’ exalted status is a result of God's will, and the acknowledgment of Jesus serves to glorify God the Father.

Unitarians maintain a clear distinction between God and Jesus. While Jesus is given a place of great honor and is exalted above all other humans, he is still subordinate to God. This is evident in passages like John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I.” Therefore, the worship given to Jesus is seen as derivative and secondary to the worship of God.

Worshiping Jesus as Part of God's Plan

Worshiping Jesus, therefore, aligns with God's plan as revealed in the New Testament. When believers honor and worship Jesus, they are ultimately glorifying God who exalted Jesus. This worship is an acknowledgment of Jesus' unique role in God's salvific plan and a recognition of his obedience and humility.

John 5:23 supports this understanding: “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” By honoring Jesus, believers are fulfilling the divine will and glorifying God the Father.

 Isaiah 2:17 emphasizes that only God will be exalted. For Unitarians, this does not conflict with Jesus receiving worship, as long as it is understood that Jesus' exaltation is by God’s decree and ultimately serves to glorify God. Jesus’ exaltation and the worship he receives are seen as a testament to God's power and authority in elevating his chosen one.

As the Messiah, Jesus fulfills a unique and divinely appointed role. His life, teachings, and resurrection are central to God's plan for humanity. In this sense, worshiping Jesus is understood as recognizing and accepting his divinely ordained mission and the salvation he brings, which ultimately points back to God.

Rhetorical use of “alone”

The term “alone” can be understood as emphasizing the primary or most significant aspect rather than making an absolute statement. This usage is often rhetorical, aiming to highlight the supremacy or uniqueness of God in comparison to others, without denying the existence or roles of other beings, including Jesus.

In conclusion, while Isaiah 2:17 emphasizes the humbling of human pride and the exaltation of God alone, it does not negate the exceptional case of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who fully humbled himself, is exalted by God and receives worship in a manner that ultimately glorifies God. This understanding harmonizes the themes of divine supremacy and the unique, God-given role of Jesus as the humble and exalted Messiah (agent of God).

For more on the topic of Agency, see https://biblicalagency.com

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