Philippians 2: Jesus had equality with God, but emptied Himself of it.

It is not conceivable that God can empty Himself of equality with God.  This implies that Jesus is not God.  But Philippians 2 also says that every knee will bow to Jesus.  Why do we worship Jesus if He is not God?

Philippians mapPhilippians 2:5-11 contains a profound statement of the nature and being of Christ.  It describes Jesus through four chronological stages:

1. Prior to His birth

Equality with GodChrist Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (2:5-6).

In the first place this confirms that Christ Jesus really did exist before He became a human being.

Secondly, He existed in the form of God:  Isaiah saw “the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (Is. 6:1-4).  Since Jesus, prior to becoming a human being, existed in the form of God, this vision of “the Lord” could have been a vision of Jesus.

2. Incarnation:

Jesus Christ … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (2:7)

What did He empty Himself of? 

Since Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself,” we deduce that He emptied Himself of “equality with God.”  He also “emptied Himself” of “the form of God,” for He took on “the form of a bond-servant … being made in the likeness of men” (2:6-7).

He humbled Himself.

Adam attempted to seize equality with God (Gen. 3:5 – “You will be like God”).  Christ did the opposite: “He had to be made like his brothers in all things” (Heb. 2:17).  He emptied Himself of His powers and knowledge, starting His human life as a vulnerable baby (Luke 2:7; Gal. 4:4).  He performed many miracles, but only because “God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38).  “Our Lord Jesus Christ … though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9).  He voluntarily descended to the realm where He was “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).  Jesus therefore said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  That Jesus emptied Himself, when He became a human being, tells us what God is like; that He loved His enemies so much that He was willing to become one of them and even die to save them.

He became a real human being. 

Just like us, He had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52).  “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).  He became weary (John 4:6), thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Mt. 4:2).  He marveled at the faith of the centurion (Matthew 8:10) and experienced sorrow when Lazarus died (John 11:35).  In Gethsemane He grieved deeply, to the point of death (Mt. 26:38).  The next day He died (Mark 15:37).  Jesus did not just look like a man; He was truly and fully human.

How is it possible?

How it was possible for Jesus, through whom God created the universe, and who “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3), to be transformed into a human embryo, we cannot begin to understand, and we will not even try.  “The secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29).

Who is Jesus eternally? 

What we want to learn through the current series of articles is who Jesus really is; not only who He was as a human being.  He said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative” (John 5:30).  Since He emptied Himself of equality with God, and was emptied of the powers which He had prior to His birth, we must always ask whether such statements are also true of His eternal being.

3. Death:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8)

He suffered a cruel death.

He remained “obedient to the point of death.”  The important matter is not His death, but His obedience.  His entire life was a test, namely to see whether He would remain obedient in all circumstances.  Satan was allowed to test Jesus, even “to the point of death.”  But Jesus remained faithful.  For more information, see Why Jesus had to die.

4. Exaltation:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:9-11)

This implies that Jesus is worshiped.  The Bible commands us to worship only God, but we must also worship Jesus.  This is discussed below.

Subordinate to God

Separate articles are devoted to the views that Jesus is not God, but subordinate to God.  Our passage in Philippians 2  confirms this:

Firstly, before He was born as a human being, Jesus existed in the form of God and had equality with God. 

To be in the form of something, does not mean to be that something.  If an angel appears in the form of a man, he is still an angel; not a man.  The translations of the phrase “in the form of God” as “in very nature God” (NIV) or as “He always had the nature of God” (Good News Bible), are therefore not supported here.  That Jesus existed in the form of God and had equality with God means He is distinct from God.

Christ had equality with God, but that does not mean He is equal to God.  For instance, when Jesus told His disciples that He will go to the Father, He said, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).  And Paul similarly concluded, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3).  Jesus said, All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).   In other words, as far as our worship is concerned, Father and Son are equal.  But Jesus also said, “My food is doing the will of him who sent me and finishing the work he has given me” (John 4:34; Phillips).  Although they are equal in our worship, Jesus is subordinate to God.

Secondly, to become a human being, He emptied Himself of equality with God. 

Many believe that Jesus is God and that it was therefore impossible for Him to empty Himself of His divine nature; that He only emptied Himself of His divine form and glory.  However, our text states that He emptied Himself of equality with God.  It is not conceivable that God could do this.  Since Jesus was able to empty Himself of equality with God, He is not God.

Jesus said He did not know the hour or the day of His second coming, “but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36; cf. Mark 13:26-27, 32).  Those who hold that Jesus is God, and who argue that He only emptied Himself of His divine form and glory, sometimes attempt to explain this lack of knowledge by arguing that He was two beings in one; a divine and a human person.  They propose that His divine side knew all things, but His human side knew not.  This schizophrenic view of Jesus we reject.  He is a single Being.

Thirdly, after His death on the Cross, “God highly exalted Him” (2:9). 

