In Philippians 2:5-11 we see that Christ emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant. Now, what does this mean? Does this mean that Christ emptied Himself of His divine attributes? Or can it mean something else entirely? This is what I will seek to answer in this post. But before I do that, I want to explain a couple of views that are held by some within Christianity.
The first is the Kenotic view. In this view, we have Christ as one person with two natures. As such He has limited knowledge and limited power because He limited Himself by setting aside certain divine attributes, or at least the independent exercise of his divine powers. This is not explicitly saying that He gave up His attributes of deity but restricted the use of them, but to some, it does mean he gave up certain attributes. This view does teach that Jesus was a real man, which is correct, who was also God, which is correct, but without being aware of it all the time, which is not correct I believe.
The next view is what is called the Two-Minds view. This view rejects the idea that Jesus denied Himself any knowledge or power. What it does do, though, is compare His incarnation to a person who knows more than they think they know and on occasion recalls subconscious or repressed memories. It also compares Jesus to a computer program that uses two programs simultaneously. It teaches that He did not empty Himself of any attributes. Even though it does, it teaches that He did not always realize He had them but when it became necessary for something to show God’s power or that He was the Messiah, He could recall them and use them.
I lean towards the Kenotic view more so than the other. I say this, not so much because of Philippians 2:5-11, nor do I believe that He emptied Himself of any attribute, but because of certain statements in the gospels.
We see Christ saying, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son…” (ESV Mark 13:32). It does seem that Christ has restricted Himself of certain knowledge while on earth. I do not see that He withheld any of His power as we see Him healing people whether they are in His presence or far away (e.g. Luke 4:40; Mark 3:10; Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Along with this, we see Him casting out demons (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-17). So, it is clear that Jesus had supernatural powers while here that were not suppressed or semi-forgotten.
I do believe that he did restrict Himself from certain things, such as knowledge of certain things, but I don’t think He gave up any attribute at all. It is along these lines that the two views have similarities. On the Two-minds concept, the divine nature/mind could withhold something from the human nature/mind. In this way, the two-minds view is like the Kenotic view. But the two-minds view seems to make Jesus more schizophrenic than God the Son, which I find very problematic.
It seems that Christ just did not allow Himself to use His divine power all the time. But this does not mean he forgot it or left it. It just means that He was humble and was a human as well as God and He lived as a humbe man. Now, let us look at what the text says to support what I think is meant by emptying.
In verse 7 we see that it does not say He gave up or emptied Himself of His deity but that He only gave up His rights as deity by taking on the form of a servant. The word emptied used here is the Greek word ekenosen, which means, “divestiture of position or prestige: of Christ, who gave up the appearance of his divinity and took on the form of a slave, he emptied himself, divested himself of his prestige or privileges” (BDAG 540). So, this means that He only removed Himself from glory and took on this form of a servant when He took on flesh and became a man.
In the next verse, we see that He humbled Himself by taking on human form and was even more humbled because He was obedient to death (v. 8). As a servant, He performed the will of the Father and that will was for Him to be the “lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). So, it seems that Christ did not empty Himself of anything in the sense that we understand empty to mean.
What Christ did do was add humanity to Himself. He emptied Himself not by losing what He was but by adding what He was not. By doing this He came and lived amongst us and knows what it is like to be human. He felt the pain and suffering we feel. He was hurt and cried and knew what we go through. He did this, all the while being able to at any time to make it stop and not go through it. But He did not. He went through this all so we could have a high priest that knows what we all suffer through (Heb. 4:15).
In this humbling and emptying, Jesus also gives us an example of how we are to live and be with others. He left His position and prestige to come to be among us. Not only did He dwell here but he suffered and died here for us. He showed us that regardless of what position and power we hold, that service to others and humbleness are of the utmost importance and are true love. He did not only show us this but He suffered and died so we can live and be free of suffering in our eternal home with Him. He is our redemption and our only way to see the Father. But this is only true because He emptied Himself, not of power or divine attributes, but of His prestige, and became a servant for our sakes. What a glorious Savior we have.