Jesus existed prior to His birth and Incarnation; in the form of God. He had equality with God.

He descended from heaven; sent by God.  To become a human being Jesus emptied Himself of the form of God and equality with God.

Pre-existence

Jesus existed before He became a human being.

The Baptist said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me” (John 1:29).

Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

He shared glory with God “before the world was” (John 17:5).

He existed from eternity. 

He is “from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). The “beginning” is the beginning of time.  There was no time when He was not.

He is before all things” (Col. 1:17).

He descended from heaven.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13).

 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven … I am the bread of life … I have come down from heaven” (John 6:33-38).

What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” (John 6:62).

I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23).

He came from God.

Jews questioning Jesus
Jews questioning Jesus

I proceeded forth and have come from God” (John 8:42)

I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (John 16:28).

God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16)

One hears many times the view that Jesus became God’s begotten Son when He was born as a human.  But John 3:16 indicates that He was God’s only begotten Son prior to His birth as a human being.

He was sent by God. 

“... God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” (Romans 8:3).

In the article Jesus is not the same Person as God many examples are given of the statement that God sent Jesus.  This firstly implies His pre-existence; that He existed prior to becoming a human being.  Secondly it implies His subordination to God; not only as human being, but also in His pre-existence.

Incarnation

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV).

For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7).

Philippians 2

Philippians 2 contains a revealing passage in which Paul compares the existence of Christ through four phases:

(1) Prior to His birth;
(2) As a human being;
(3) His death;
(4) After His ascension

Prior to His birth Jesus existed in the “form of God” and had “equality with God”.

Jesus “emptied Himself” of the “form of God” and “equality with God” to become a human being.  He remained the same Person as before, but He became a mere human baby, without knowledge or wisdom.  He was truly and fully human; not part God and part man.

The Cross

His Death was a test to see whether He would remain “obedient to the point of death.”  His entire life was a test of obedience.

After His deathGod highly exalted Him.”  He is worshiped by all.  He is again equal with God.

For a further discussion of this passage, see the discussion in the article Jesus emptied Himself.

Articles discussing the question: Is Jesus God?

The three views of the Son
Jesus in Colossians
Does Philippians 2 say that Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God?
In the beginning was the Word. An identification of the “Word” in John 1:1
Jesus is not the same Person as God.
God is the Head of Christ.
The Bible calls Jesus God.
Only Begotten Son of God
God created all things through His Son.

Does Philippians 2 say that Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God?

Since Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself”, did He also empty Himself of “equality with God?

Philippians mapPhilippians is generally not a highly theological letter, but contains a profound statement of the nature and being of Christ.  The particular passage is 2:5-11.  Please read these verses carefully:

2:5 … Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
2:9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus is not the same Person as God.

This passage makes a distinction between God and Jesus:

2:6 Before He was born as a human being, Jesus had “equality with God”.  This means He is distinct from God.

2:6-7 To become a human being, Jesus “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself”.  It is implied that Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God.  That is something which God cannot do, for it is not conceivable that God could empty Himself of His divine nature.

2:9 After His death on the Cross, “God highly exalted Him.”  This emphasizes the distinction between God and Jesus.

Since a distinction is made between God and Jesus, Jesus is not the same Person as God.

John 1:1 contains a similar statement:

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

The word “God” is used twice in this verse:

The word “God” in the phrase “the Word was with God identifies “God“.  This phrase makes a distinction between God and the Word (Jesus – See John 1:14.), which means that He is not the same Person as God.

The word “God” in the phrase “the Word was God” describes Him.  It does not identity Him.  This phrase has a similar meaning to the statement that Jesus had equality with God.  For all practical purposes, He is God.

Subordinate to God

Since it is God that “highly exalted Him” (2:9), Jesus is subordinate to God.  Paul 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).

