In the last post we introduced the idea of kenosis (self-emptying). Let’s explore this further as it relates to Jesus.
Kenosis means Christ “emptied” himself when he was incarnated to a man. But he emptied himself of what exactly?
Here is the States of Christ figure, adapted for this post.
For a quick explanation of the entire image, click here:
Note Kenosis appearing at the top left, above the start of the sweeping arrow. The whole downward process is called Servanthood. Sometimes theologians call it Humiliation, after the words, “made himself nothing” or as other translations say, “he humbled himself.”
Here are the key verses referring to Christ Jesus, the Greek word kenosis put in bold font:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)
If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
The issue here is that Jesus gave up something, but what? He was fully God and fully man. Did he empty himself of some or all of his divine attributes? Then he was not fully God, because God does not give up his nature, and his nature or essence is, in its simplest definition, a “complex of attributes.”
What do theologians say?
Wayne Grudem says Jesus did not give up his divine attributes for these five reasons:
First, for 1800 years of church history, no one thought Jesus gave up any of his divine attributes.
Second, the text does not say he “emptied himself of power or this or that divine attribute.” Let’s not go further than the text’s silence.
Third, the text says Jesus himself did the “emptying,” but not by giving up his attributes, but he “made himself nothing” by taking the “nature of a servant” and coming to earth to live as a man. He humbled himself, even to the death on the cross.
Fourth, the bigger context sees Paul telling his readers, the Philippians, to humble themselves as servants and not to look out for their own interests only, but to look out for the needs of others. Jesus did that in the ultimate way, by becoming a man and dying on the cross.
Fifth, the entire Bible covering the attributes of Jesus do not support the claim that he gave up his divine attributes. “If it were true that such a momentous event as this happened, that the eternal Son of God ceased for a time to have all the attributes of God—ceased for a time, to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, for example, then we would expect that such an incredible event would be taught clearly and repeatedly in the New Testament, not found in the very doubtful interpretation of one word in one epistle” (p. 551). Then Grudem continues to say that the New Testament does not teach this.
Therefore the best understanding of this passage is that it talks about Jesus giving up the status and privilege that was his in heaven: he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (or “clung to for his own advantage”), but “emptied himself” or “humbled himself” for our sake, and came to live as a man. Jesus speaks elsewhere of the “glory” he had with the Father “before the world was made” (John 17:5), a glory that he had given up and was going to receive again when he returned to heaven (p. 551, emphasis original).
But then how do we account for the humanity and deity of Jesus in the four Gospels, where the humanity seems to dominate? Surely he gave up something, or did he?
Here is how Millard Erickson answers the question:
Jesus did not give up the divine attributes, but he freely surrendered the ability to act on them on his own accord. He exercised them only in dependence on his Father. “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). Whenever he exercised his divine power to perform miracles or reading thoughts, for example, he called on his Father and the power of the Father-directed Spirit. Both his Father’s will and his will were necessary, but his will was submitted to his Father. (p. 705)
Then Erickson uses the illustration of a safe-deposit box. Two keys—the banker’s and the depositor’s—are needed to open it. When Jesus exercised his divine attributes, both wills had to agree to it.
So there is divine cooperation between the Father and the Son—and I add the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Messiah or Anointed One. He was anointed by the Spirit (Acts 10:38). His miracles were done by his divine nature through the power of the Spirit, by the Father’s will. So the Triunity (Trinity) was working together during the Son’s humiliation.
Erickson concludes our study about Christ’s humiliation:
The humiliation entailed all of the conditions of humanity. Thus Jesus was capable of feeling fatigue and weariness, pain and suffering, hunger, even the anguish of betrayal, denial and abandonment by those closest to him. He experienced the disappointment, discouragement, and distress of soul that go with being fully human. His humanity was complete. (p. 705)
So how do I get to know Jesus more deeply?
We can get to know him better when we realize what Jesus did for us when he left his heavenly and became a man. He did not give up his divine attributes, but he did give up the independent use of them and cooperated with the Father and Spirit to live a godly, divine and human life of power and miracles and love.
The Father willed that Jesus’ humanity should appear and be real, so he and Jesus could fully sympathize with humanity’s daily routine of sleeping, eating and drinking and getting dusty and even suffering a criminal’s death (falsely accused) on the ignominious cross. The Father and his Son loved people—and still love them—that much.
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN “DO I REALLY KNOW JESUS?” SERIES
4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant