Q: #596. What did Jesus "empty" Himself of when He became a man (Phil 2:7)?
A: Let’s look at this verse in context: (Phil 2:5-8) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: (6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: (7) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (8) And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Where the KJV uses the words “(He) made himself of no reputation” in verse 7, most other versions use “(He) emptied Himself.” When we look at the Greek word used in verse 7 for, “no reputation” / “emptied,” we see the word “kenoo” being used. It comes from the word comes “kenos,” which is defined by Strong’s as “that which is empty, implies hollowness, and is devoid of contents…. Kenos expresses the “hollowness of anything, the “absence” of that which otherwise might be possessed.” It is from this word that we get our word “kenosis” today.
Therefore, when “emptied” is used in most modern translations, that seems to be more true to the original Greek than “of no reputation.” So, what exactly did Jesus “empty” Himself of?
First, for those who may be confused, let me first explain what we are talking about here. Jesus is, and always has been God. He has all of the attributes of God: “omnipresence” (can be everywhere at once), “omniscience” (knows all things), and “omnipotence” (is all powerful). However, several thousand years ago, Jesus “humbled Himself,” and came to earth, taking on human form. He was born of a virgin (named Mary), lived on the earth for about 33-35 years, and then was crucified on a cross, shedding His blood to pay for our sins.
However, while taking on human form, it is important to understand that Jesus did not “empty” Himself of being God. The Bible tells us that while on earth, Jesus was “fully God” AND “fully man” (Col 2:9)(Jn 1:1,14)(1 Tim 3:16)(Isa 9:6)(Rom 9:5)(Mt 1:23). The technical term for this is the “hypostatic union.” God cannot stop being God, and Jesus did not do this. In fact, we see Him proclaiming that He was God over and over in the Gospels i.e. (Jn 8:58-59)(Jn 10:29-33)(Jn 5:16-18)(Mk 14:62-64).
So, while Jesus did not “empty” himself of His deity, certain “attributes” of His deity were, in a sense, “emptied.” Actually, I believe it works better to say that some His “attributes” were “veiled,” rather than “emptied.” Some use the example of a curtain over a window, which blocks “some” sunlight. The curtain doesn’t diminish what the sun is, but rather, it simply “veils” some of the sun’s light.
Applying this to Jesus, here are some of the attributes of Jesus as God that were “veiled.”
(#1.) The first, we are told of in (Phil 2:7): “and took upon Him the form of a servant.” God is not a servant, He is the “master.” He is the one being served, and this is the role of humans (Rev 22:3). However, in becoming human, He went from being the “master” to be being the “servant.” Jesus Himself mentions that He has done this in several verses (Mt 20:28)(Mk 10:44)(Lk 22:27)(Also see: Isa 42:1 / Mt 12:18). Jesus became that which He created (Jn 1:3)(Col 1:16)(Heb 1:10). In addition, in “taking on the form of a servant (man),” He laid aside His “form as God,” which is “spirit” (Jn 4:24)(Lk 24:39), and “invisible” (Col 1:15)(1 Tim 6:16)(Heb 11:27).
(#2.) In “humbling Himself” by taking on the “form of man,” Jesus dealt with things that God does not face. He was tempted (Heb 4:15)(Mt 4:1,3), suffered (Heb 2:18), got hungry (Mt 4:2), got thirsty (Jn 4:7)(Jn 19:28), became weary (Jn 4:6)(and slept – Mt 8:24-25), felt anguish (Lk 22:44), wept (Lk 19:41-42)(Jn 11:35), was troubled (Jn 13:21), and more… However, most significantly, when the sins of the world were laid upon Jesus on the cross, He felt separation from the Father for the first time (Mt 27:46)(Mk 15:34). Finally, He “died” (Mt 27:50)(Mk 15:37)(Lk 23:46)(Jn 19:30,33).
(#3.) In becoming man, Jesus “veiled” His glory. While God’s “glory” is used to describe many aspects of God, and not all of these aspects were “veiled,” at least one aspect that was “veiled” His “radiance / splendor” (Heb 1:3)(Ezek 1:26-28). This is the “glory” that blinded Paul (Acts 9:3-8), the “glory” that was so powerful the priests in God’s Temple could not continue ministering (1 Kin 8:10-11)(2 Chr 5:14), the “glory” that so filled the Tabernacle that Moses could not enter it (Ex 40:34-35). This is the “glory” that will one day make the sun and moon unnecessary to provide light (Rev 21:23)(Isa 60:19).
For a brief moment, Jesus removed this “veil” while on the “Mount of Transfiguration” (Mt 17:1-9)(Mk 9:2-9)(Lk 9:28-36). In (Jn 17:5), before leaving earth, Jesus prayed to the Father saying, “And now, O Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with you before the world was.” Jesus returned to this glory when He returned to the Father (as we see when Paul was blinded).
