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Jesus’ Incarnation

This is a teaching concerning Jesus’ incarnation. The Kenosis attempts to solve some paradoxes between the nature of God and of man as united in Jesus. For example, how could an all knowing God become a baby, or how could God be tempted? The Kenosis maintains that God when becoming a man divested Himself of some qualities of being a man. In a sense, the Kenosis is God minus something e.g. God subtracting some qualities of deity to become a man. The Hypostatic Union is God plus something e.g. God adding human nature to Himself. The Kenosis, then, jeopardizes the true incarnation because it puts in doubt the full indwelling of God among men in the person of Jesus. (Compare with Hypostatic Union.)

Jesus’ adding to Himself the nature of man by becoming one of us is known as the Hypostatic Union. Errors dealing with the relationship of Jesus’ two natures are: 1) Monophycitism which states that Jesus’ two natures combined into one new one; the problem here is that neither God nor man was represented in Christ. 2) Nestorianism which states that the two natures of Christ were so separated from each other that they were “not in contact;” the problem here is that worship of the human Jesus would then not be allowed. 3) Eutychianism is similar to Monophycitism. It states that Christ’s natures were so thoroughly combined—in a sense scrambled together—that a new third thing emerged; the problem is this implies that Jesus was not truly God nor man, therefore unable to act as mediator.

However, what does it mean that Christ “emptied” Himself? That is the real question with the “kenosis” doctrine. Did He empty himself of some or of all aspects of deity? If He did, He ceased to be fully God. If He did not, what does “emptied” mean'

“Emptied” may be a misleading translation. The New International Version translates the passage, “he made himself nothing.” When we look only at these words, we might have difficulty understanding what they mean. However, reading on, the passage itself clarifies the word. It means, first, that He took on the form of a servant. Jesus did not come as a pompous tyrant, but rather as humble servant. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

So the first thing “emptied” Himself means is that, as God, He came to earth as a servant even though He had every right to come as a sovereign. Second, in “being made in likeness as a man,” He did not come to earth in a human rent-a-body that He used for thirty some years and then discarded, He did not come as the Angel of the Lord, He did not come as some unique celestial being. But He became a man, born of a woman, with a permanent, fully human body. Finally, He humbled Himself and played out the role which God the Father chose for Him.

Jesus, then, gave up nothing of His deity. He just took on humanity. Often, those who water down His deity say that He was not omniscient (all-knowing), or omnipotent (all-powerful) or omnipresent (everywhere present), yet the Bible makes it clear that He possessed these attributes during the time of His life on earth (Matthew 18:20; 28:18; Mark 2:8). How? Because He is able to do things which humans can’t. In fact, He is able to do things that humans can’t even understand.

How, then, can we describe what the “kenosis” was? It involves these actions:

1. His pre-incarnate glory was veiled: that is, the glory that He had before He came to earth was veiled by His human form. One time, Jesus went up on a mountain with three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John. While they were there, Jesus suddenly changed His appearance. Mark 9:23 says, “and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” In a passage in Matthew describing the same event, we read that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (17:2). In another passage, after Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary and Mary Magdalene went to the grave where He had been buried. “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow” (Matthew 28:2-3).

Now, this was not Jesus; it was an angel. But from these and other passages, it appears that “standard issue” bodies in heaven appear as though they have been carved out of a lightning bolt or a piece of the noon-day sun. For obvious reasons, Jesus did not walk around like that during His earthly ministry. He veiled the glory of His true self.

2. He voluntarily did not use some of His divine attributes some of the time (Matthew 24:36). Nonuse does not mean subtraction. Just because He didn’t use them doesn’t mean He didn’t have them, or could not have used them if He had chosen.

That is what “kenosis” means. That is what it means when it says “He emptied Himself.” He voluntarily veiled His divine glory, and He did not use some of His attributes some of the time. Instead, He took on human form, humbled Himself to the plan of God the Father, and died on the Cross for our sins.

What a beautiful person He is! What kindness! What sacrifice! What unfathomable love!

Max Anders, Jesus, Knowing Our Savior, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publ., 1995), pp. 25-26