Christ had equality with God, but that does not mean He is equal to God.  When Jesus told His disciples that He will go to the Father, He said, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Four Stages

Philippians 2:5-11 describes Jesus in four chronological stages:

I – Prior to birth

2:5-6 “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped

This, in the first place, confirms that Christ Jesus really did exist prior to His birth as a human being.  This is one the very few instances where the Bible directly says something about the Son’s existence before He became a human being.

He existed “in the form of 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 translation of this phrase as “in very nature God” (NIV) or “He always had the nature of God” (Good News), is therefore, not supported.  These may be true, but go beyond the meaning of the text.

But He did exist “in the form of God” and He had “equality with 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. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out” (Is. 6:1-4)

Since Jesus previously existed in the form of God, this vision of “the LORD of hosts” could have been Jesus.  .  Ezekiel saw a similar vision, and He specifically mentioned that the one on the throne had “the appearance of a man” (Eze. 1:26).

II – Born as a human being

2:7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

He Emptied Himself

Adam attempted to seize equality with God (Genesis 3:5 – “You will be like God”).  By contrast, Christ chose the way of self-emptying.  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).  “He had to be made like his brothers in all things” (Heb. 2:17 NASB).  “Our Lord Jesus Christ … though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9).

How? – How it was possible for the Creator of the universe, 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).

Emptied Himself

Of what did He empty Himself when He became a human being?

He “emptied Himself” of “the form of God” and took on “the form of a bond-servant … being made in the likeness of men” (2:6-7).

Since He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v6), it is implied that He emptied Himself of “equality with God”.

Did he empty Himself of divinity?

Many believe that Jesus is part of the Being of God.  One often hear it said that the Being of God consists of three Persons.  They argue that it was therefore impossible for Him to empty Himself of His inner nature or essential attributes; that He only emptied Himself of His divine form and glory, and took on the form of a human being.

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 sometimes attempt to solve this 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.

As argued above, Jesus is not the same Person or Being as God.  The articles Jesus is not the same Person as God and God is the Head of Christ show that the Bible maintains a clear distinction between God and Jesus Christ.  But since He was not God, it was possible for Him to empty Himself of equality with God.

Jesus became a real human being.

He emptied Himself of His powers and knowledge, starting His human life as a baby (Luke 2:7; Gal. 4:4), without any knowledge or wisdom.  Just like us, He had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52).  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).

He performed many miracles, like healing people and walking on water, but that was because He received that authority from the Father.  Explaining the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda, He said “The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do” (John 5:36).

Gethsemane

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).  In Gethsemane He grieved deeply, to the point of death (Mt. 26:38).  The next day He died (Mark 15:37).  Jesus does not just look like a man; He was truly and fully human.

Visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) – That He 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.

Consider His statements of dependence in their contextAs a human being He was emptied of the powers which He had prior to His birth.  We must therefore be careful to distinguish between:

(1) What He was before He became a human being;
(2) What He became as a human being;

When we read a statements such as “I can do nothing on My own initiative” (John 5:30), we must always ask whether He made that statement because He emptied Himself, or whether that statement reflects His eternal state.

III – His Death

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

Obedient to the point of deathHe 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.  Satan argued that it is impossible for beings to remain obedient to God under all circumstances.  Therefore, Satan was allowed to test Jesus, even “to the point of death”.  But Jesus remained faithful, even to death.  For more information, see Why Jesus had to die.

IV – Exalted above all

2:9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Distinct – The statements that He is exalted by God has the following implications:

It makes a distinction between Jesus and God (v9) or “God the Father” (v11), implying that He is not God.

Since God exalts Jesus it is implied that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Equal

However, “at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth”.  The phrases “every knee will bow” (2:10) and “every tongue” (2:11) are quoted from Isaiah 45:23, where God identified Himself as the One speaking in Isaiah 45 and says:

Is it not I, the LORD?  And there is no other God besides Me … to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:21-23).