(#4.) As we mentioned above, God / Jesus is omnipresent. However, in taking on the “form of man,” Jesus was “physically” limited in His ability to be everywhere at once by this body. This is alluded to in (Jn 16:7-11), when Jesus told His disciples that it was “to their advantage that he should go away,” because when He did, He would send the Holy Spirit. The question is asked, “Why was it “better” for Jesus to “go away?” Because the Holy Spirit could be “everywhere” at once (teaching [Jn 14:26], guiding [Jn 16:13], comforting [Jn 14:16,18] and more…), while in His body, Jesus could only do these things in one place at a time.
***Note: While in His earthly body, Jesus appears to have still been omnipresent “mentally,” as He says to Nathanael in (Jn 1:47-48), “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (48) Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said unto him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I SAW you.”” (caps emphasis mine) Also, in (Jn 11:11-14), Jesus tells His disciples that Lazarus has just died.
(#5.) We learn in (Mt 24:36)(Mk 13:32), that perhaps, in some ways, Jesus “veiled” aspects of His “omniscience” while in His earthly body. For example, in speaking of when His “Second Coming” would occur, Jesus said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Some might disagree, but I believe that in His “omniscience” in Heaven right now, Jesus knows the “day and hour.” Some also use the example in (Lk 8:43-48)(Mk 5:25-34), where Jesus was surrounded by “multitudes” of people, and when the “woman with the issue of blood” touched Him to be healed, Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” (Personally, I believe Jesus knew who had touched Him, but He wanted her to come to come out of hiding, and confess to everyone that God had healed her, so that God would be glorified.)
***Note: On the other hand, Jesus did display acts of “omniscience” a number of times i.e. (Mt 26:21-25, 31-35)(Jn 4:17-18,29)(Jn 6:64).
(#6.) In relation to the above, the Bible seems clear that because His attributes were “veiled,” Jesus relied on the Father, and the Holy Spirit (see: #7.) for most (or perhaps all) of what He said and did. Check out these verses:
(Jn 5:19)(NIV) “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, THE SON CAN DO NOTHING BY HIMSELF; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (caps emphasis mine)
(Jn 5:30)(NKJV) “I CAN OF MYSELF DO NOTHING. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (caps emphasis mine)
(Jn 8:28)(NKJV) … “”When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I DO NOTHING OF MYSELF…” (caps emphasis mine)
(Jn 12:49-50)(NKJV) “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. (50) And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.””
(Jn 14:10)(NKJV) “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” (Also see: Jn 5:36, Jn 8:26, Jn 10:37-38, Jn 14:31, Jn 15:15)
We see Jesus’ reliance on the Father over and over. Of course, this was manifested through Jesus praying to the Father. I list all of the times that Jesus prayed to the Father here, however, here are some specific instances where Jesus prayed before doing “key” things:
Before choosing His 12 disciples (Lk 6:12-13). Before feeding 5000 (Jn 6:11)(Mt 14:19)(Mk 6:41)(Lk 9:16). Before walking on water (Mt 14:23-25)(Mk 6:46-48)(Jn 6:15-19). Before feeding 4000 (Mt 15:36)(Mk 8:6-7). Before raising Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:41-44). Before being “transfigured” (Lk 9:28-29). Before healing a deaf and mute man (Mk 7:32-35).
Jesus stated several times that His purpose in coming to earth was to do “the will of the Father” (Mt 26:39,42)(Jn 4:34)(Jn 5:30)(Jn 6:38-39).
(#7.) The New Testament also tells us how important the Holy Spirit was in what Jesus did. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit “descended upon Him like a dove” (Mt 3:16)(Mk 1:10)(Lk 3:22)(Jn 1:32-33). Immediately after that, Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Mt 4:1)(Mk 1:12)(Lk 4:1). After His wilderness experience, Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Lk 4:14). Speaking of this “power” of the Holy Spirit, we are told in several other verses how Jesus operated in this “power.”
(Acts 10:38)(NKJV) “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”
(Rom 1:4)(NKJV) “and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
(Lk 5:17) “… and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.”
In (Mt 12:28), Jesus mentions that He “cast out demons by the Spirit of God.” (Also see: Lk 11:20)
Finally, in (Acts 2:22)(NASB), we are told, “”Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a Man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God PERFORMED THROUGH HIM in your midst, just as you yourselves know -” (caps emphasis mine)
***For prophecies of the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, see: (Isa 11:2)(Isa 42:1 – [quoted by Jesus in Mt 12:18])(Isa 61:1 – [quoted by Jesus in Lk 4:18]).
What LOVE Jesus has for us that He was willing to “empty” Himself, and take on “the form of a servant” to pay for our sins! Now that Jesus has returned to the Father in Heaven (at his Ascension: Mk 16:19, Lk 24:50-51, Acts 1:9-11), His deity is no longer “emptied” or “veiled.”
(2 Cor 8:9) “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”