Pastor David B. Curtis


The Kenosis

Philippians 2:5-8

Delivered 10/18/1998

We are studying verses 5-8, of Philippians 2. These verses are rich in doctrine. They teach us about the Lord Jesus Christ and His humiliation. Last week dealt with the category of the hypostatic union. Today we will begin to look at the doctrine of the Kenosis.

We looked last week at the doctrine of the Incarnation-- God took on flesh and became a man. We also looked at the doctrine of the Hypostatic union -- which is the doctrine of the personal union of the two natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is undiminished Deity and true humanity in one person forever. Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man. He is the Theonthropic person, one person with two natures.

1 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,

A "mediator" is one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship. Jesus Christ brings man and God together. Being man, He can make atonement for man. Being God, His death has infinite value. Jesus Christ is the unique person of the universe.

Are you having trouble understanding the doctrine of the Hypostatic union? You're not alone. Daniel Webster, the 19th-century statesman, once dined in Boston with several eminent literary figures. Soon the conversation turned to Christianity. Webster, a convinced Christian, confessed his belief in Christ and His atoning work. A Unitarian minister at the table responded, "Mr. Webster, can you comprehend how Jesus Christ could be both God and Man?"

"No, sir, I cannot understand it," replied Webster, "and I would be ashamed to acknowledge Christ as my Saviour if I could comprehend it. He could be no greater than myself, and such is my conviction of accountability to God, my sense of sinfulness before Him, and my knowledge of my own incapacity to recover myself, that I feel I need a superhuman Saviour."

Martin Luther was forced to admit that the union could not be explained. "Reason cannot comprehend this. But we believer it; and this is also the testimony of Scripture: that Christ is true God and that He also became a man."

The Christian should not be troubled by the presence of mystery in his faith. Wherever God and man meet, there is mystery. We should accept the doctrine of the unique God-man in the same way that we accept the Trinity-- by faith in God's Word, the Bible.

The most basic form of Bible doctrine is Christology. If you are going to mature as a Christian, you must know this. You can't love Christ if you don't know Him.

This passage in Philippians (verses 5-8) arises out of a practical problem (disunity), but notice that solution to the practical problem does not rest with a psychologist or a psychiatrist but with theology. Paul, in order to solve the difficulties in the church at Philippi, turns their minds to theology. The context of this great theological passage must not be missed, it has a practical aim. Look at verse 12:

Philippians 2:12 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

He urges them to unity, he points them to Jesus Christ and what He has done in His self-humiliation, and then says in light of this, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

C.S. Lewis, in his book, "Miracles" in the chapter: "The Grand Miracle", draws some analogies to the incarnation-- God becoming man. He says, "In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, down to the very roots and sea-bed of the nature He had created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass-swaying on his shoulders. Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too." That is a good picture of the Kenosis.

Philippians 2:5 (NKJV) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

The word "mind" here is phroneo which means: "to think," it is used in verse 2 of the Divine viewpoint. It speaks of attitude. A translation might be, "This be ye constantly thinking in you which also was in Christ Jesus." The position of the pronoun "this" is emphatic and shows that the exhortation reaches back to 2:2-4 for its definition. While the pronoun "who" in verse 6 connects the exhortation with the illustration in verses 6-8. Christ is our model.

The act of the incarnation in which God became a man, the humble circumstances and suffering of Christ in life, and the supreme act of dying on the cross established Jesus Christ as the greatest illustration of one completely unselfish and entirely devoted to others. We are to have Christ's attitude.

Philippians 2:6 (NKJV) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,

This verse answers the question, "What was Christ like before his incarnation?" Two Greek words answer this question, "being" and "form."

The word "being" is the Greek word huparcho, this is not the commonest word for "being" in the Greek, that would be the verb "ame," but it is a verb that stresses the essence of a person's nature, it is to express the continued state of a thing, it is unalterable and unchangeable. Paul said, "Jesus Christ unalterably and unchangeably exists in the form of God." This speaks of his pre-existence.

The word "form" is morphe. It has nothing to do with shape or size.

John 4:24 (NKJV) "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Luke 24:39 (NKJV) "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."

God is not to be thought of in human terms. Multin and Milligan say that "morphe" is a form which truly and fully expresses the being which under lies it. It refers to the essence or essential being. Jesus Christ per-existed in the essence of God.

Let's compare two Greek words for form. Morphe is the essential character of something. Schema is the outward form it takes. Morphe is the essential form which never alters; schema is the outward form which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance.

The morphe of any human being is humanity and this never changes; but his schema is continually changing. I was a baby, a child, a boy, a youth, a teenager, an adult and someday I will be an old man. My morphe is manhood, my schema changes. Roses, daffodils, tulips, primroses, all have one morphe of flowers, but there schema is different.