 The “LORD”, in capital letters, translates the personal name of God, YHWH, usually pronounced as Jehovah or Yahweh.  “Every knee will bow” both to Jesus (Phil. 2:10) and to Yahweh (Is. 45:21-23), for He has equality with God:

All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).  The Son now again has the glory which He had before He became a human being.

We worship Jesus

Philippians 2 implies that Jesus is worshiped.  As discussed in a separate article, the Bible commands us to worship only God, but we must also worship Jesus.  That confirms His equality with God.

Although He, as a human being, no longer had equality with God, He still was the same Person.  His willingness to humiliate Himself to become a human being only served to heighten the love and admiration which the heavenly hosts had for Him.  For them, even in the humble “form of a bond-servant” (2:7), He remained worthy of worship.  Jesus today again has “equality with God.

Summary

Prior to His Birth – Jesus is not God, for this passage makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  But before He was born as a human being, Jesus had “equality with God”.  That does not mean He is equal to God, for He Jesus is subordinate to God.

Equality with GodHis Birth – To become a human being, Jesus “emptied Himself”, even of His equality with God, and became a mere human baby, without any knowledge or wisdom.  But even after He gave up His “equality with God”, and became a vulnerable human being, He remained the same Person, deserving of the same worship as before.

His Death – His entire life was a test, namely to see whether He would remain obedient, and He remained “obedient to the point of death“.

After His Death – After His death on the Cross, “God highly exalted Him.”  He will be worshiped by all, which confirm His “equality with God”.

NEXT: Who is the Word in John 1:1?

Articles related to the question: Is Jesus God?

The three views of the Son
Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God.
Jesus in Colossians
Does Philippians 2 say that Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God?
Who is the Word in John 1:1?
Jesus is not the same Person as God
God is the Head of Christ.
The Bible calls Jesus God.
Only Begotten Son of God
God created all things through His Son.
We must worship Jesus.
Is Jesus God?

The Son of God emptied Himself to become a human being, but who is He really?

Jesus as babySome people propose that the Son of God is a created being.  Other say that He was derived from the Father.  A third view is that He always existed; co-equal with the Father.  When He became a human being, He emptied Himself of wisdom, power, knowledge, and became a helpless human baby named Jesus.  But who is He really?

Three views

Created – Some people propose that the Son of God is a created being; the first created being, who created all other things, but nevertheless a created being.

Fathers of the faithDerived – A second view, held for instance by the Fathers of the Christian church, was that the Son of God, as to His divine nature, was not created, but was “derived” from the Father; eternally generated by God the Father; came forth from the being of God. Hence, the Nicene creed speaks of him as:

Begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made”.

Co-equal – A third view is held by those who hold that a derived being cannot in any proper sense be “God”.  They argue that His Son always existed; co-equal with the Father.

Emptied Himself 

Emptied HimselfThis discussion is complicated by the information that, when He became a human being, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).  He emptied Himself of wisdom, power, knowledge, and became a helpless human baby named Jesus, having to learn like any other human being.  But although He emptied Himself of supernatural powers, He remained the same Person as before.  We need to keep this in mind when we think about Him.  For instance, He said that He only does what the Father tells Him.  If that was because He “emptied Himself”, His dependence on God does not help us to understand Who He really is.

This article uses the title “Son of God” to refer to Him in His true identity, while the name Jesus is used to refer to Him as a human being.

Humility Required

This subject requires humility, for humans are unable to understand God.  “His judgments are unsearchable and His ways are unfathomable” (Rom. 11:33).  The Lord warned:

As the heaven are higheras the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts
”. (Isaiah 55:9)

We must accept that “we know in part … now we see in a mirror dimly … now I know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9-12).  It is our privilege to study about Him, but we must do it with humility, for “the secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons” (Deut. 29:29).  Even with what is revealed in the Bible, we may feel frustrated because we do not understand, but we need to accept our inability to understand with joy, for it confirms His greatness.  If we able to understand Him, He would have been a very small God, indeed.

