During this time of year when some imagine the anniversary of the incarnation of God, there is a tendency for strange statements to be made about God manifest in the flesh.
One of the most fashionable is the idea that Jesus emptied himself when he was born into humanity. After all he must be made to lie in a barn, next to the drummer boy, with itty bitty toes and fingers. (See Fables Concerning the Nativity of Jesus)
Perhaps even sincere ministers will say that the baby Jesus could not use or exercise his deity attributes while he was bound in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7).
This false view of the incarnation is dangerous and wrong, as it either makes Jesus less than God, or it separates his deity from his humanity.
Jesus emptying himself to become man is a doctrine called Kenosis. Though its consequences are similar to the earliest heresies about Christ’s deity the modern form of the Kenosis came out of the German rationalist apostasies of the 19th century.
It was at that time that the “emptying” and lesser God doctrine was answered by those who held to the fundamental tenets of the faith of Christianity. The fundamentalist movement (in contrast to the liberal) was born out of doctrinal problems such as the Kenosis.
Our doctrinal forefathers reiterated that Jesus was fully God in line with what Paul says in Col 2:9:
“For in [Jesus Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” – Col 2:9
In the likeness of man, Jesus was unchanged and was separate neither from his nature as God nor his divine attributes as Paul teaches in 1 Tim 3:16:
“God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” – 1 Tim 3:16
The King James Bible is correct when it says that Jesus, being in the form of God, merely “made himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:6-8).
Jesus Emptied Nothing
While in the womb, the hand of God in Christ was not shortened at all (Isa 50:2). He had the power to call the heavens to stand up together, and declare the end from the beginning (Isa 48:3, 13).
When he was yet twelve he had divine understanding and knew of the purpose for which he was sent, that is to die for the sins of all men (Luke 2:49).
In his ministry to Israel Jesus manifested his deity through omniscience, omnipotence, and transfiguration (John 1:49-50). He exercised his deity attributes both in conjunction with the Father and by his own power as God (Mat 8:24-27).
He knew the nature and the consequences of the cup before him in the garden (Mat 26:39). Yet, he proceeded knowing that what he would accomplish would be the mystery of God’s will, kept secret since the world began (Eph 3:9; 1 Cor 2:8).
That Jesus had the power to raise himself from the dead is a plain declaration of his deity (John 2:19). For many more proofs of his deity see our free resource and verse by verse study of the book of John.
If the fullness of the Godhead was in Christ, then he did not empty himself of anything. Rather he made himself to be of no reputation in the likeness of men.
A Neglected Incarnation Narrative
Households all across America will read Luke 2 this month and then stop short of the preaching of the cross for salvation which can not be found in Luke.
Meanwhile, perhaps we would have less trouble with troublesome Kenotic theology if we read the incarnation narrative in John 1 a few times instead.
John 1:1 describes the Word as God which was in the beginning. John describes the majesty of the Word who had the light of all men, and who created all things (John 1:1-3).
It was this Word of God that stepped into humanity under a fleshly veil.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
Though the likeness of man concealed his divine nature, it was revealed to those who received him. His deity was never compromised, never emptied, never removed, and never laid aside.
In Christ God was made flesh.