"Jesus emptied Himself of His glory, taking the nature of a bondservant, and came in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7).
There is a growing belief in the Church that Jesus completely emptied Himself of His divinity and/or attributes in order to become human so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for all humanity and that He attributed all of His works and doctrines to the Father.
Some proponents will agree that Jesus was God in the flesh, but that He ministered only as 100% fully human to redeem fallen humanity because that is the only way He could be the perfect sacrifice for them. They believe that Jesus laid aside His divine power, giving up the advantage of deity and taking on the form of a human being with all its limitations. Jesus, it is said, had no innate supernatural powers, and He ministered as a man anointed by the Holy Spirit and not as God incarnate.
Others believe that Jesus had no power to do miracles until He received the Holy Spirit in all His fullness when He was baptized without measure, and then operated by faith alone. Then, at His death, He took back His divinity in Hell after becoming born-again (John 2:11, 3:34, 8:28, also see Isa 11:1-2, 42:1-7, 61:1-2; Luke 3:21-22; Acts 10:38).
These beliefs are variations of what is known as the "kenosis theory," which started just before the turn of the twentieth century. It posits that Jesus was not fully divine when He walked on earth in a state of diminished deity, where He gave up His divine attributes and knowledge of matters of fact, yet retained full divine infallibility on moral issues. In other words, the "kenosis theory" enables people to view the teachings of Jesus as human but not divine.
The primary justifications for the kenosis theory are as follows:
- When Jesus was unable to heal a blind man initially, it is proof that He did not have His divine attributes but need to rely exclusively on the Holy Spirit (see Mark 8:22-26).
The supernatural healing was in two-stages. It was commonly believed in the ancient world that saliva had curative properties, so Jesus began with a symbolic act that provided the man a point of contact with the promised Messiah. He “asked,” “Do you see anything?” The verb “asked” is in the imperfect tense, suggesting a process and indicating Jesus did in fact, know that the recovery of sight at this stage would initially be only partial. The man responded that he was able to see dimly; he could barely distinguish men from trees, except that the former were walking about. Then, Jesus laid His hands upon the person and touched his eyes. At that moment, his sight was fully restored. Jesus has complete and total control of the circumstances (Mark 8:22-26).
- Another example given to support Jesus was only human while on earth is when, while visiting His hometown, “He could not do any miracles there.”
Jesus did perform miracles there, and laid “his hands on a few sick people” and healed “them” in spite of their profound “lack of faith” (Mark 6:4-6).
- It is also said that Jesus did not know who “touched” Him, which shows that He did not have use of the divine attribute of omniscience (see Mark 5:30).
It is clear from the context, and previous healing miracles, that Jesus didn’t ask the question to obtain information but because He wanted the woman who had been healed to provide a witness of both her faith and her healing to the crowds around her, which she clearly did.
- As previously shown, the final example is the baptism of Jesus at the river. It is surmised that Jesus did not have the filling of Holy Spirit and anointing to use the nine supernatural gifts of the Spirit until the ‘Dove: descended on Him and the Father said “This is My beloved Son in who, I am well pleased” (Matt 3:16-17 KJV; see also 1 Cor 12-14).
Indeed, the Bible does not speak definitively about this; however, it seems somewhat illogical, confusing, and intellectually incongruent that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, yet the Creator of John the Baptist had to wait 30 years before He was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Hypostatic Union
The historical doctrine of the ‘kenosis,’ known as the Hypostatic Union, is to be differentiated from the "kenosis theory." The doctrine of the kenosis deals with the whole question of the meaning of the Greek word that is translated "emptied" (Phil 2:7 NASB).
The words “He emptied Himself” in Philippian’s 2:7 comes from the Greek word ‘ekenose,’ and its root word ‘kenoo,’ which can mean "to empty" (Phil 4:7.) The Greek word “ekenose” has also been translated as “He made himself of no reputation," ‘made void,” “none effect,” “to be in vain” (see Rom 4:14; 1 Cor 1:17, 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3). All of these references refer to abstract principles, such as faith, preaching, or boasting, and none of them refer to a person, or even to an object. The use of the word “ekenose” is unique.
The Hypostatic Union is the merging of the divine nature of the infinite God with human nature through the incarnation where the two natures found in Jesus were inseparably united in such a way that there was no mixture or loss of their separate identity, and without loss or transfer of any property or attribute from one nature to the other. His human nature always remains human, and His divine nature always remains divine.
