Caesar versus Jesus

In his Letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul points to the obedience of Jesus as the model for proper conduct by disciples and the kind of mindset they must adopt. The Nazarene’s willing submission to death at the hands of the World Empire is the paradigm for how his followers should live. His subsequent elevation to reign over all things was the result of his “obedience unto death.” Exaltation did not precede humiliation and death, it followed.

Cross Sunset - Photo by Pete Godfrey on Unsplash
[Photo by Pete Godfrey on Unsplash]

Not only did Jesus refuse political power, but his acceptance of the Messianic role of the ‘
Suffering Servant’ who died for the sake of others was contrary to the idea and practice of exercising political power over others. No Caesar, president, king, or dictator would ever willingly submit to a brutal and humiliating execution by his enemies.

The New Testament summons disciples to imitate his example by conducting themselves properly while living in a hostile culture and deferring to one another’s needs. They are to “stand fast in one spirit, with one soul, joining for the combat along with the faith of the gospel.”


Anyone who wishes to follow Jesus must do so by “thinking the same things” that he did, and this was epitomized by his self-sacrificial act.

  • Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ Jesus. Who, commencing in the form of God, considered being like God something not to be seized, but he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore also, God highly exalted him and granted him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of beings heavenly and earthly and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, even God” - (Philippians 2:5-11).

Self-sacrificial death was, in fact, what it meant to be the Messiah who came “not be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” To illustrate his example, Paul employed Old Testament language from the stories of Adam and the “Suffering Servant” from Isaiah. Unlike the former, Jesus did not attempt to seize “likeness” with God. Adam was created in God’s image but grasped at divine “likeness” when he ate the forbidden fruit.

In contrast, Jesus obeyed God and suffered the consequences. As the “Suffering Servant,” he humbled himself and submitted to an unjust death. For that reason, God “highly exalted” him.

Like Adam, Jesus began “in the form of God.” Unlike Adam, he “did not consider the being like God something for plunder.” The Greek adjective isos translated as “like” means just that, “like.” The clause alludes to the moment when the “Serpent” first tempted Eve in the Garden: “For God knows that in the day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.”

Adam chose to disobey and thereby attempted to “seize” the likeness of God. Paul contrasts his failure with the refusal of Jesus to grasp that same “likeness.”


The clause, “being in the form of God,” corresponds to the creation account when “God created man in his own image.” Likewise, Jesus was in the “image” or “form” of God. In Greek literature, the two nouns are synonymous. The term translated as “being” represents the Greek present tense participle huparchō, meaning, “to commence, begin; to start.” Thus, he began in the image of God just as Adam did.

The Greek noun translated as “seize” means “plunder, booty,” something that is seized by force. Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize likeness with God. Instead, he “poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

In this last sentence, there are several verbal echoes from the “Servant of Yahweh” passages in the Book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 53:12) - “Therefore will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as plunder, because he poured out to death his own soul, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of many bare, and for transgressors interposed.”
  • (Isaiah 53:7) - “Hard-pressed, yet he humbled himself, nor opened his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

Thus, Jesus humbled himself to the point of suffering a shameful death. That is how “he poured himself out.” Paul completes the picture by utilizing allusions to two more passages in Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 52:13) - “Behold, my Servant prospers, he rises and is lifted up and becomes very high.”
  • (Isaiah 45:23) - “By myself have I sworn, gone forth out of my mouth is righteousness as a decree and shall not turn back, that unto myself shall bow every knee shall swear every tongue.”

Jesus died the death of a “slave.” This uses an image from the Greco-Roman culture. Crucifixion was considered the most shameful form of death. Its most horrific aspect was the public humiliation attached to it, and it was often used to execute rebellious slaves as well as political revolutionaries.

The disciples of Jesus are called to have that same mind, to seek nothing from self-interest or for “empty glory.” They are to emulate him by not seeking to exalt themselves. Instead, they should “pour themselves out” as he did in service to others, and in obedience to God.

Believers must conduct themselves in “humility” toward one another and those outside the Assembly rather than exalt themselves or seek power over others. In God’s Kingdom, exaltation follows obedience and humility. It does not precede them. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to have the “mind that was in Christ.”