Friday, May 16, 2008

He emptied himself
John 1:1-18

We did the remaining of John’s Prologue in bible study. And truth be told, I was not as prepared as I wish I was for this lesson. I had my plate so full for the week that by the time I sent out the last of the reports, it was already 8.00pm. Calvin and I went for a quick dinner and made it just in time for bible study at 8.30pm. I had to depend on the morsel of readings I had here and there over the week.

Therefore, my strategy was to discuss more on the theological themes of the passage, and discuss them we did. It was a profitable discussion.

After giving a sum-up of our last lesson, we went through the verses generally. Soon the focus was on v.10-14, with questions in the line of: what does “Word became flesh” mean? Why did God has to become flesh?

One of us was in the impression that even though Jesus was man, he still had the full essence and attributes of God: omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. When Jesus took on the body of a man, shouldn’t he still have those powers because he is still God, and his “quality” of being God should not be diminished. We discussed this quite at length. Philippians 2:5-8 was brought up.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NASB)
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We concluded that Jesus in his obedience to the Father gave up what he had, emptied himself and became in the likeness of man. We began to wonder at our Lord Jesus who was so willing to give up his Godly attributes to become man. He had to do that in order for his ultimate act of love on the cross. But after resurrection, though he remained in bodily form, some of the Gospels indicate that he regained his Godly attributes.

Pastor brought up the fact that we need not worry about the "reduction" of Jesus' being when he became man. He was in the very essence still fully God, though now fully Man. He was still within the Trinitarian unity of one God.

We also discussed a bit about the ultimate sin of mankind – it is not only disobedience or even the collective of bad things we have done – at its very core, it is idolatry. This word, idolatry needs some explanation here in this part of the world, where idol worshipping is practiced at large by Taoists and Hindus. One of us asked if idolatry mean plainly that. But it is more than that, it is not merely choosing the God that we want to worship, it is the choosing of God that fits our bill, it is as what Carson has termed it to be: the de-godding of God, the thingemefying of God. Or as C.S. Lewis has termed it: “putting God in the dock”.

We must never take God for granted. As such, we must also not put too much emphasis on God’s love for us that we become the more important one. As much as God loved us so much that he gave us his son, it was for the glory of God, according to His purpose and will.



  1. Hi Pearlie!

    I've always been intrigued by the question of what it means that Christ "emptied" himself. What about those attributes you mention, like omniscience? When speaking of the time of his return Jesus says, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." (Mt. 24:36) One would think that if Jesus still retained omniscience, then he would know the day and the hour.

    I have a theory about this. I believe that Jesus retained omniscience, but chose not to utilize his knowledge. That is hard for us to conceive of, but here is an example to illustrate:

    If I say to you, "One plus one equals ..." You would instantly think, "Two." You almost cannot help knowing the answer. If I say to you, "1,567,236 + 23,457.283 equals what?" unless you are a savant, you would have to use pencil and paper to get the answer.

    In between those two examples is the question, "What is 78 + 53?" The answer probably wouldn't come to you instantly, but you could probably do the arithmatic in your head. You could also choose not to do the arithmetic in your head. That is, you could refrain from using your ability to do the math in your head. That would not mean that you have lost the ability.

    I tend to think that, in an analogous way, Jesus had the ability to refrain from utilizing his attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence, etc. He would utilize them when guided by the Holy Spirit to do so.

    What do you think?


  2. Christ emptying himself is truly a mystery and what is amazing, he willingly did it in obedience to His Father, and in love to His Father and to us.

    You thoughts on omniscience is interesting.

    I am thinking:
    wouldn't 1+1 and 1,567,236 + 23,457,283 be equally easy to Jesus in his omniscience - as easy as a look, like 1+1 is to us.

    So I think it is more than refraining but a real emptying. I think only with a real emptying will he be able to be nailed on the cross in obedience - or else his powers will not enable or allow him to. You think?

    E.g. omnipotence, being all-powerful - will cancel off all suffering and death. It will because it is there. Therefore, Jesus needs to really empty himself. Such amazing love.

  3. Hi Pearlie!

    The arithmatic example was meant to show from our own experience that we have the ability to set aside things that we can do, although imperfectly. Christ can do all those things perfectly, of course. But Christ can perfectly set them aside without losing them.

    I can't agree with your reasoning about emptying being necessary to suffering and showing his truly amazing love. After all, Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus does not have to empty himself of divine attributes in order to truly suffer. In fact, his retaining the attribute yet refraining from using it only increases the significance of his obedience to the point of death on a cross, because, having all the attributes of divinity, he could have at any time ended his suffering.

    Moreover, if we say that Jesus has emptied himself of those attributes, then other passages of Scripture don't make sense. For example, when Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread, that is a temptation to act upon his omnipotence. If he has emptied himself of that attribute, it is hardly a temptation.

    Therefore, it seems to me that when we think of Jesus emptying himself of certain abilities and perogatives, it best to understand that as setting them aside in the sense of refraining from them.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. You really do have a good blog. I'm impressed by both the quality and quantity of your posts.


  4. Hi Les!
    Yes, you've brought up some valid points. I am still thinking about it. Looks like I need to study this emptying bit a lot more :)

    Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. It is a commitment I made and benefitting a lot from it as well - particulary with people like you who make me think a bit more before being so sure with something ;)

  5. Hi Pearlie!

    I don't have the final answer about the kenosis issue. It's been debated by far better minds than mine!

    So, does your recent book purchase mean that you are now on a "book diet" as opposed to a "book fast"? :)