“[Christ] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Matthew 20:20–28 demonstrates that first-century inhabitants of the Roman Empire understood the proclivity for people in power to use their position for their own gain. Back then, despotic rulers commonly used their already privileged status to grant themselves even greater advantages and to seek their own ends at the expense of others. Our Savior’s words in this passage show us that such rulers are not models for leadership, especially for the Christian. Moreover, Philippians 2:5–11 tells us that Jesus Himself exemplifies Christian service.
Although the Son of God possesses the highest dignity, worth, and glory because He shares fully in the one essence of God Almighty, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). That is to say, the Son, before His incarnation, did not see His status as an excuse to seek His own ends at the expense of serving others. On the contrary, His equality with God motivated Him to make Himself “nothing” and come to earth in the likeness of man to meet the needs of His people (vv. 7–8). This is a reference to His incarnation, the second person of the triune God taking to Himself a human nature in the person of Christ Jesus (John 1:14). Adding to Himself all that is essential to humanity, the Son of God walked the earth as the God-man Jesus Christ in order to meet our deepest need — nothing less than perfect atonement for our sin, that we might be reconciled to our most holy Creator (Rom. 3:21–26). In so doing, He provided the clearest revelation of who God is as One whose very disposition is to go to the ultimate lengths to benefit His people.
Christ’s existence as true God and true man, as well as the reality of the transcendent Lord of glory entering into history to save His people, are both profound mysteries. What we do know is that, against those who would espouse a “kenotic Christology,” the Son did not give up any of the attributes that are essential to deity in the incarnation. Instead, He manifested the form of God in the likeness of humanity. Augustine wrote, “He is said to have ‘emptied himself’ in no other way than by taking the form of a servant, not by losing the form of God. For that nature by which he is equal to the Father in the form of God remained immutable while he took our mutable nature” (ACCNT 8, p. 231).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Advocates of a kenotic Christology say the Son of God set aside certain divine attributes when He became incarnate. Such is impossible, for then He would not be fully God and could not save us. John Calvin comments, “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.”