How Christ Became a Man

by Elmer Towns
 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:6, 7


     During the fall of 1775, a man who appeared to be a typical American farmer attempted to book a room in Baltimore's most fashionable hotel. Concerned about the hotel's reputation, the manager refused to rent the room. The man left and took a room in another hotel. Later, the manager learned he had refused a room to Thomas Jefferson, the Vice-president of the United States. Immediately he sent an invitation to Jefferson, asking him to return to his hotel as his guest. Jefferson's response was simple and to the point: "I value your good intentions highly, but if you have no place for an American farmer, you have no right giving hospitality to the Vice president of the United States."

     When Jesus came to live among men over nineteen hundred years ago, people did not recognize the One they met. Jesus is God, always was, and always will be. Yet it was God in the form of a man that was symbolically rejected by the innkeeper, and was later to be rejected, hated, and even crucified. When Jesus became a man he remained God. Still he was truly God during his earthly ministry. He voluntarily set aside what was rightfully his to become a man.


     Definition. The term kenosis is a Greek word used in Philippians 2:7 to describe what happened when Christ became a man. The term is translated from "made himself of no reputation," which appears in the King James Version of the Bible. It is translated "He emptied himself" in the New American Standard Version. One theologian described it, "He stripped himself of the insignia of mystery."

     For Christ, who was God before time began, to take on "the form of a servant" was indeed a humiliating experience. For ages theologians have faced the dilemma of interpreting this one word, kenosis. They cannot deny that "Christ emptied" himself, but "What was poured out?" is the question. Can Christ give away part of his deity and remain God? Can God be less than God? The answer is found in a threefold explanation. "Christ emptied himself" by (1) veiling his glory, (2) accepting the limitations of being a human, and (3) voluntarily' giving up the independent use of his relative attributes.

     Jesus was still God. Some argue that Jesus was not God during his life on earth. In explaining the kenosis, they say Jesus gave up his attributes. But that would make him less than God. Others claim he gave up the right to be worshiped, by emptying himself of the expression of the attributes. A third argument by some is that Jesus gave up the divine self-consciousness, meaning he had the attributes of God but did not know it. A problem exists if we say that Jesus could have given up any attributes. If he had, he would have ceased to be God.

     One of the chief themes of the Gospel of John was to illustrate the deity of Christ. "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31). John's use of the term "Son of God" refers to deity. Jesus was "the only begotten Son of God," which means he possessed the nature and character of his Father while on earth. He was God. John begins his Gospel by arguing, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Describing Jesus when he became a man, John wrote, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Therefore, the kenosis was a self-emptying, not a self-extinction on the part of Christ.


     Veiling his glory. Jesus hid his glory when he became a man in order to show his Father's glory. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). When Old Testament believers witnessed an appearance of Christ, they were often fearful for their lives. They knew that sinful man could not look upon God and live. The glory of God was also the judgment of God; the natural person who saw it died. When Moses spent forty days alone with God on Mount Sinai, it was necessary to cover his face when he came down because it reflected the glory of God. The people could not look upon God and live.

     When John was on the Isle of Patmos, he too had a vision of Christ. When John saw Jesus in the full glory that was his from the beginning, John wrote, "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead" (Rev. 1:17). When Paul had a similar vision of Christ, he was blinded with light from heaven (Acts 9:3-9). Later he wrote of being "caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12:4). When Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple, he cried out, "Woe is me..." (Isa. 6:1-8).

     If Jesus had not veiled his preincarnate glory he could not have accomplished what he came to earth to do. It was necessary for Christ to hide his glory temporarily as he sought to save the souls of men. After the work of atonement was done, he could pray, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5).

     Submitting to the limitations of humanity. As a result of the incarnation, Jesus became the God-man. He was at all times both God and man as he lived on earth. When Jesus became flesh, he voluntarily subjected himself to its limitations Be. fore his birth, heaven was his throne. Now in the flesh, Jesus was limited to the distance that a man could walk on the paths of Galilee. The Son of God who created water voluntarily lived in a body that got thirsty.

     Jesus was born into this world as other humans (Luke 2:120), even though his conception was supernatural. As a child he developed as every human must develop. Jesus grew in mental, physical, spiritual, and social areas of life (Luke 2:52). He had the essential elements of human nature. He was body (Heb. 10:5), soul (John 12:27), and spirit (Mark 2:8). Jesus became hungry when he did not eat (Matt. 4:2). He became tired and asked the woman at the well for water to drink (John 4:6). Throughout his life on earth, Jesus was just as human as any one of us, subject to the same emotional experiences of sorrow, pain, and hurt which any man experiences.