This confirms that Jesus is distinct from God and subordinate to God.

John 1:1

That He “existed in the form of God and had equality with God” may be explained together with John 1:1, which reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Word is Jesus.  (See John 1:14.)

The Word was with God.

This phrase makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

Gabriel said that Jesus will be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:26-32).  The “man from the tombs with an unclean spirit” similarly rhetorically asked, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:1-7).   In the phrase “the Word was with God” the title “God” therefore refers to the “Most High” exclusively.  This is true elsewhere in the New Testament.  This is clear from statements such as the following:

Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

There is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 8:6).  (Note that the title “God” is reserved for “the Father.”)

Jesus “is the (visible) image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

Jesus “spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

When Gabriel said that Jesus will be called the Son of the Most High, he also said that Jesus would be the Son of God (Luke 1:32, 35).

For more examples of the New Testament using title “God” exclusively for the Most High, see the article, Jesus is not God.

The phrase “the Word was with God” therefore makes a distinction between Jesus and the Most High.  When the New Testament uses the title “God” for the Most High exclusively, Jesus is not God.

Since Jesus is the Son of the Most High, the Most High is His Father.  Jesus generally referred to the Most High as “Father.”  But the following is one example where He did use the title “Most High,” probably because He was quoting from Psalm 82:

Love your enemies … and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

The Word was God.

The title “God” in this phrase is one of the few exceptions where the New Testament does not use the title “God” for the Most High.  Most Christians use this phrase as the best proof that Jesus is God.  But that would be contrary  the weight of the evidence from the New Testament.  To many a few examples:

John 1:1 itself, with the phrase “the Word was with God“, makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

Everything which His Son has, He received from His Father.  This includes His ability to raise the dead and His authority to judge.  He also received His teachings, His works, His disciples and even the Fullness of Deity from God, who is the Head of Christ.  Jesus can do nothing of Himself.  For a discussion of Jesus’ dependence of God, see the article, Jesus is subordinate to God.

Jesus said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).

Jesus referred to God as His God.  He said, “I ascend to … My God” (John 20:17).

God created all things “through” His Son (Heb. 1:1; cf. John 1:3).  It therefore was God Who created all things.  These verses confirm that the title “God” is reserved for the Most High, and that the Most High is the Great Source of all things.  Jesus is not the Source; He is the Means through which the Most High created (and still upholds) all things.

The question is then, what did John mean when he wrote that “the Word was God?”

When the Bible uses the title “God” for the Most High, it functions like a name, identifying a specific Being.  But the title “god” also has a more general meaning.  When Jesus said “I and the Father are one,” the Jews became very angry.  They were ready to stone Him, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33).  In His defense Jesus said: “In your own Law it says that men are gods” (v34).  In the next verse He explains that those “to whom the word of God came,” are called “gods” (v35).  He is here quoting from Psalms 82:6:

Rescue the weak and needy … I have said, ‘You are gods (Elohim); you are all sons of the Most High.’

This is one example of where the Bible uses the title “god” (elohim in Hebrew and theos in Greek) in the general sense of the word, indicating someone who is exalted above others.  It is therefore proposed that the phrase “the Word was God” does not identify Jesus as “the only true God” (John 17:3), for that title is reserved for the Most High.  Rather, the title “God” describes Jesus as highly exalted.

But we should not to undervalue this statement.  To refer to Jesus as “God,” in the same verse which refers to the Most High as “God,” is huge.  Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).  He also said, All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).   These are profound statements.  In our worship and admiration, God and Jesus are equal.  That Jesus “was God” can therefore be understood as equivalent to the statement in Philippians 2 that Jesus had equality with God. “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).  The fullness of Deity dwells in Jesus because “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (1:19).  The Father (the Most High) is always the Original Source of all things.  But in our worship Jesus is equal with God..

It is proposed, in summary, when the title “God” is used for the Most High, that it identifies the Invisible God, who exists outside the universe, and is the uncaused Cause of the universe and everything inside of it.  But when the title “God” is applied to Jesus, it does not identify a specific being, but describes Jesus as equal to the Most High in the esteem and affection of the created universe.

Every knee will bow.

The Bible teaches that only God may be worshiped.  “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Luke 4:8).  The Bible also maintains a clear distinction between God and Jesus.  Yet, in the article We must worship Jesus, it is shown that Jesus was worshiped as a baby by the magi from the east, and by His disciples after He walked on water and after His resurrection.  In Revelation 5 heavenly beings fell down before the Lamb with the prayers of the saints and gave honor to both Him who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.  God commanded all angels to worship His Son.  And in Philippians 2 God highly exalted Him so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

Jesus is not God, but we must honor Him equal to God.  In our admiration and worship we must not distinguish between God and Jesus.

We worship Jesus because that is God’s will. 

Many Christians will argue that Jesus is worshiped because He is co-equal with the Father, who is also called the Most High.  The Bible, however, teaches that God is the Head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3).  The question is therefore, why do we worship Jesus?

