The Kenosis (divine emptying) of Jesus Christ

Willmington's Guide to the Bible

Perhaps the most profound theological passage in the entire Bible is found in Philippians 2:5-11.

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 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: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5-11).

These verses impart the following information:

A. He left heaven’s glory (Jn. 17:5; 2 Cor. 8:9).

B. He made himself of no reputation. The Greek word here in Philippians 2:7 is kenoo and means "to empty." Just what did Christ empty himself of?

1. Negative—he did not lay aside, in any sense of the word, his deity. He was, is, and ever shall be the total Son of God. (See Jn. 1:1; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; 2:9; Heb. 1:3).

2. Positive—he did, for awhile, hide his heavenly fame in an earthly frame. Even though he retained every single attribute of deity while on earth, he did, nevertheless, surrender the independent exercise of those divine characteristics.

There is a common false view of the kenosis which teaches that he emptied himself of his relative attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence), while retaining his immanent attributes (his holiness, love, and truth). But this is in error. He did, it is true, abstain for awhile from using some of these relative attributes, but he never gave them up.

a. He abstained from his omnipresence for a period. "Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him" (Jn. 11:14, 15).

b. He abstained from his omniscience for a period. "And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me" (Lk. 8:45, 46).

"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mk. 13:32).

c. He abstained from his omnipotence for a period. "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. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (Jn. 5:19, 20).

Two phrases found in Philippians 2 need to be examined at this point.

The form of God: This does not mean that Christ had a physical shape prior to the incarnation. It refers to that inner, essential, and abiding nature of a person or thing. As an example, we might say, "The tennis player was in rare form today."

Robbery to be equal with God: That is, he did not hold or consider the outer manifestation of his deity in heaven as a treasure to be grasped and retained at all costs. Christ in his incarnation did not concern himself with retaining all this.

C. He was made in the likeness of men (See Jn. 1:14; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14, 17). This simple but absolutely staggering fact cannot be even remotely grasped by human minds. The infinite holy Creator suddenly becomes in the likeness of his finite and sinful creatures (yet without sin). It is as if a mighty and magnificent earthly king would determine to lay aside for awhile his storehouse of wealth, and, leaving behind an adoring and amazed court, take upon himself the body of a lowly ant. The "Son of man" was, by the way, our Lord’s favorite name for himself while on earth. He took upon himself the form of a servant. He did not come as a mighty human Caesar or some world-renowned human philosopher. Even this would have been a condescension of colossal proportions. He came, rather, as a lowly servant. J. Vernon McGee writes:

"He could have been born in the palace in Rome. He could have been born a Caesar. But God had already promised He would be in the line of David.…Have you ever noticed what Isaiah said concerning Him:

‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots’ (Isa. 11:1).

For years that bothered me. I felt like saying, ‘Isaiah, you should have said out of the stem of David.’ I think if Isaiah could have spoken to me, he would have said, ‘Oh, how you fellows miss it. The stem comes out of Jesse!’ When Jesus was born, Israel was under the heel of Rome; the royal line of David was no longer on the throne, but had returned to peasantry. You see, Jesse, the father of King David, was a peasant, a farmer in Bethlehem. And when Jesus was born, the royal line was again in the peasant class. Jesus was born into a poor family. Though He was the Son of David, the stem came out of Jesse. He took upon Himself the form of a servant" (Probing Through Philippians, p. 36).

D. He humbled himself. That is, he submitted to authority.

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Pet. 2:21-24).

He agreed to talk our language, to wear our clothes, to eat our food, to breathe our air, and to endure our vile and vicious treatment. Contrast his statement in the garden with Lucifer’s statement.

"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. He went away the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done" (Mt. 26:39, 42).

"For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14:13, 14).

E. He became obedient unto death (see Mt. 26:39; Jn. 10:18; Heb. 5:8; 12:2).

F. He died on a cross. He did not just die, but suffered the worst kind of death both physically and judicially. (See Ps. 22; Isa. 53; Gal. 3:13.)

We have examined the humiliation of Christ, and now lets us notice his exaltation.

G. He has been highly exalted by the Father himself.

"Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high" (Isa. 52:13).

"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee" (Jn. 17:1).

"Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:33).

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).

H. He has been given a name (position and place of authority) above all other names (Eph. 1:20, 21; Heb. 1:4).

I. He will be universally acknowledged as Lord of all.

1. The methods of this acknowledgment: By the bowing of the knee and the confession of the tongue.

2. The creatures of this acknowledgment:

a. Those in heaven: the world of angels.

b. Those on earth: the world of saints and sinners.

c. Those under the earth: the world of demons. (See Isa. 45:23; Rom. 10:9, 10; Rev. 5:13; 7:9-12; 14:6, 7).

Note: To confess him in this life as Lord means salvation, but to wait until the next life will result in damnation. Thus, the supreme question is not when a human being will do this, but rather where.

Taken from: Willmington's Guide to the Bible  1981, 1984 by H. L. Willmington.