“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
When we read this passage in the book of Philippians, verse 7 talks about Jesus “emptying Himself”. What does this mean, and what did Jesus empty Himself of? It is essential to understand what this statement means so that you know the true nature of Jesus as He lived on earth as a man and as God. When you fail to interpret this verse correctly, then it can lead you to understand who Jesus is incorrectly.
Jesus is God, but He took on the form of a man and became a human being without ceasing to be God. Failing to understand this concept is where some of the misconceptions arise about Christ emptying Himself when He became a man. Let us briefly look at some of these misunderstandings.
Firstly, did Jesus set aside some of His divine attributes?
Did Jesus set aside certain of His divine attributes, such as being all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. while He kept some of His other characteristics such as love, truth, holiness? The scriptures teach us that Jesus is God and because He is God, He enjoys all the rights and privileges of divinity. You may ask, if Jesus is God and none of His divine attributes is set aside, then why didn’t He know when He would return (according to Matthew 24:36)?
It may seem that this is one of the attributes Jesus put aside, but this seeming lack of knowledge is explained in the nature of His incarnation. Jesus was entirely God, and at the same time, He took on the nature of a human being. Jesus did not lose any of His divine attributes, but He voluntarily chose to “restrict” the use of His divine attributes. This restriction is part of the “self-emptying” of himself as described in Philippians 2:7. Note that this is a restriction of His use and not losing His divine nature as a human being. Jesus covered His glory and instead took on the position of a servant. Amen!
Secondly, did Jesus cease to be God when He came to earth?
Another misunderstanding is that when Jesus came to earth, He was a mere human being and nothing more. In other words, Jesus ceased to be God in His human nature. The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ never changes. Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Jesus became a human being without ceasing to be God. We know this to be true because, throughout scripture, Jesus spoke and behaved like God. In Matthew 14:33, Jesus accepts worship from His disciples, and in John 10:30, Jesus says that He and the Father are one. These passages unmistakably teach the deity of Christ.
Thirdly, Did Jesus know He was God?
Some hold the belief that Jesus, although God and having all of his divine attributes, He did not know it. This belief is contrary to what the scriptures say. As we read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus knew who He was and what He could do. In Matthew 26:53-54, Jesus says, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
So, looking at these misconceptions and what the scriptures reveal to us, we know that Jesus in His incarnation was 100% God and 100% man. This is clearly described in Colossians 2:9 saying “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”. In Christ, all the fullness of deity dwells bodily, Amen!
Jesus never ceased to be God. He should never be considered to be half man and half-divine; instead, He is both God and man. 1 Timothy 2:5 says “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”. And again Hebrews 1:8 says “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” Amen!
In conclusion, Jesus in His incarnation was still all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, immutable, and sovereign according to His divine nature. In His “emptying”, Jesus did not lose any of His divinity but rather a temporary setting aside or restricted use of His divine attributes. By stepping down from His heavenly throne, Jesus took the form of a servant in this world and experiencing the same limitations and sufferings we do.
Hebrew 4:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” What a wonderful God we worship.
Let us close with reading Philippians 2:8-11 saying “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”