The Hypostatic Union is the greatest paradoxical mystery of the cosmos that the Creator of all things emptied Himself by taking the nature or form of a servant and slave. It must be accepted by faith (1 Tim 3:16). Jesus fully experienced human life and maintained His humanity while remaining the eternal Creator God without losing, or being without, any of His divine personality or attributes. He embodied His deity and divine qualities while choosing to set aside His divine attributes as His primary method of ministry, and was never without them.
The Humiliation of God at the Incarnation
Jesus agreed in eternity past with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, to be sent to earth on a mission to fulfill what would require His humiliation. To experience life as a human, Jesus limited the free use of His divine powers or prerogatives and chose not to reveal His divine glory while on earth (Matt 17:1-5). He decided to primarily depend on the Holy Spirit to empower Him to fulfill it and function in His ministry.
The term ‘humiliation’ refers to Jesus choosing to give up the outer appearance of God to take upon Himself human flesh and veiling His pre-incarnate glory. He came to earth 100% God, and as 100% human, was subject to temptation (Heb 4:15). As both God and man, His divine will was not subject to temptation and did not sin (1 John 3:5; 2 Cor 5:21; James 1:1). In His humanity, Jesus voluntarily agreed to submit Himself to the sufferings and limitations associated with His life on earth, including His death on the Cross (Phil 2:6-11; Jn.1:1-14; Rom 1:25; 9:5; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb.2:14; 1 Jn.1:13).
There are three phases of His existence which include the following:
1. His eternal preexistence as God, the Son (Jn.1:1,14; 8:58; 17:5; Phil.2:6; Col.1:16,17; Rev.1:8).
2. His humiliation as the God-Man, extending from His birth to His death (Heb.5:7).
3. His exaltation via resurrection and ascension as the glorified God-Man into the eternal future (1 Thess 4:17; 1 Tim 6:14-16).
The Bible says that the Holy Spirit, who is “wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge,” would “rest on” Jesus at birth (Isa 11:1-2). The Hebrew sense of the word “rest” has the idea of completed action. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and the power of the Highest overshadowed/filled her, which is why the angel Gabriel calls Jesus a “holy thing.”
The Bible tells us that during His childhood, Jesus continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40). The sense of the verse conveys that Jesus was filled with God’s presence (Holy Spirit) from the time He was born.
Jesus manifested the presence of God all through His human life from the moment He was placed into the womb of Mary. It demonstrates the infinite union between the three distinct persons of God. Jesus was clearly aware of His calling and ministry and was already busy with the Fathers work as a 12-year-old boy teaching the teachers of the law in the Temple with great wisdom and authority (John 14:26; also Luke 2:40, 47-49; Acts 1:8, 4:13, 6:3,10; 1 Cor 12:8; Eph 1:17).
The Baptism of Jesus
Jesus chose to be baptized even though He had no sins to wash away because He was completely holy, as 100% God incarnated as a person. Jesus tells John that it is nevertheless God's will for Him to be baptized "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt 3:15).
John the Baptist somewhat resisted baptizing Jesus because he knew who He was. Jesus insisted that John should baptize Him as others would be baptized because it was the public revealing that He was the promised Messiah, and to show those who would follow Him, that baptism follows receiving the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation when the Christian life begins.
At that moment of Baptism, Jesus ceremonially received the Holy Spirit of God as the sign He was the promised Messiah, but Jesus already had full access to the Holy Spirit of God well before His baptism. Jesus fulfilled the baptism law that God had established in the Torah and symbolically portraying His role as the promised Messiah and Savior of the world as a sign to people of His identity before beginning His public ministry on earth. Jesus assumed His office and function as the Messiah, the king of Israel, as well as the offices of prophet and priest (see Heb. 5:5-6). The role of the Holy Spirit (aka the spirit of Jesus) is to glorify and confirm Jesus as Messiah to His people (John 16:12-14).
Jesus is spoken of as being led and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1-18). From His baptism forward, He lives His life openly in the power of the Holy Spirit, yet was always 100% fully God. Even after His resurrection, He continued to minister by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:2).
It was not the divinity of Jesus that was anointed by the Holy Spirit because He was already anointed with full divinity, but because He willingly chose become human and make the choice to veil His divine Glory and, at times, His attributes.
Jesus chose to primarily rely on the power of the Holy Spirit as 100% fully human and to equip Him with supernatural power for His ministry on earth (Matt. 12:28, 24:36; Luke 4:18; Acts 1:2, 4:27, 10:38). Jesus also chose to be directed by the agenda of the Father, and not His own. (John 5:19-20,30; 8:26-29,42; 14:10,24).
