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Don Stewart :: In What Sense Did Jesus Empty Himself? (Kenosis, Condescension of Christ)

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Don Stewart

In the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul made the following statement about Christ.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

The passage speaks of Christ "emptying Himself." The Greek word for this is kenosis. The question is what did Jesus empty Himself of when He came to earth?

Misconceptions About Jesus Emptying Himself

There are a number of common misconceptions about what Christ emptied Himself of when He became a human being.

Misconception 1: Jesus Set Aside His Deity

This view holds that Jesus ceased to be God when He came to earth. He gave up His essential attributes of Deity when He became a human. In other words, Jesus was a mere human when He was on the earth and nothing more.

Response

Jesus was always conscious of the fact that He was God. Those who say that Jesus ceased being God when He came to earth attempt to make Him into a fallible human being with limitations just like the rest of us. His knowledge of divine mysteries would have been no better than any other human of His day. If this were the case, then His testimony would carry no real weight. He would not have been competent to speak about any issue with absolute authority.

The Bible does not say that God changed into a human being but rather than God became a human being without ceasing to be God. The Bible says that Jesus does not change.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Misconception 2: Jesus Set Aside Some Of His Divine Attributes

This view contends that Christ set aside certain of His divine attributes (such as being all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere present) when He came to earth. At the same time He kept other of His attributes such as holiness, love, and truth.

Response

Jesus Christ is the eternal God. He enjoys all the rights and privileges of that position. If Jesus was God, as the Scripture teaches, it is hard to imagine that He could somehow rid Himself of these qualities and still be God. The emptying could not have been with regard to His attributes as God, because, by definition, God cannot cease being God. Jesus is God by nature but became submissive in His office.

Misconception 3: Jesus Did Not Know That He Was God

There are some who believe that Jesus did not give up any of His divine attributes while here on earth but rather gave up His divine self-consciousness - He did not know He was God. All the attributes of Deity remained with Him but He simply was not aware of them.

Response

Scripture says that Jesus was completely aware of who He was and what He could do. When arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus stated that He could summon legions of angels and stop those taking Him.

Misconception 4: Jesus Acted As Though He Did Not Possess Divine Attributes

This position holds that Jesus still retained all of His divine attributes when He was here on earth but that He acted as though He did not possess them. While He was still all-knowing, all-powerful, and holy, His behavior did not reflect that He still possessed them.

Response

This would mean that Jesus was deceiving the people. This is inconsistent with the pure, holy character of God. It is not possible that God can deceive people about anything.

Misconception 5: Jesus Set Aside The Use Of His Divine Attributes

This position holds that Jesus gave up the use, not the possession of His divine attributes. While He was fully God during His time here upon the earth He did not use any of these divine attributes. Response

The New Testament teaches that Jesus did exercise the use of His divine attributes while He was here upon the earth.

Jesus Emptied Himself In Three Ways

Jesus emptied Himself in at least three different ways. First, He voluntarily accepted the limitations of being a human being. Second, He glory was hidden from the people. Third, He gave up the independent use of His relative attributes (all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, etc.).

He Experienced The Limitations Of A Human Being

Jesus was the eternal God who became human.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. (John 1:1).

John wrote.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Jesus was still God while He was here upon the earth. However He took upon Himself an additional nature - that of a human. Jesus had a body like other men except it was without sin. He did not set aside any of the attributes that were rightly His. However He voluntarily limited Himself to being a human being. With genuine humanity came certain restrictions. He could only be at one place at a time. He needed to eat, rest, and sleep. He could feel pain, bleed, and die. Before He became a man He had no such restrictions.

Jesus Willingly Humbled Himself

The self-humbling of Christ was not against His will. He willingly took on the limitations of humanity. He never used any of His divine attributes to relieve Himself of the limitations of being a human being.