Philippians 2:8 (NKJV) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

The word "appearance" used here is schema.

When Paul uses hupareco; being, and morphe; form he is saying something very specific; he is saying that Jesus Christ has always existed in the unchangeable essence of the being of God. Jesus Christ is God and always was. This is the heart and soul of the Christian faith-- Jesus Christ is God.

Let's look at the doctrine of the deity of Christ -- Jesus Christ is eternal God, as part of the Trinity, He always existed, He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Let me give you a syllogism. A syllogism is a logical formula consisting of a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion.

Major Premise: The Trinity is eternal

Genesis 1:1 (NKJV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The Hebrew word used for "God" is elohiym. It is plural.

Minor Premise: Jesus Christ is a member of the Trinity

2 Corinthians 13:14 (NKJV) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Conclusion: Jesus Christ is eternal.

Major Premise: The Trinity is God

Deuteronomy 6:4 (NKJV) "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

The Hebrew word for "LORD" is Yehovah. And the Hebrew word for "God" is 'elohiym.

Minor Premise: Jesus Christ is a member of the Trinity.

Conclusion: Jesus Christ is God.

Sadly, syllogisms have disappeared from out society along with thinking.

Let's look at some of the Scriptural evidence of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. You need to know these Scriptures so that you can defend the deity of Christ.

Micah 5:2 (NKJV) "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."

This one who is to be born in Bethlehem is eternal. The only person that is eternal is God. Jesus Christ is eternal God.

John 1:1-3 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

"The beginning" is before all beginnings, prior to the beginning of Genesis 1:1. The phrase could be rendered "from all eternity." John, in this verse, establishes the preexistence of Christ in eternity past. He already "was" when the beginning took place. If we drop down to verse 14, we can see very clearly who the Word is:

John 1:14 (NKJV) And the Word became 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.

Make a mental note here on the word "glory," we'll talk about it later. He kind of defines g lory here as grace and truth, two attributes of God. We'll come back to this.

John 8:58 (NKJV) Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."

Jesus made this staggering statement using the "Tetragramatin," which is the Old Testament sacred name for God. Jesus is saying that He, a man, pre-existed the patriarch Abraham, who lived 2,000 years earlier.

Exodus 3:14 (NKJV) And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." .....

This is referring to absolute existence. By doing so, Jesus Christ claimed an existence that was timeless. There never was a time when Jesus Christ was not. He knows no past nor future. The Jews at the feast well knew that Jesus claimed to be eternal God, look at their response:

John 8:59 (NKJV) Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

His enemies knew that He claimed to be God. There are many today who claim to be Christians who don't even know what Jesus's enemies knew-- He claimed to be God.

John 5:18 (NKJV) Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

You ask a J.W., you ask a Mormon, "Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?" They will say, "Yes." They don't understand that the biblical designation "son" means equality. If you ask them if Jesus Christ is God of very God, they will say, "NO."

John 10:33 (NKJV) The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."

This is the corner stone of Christianity-- Jesus Christ is God.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NKJV) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

The word "firstborn" is the Greek word prototokos which means: "priority of position," and not origin or time. An English example of this would be the "First Lady." Someone may be first in position without reference to origin or time. The word "image" is eikon which means: "representation or resemblance." Jesus Christ represents the invisible God.

We see in verse 16 that Jesus Christ has the power of creation, a power that only God has. Verse 17 tells us that it is by Jesus Christ that all things consist or are held together.

Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons deny the deity of Christ, and because of that they have no Savior. Doubting Thomas called Jesus, "My Lord, and my God." The separating line between the saved and the damned is what do they think of Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is God.

Throughout the Bible we see appearances of Christ.

Theophany-- appearance of Christ before the incarnation.

Incarnation-- God became man at Jesus birth.

Christophany-- appearances of Christ after the resurrection.

Whenever we find the Shekinah glory in the Old Testament, the Lord Christ was there. The shekinah glory is a Theophany. At the time of Daniel, for example, three young men were thrown by Nebuchadnezzar into a roaring furnace. In the midst of the glowing fire, a fourth man was seen, whose appearance was like that of the Son of God (Dan. 3:24-25), this was a Theophany.

Back still further in the Old Testament history, during the conquest of Canaan, Joshua encountered a man with a drawn sword in his hand. The Bible identifies the stranger as the Captain of the Lord's host-- likely an appearance of the Son of God in human form (Josh. 5:13-15). Earlier still, during Israel's wilderness wanderings, God provided water through the rock smitten by Moses (Ex. 17:6). Inspired by the Spirit, Paul claimed that "the rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4) Back in Abraham's day three men appeared at the door of the patriarch's tent, one of whom may have been the pre-incarnate Word. (Gen. 18:2ff.). Christ is always the visible member of the Trinity. He is the image of the invisibly God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the representation of the invisible God. Whether it be the Shekinah glory cloud, burning bush, or the angel of the Lord, it is a Theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ.