We do understand to some extent, and we will in all eternity know more and more of Him, but there will always remain an infinity beyond.  That may scare us, for we do not know what the future holds.  But let us then rejoice that God has revealed Himself in Jesus as trustworthy and merciful.

Logic distorts 

We must be very careful to not use logic to supply that which the Bible does not reveal.  Human logic will serve to lead us away from the truth.

Articles

To evaluate these views, this article first discusses a number of texts.  At the end of the article these concepts are brought together into a conclusion.  The articles in this series are:

God and His Son: God is One. The Father is greater than the Son.
What the Son does: created all things and continues to uphold all things.
What the Son is: fullness of Deity
The Son is worshiped.
The Son is Yahweh of the Old Testament
Conclusion: Is He created, derived or co-equal?

Recommended listening:  Does the NT Teach that Jesus is God? (White vs Malik)

Hebrews 1:1-2 The New Testament has a higher authority because God spoke it in His Own Son, who is heir of all things, through whom also He made the world and who still upholds all things.

Hebrews 1:1-2 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (New American Standard)

The Two Testaments

These verses contrast the two testaments:

What God spoke long ago in the prophets represents the Old Testament.

Son of manWhat God spoke in these last days in His Son refers to the New Testament, or perhaps more accurately, the Four Gospels.

The writer is saying with this contrast that the Four Gospels have a much higher authority because God spoke it in His Own Son, who is heir of all things, through whom also He made the world and who still upholds all things (Hebrews 1:2-3).

Hebrews frequently quotes the Old Testament.  It uses the Old Testament to show that the Four Gospels have a much higher authority.  For this reason the writer starts in Hebrews 1:1 by affirming the Old Testament as the Word of God.

New TestamentSome Bible interpretations effectively classify the Four Gospels as part of the Old Testament, while the New Testament letters are used as the basis for Christianity.  But Hebrews tells us that the four gospels are the foundation of the New Testament.

 

 

God Spoke

In these verses it is God that spoke; not the prophets and not His Son.

We should be amazed that the infinite and eternal God should speak to man; a speck of dust floating in the unending expanse of the universe.  But this reflects His love for man; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

God exists outside the limits of space, time and matter. If God had not spoken, we would have known anything about Him, and we would have floating around in this immeasurable universe without hope. But God has spoken, and we therefore do have hope.

The fathers include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They are also the spiritual fathers of Gentile Christians believers (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:29).

Last Days

Last DaysThe phrase last days is commonly understood as meaning ‘recently’.  However, Jesus said, His disciples believed and the entire New Testament—including Hebrews (9:26; 10:25, 36-37)—teach that the Lord is coming soon.  The phrase “these last days” therefore indicates the writer’s belief that his generation was to be the last generation before Christ’s return.  Please see Why did He Not Return in the First Century as He promised?

His Son

Even though 1:2 says that God “has spoken to us in His Son”, the writer and his readers had not actually heard Jesus (2:3).  They were second-generation Christians.  Hebrews was written more than 30 years after Christ’s death.

The title “His Son” (1:2) signifies His unique relationship to God, just like the title “Son of man” designates His relationship to man.

Jesus as babyGod created everything through His Son (1:2).  His Son therefore always existed.  To become a human being, His Son emptied Himself of glory, power and even wisdom.  He became a helpless human baby, had to develop like any other human being, and was utterly dependent on God.

The most wonderful event ever in the existence of mankind is that the Son of God should have come from heaven to teach mankind.  But equally amazing is how few listened to Him when He was on the earth, and how few still regard Him today.

Conclusion

This letter to the Hebrews does not have an introduction like we would find in other letters.  In Hebrews the first three verses serve as an introduction, but also immediately confront the reader with the main theme of this epistle, which is the superiority of Christ, and therefore the higher authority of His message.

This is a summary.
To read the full article, see God Spoke.