What does Christ “emptied Himself” mean?

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By BibleAsk Team


The concept of Christ “emptying Himself,” often referred to as the doctrine of the Kenosis, is a profound theological truth found in the New Testament that speaks to the nature of Jesus Christ and His incarnation. The term “Kenosis” comes from the Greek word used in Philippians 2:7, where it describes how Christ emptied Himself. This doctrine explores the voluntary self-limitation and humility that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, willingly embraced when He took on human form.

The Biblical Foundation of Kenosis

Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV)

To grasp the meaning of Christ emptying Himself, we turn to Philippians 2:5-8, which provides a foundational passage on this doctrine:

  • Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV): “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 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.”

This passage outlines the process of Christ emptying Himself, highlighting His divine nature, His voluntary humility, and His obedience even unto death.

Understanding the Kenosis Doctrine

The Nature of Christ Before Incarnation

Before His incarnation, Christ existed in the form of God, possessing all the attributes of deity. This includes His equality with God the Father and His participation in divine glory.

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

This passage establishes the preexistence and divine nature of the Word (Jesus Christ), emphasizing His role in creation and His eternal existence with God.

The Act of Emptying Himself

The act of Kenosis involves Christ voluntarily relinquishing certain aspects of His divine prerogatives and privileges to take on human form. This self-emptying was not a subtraction of His deity but a veiling of His glory and a submission to the limitations of human existence.

  • 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.”

Jesus’ prayer to the Father reflects His willingness to temporarily set aside the full display of His glory while on earth, choosing instead to identify with humanity.

Taking the Form of a Servant

In Philippians 2:7, Paul describes Christ as taking on the form of a bondservant or a servant. This metaphor emphasizes Christ’s humility and willingness to serve humanity, despite His exalted status.

  • Matthew 20:28 (NKJV): “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus Himself exemplified this servant-hearted attitude throughout His earthly ministry, demonstrating humility and sacrificial love in His interactions with others.

The Incarnation and Human Likeness

Christ emptied Himself by taking on human likeness, becoming fully human while remaining fully God. This union of divine and human natures in one person is a central mystery of Christian faith, known as the hypostatic union.

  • 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.”

This verse affirms that Jesus, the Word (Logos), became flesh (incarnate) and dwelt among humanity, revealing God’s glory through His earthly life.

The Purpose of Christ’s Emptying

Obedience to the Father

Christ’s act of emptying Himself was an act of obedience to the Father’s will, demonstrating His submission and humility.

  • Hebrews 5:8 (NKJV): “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”

Even though Jesus was the Son of God, His earthly life was marked by obedience and submission to the Father’s plan, culminating in His sacrificial death on the cross.

Identification with Humanity

By emptying Himself and taking on human form, Christ identified fully with the human experience, including its joys, sorrows, temptations, and limitations.

  • Hebrews 2:14-18 (NKJV): “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Jesus’ incarnation allowed Him to empathize with humanity’s weaknesses and struggles, ultimately offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.

Redemption and Atonement

Christ’s emptying Himself culminated in His death on the cross, where He offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for humanity’s sins. This act of self-sacrifice restored the broken relationship between God and humanity, providing redemption and reconciliation.

  • Romans 5:8 (NKJV): “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Through His death and resurrection, Jesus achieved victory over sin and death, offering salvation and eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Theological Implications of Kenosis

The Example of Humility

Christ’s act of emptying Himself serves as the ultimate example of humility and selflessness for believers to emulate.

  • Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV): “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Following Christ’s example, believers are called to prioritize humility and service in their relationships and interactions with others.

The Mystery of the Incarnation

The doctrine of Kenosis underscores the mystery of the incarnation, affirming that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, took on human form while retaining His divine nature.

  • Colossians 2:9 (NKJV): “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”

This verse affirms the completeness of Christ’s deity and humanity, reinforcing His unique role as the Mediator between God and humanity.

The Continuity of Christ’s Identity

Despite emptying Himself and taking on human form, Jesus Christ remained unchanged in His essential identity as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity.

  • Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV): “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

This verse affirms the eternal and unchanging nature of Christ’s identity and character, emphasizing His reliability and faithfulness to fulfill God’s purposes.

Practical Application of Kenosis

Living Out Christ’s Example

Believers are called to embody the spirit of Christ’s emptying by embracing humility, sacrificial love, and obedience to God’s will.

  • Philippians 2:5 (NKJV): “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”

By adopting Christ’s mindset of humility and selflessness, believers can reflect His character and witness to His transformative power in their lives.

Serving Others

Christ’s act of emptying Himself serves as a model for believers to prioritize service and care for others, following His example of sacrificial love.

  • Mark 10:45 (NKJV): “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

By serving others selflessly, believers can demonstrate Christ’s love and impact their communities with the gospel message.

Trusting in God’s Sovereignty

The doctrine of Kenosis reminds believers of God’s sovereignty and plan for salvation, anchored in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection.

  • Romans 8:32 (NKJV): “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

This verse reassures believers of God’s provision and faithfulness, encouraging them to trust in His promises and rely on His grace.

Conclusion

The doctrine of Kenosis, or Christ emptying Himself, reveals the depth of God’s love and the humility of Jesus Christ in voluntarily taking on human form. Through His incarnation, Jesus identified with humanity, obeyed the Father’s will, and ultimately offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for sin. This act of self-emptying demonstrates Christ’s humility, sacrificial love, and obedience, providing believers with a model to emulate in their own lives. By understanding and embracing the doctrine of Kenosis, believers can deepen their appreciation for Christ’s redemptive work and live out His example of humility and service in their relationships and ministries.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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