The great claim of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is claim related to his resurrection from the dead. Paul makes a connection between the resurrection of Christ and his Lordship:
If you confess with you mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9.)
Paul makes it clear that Jesus is Lord precisely because he died and rose again,
For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living. (Romans 14:9.)
In a sense, Jesus has always been Lord. He claimed as much for himself in his pre-resurrection life. “Therefore he Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28.) God’s day was his day to rule over and regulate. When Jesus designated himself “Lord” in this way he was identifying himself with the God of Israel.
The lordship that Jesus received at his resurrection was given him not just because of who he was as the Son of God, but because of what he had achieved as the obedient suffering servant (Philippians 2:5-11). The one who was in the “form of God” as his image and glory emptied himself by taking the “form of a bondservant”. He was obedient to death on the cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted him”. Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation were the reward for his suffering and death. Now the risen Jesus rightfully demands that all creation acknowledge his Lordship to the glory of God the Father.
The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus are tightly linked in the New Testament. There is a close parallel between what Paul says of his resurrection in Romans 14:9 and what he says of his exaltation in Philippians 2:2-5. Christ is exalted via resurrection. Borg (Wright & Borg, The Meaning of Jesus, SPCK, p. 136 & 137) suggests that Jesus is Lord without his being raised from the dead. But the idea that Jesus could be highly exalted by God and given dominion over the universe while his body rotted in a tomb would certainly have surprised Paul. The resurrection of Jesus vindicated his claim that he was Lord. It was God’s seal of approval on the claims and work of his Son.
While the exaltation of Christ and his resurrection are mutually dependent we must be careful to distinguish between the two events. In the resurrection accounts of the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ resurrection body was endued with special powers. He could appear and disappear at will, he could appear unrecognised to his disciples as well as show them his hands and his side and convince them that he was alive.
On his exaltation, however, Jesus’ resurrection body was glorified. Paul writes of “his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). As Donald McLeod dryly comments:
Paul could never have mistaken the Christ of the Damascus road for a gardener. Neither could John in Patmos (Rev. 1:12-20) have imagined that what he was seeing was a ghost, far less a resuscitated corpse. (McLeod, Jesus is Lord, Mentor, p. 177.)
McLeod further reflects on the significance of the glorification of Christ’s resurrection body:
In him, man (and indeed the whole of created reality) have reached their Omega-point. His is a body whose glory now accords fully with the divine glory in which it shares. (McLeod, p. 177.)
The risen Jesus reigns for the good of his people who will one day share in his resurrection glory.
And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the pre-eminence. (Colossians 1:18.)
Christ’s sovereign lordship is conditioned by his resurrected humanity. The King of kings and Lord of lords knows our frame, he remembers that we are flesh because he shared and continues to share our humanity. Because of his resurrection from the dead, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.