Day 28. He Emptied Himself (Philippians 2:5-11)

Audio (8:08)

Saturday (following the Fourth Sunday in Advent)

Ivan Kramskoy, 'Christ in the Wilderness' (1872), oil on canvas, 72 x 84 in., Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Ivan Kramskoy, 'Christ in the Wilderness' (1872), oil on canvas, 72 x 84 in., Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Read in your Bible Philippians 2:5-11

Unless Christmas Day is tomorrow, this will be your final Advent meditation. It speaks about what Jesus had to give up to become a human being.

Equality with God (Philippians 2:5-6)

"5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped...." (Philippians 2:5-6)

In this passage Paul is teaching humility by the example of Jesus. The pre-existent Christ, says Paul, is fully divine -- "in very nature God."251 But he didn't cling to it, hold onto it, grasp for it.252 Since he already possessed equality with God, he was willing to humble himself to obey the Father.

Emptied Himself (Philippians 2:7-8a)

He couldn't take on human flesh while still holding onto all his divine prerogatives.

"... But made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man...." (Philippians 2:7-8a, NIV)

"Made himself nothing" (NIV), "made himself of no reputation" (KJV), "emptied himself" (ESV, NRSV) is the Greek verb kenaō, literally, "to make empty, to empty."253 The Greek grammar makes it clear that this was a voluntary action.254

But just what did this kenosis ("emptying") entail? Did he give up the form or nature of God, that is, his actual divinity? Or did he give up some of the "relative attributes" of deity -- omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence -- while retaining the "essential attributes" -- holiness, love, and righteousness? I don't think he gave up his actual divinity, but some of the prerogatives of divinity. This text doesn't fully answer our question.

"... Taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man...." (Philippians 2:7-8a)

But it makes two things clear:

  1. Jesus came to serve his Father, and
  2. Jesus became a human being.

We know Jesus is God. But was Jesus really human or just pretending to be? A second century Christian heresy, Docetism, held a Hellenistic dualistic view that spirit is good and flesh is evil, thus Jesus could not have become flesh and thus partaken in human evil. Thus, Jesus must have been merely pretending to be human.

But from the earliest days, the apostles insist that Jesus indeed has become human.

"This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God." (1 John 4:2-3a)

The Nicene Creed255 affirms that Christ has not only become human, but in human form is both fully God and fully human, not half divine and half human.

"... Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man...."

Admittedly, Jesus' earthly nature and his relationship to the Father are difficult for us humans to really understand, but the Nicene Creed helps us to put in words with some clarity what the Scriptures teach.

Humbled and Exalted (Philippians 2:8b-11)

Paul continues to explain just how greatly Jesus was to humble himself to complete the task of redemption the Father had entrusted to him.

"He humbled256 himself
and became obedient257 to death --
even death on a cross!" (2:8b)

But the cross is not the end. Three days later Jesus is raised from the dead triumphant and ushered into glory.

"9 Therefore God exalted258 him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)

Christmas and Christ's Humbling

It is mind-blowing to think that the baby in the manger is God himself, humbled so he is able to enter the world of humans. He puts aside his glory and takes on humanity. And once he has saved us from our sins, takes on that glory once again.

Now is fulfilled Isaiah's ancient prophecy:

"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

28 Advent Scriptures, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also available in book formats: PDF, Kindle, and paperback.

This is the authority that Jesus exercised at the Great Commission when he declared,

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).

Come soon, Lord Jesus.


Jesus, thank you for voluntarily humbling yourself so you could do what you needed to do. I find humbling myself difficult sometimes. Help me to follow your example, and trust the Father to exalt me in due time, rather than to claw for recognition on my own schedule. In your wonderful name, I pray. Amen.

Discussion Question

Q28. (Philippians 2:5-11) Why did Jesus need to humble himself to become a human being? What do you think it meant to him to do this considering that he was divine? When he "emptied himself," what all do you think that included? What can you learn from Christ's voluntary humbling himself?


References and Abbreviations

[251] For a thorough exegesis of this passage see Lesson 3 of my study of Philippians: Discipleship Lessons,

[252] The Greek noun harpagmos is rare. It is translated variously: "Something to be grasped" (NIV, ESV), "something to be exploited" (NRSV), and "robbery" (KJV). The basic meaning, "a violent seizure of property, robbery," can move to, "something to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping, something claimed" (BDAG 133-134).

[253] Kenaō, BDAG 539. Figuratively or metaphorically it can mean, "to make of no effect."

[254] Used with the emphatic "himself" makes it clear that this was a voluntary action by the preexistent Christ (O'Brien, Philippians, pp. 216-217).

[255] The statement of the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) was strengthened and clarified a few decades later by the Council of Constantinople (381 AD), which produced what we called the Nicene Creed.

[256] "Humbled" is the Greek verb tapeinoō, "to cause someone to lose prestige or status, humble, humiliate, abase" (BDAG 990). A related word occurs in the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah 53:8, "in his humiliation...."

[257] "Obedient" is the Greek adjective hypēkoos, "obedient" (BDAG 1035) from the verb hypakouō, "to follow instructions, obey, follow, be subject to" (BDAG 1028-1029).

[258] "Exalted ... to the highest place" (NIV) or "highly exalted" (KJV, NRSV) is the Greek verb hyperypsoō, "to raise to a high point of honor, raise, exalt." Here, "to raise someone to the loftiest height" (BDAG 1034).

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