Friday, April 6, 2018

He Lays His Glory By

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness"(Philippians 2:6–7).

In the nineteenth century a new heresy arose around the person of Christ: the kenotic heresy. The kenotic theory held that the divine Logos, prior to incarnation, parted voluntarily with either all or part of His divine attributes. They held that the Word or Son of God divested Himself of His deity when He was incarnated as Jesus.

This error is based on a misunderstanding of Philippians 2:6–7. In the Authorized Version (King James), verse 7 says that Jesus “made Himself of no reputation.” In the Revised Standard Version, we read that Jesus “emptied Himself.” The Greek word here is kenosis, which does mean “empty” in some sense, and thus the idea that the Christ emptied Himself of His divinity at the incarnation is called “the kenotic heresy.” The kenotic theory cannot stand the test of exegesis. Philippians 2:8 is clearly not speaking of an emptying of deity but rather an emptying of glory. The context has to do with humiliation, not with metaphysics. Notice how Paul continues: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).

The reverse of this procedure was not a re-adoption of deity, but a reinvestment with glory. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10). Compare Jesus’ own words in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.”

As one twentieth-century theologian put it, the kenotic theory states that the incarnation took place by divine suicide, which is, of course, an impossibility. How can God stop being God? Implicit in the kenotic theory is a form of “death of God” theology.

In light of the profound reality of Jesus’ full and uncompromised deity, His incarnation was the most profound possible humiliation. For Him to change in any way or to any degree, even temporarily by the divine decree of His Father, required descent. By definition, to forsake perfection requires taking on some form of imperfection. Yet without forsaking or in any way diminishing His perfect deity or His absolute holiness, in a way that is far beyond human comprehension, the Creator took on the form of the created. The Infinite became finite, the Sinless took sin upon Himself. The very heart of the gospel of redemption is that the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Although that infinitely marvelous and cardinal gospel truth is impossible to understand, it is necessary to believe.

In emptying Himself, Jesus continued to not cling to His divine rights. Instead, He emptied Himself. The Greek conjunction alla (but) means “not this but that,” indicating a clear contrast of ideas. Although He was absolutely “full” of deity, as it were, He emptied Himself of all of its prerogatives. Emptied is from kenoĊ, which means to empty completely. It is translated “nullified” in Romans 4:14 and “made void” in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Jesus Christ emptied Himself completely of every vestige of advantage and privilege, refusing to assert any divine right on His own behalf. He who created and owned everything forsook everything.

It must always be kept in mind that Jesus emptied Himself only of certain aspects of His prerogatives of deity, not of His deity itself. He was never anything, and never will be anything, but fully and eternally God, as Paul was careful to state in verse 6. All four gospels make it clear that He did not forsake His divine power to perform miracles, to forgive sins, or to know the minds and hearts of people. Had He stopped being God (an impossibility), He could not have died for the sins of the world. He would have perished on the cross and remained in the grave, with no power to conquer sin or death. As R. C. H. Lenski comments, “Even in the midst of his death, he had to be the mighty God in order by his death to conquer death” (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961], 782).