John 1:18 (NKJV) No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

The Lord Jesus Christ manifests God that the world may see Him.

So, verse 6 of Philippians 2 teaches us that Jesus Christ is God. This is where the incarnation begins, this is the point from which He descends, God becomes man.

Verse 6 says that Christ, "did not consider it robbery to be equal with God." This is a very confusing translation. Let's try to break it down so we can understand it. The word "robbery" is from the Greek word harpogmos which means: "to take by force, to seize." It is used only here in the Scriptures. The noun refers to: "taking an attitude of seizing something."

Our Lord did not consider the expression of His Divine essence such a treasure that it should be retained at all costs. He was willing to wave His rights to the expression of His Deity.

Let me give you a Curtis paraphrase of verse 6, "Who always being the exact essence of the eternal God, did not consider equality with God as something that must be demonstrated."

The word "equal" is isos and it means: "exactly the same, in size, quality, quantity, character and number." We use it this way in English, for example: Isomer-- is a chemical molecule having a slightly different structure from another molecule but being identical with it in terms of its chemical elements and weight. Its schema may be different but its morphe is the same. Isomorph -- is having the same form. Isometric -- is equal in number. Isosceles triangle -- is one with two equal sides .

He is saying that Jesus Christ is exactly equal with God. Is God omniscient? Then so is Jesus Christ. Is God omnipresent? Then so is Jesus Christ. Is God omnipotent? Then so is Jesus Christ. Is God the creator? Then so is Jesus Christ. Is God the beginning and end? Then so is Jesus Christ. But He did not consider His equality with God as a prize that had to be hung on to. He is equal with God in every way, but while he walked the earth he didn't look equal to God, he looked just like a man.

Pride says, "I want you to know who I am." Humility says, "My rights to express who I am are not important." We see these in a contrast between the first and last Adam.

The first Adam -- senselessly sought to grasp at equality with God, and through pride and disobedience lost the glorious image of his maker. The Second Adam-- Christ enjoyed true equality with God but refused to derive any advantage from it. He humbled Himself and became obedient and God highly exalted Him. Which Adam are you patterning your life after?

This is where it starts-- humility begins with an attitude of willingness to lay aside our "rights." We talk a lot about our rights but you don't hear many people talking about their responsibilities. Do you know what causes disunity and conflict? Two people concerned about their own rights.

Jesus Christ didn't grasp or clutch or cling to His rights. But as verse 7 says, "He emptied Himself." Jesus Christ did not regard equality with God a gain to be seized.

Philippians 2:7-8 (NKJV) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

In verses 7 and 8, we see the Humiliation of Christ. In these verses we see seven steps downward from Glory to the cross.

Step 1. " but made Himself of no reputation" The word "but" here is a contrastive--"not this but this." The word "reputation" is the Greek word kenoo, it means: "to make empty." Figuratively, it means: "to abase, naturalize, to make of none effect, of no reputation."

Doctrine of the Kenosis --the self emptying of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus empty Himself of? Let me give you some false Kenotic theories. William Barclay says, "He emptied Himself of His deity to take upon Himself His humanity." What do you see wrong with that? If He emptied Himself of deity how could he say:

John 8:58 (NKJV) Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."

Men are not eternal, only God is. All men are mortal. If He emptied Himself of deity, He would cease to exist and so would you:

Colossians 1:17 (NKJV) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

He didn't exchange His deity for humanity. The doctrine of the hypostatic union teaches us that Jesus Christ had two natures, human and divine in one person. Jesus Christ was the Theanthropic person, the God-man. That's why we studied the hypostatic union last week.

Some say He laid aside some or all of His divine attributes. They appeal to:

2 Corinthians 8:9 (NKJV) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

But this doesn't teach that He laid aside His attributes.

They also appeal to:

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

Does this show that He laid aside some or all of the attributes of deity? If He doesn't know something, how can it be said that He is God-- God is omniscient.

The ignorance is in His human nature not his divine nature. In His human nature, He learned as he went along, He learned obedience, He grew in wisdom:

Luke 2:52 (NKJV) And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Let me give you four reasons why Jesus could not lay aside some or all of His attributes.

1. This would be incarnation by Divine suicide. It's impossible to surrender an attribute without changing the character of the essence to which it belongs. To rob God of any attribute would be to destroy His Deity. During the incarnation Jesus Christ was God without any change in His deity. The hypostatic union is undiminished deity and true humanity in one person forever.

2. This would be an annulment of the Trinity -- no more "Son." The Trinity is eternal and cannot become the "Duo."

3. This would be a denial of one of His attributes -- Immutability. This is one of my favorite attributes of God.

Malachi 3:6 (NKJV) "For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
James 1:17 (NKJV) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

If the Lord Jesus Christ laid down some or all of His attributes, then we cannot say that God is immutable, He can change.