Jesus' Glory Was Veiled

The glory of Jesus was hidden from humanity during His time on the earth - although it was revealed at certain times. The glory of God was such that no human could look at it and live. This glory that belong to Jesus was veiled. At the end of His life He prayed to His Father to restore His former glory.

I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do. And now, O Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was (John 17:4,5).

After His Ascension His glory was no longer veiled. We read in the Book of Revelation.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. And he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last (Revelation 1:17).

Jesus had to veil His glory in order to accomplish His mission on the earth.

Jesus Did Not Use His Relative Attributes

Jesus chose not to independently exercise of His relative attributes. This includes His ability to be all-knowing and all-powerful. His moral attributes, such as love, holiness, truth were not set aside in any sense. He did not give His perfect morality but He did give up any independent use of His mighty power.

The key word in this understanding is "independent." On many occasions we find Christ exercising His attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.

Jesus Lived The Life Of A Servant

Jesus chose rather to live the life as a servant who put His trust in His heavenly Father. The following statements from Jesus illustrate this truth.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner (John 5:19).

Jesus said.

I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me (John 5:30).

Jesus also said.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38).

Jesus chose to submit to the will of God the Father in every word and in every deed. Therefore, any independent desire on Jesus' part to act apart from God the Father was emptied or laid aside while here upon the earth.

Jesus Did Not Know Certain Things

The Bible does teach that there were certain things that Jesus did not know. For example, Jesus did not know the time of His Second Coming.

But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Mark 13:32,32).

Jesus did not know who from the crowd touched His clothes.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'" But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it (Mark 5:30,32).

When He was here upon the earth Jesus was all knowing, or omniscient, yet He did not know the time of His Second Coming. Although He was all-powerful, or omnipotent, He prayed to God to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus, as God, was everywhere present, or omnipresent, but He could only be at one place at a time. These attributes were always with Him - He simply chose not to use them apart from the will of the Father.

Jesus Was Continuously Self-limited

The self-limitation of Jesus was something that He continually practiced. He had to consciously and continuously rely on the Father instead of His own divine attributes. Jesus Himself said.

So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised his eyes, and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me (John 11:41,42).

He Was Always Guided By The Holy Spirit

As a human being, Jesus chose to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Scripture speaks of Jesus being filled with the Spirit after His baptism.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1).

Consequently Jesus performed His miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. He said.

But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28).

He placed His faith in the Father. He was able to live a sinless life by trusting the Father at all times. Consequently believers are told to "walk as He walked."

The one who says he abides in him ought himself to walk in the same manner as he walked (1 John 2:6)

This could only be possible if Jesus walked in faith as a human being.

Jesus Is Able To Understand Our Needs

Jesus willingly limited Himself while here upon the earth. Consequently He understands what happens to humans. The writer to the Hebrews acknowledged.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Because He has experienced the same problems as humankind He can comfort us. The Bible says that God is the God of all comfort.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Finally we come to the reason why Jesus imposed these self-limitations upon His Person. He did it because of the love of God.

Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends (John 5:13).

It was the love of God that caused Jesus to voluntarily humble Himself and lay aside some of the rights that He had as God.

Summary

When Jesus came to earth He laid aside or emptied Himself of something. There are many misconceptions at to what He set aside. It was not His Deity. Jesus could not empty Himself of His Deity - He could not stop being God. He was always God the Son. He could not exchange His Deity for His humanity. Neither did He set aside only some of His divine attributes and keep others. In addition, Jesus always knew He was God and possessed these divine attributes - He was not ignorant of who He was or what He could do. Moreover Jesus allowed the people to know that He had such powers. Neither did Jesus set aside the use of His relative attributes such as being all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. Those powers were always present with Him.

When Jesus became a human being He divested Himself of certain rights as God the Son. This can be seen in three ways. First He restricted Himself to a human body with all its limitations. He gave up His position when He became a human being. Second He veiled or hid His glory from the people. Finally, He exercised His relative attributes only by the will of God the Father - never on His own initiative.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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