The honor of Christ’s never-ending victory over death

… not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:21 ESV

What is the significance of Jesus Christ having this highly honored state of being “… not only in this age but also in the one to come”? Surely there are some cultural signals that give perspective to this statement. Why is Paul making this point of Christ’s never-ending Lordship and victory over death?

  1. Could it be that Paul has in mind the stark impermanence of the Greek and Roman deities of his time? When one reads about the petty variableness of the Greek gods, when one considers the tragic deaths of many of the Roman rulers, it seems that Paul is emphasizing that, whereas Greek gods are capricious and Roman rulers both capricious and temporary, Jesus Christ will absolutely remain—permanently!—as the highly exalted one “… not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
  2. Yes, the victory which was won when the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead is permanent, but is also personal for those who follow Christ. It represents an eternal victory over death and hell, pain and tragedy. Therefore, followers of Jesus Christ—those who are His—those who are in Christ—are assured that when they face death, their own resurrection will also be eternal. It is a living hope grounded in the permanence of the resurrected Christ “not only in this age but also in the one to come.” How personal is this for believers? Consider that just as God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:20), so also God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This constitutes for believers a profound identification with the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the affect of this profound honor, this living hope? It is the ability for the Christ-follower to live without guilt, without fear, without shame. When a believer identifies with the honor and righteousness of Christ, he or she is set free from the need to play petty games of one-upmanship.

Jerome Neyrey has a whole chapter in his book Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, called “Vacating the Playing Field.” Neyrey expounds on The Sermon on the Mount, and explains how Jesus is calling his disciples to vacate the ‘public playing field’ of the ‘honor and shame game.’ Neyrey says:

In regard to the value of honor, several things should be noted. First, Jesus contrasts grants of honor from neighbors (“praised by men,” Matt. 6:2) with grants for honor from God (your heavenly Father will reward you,” 6:4, 6, 18; see John 12:43). As always, people require some acknowledgment of their worth. Second, even in his rhetoric, Jesus himself plays the honor game, challenging others and claiming honor himself. He does not attack the honor system itself; in fact he operates out of it by challenging other versions of it and ranking one grant of honor over another. Far from dismantling the system, he redirects how honor is bestowed and withdrawn. Third, Jesus invites disciples to join his honorable world, where the opinions of neighbors do not count for much and where their expectations do not control one’s behavior. And so he replaces the cultural expectations of the local code with his own expectations. Fourth, Jesus’ subversive commands would not be imaginable to disciples unless an alternative structure for worth, reputation, and respect were put in place, namely, honor from Jesus and reward from one’s heavenly Father. [1]

Do you see from Neyrey’s explanation that discipleship to Jesus Christ may be viewed as an exchange of a human-based source of honor for a Jesus-based one? Criticizing the Pharisees, Jesus said, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).

Through salvation, one receives the righteousness of Jesus Christ in exchange for condemnation. One also embraces the honor of Christ in exchange for shame. The result is to live courageously, freely, magnanimously, generously, passionately—indeed, gloriously!

O Lord, do I reflect this freedom from the opinions of others, this courage and passion—this honor for you as Lord in my life?

1. Jerome Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 221.


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