Philippians 2:9-11 indicates that we worship Jesus because that is God’s will:

God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Firstly, every knee will bow to Jesus because God exalted Him.  God exalted Him by giving Him a name “which is above every name.”  God is the great Source of power and authority.  Jesus received everything from God; also this exalted name, which makes it right and proper for created beings to worship Him.  This agrees with Hebrews 1:6, which says that God commanded all angels to worship His Son.

Secondly, the beings of the universe will not confess that Jesus is God; they will confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  It was shown in the article Jesus in Colossians that Jesus is never called God in that letter; He is called Lord.  This is consistent with the rest of the New Testament, which refers to Jesus as Lord and to the Father as God.

Thirdly, all will confess that He is Lord “to the glory of God the Father.”  Jesus is not worshiped independently of God the Father.  By giving glory to Jesus, the universe gives glory to God.  The worship of the universe flows through Jesus to the Father.  In other words, we still only worship God, but Jesus, as the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), appearing in the form of God, is the object of the worship of the God who exists outside the space, time and matter of the universe.

Why did God give Jesus this exalted name?

No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son” (Mt. 11:27; cf. Luke 10:22).  This is an amazing statement of equality.

Jesus is not a created being; He is the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18, 16).  “Begotten” is also something we also find hard to explain.

Notice in the following that God always works through Jesus:

God created and upholds all things through Jesus: All things have been created through Him (Jesus) and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).  “There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Cor. 8:6).

God communicates to the universe through Jesus:  “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).  “His name is called The Word of God” (Rev. 19:13).

God reconciled all things to Himself through Jesus:  “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself” (Col. 1:19-20).  “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

Jesus said, “All things that the Father has are Mine” (John 16:15). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

Because of these facts it is proposed here that Jesus is the link between God, who exists outside the universe, and the universe.  Through Jesus all creative and sustaining power flows from God to the universe, and through Jesus all thanksgiving and praise flow from the intelligent beings back to God.  “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Summary

Jesus is explained through four stages:

1.  Prior to His birth He existed in the form of God and He had equality with God.

2.  When He became a human being, He emptied Himself of the form of God and of “equality with God,” and took on the form of a man.

3.  He died a cruel death, but remained “obedient to the point of death.

4.  After He ascended to heaven, God exalted Him, so that at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and on earth will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus is subordinate to God.

Before He was born as a human being, Jesus existed in the form of God and had equality with God.  This implies that He is distinct from God.

When He became a human being, He emptied Himself of equality with God.  It is not conceivable that God could do this.

After His death on the Cross, “God highly exalted Him.”  This confirms that He is distinct from God and subordinate to God.

John 1:1

Philippians 2 may be explained together with John 1:1, which reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Word was with God.

This phrase makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  Gabriel said that Jesus will be called the Son of the Most High.  In the phrase “the Word was with God” the title “God” therefore refers to the “Most High.”  The New Testament generally uses the title “God” for the Most High.  In this Biblical usage of the title “God,” Jesus is not God.

The Word was God.

The title “God” in this phrase is one of the few exceptions where the New Testament does not use the title “God” for the Most High.  When the Bible uses the title “God” for the Most High, it functions like a name, identifying a specific Being.  But the title “god” also has a more general meaning, indicating a being as exalted above others.  It is therefore proposed that the phrase “the Word was God” does not identify Jesus as “the only true God” to whom Jesus prayed (John 17:3), but as highly exalted.  But to say that Jesus is highly exalted is a huge understatement, for He is to be worshiped equal to God.  That Jesus “was God” can therefore be understood as equivalent to the statement in Philippians 2 that Jesus had equality with God.

Every knee will bow.

Only God may be worshiped, and the Bible maintains a clear distinction between God and Jesus, but we must worship Jesus because that is God’s will:

Firstly, every knee will bow to Jesus because God exalted Him.  God is the great Source of power and authority, from whom Jesus received this exalted name.

Secondly, the beings of the universe do not confess Jesus as God; they will confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  In the New Testament Jesus is called Lord and the Father is called God.

Thirdly, all will confess that He is Lord “to the glory of God the Father.”  By giving glory to Jesus, the universe gives glory to God.  We worship God through Jesus.

Why did God give Jesus this exalted name?

Jesus is the link between God and the universe.  Through Jesus all creative and sustaining power flows to the universe, and through Jesus all thanksgiving flow from the created intelligent beings back to God.  “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Articles in the series: Is Jesus God?

1.     The three views of the Son
2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God.
3.    Jesus in Colossians
4.    Did Jesus empty Himself of equality with God?  Current article
5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
6.    Jesus is not God.
7.    God is the Head of Christ.
8.    In the Bible Jesus is called God.
9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God.
10.  God created all things through His Son.
11.  We must worship Jesus.
12.  Jesus has equality with God.
13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles
14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?

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