The Father has always been in Jesus, and Jesus has always been in the Father (Jn 10:30, 14:20). The Holy Spirit, also known as the “spirit of Christ/Jesus,” has always been in the Triune Godhead because they are one and the same, yet three distinct persons who have been, and will always be, together throughout eternity (Acts 16:7; Rom 8:9; 1 Pet 1:11; Phil 1:19). Those facts have never changed and never will. This mystery is beyond human comprehension and understanding to comprehend.
The Unchangeable Divinity and Attributes of God
Jesus was, is, and always will be God. He created everything in the universe. Because He is love, with great, joyous delight by His grace, He willingly chose to come to earth and 'operated' as 100% fully God and 100% fully human with a rational human soul and spirit so that He could suffer pain, thirst, hunger, fatigue, pleasure, rest and dying an excruciating death to forgive all sin, defeat death, and the enemy, once and for all - for every human being and then rise as the ultimate victor in the resurrection! (Matt 26:38; John 13:21)
As 100% human, Jesus was subject to real temptation (Heb 4:15). As 100% fully God, His divine will was not subject to temptation (James 1:1). Jesus remained sinless and had no sin nature (1 Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 5:21). There is no passage in Scripture which declares that He could not sin, only that He did not sin.
While on earth, Jesus never requested of the Father for the return of His glory, or divine power, or attributes because He still retained them and demonstrated His abilities often as a vindication of His messiahship and proof of His authority (Mk 2:1-12). When Jesus said ". . . My Father has been working until now, and I have been working," we are given a clue that He did many of His works "in His own right," though they were always following the will of the Father (John 5:17; see also John 17). However, He did willingly restrict the use of them because of choosing to live as a human being and under their limitations. His poverty did not consist as much in what He gave up (for He still retained title to it) as in what He took on our nature and the sins of the world (2 Cor 5:21, 8:9).
Jesus did not surrender His attributes of deity but voluntarily restrained their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among human beings and under their limitations. Even though He chose to set aside and not exercise His divine attributes as His primary method of ministry, they were clearly displayed in His miracles that demonstrated He possessed the power of life and death.
Jesus exercised dominion over natural phenomena, disease, and demonic forces. At one time, He lifted the veil of His human body and let His three closest disciples see Him as He truly was (Matt 17:2). His humiliation was not about giving up things or being without something but that He took on human nature and, ultimately the sins of the world (2 Cor 5:21, 8:9). Numerous times Jesus revealed His divine attributes which no supernatural gift given to the Born-Again Christian allows for:
1. Omniscience (John 11:11-14 (John 2:24-25, 6:64, 70-71)
2. Omnipotence (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 7:14; John 10:17-18, 5:21-23, 10:17-18, 11:43-44, 18:4-6)
3. Omnipresence (Matt 18:20, John 1:48, 3:13)
4. Providence (Heb 1:1-3; Col 1:17)
5. Sovereignty (Matt 11:27; Mark 2:28; John 3:35, 17:2)
Setting the Example for All to Follow
Jesus emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant and was the example for the life of the saints in Philippi (as well as every Born-Again Christian) who were implored to be self-sacrificing, esteeming all others more highly as themselves as they live their life just as Jesus did through His incarnation (Phil 2:1-5). The Philippians were not being told to lay aside, discard, or disregard their natural abilities and talents, (attributes and powers), but to submit themselves to the will of God and the good of the whole Church.
The Bible says Jesus "made himself of no reputation," or "emptied himself" (Phil 2:5-8). The word for “emptied” in the original Greek is ‘ekenosen,’ and comes from the root word ‘kenoo,’ which can mean "to empty." It is also translated as “made void” (Rom 4:14), “none effect” (1 Cor 1:17), "make void” (1 Cor 9:15), and “to be in vain” (2 Cor 9:3). These references all refer to abstract principles, such as faith, preaching, or boasting, but none of them refer to a person, or even to an object. The use of the word in the verse is unique.
Jesus did not have to lay aside or give up some, several, or all His divine powers and attributes of God, and live as a mere man, to assume the form of a servant and become incarnate. He was in the form (Gk: ‘morphe’ - an outward expression of an inward reality) of God, and did not consider this Glory, this expression of equality with the Father something to be grasped, or held on to (see John 17:1-5, 24). The plain sense of Scripture is that the self-emptying of Jesus was of the outward glory and majesty of Godhood and that He accomplished that action by taking the form of a servant.
Nothing in this passage teaches that the Eternal Word (John 1:1) set aside or emptied Himself of either His divine nature or His attributes, but only the outward and visible manifestation of the Godhead." Jesus didn’t lay aside or give up anything, but He added something - He took humanity to Himself. And, as previously pointed out when the occasion demanded, He exercised His divine attributes.