     The willingness of Jesus to limit himself to becoming a man gives us confidence that he understands the affairs of our lives. "For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Because he has experientially known the frustrations of humanity, we have a "God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3) upon whom we can depend. While those who deny his deity believe they are honoring Jesus Christ in calling him a great man, the Bible says he emptied himself voluntarily by accepting the limitations of humanity. Yet at all times he remained God.

     He surrendered the independent use of some attributes. Self-emptying took place also by the voluntary choice not to use certain of his attributes.

     Perhaps the best expression of omnipotence is that of the miracles of God. Even though Jesus was known as a miracle worker, he performed those miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28). He voluntarily laid aside his power to do them and relied on the Holy Spirit or the Father. On various occasions he made it clearly known he was doing the work of his Father. "Then answered Jesus, and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19).

Omniscience Mark 13:32
Omnipresence John 1:14
Omnipotence John 11:41, 42

     During his earthly life and ministry, Jesus was omniscient, but did not know the time of the second coming. He was omnipresent, but when he became flesh, he limited himself to being in one place at one time. He was omnipotent, yet he prayed to God to perform the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had not lost these attributes of God, but rather, in the process of emptying himself, he chose not to use his relative attributes.


     From time to time we hear of someone who leaves a superior opportunity or job for less pay and what appears to be a lesser job. Often we are left wondering why that person acted as he did. There may be many reasons involved in such a decision. When we consider the willingness of Jesus to empty himself and become a man, we are left wondering why. We will never completely understand all that was involved in the mind of God, but there are several reasons identified in Scripture.

     Love. The Love of God for us was certainly one of the chief motivating factors in the kenosis. The love of God is the foundation for every aspect of the gospel. Before Jesus came, he knew he would be rejected and die for the sins of the world. He told his disciples, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Paul observed, "But God commendeth [demonstrated] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). The apostle John reminds us, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11).

     To reveal God. It seems ironic that Christ would have to empty himself of his original glory to reveal his glory, but that is apparently what happened. John twice recorded that Christ revealed the Father (John 1:14, 18; 14:7-11). If Jesus had not emptied himself, sinful man would not have been able to understand and witness that revelation. Jesus knew men could only understand so much. So God had to empty himself to become a man, so man might better understand God.

     God reveals himself to us progressively. As we grow in our Christian lives, we grow in our understanding of the Bible and learn increasingly more about the God who loves us. Jesus recognized this principle when he emptied himself to reveal God.

     Salvation. Jesus emptied himself to provide for our salvation. It was through one man the world was lost, so through one man the world would be saved. Paul explained this relationship between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21.

ROMANS 5:12-21
Adam Christ
Sin entered upon all Salvation provided for all
Death for all Eternal life for all
Sin nature New nature
Disobedience Obedience
Sin abounded Grace abounded
Imputed sin Imputed righteousness

     Example. Jesus emptied himself to demonstrate an example of how we ought to behave in our relationship with others. If you examine the context of the giving of the kenosis, it teaches the believers humility because of Christ's humility.

     The Philippians were told to "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). They were told to solve their social problems by following his example. Paul told the men in Ephesus to "love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). Many times conflicts arise among Christians because an individual stands up for what he believes is rightfully his. Jesus was willing to empty himself of that which was rightfully his in order to accomplish the will of God in a more important matter.


     C. T. Studd was a wealthy young man who had declared himself an atheist. When he studied the life of Christ, he came to the realization that Jesus was God. C. T. Studd trusted Christ as his personal Savior. He left his inheritance to serve as a missionary to China and later Africa, giving birth to one of the world's largest independent faith missions. The motto which ruled his life was, "If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to give for Him."

     As we consider the glory that Jesus left to come to earth and his willingness to empty himself of his rightful position, we are left wondering if there is anything so important in our lives that could not be set aside to serve him.


     Monday: Philippians 2:1-11

     Tuesday: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

     Wednesday: Hebrews 2:9-18

     Thursday: John 17:1-13

     Friday: John 4:5-26

     Saturday: Mark 13:24-37

     Sunday: Matthew 17:1-13

Taken from: What The Faith Is All About by Elmer Towns