The kenosis - What is it?

Question: Did the baby in the manger know that the world was round?

One of the great mysteries contained in the Bible is that it teaches that Jesus is fully God and also that He is fully man. Speaking of both Christ's divinity and humanity, the apostle John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-4, 14).

Note that the Word was and is God and that the Word became man and lived among His created beings. This fact, however, causes a number of questions. One such is whether Jesus, being God and thus omniscient (all-knowing), knew everything when He walked this earth as a man. How could Jesus be God yet "grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom" (Luke 2:40)?

The answer is found in Philippians: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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" (Philippians 2:5-8).

The Greek word for "emptied" is kenoō, from which we get the theological term kenosis. The kenosis of Christ is His emptying Himself of certain divine privileges to become a servant for those He loves. But what exactly did Christ empty Himself of? There are at least four things that Jesus willingly gave up to become that Child in the manger:

First, He emptied Himself of His pristine position in relation to the Law. Although not personally guilty of any sin, Jesus willingly took the sins of those He saves. Paul makes this clear when he writes, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Second, He emptied Himself of His rightful ownership of everything. Although He created everything, Jesus had to borrow a place to be born, homes to sleep in, boats to preach in, an animal to ride into Jerusalem on, a room to eat the Last Supper in, and a tomb to be buried in.

Third, He emptied Himself of His heavenly glory that He shared with the Father. Right before His arrest, Jesus prayed, "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (John 17:4–5).

Last, Jesus emptied Himself of His divine knowledge. This required Jesus to rely solely on the Father for what He knew. And that's why Jesus, although He is God, "did not know" when His second coming would occur (see Matthew 24:36). He had voluntarily given up that knowledge to live life as a man.

A number of other passages indicate Jesus' self-emptying of divine knowledge:

• "He who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him" (John 8:26).
• "I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me" (John 8:28).
• "All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).

With the kenosis, Jesus provided an example of how we all should live – in complete dependence upon God for everything, including the knowledge and wisdom that we need.

So, did the baby in the manger know that the world was round? In His divine nature, yes, Jesus knew that fact. But during the time of His earthly ministry, He willingly emptied Himself of numerous divine privileges. Thus, in His human nature, He did not have that immediate knowledge.

The lesson for us in the kenosis is that we should mimic our Master. Whatever supposed privileges we possess should be set aside in our service to others. Jesus did not cling to His heavenly throne; why should we cling to earthly treasures? We must be willing to empty ourselves, just as Jesus did.

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