Philippians 2:5-8 has rather interesting language that can cause quite a debate. Last night during our small group bible study, these 4 versus really side tracked us for quite a while. One person finally responded, “Does it really matter?” My answer is no, but it’s interesting to discuss. So before I go on, realize that there are some absolute truths about Christ that are necessary to be a born again Christian, this is NOT one of those truths. This on the other hand is a mystery of God that creates discussion, but does not affect your salvation.
That being said, lets dig in. Upon further research, I’ve learned there are several common interpretations of this text and that there has been for centuries, heavy debate on this issue. I do not assume that in about 500 words I will somehow solve this issue. My goal here is merely to present a theory that I believe, one that I was not able to articulate well last night but believe I have a better way of explaining now. So I will NOT invoke the tone that Paul uses in the next chapter (3:15) “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”
When Jesus “emptied Himself”, this was an act He did voluntarily. It does NOT say that Jesus “was emptied”. Being God Himself (as part of the trinity), He had NO limitations on His power. However, “by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men“, he voluntarily accepted the limitations of being human. Although He still possessed the power of God, He could now be hungry, thirsty, tired, hurt, etc.
What is interesting is the why, however. In the preceding verse, Paul states that “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped“. Jesus is sometimes referred to as the “second Adam”. The first Adam did “count equality with God a thing to be grasped” when he responded with Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This attempt to grasp equality with God is the root of the original sin. So it stands to reason that if Jesus was to “take the sins of the world” on His back to die with Him on the cross, then that original sin would have to be included.
There is still another result of Jesus emptying Himself, it served to conceal His glory. Even though His followers felt Jesus was called or anointed by God, because the glory of God was concealed, they never really grasped the fact that He in fact WAS God. The one exception to this is the transfiguration (a topic for another day), but besides that, God’s glory was concealed until after the resurrection. Just like the limitations of being human, this concealment was also voluntary. When Jesus chose to “empty Himself”, He did this on His own. The Father did not empty the Son. The Son “emptied Himself”.
This voluntary act is the ultimate act of humility, for God Himself to choose to accept all the limitations of humanity, assume all the sins of humanity, die the worst death of humanity, all for the sake of saving humanity.
Can you imagine a greater love than that??