The Kenosis of Christ

The Kenosis of Christ

Philippians 2:6-8

“Although he existed in the form of God, did not regard quality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself.”

            

            Philippians 2:5-11 is often called the Kenosis Passage. This passage is described as the greatest revelation and insight into the incarnation of Christ. This title comes from the critical word in verse 7 when Paul states, “but emptied himself.”  The word empty comes from the Greek word “kenos.”  The verb means to cause to be emptied of power or to make powerless.  It is a word that serves to capture the mystery and wonder of the incarnation of Christ.  However, before we get to the implications of this verse, we first need to understand verse six and its implications.  Paul begins by affirming that Jesus existed in the form of God.   Throughout the New Testament, we find repeated the emphasis that Jesus was entirely God and shared the divine nature and essence with the Father.  In John 1:1, we read that Jesus, as the Word or revelation of God, was God himself.  The writer of Hebrews captures the essence of Christ when he states that Jesus “is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of his nature.”  In Christ, the divine image was fully reflected and manifested because he is God. In Revelation 17:14, it is affirmed that Jesus is the Lord of lords and King of kings,” words that can only be used about God himself.

            Even though he was God and possessed all of God's nature, power, and glory in the incarnation, he did not use his equality with the Father and his divine nature for his own advantage. Instead, he willingly set aside the exercise of his divine rights in the incarnation so that he might fully identify with us. We see this throughout the ministry of Christ.  While possessing all the authority of God, he willingly set those aside so that he might live as fully human.  

            This embracing of humans' weakness is captured in the statement that he emptied himself.  In other words, he took upon our human nature and willingly suffered the weakness and struggles we experience in our humanity.  He grew tired and hungry.  He became thirsty.  He experienced the entire pain and reality of the cross and suffered its humiliation.  This is what makes this passage so difficult to understand.  How can the God of the universe, the one who spoke about the existence of the world, partake in our nature and suffering in a world that is broken because of sin? It defines our human understanding.  It is beyond our ability to fathom. Instead of coming as the creator, he came as a humble servant who died a horrific death on the cross so that we might be saved from our sin.

            In our reading of scripture, there are times when we have to stop and recognize that we cannot grasp the meaning and significance of what is being said.  No matter how much we try to dissect and analyze the text, in the end, it remains a mystery beyond our finite and sin-marred minds.  In those times, all we can do is stop in wonder and praise Christ for what he has done. We must recognize that we will not fully understand until we receive our glorified minds in heaven. All we can do as we gaze upon the text is stop and proclaim, “Wow!”  At the heart of all these passages stands this passage.  We can never understand what it means that he emptied himself of his divine rights.  We can never grasp the full implications in our understanding of Christ and what he has done for us.  All we can do is bow our heads in wonder and praise Christ for the marvelous truth that he took on human nature to save you and me.  And that is all we need to know. 

 

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