What does it mean that Christ "emptied Himself" in Phil. 2:6–7?
Philippians 2:6–7 does not mean that Christ became anything less than He was. It does not mean that He ceased to be God because then He would have ceased to be who He was. It does mean that He submitted Himself to the power of the Holy Spirit and the will of the Father. In fact, if you go through the sayings of Christ, particularly in the Gospel of John, He said things like, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do,” “I only do what the Father shows Me to do,” “I only do the will of the Father…” He also said, in effect: “When you deny the things that I have done and attribute them to Satan, you have blasphemed the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 12:22–32).
The simplest way to explain the self-emptying of Christ is that He set aside His own life as an act of total obedience to the will of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t cease to be God in any sense. He was always fully God, or truly God, as R.C. used to like to say. He was truly God and truly man. There was no diminishing of His glory as God and no diminishing of His glory as man. All the person of Christ was bound to lower Himself to the point of a slave, as it says in Philippians 2.
That language is so important. Paul defined the kenosis, or self-emptying, by using the word “slave.” All the way down, Jesus was the One who was face-to-face with God, pros ton theon, as it says in the gospel of John. Then, He prayed in John 17 to be restored to that pros ton theon, face-to-face with God, because He had made a slave of Himself, voluntarily submitting to the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. Those are words that I can say without fully comprehending that in a Trinitarian sense.
This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with John MacArthur and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.