A Series of Answers to Common Questions
The Bible says that Jesus emptied himself (cf. Philippians 2:7), implying that Christ ceased to either be God altogether or from having certain Divine attributes. This is also known as the Kenosis theory, with the word Kenosis originating from the verb used by Paul in the text itself. In either case, this proves that Jesus cannot be God since God is immutable and cannot get rid of his Divine nature and attributes.
Here is the specific text in question so as to help the readers see the point that is being made:
"but emptied himself (ekenoosen), taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." RSV
The misunderstanding is that the word ekenoosen, from the verb kenoo, refers to an emptying of Christs Divine essence, his Divine abilities, which is not what the text is saying at all. Paul himself explains in what way Jesus "emptied" himself:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5-8 ESV
The blessed Apostle clearly shows us that the manner by which Christ emptied himself was by becoming a man and, hence, a slave. Paul was basically saying that Jesus laid aside his Divine privileges, not his Divine attributes. This can clearly be seen in the exhortation that we should follow his example. We cannot lay aside Divine attributes (since we do not have them), nor are we called to lay aside our human attributes, or cease to be human, but we should follow Jesus in his humility and willingness to serve others, even those who in this world are considered to be lower than ourselves in power or status. The Lord Jesus, according to the inspired Apostle, set aside the honor, the prestige, the fame, and the glory that comes with being God, a point he makes elsewhere:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9
In the words of the Lord Jesus:
"And a scribe came up and said to him, Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Matthew 8:19-20
The prophet Isaiah said essentially the same thing when, by inspiration, he foresaw both the humiliation and glory of the Christ:
"Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Isaiah 53:1-3
Putting it in another way, Christ emptied himself or made himself nothing when he came to the earth as a slave. The emptying refers to his humiliation, to his humble status, not to his Divine attributes or essence since at no point in time did Jesus ever cease to be God in nature. The Holy Bible clearly states that he remained both Lord and Son even during his earthly ministry, and yet the people couldnt tell by simply looking at him and his humble surroundings that the Person standing before them was actually the glorious Son of God and the Sovereign Lord of all creation.
The following texts provide further clarification and support for our exegesis:
"And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:41-45
Jesus is Lord who didnt exercise his Divine sovereignty like the Gentile rulers, but chose instead to be a servant to his subjects. The foregoing clearly shows that Christ was still Lord even while on earth but voluntarily set aside his rights and didnt impose his authority on others in order to have them do whatever he wanted. He compelled his followers to obey and follow him by his unconditional love and service for them. The next passage beautifully illustrates this revealed truth:
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, do you wash my feet? Jesus answered him, What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand. Peter said to him, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no share with me. Simon Peter said to him, Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head! Jesus said to him, The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you. For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, Not all of you are clean. When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, AND YOU ARE RIGHT, FOR SO I AM. If I then, YOUR LORD AND TEACHER, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." John 13:1-17
Note that Jesus says that he is the disciples Teacher and Lord, not that he would be at a future period.
"Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:6-11
Again, John acknowledges that Jesus is mightier than him and can baptize with the Holy Spirit, a function which God performs, and God himself testifies that Christ is his beloved Son.
"For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, You are the Son of God." Mark 3:10-11
Even the demons knew that Christ is Gods Son and fell down in worship because of it.
"But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I AM, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. And the high priest tore his garments and said, What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision? And they all condemned him as deserving death." Mark 14:61-64
"The Jews answered him, We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God." John 19:7
Jesus testifies before the Sanhedrin that he IS the Son of God, not was or will be, and also the heavenly Son of Man who sits enthroned at Gods right hand, an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14. Christ basically claims that he is a co-occupant of the Divine throne, placing himself on an equal level of authority with God. His coming with the clouds of heaven is an implicit reference to Deity since it is God who rides the clouds:
"He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds." Psalm 18:9-12
"He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind;" Psalm 104:3
"Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them." Isaiah 19:1
Jesus is therefore claiming to be the Divine Son of God and the heavenly Son of Man who rules on Gods throne. One can see why the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus for blasphemy since they knew he was claiming to be God.
"In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of MY LORD should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." Luke 1:39-44
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:7-11
Christ is Elizabeths Lord even while still in his blessed mothers womb, and upon being born he is identified by the angelic host as both Lord and Savior.
To summarize what we have discovered, Philippians 2:7 in both its immediate and overall contexts does not mean that the Lord Jesus emptied himself of Deity or of certain Divine attributes. Rather, the Lord Jesus set aside the glory and honor that goes along with being God and chose to become a slave of no reputation. He did this because he loves us with an everlasting love and as a result of it he came to the earth to save us from hell.
The foregoing hopefully was able to show that the text of Philippians 2:7 does not imply that Jesus ceased to be God in essence, that he stopped having Divine attributes and abilities when he became a man. Rather, the emptying refers to Christ setting aside his Divine glory and honor in order to assume the humble status of a slave.
There is another aspect of this emptying that we want to discuss in this specific section. It seems that while on earth as a man Christ deliberately refused to exercise his Divine prerogatives to accomplish Gods will. The Scriptures suggest that Jesus did his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit which descended upon him in all his fullness at the baptism:
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. Mark 1:9-11
"But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Matthew 12:28
"And John bore witness: I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."" John 1:32-33
"For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure." John 3:34
"how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him." Acts 10:38
What this basically means is that Christ voluntarily chose to depend on Gods Holy Spirit to enable him to perform his functions and miracles as opposed to trusting in his Divine capabilities. This also explains why it wasnt until after being anointed with the Holy Spirit that Jesus began his ministry and performed his mighty works:
"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine. And Jesus said to her, Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you. Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, Fill the jars with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him." John 2:1-11
The purpose for depending on the Spirits power, it seems, was to show true Christians the blessings that they could experience provided that they refrain from sinning against God. Since Jesus is the only sinless human who walked this earth he was able to operate in the full power of the Holy Spirit. Believers, on the other hand, do not operate within the Spirits fullness because of their sinful tendencies. Sin quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit, which therefore prevents him from fully empowering a believer:
"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Ephesians 4:30
"Do not quench the Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 5:19
Yet Christ became the example for believers to emulate, showing what his followers are capable of achieving and experiencing provided that they walk in perfect obedience to the will of God.
Moreover, Jesus miracles were performed specifically to prove that he is Gods unique Divine Son:
"If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands." John 10:37-39
"Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill. But when Jesus heard it he said, This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again. Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? She said to him, Yes, Lord; I believe that you ARE the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me. When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out. The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, Unbind him, and let him go." John 11:1-4, 23-27, 41-44
"Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father"? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves." John 14:9-11
Thus, even though his miracles were down through the agency of the Spirit their intention was to prove that Jesus is Incarnate Deity.
And because Jesus didnt cease to exist as God his followers were able to perform miracles in his name even while he was among them:
"John said to him, Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us. But Jesus said, Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us." Mark 9:38-40
"The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name! And he said to them, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:17-20
Amen. Praise you, Lord Jesus, praise you! You are eternally worthy of our love, praise, honor, glory and lives. And by your pure grace we will remain forever in love with you, O risen Lord and immortal Savior. Amen.
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