But God cannot change, because a change is either from better to worse or worse to better. So we cannot have an eternal God and a God who changes. We must have immutability because all the promises of God depend upon divine immutability.

Our whole saving experience depends upon the fact that He is immutable. He has never changed and He will never change in the future. Therefore, the promises of eternal life are valid forever. If He ever loved me, He loved me forever!

4. It annuls the atoning work of Christ. If He was not God, He loses His saving power. The death of our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for the sins of all men because the person who laid down his life had infinite value before God.

What then did He empty Himself of?

John 17:5 (NKJV) "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

He is asking to have His glory restored because His glory was put aside when He became man. The Greek noun for "glory" here is doxa. At first the verb meant: "to appear" or "to seem," and then in time the noun doxa, that came from it, then meant: "an opinion." In time the noun was used only for having a good opinion about some person and the verb came to mean: "the praise" or "honor" due to one of whom a good opinion was held.

If a man had a right opinion about God, this meant that he was able to form a correct opinion of God's attributes. The orthodox Jew knew God as all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present, merciful, faithful, holy, just, loving and so on with all His other perfections. When he acknowledged this, he was said to give glory to God. God's glory consisted of His intrinsic worth embedded in His character, and all that could be known of God was merely an expression of it.

Our word "worth" is somewhat equal to the word "glory." The worth refers to intrinsic character. The worth of a man is his character. Have you ever heard someone say, "That person is worthless." By this they mean he has no character. The worth of God is God's glory. When we praise God, we are acknowledging His worth-ship. We shorten that word and we get worship. That is what worship is, folks, it's acknowledging God's worth.

There is another and entirely different meaning of the word "glory" which is: "light or splendor." In Hebrew, thought and outward manifestation of God's presence involved a display of light. This brilliant outward manifestation of God's presence was described by the word shekinah, and in the Greek Old Testament the word "doxa" is often used to translate it.

Put these two meanings of the word glory together and you have a clear picture of Christ's oneness with God and of the humbling of Himself that went with the kenosis. When He became a man, He laid aside the brilliant manifestation of His glory, except for one brief moment on the mount of Transfiguration. Secondly, he veiled his glory in the sense that He did not demonstrate His attributes. He did not walk this earth in the power of deity, He walked this earth in the power of the Holy Spirit in total dependance.

Jesus Christ shared to the full the Divine nature, and He was clothed with splendor that had always surrounded God's person. During the incarnation, Jesus laid aside the outward glory:

John 10:33 (NKJV) The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God."

Laying aside His glory involved the surrender of the voluntary use of the divine attributes, He laid aside the prerogatives of His deity.

Christ veiled His pre-incarnate glory by taking on humanity, but He did not destroy or diminish any part of it.

From His own will, Jesus Christ did not use His attributes to benefit Himself. They were not surrendered, but voluntarily restricted in keeping with the Father's plan. Christ gave up any independent exercise of certain divine attributes in living among men with their human limitations, that He might become truly man. Dependance is a necessary characteristic or real humanity. Christ lived in dependance upon the Holy Spirit in all that He did:

Matthew 12:28 (NKJV) "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Luke 4:14 (NKJV) Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.

In Matthew 4, the temptations of Christ were related to His deity and the kenosis. His humanity longed for what His deity could have provided. He did not exercise the prerogatives of His deity but was dependant upon the Father.

Impeccability -- Jesus Christ was not liable to sin, exempt from the possibility of doing wrong. Christ was tempted as to His person:

Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He was tempted more that any person on earth. The human nature of Christ is temptable and peccable but combined in hypostatic union with the divine nature, He is temptable but impeccable.

Illustration: If a man in a row boat attacks an Aircraft carrier, is it really an attack? Yes. Does he have a chance of defeating the carrier? No!

Can you bend a coat hanger? Sure. If I took the same coat hanger and welded it to a steel I beam, could you still bend it. NO!

If Jesus Christ did indeed divest himself of the exercise of the divine nature and lived among men in real dependence upon his Father and found his strength and wisdom in a pure humanity empowered by the Holy Spirit, then we can understand that his prayers were real prayers, his decisions were real decisions, his actions and reactions were genuinely human, and he is indeed our example in all things.

Philippians 2:7 (NKJV) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

"Made himself of no reputation." -- reputation is estimation in which a person or thing is commonly held. It seems so many Christians spend their whole life trying to build a reputation-- we promote ourselves, we display and talk about attributes. We hang on and fight for our rights. But Christ, who is our example, emptied himself to minister to others.

1 John 2:6 (NKJV) He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

Are you abiding in Christ? Are you living in humility?

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