Jesus Christ emptied himself

Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself. (Phil. 2:6f)

Theologians speak of kenôsis, Greek for “emptying”, to describe how the Son of God lay aside his divine glory and majesty when he became a man. Philippians 2 points out that Jesus Christ was indeed equal with God—and that never changed. But he was willing to give up all the privileges of that equality. Calvin comments: “Christ, indeed could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.”

During his ministry, Jesus occasionally showed his divine glory. It was clearest during his Transfiguration, when his three closest disciples saw him shining with divine glory. “We saw his glory, like that of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and mercy,” reports John 1:15. Jesus also performed divine miracles and showed that he knew the hearts and minds of people.

But the gospels especially show that the Son of God subjected himself to the limitations of human existence. Before his resurrection, he was never at two places at once; he did not teleport. When he was hungry, he needed food. When the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread, he refused, because he was called to fulfill God’s righteousness in his humanity.

Jesus subjected himself to limitations of knowledge: “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even … the Son …” (Mat. 24:36) He regularly prayed to the Father for strength.

Mark 6:5 surprises us by saying that Jesus “could do no mighty works” in Nazareth because of the unbelief. How is it possible that the Christ, who is the very Son of God, was unable to do miracles in that town? The answer is: he emptied himself of his divine power, he concealed that aspect of his essential identity as the Second Person of the Trinity.

Why is this important? It shows us that Jesus Christ really lived on earth as one of us. He lived a true human life, including all the human weaknesses and limitations. He had to depend on God the Father in prayer, and do his work in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Herman Bavinck: “If humans in general cannot have communion with God except by the Holy Spirit, then this applies even more powerfully to Christ’s human nature.” (Reformed Dogmatics, 3:292) The Son of God lay aside his glory, “emptied himself”, to live our lives—so that in the end he may fill our lives with divine glory.

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