He gave up the external glories of His riches, but He didn’t give up ownership of His divine attributes or the use of them. He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, and exercised dominion over natural phenomena, disease, and demonic forces. His poverty did not consist as much in what He gave up (for He still retained title to it) as in what He took on - our human nature.
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor 5:21)
When talking with the Father Jesus asked for the return of His Glory, but He never mentions the return of His power or attributes--because He still retained them and used them as needed because He was one with the Father and Holy Spirit before, during, and after His time on earth.
As the Bible points out, the "kenosis" of Jesus tells every Born-Again Christian that they are not exempt from being a servant of all. Jesus taught that the way to greatness was through service and self-sacrifice (Mark 10:42-45; see also John 13). The Bible reveals that real success is measured in terms of how much a person has given up and how many people they are willing to serve (See Matt 5:3-9).
Every Born-Again Christian is to imitate the attitude of Jesus at His incarnation by being both a servant to God and a servant to their fellow human beings by placing the best interests of others ahead of their self-interests (Phil. 2:3,7-9). Just as Jesus did in His humanity, God expects every Born-Again Christian to depend on the Holy Spirit for the power in their lives. The whole purpose of seeking after the filling of the Holy Spirit daily is to give every Born-Again Christian the power to witness (Acts 13:52; Eph 5:18).
Jesus, the Creator of All Things
At the Cross the entire Trinity was involved, as God, the Father, poured out His wrath, God, the Son, paying the absolute price for the remission of sins as the final sacrificial lamb turning away the wrath (Rom 1:18, 3:25-2, 5:8-11), and God, the Holy Spirit, helping Jesus offer Himself as the final sacrifice without any blemish (Heb 9:14). This is the greatest mystery that came directly through Love Himself. It was the blood of God that was shed and poured out to redeem and set free all who willingly choose to accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior and become Born-Again by surrendering their life to Him (John 3:16; Acts 20:28).
The Bible says that Jesus is the Word who was God from the very beginning of time and created all things and became human flesh (John 1:1-14). Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus emptied Himself of either His divine nature or His attributes, but only the outward and visible manifestation of the Godhead. Jesus gave up the external glories of His riches, but He did not give up His essential holiness or stopped being Lord of the Sabbath.
Jesus is 100% fully equal with God and willingly chose to veil His divine attributes and not rely primarily on them while walking among humanity. Instead, He emptied Himself and continued to be 100% fully God. Rather than walking in the exaltation of His glory, He chose to step down for a time from His exalted position beside the Father and with the Holy Spirit, taking the position of the most humble servant. After His resurrection, He reassumed the position of the Supreme Ruler forevermore. Nothing in Scripture is mentioned of any abandonment of divine attributes, the divine nature, or the form of God.
This great mystery cannot be solved by reducing Jesus to something not quite fully God, yet fully man. There are a lot of "doctrines" in the church that are questionable, but this one is non-negotiable. The Born-Again Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus alone, and not by any work of their own.
The Kenosis theory has been labeled as heresy throughout church history because it denies the deity of Jesus during the incarnation and refuses to accept that the Hypostatic Union took place, which then makes Jesus less than 100% fully God resulting in His sacrifice being wholly insufficient by not fully paying for the sins of the world which would render His sacrificial death of no greater value than that of a mere human being, nor could He be the mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2).
God cannot change His nature by an act of His will any more than any other being can. This is inherent in the divine attribute of immutability, which the Bible expressly affirms that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever." (Heb.13:8). If Jesus were to lose any of His divine attributes, that would mean He was not God at all.
The Bible says that Jesus is the Word who was God from the very beginning of time and created all things, and in Him is life and became human flesh (John 1:1-14). Jesus gave up the external glories of His riches, but He did not His own essential holiness or stopped being Lord of the Sabbath.
It pleased the Father that in Jesus, by becoming human, “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" should dwell, and by through Him He would reconcile all things to Himself...through the blood of His cross." (Col 1:19-20). Within Jesus, "... are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" because they were dwelling within Him as a human (Col 2:3, 8-9).
It is impossible to conceive of any being in the universe that is worthy of the title of ‘I AM’ who does not possess the essential attributes of the absolute divine Creator of all things. The Bible never mentions God as anything but absolute (See John 1:12-14; 2 Cor 5:21, 8:9).
Either Jesus came to earth 100% divine as a co-equal member of the Godhead, possessing all divine attributes, along with being in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and they in Him, or He did not.
In Jesus, "... are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3).
". . . Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" during His earthly ministry (Col 2:8-9).
“…It pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself...through the blood of His cross" (Col 1:19-20).