Having said that, it is interesting to see how early Christians put all of this familiar language and imagery to use. Certainly it would have been said of the Caesar that “the gods exalted him and have given him the name above every name, and that at the name of Caesar every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Caesar is Lord.” Unlike Caesar, however, it was said of Jesus that His Lordship over all (including Caesar) came about through a process that the rulers of the world would not have supposed.
Whereas Caesar positioned himself as the son of god (divi filius) and laid claim to his rule according to this proclamation, Jesus is said to have “existed in the form of God” but “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped.” Whereas Caesar exalted himself and enslaved others to extend and enrich the empire of the one referred to as the son of god, to bring about the kingdom of the Creator God, Jesus countered the Caesar “by taking on the form of a slave.” Whereas Caesar and his sycophantic worshipers lauded him as being a man among men and therefore endowed by the gods with the right to rule because of the superiority of his very nature, the true Emperor, that being Jesus, came “looking like other men” and “sharing in human nature.” The dichotomy that is being drawn is stark indeed.
Caesar, of course, inflicted his power (the pax Romana) upon the peoples of the world by the looming threat of death at the end of a sword, whereas Jesus became “obedient to the point of death.” The Roman cross and its accursed death was the emblem of power of Caesar and of his right to unchallenged rule. All those that presumed to challenge his divinely appointed and sanctioned rule would meet their horrible ends upon that emblem.
So naturally, as the hymn continues the contrast, Jesus, as the anti-Caesar, went to “death on a cross,” with His Resurrection proving that the great powers of the world (Rome, Caesar, death) had no power over Him or over any member of the kingdom of the Creator God. Whereas the cross was meant to shame and humiliate, it became Jesus’ path to honor and exaltation (as the Philippian passage clearly demonstrates the kingdom ideal of the first becoming last and the last becoming first). This, of course, was contrary to all thinking in that day.
The fact that the early church so freely employed the language of death by crucifixion, within a world that had a robust understanding of the explicit implications of such a death (you’re not a king), and within a Jewish world that saw such a thing as evidence of their God’s highest cursing, gives tremendous weight to the firm belief in the fact of Jesus’ physical Resurrection into a world that was materially changed by that very fact. The Resurrection stands as the only explanation for the language about Jesus that is here employed. It remains to be concluded that if there was the smallest doubt that Jesus did not physically raise from the dead, then the church would certainly not give triumphant voice to the fact of His crucifixion at the hands of Rome.