The Incarnation

Gregory Koukl

IV.  The Kenosis, the Hypostatic Union, the Deity of Christ.

A.  God visits the earth
1.  In form:  theophany
a.  God reveals Himself in some outward, physical manifestation, either voice or apparition, sometimes
referred to as “the Angel of the Lord,” though not the very substance of God Himself.
(ISBE, Vol..4, p.829).
b.  Some examples are the Lord appearing to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1), Moses and the
burning bush (Ex. 3:2), and Jacob wrestling with a “man” (Gen 32:24-30).
2.  In substance:  incarnation
a.  Micah 5:2 says He was to be born in Bethlehem (humanity), yet He was from everlasting to everlasting
to everlasting (deity).
b.  John 1:1,14 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
[deity]….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory [humanity]….”

B.  The kenosis:  the choice of the Son to empty Himself of His divine rights by becoming a man, and also emptying
Himself of His human rights by becoming a servant .[1]
1.  Phil 2:5-8
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, 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.  And being found in appearance as a man, He
humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[2]
Like your landlord becoming your tenant;
Like Beethoven lining up for a ticket to his own concert;
Like a principal having to sit in the corner;
Like Picasso painting by numbers;
God lived among us.[3]
2.  Jesus never ceased being God.
            a.  Jesus laid aside only His privileges of deity, not His divine nature.  He had to learn like we do, to grow in
understanding and knowledge (Lk 2:52).  Some contend, as I do, that on earth Jesus did not make use of
His own powers of diety; others contend that He did.[4]
b.  Because of His humbling and obedience, God the Father highly exalted Jesus:  “…that at the name of
Jesus every knee shall bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that
every tongue should confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord….” (Phil 2:9-11).
3.  As one of my students put it, “God, what a man!  Man, what a God!”

C.  The hypostatic union:
In the one person of Jesus the Messiah there were two natures:  undiminished deity and true humanity.[5]
Jesus was fully God and fully man.
1.  Isaiah 9:6 suggests the dual nature of Jesus:
a.  His humanity:  “A child is born.”
b.  His deity:  “A Son is given.”[6]
2.  Jesus, however, was a different person from the Father.
a.  Sometimes He spoke in reference to His deity:  “I and the Father are one [‘one essence,’ lit.].” (Jn 10:30)
b.  Sometimes He spoke in reference to His humanity:  “…the Father is greater than I”[7] (Jn 14:28).
c.  “In Jesus’ humanity, He is subject to the Father because the Father is greater than His humanity.  But in
His deity, He is co-equal with God the Father because He is of one essence with Him” (Lindsey, p.81).

D.  The Trinity
1.  St. Augustine’s definition is the classic one:  “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is
God; and yet they are not three Gods but one God.”
2.  The term “Trinity” is a 2nd century term not found in the Bible, but is used to explain specific statements
made about God that are taught in the Scripture.[8]  The Trinity is not a problem; it’s a solution.
3.  Most illustrations fall short, sometimes implying a heretical understanding of the Trinity called modalism.[9]
Here’s the best illustration I know of to give a sense of what’s meant:
a.  Dimensions
1)  Length, width and height are distinct dimensions.
2)  Yet each completely subsumes the other.  They are co-terminus, beginning and ending at the same
point, though they are completely distinct from each other too.
b.  Remove any one of them and the other will disappear.
4.  In the final analysis, the Trinity is a mystery.
a.  Excessive attempts at making it rational and understandable almost always lead to error and imbalance.
b.  This is a case where reason bows to revelation.

(Adapted from “The Bible:  Fast Forward” by Greg Koukl)

[1]ISBE, vol. 3, p. 9.

[2]The Phillips translation I think better captures the sense of Jesus’ humiliation, rendering this verse, “…the death He died was the death of a common criminal.”

[3]Simon Jenkins, from his poem “Like…”

[4]One might well ask, “Then how did Jesus do all His miracles if He didn’t use His divine powers?”  Jesus worked His miracles and lived a holy life as a man filled with the Holy Spirit, just like us.  That’s why Jesus could say, “…he who believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father…and He will give you another Helper that will be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth….” (John 14:12,16,17).

[5]Lindsey, p. 80.

[6]Lindsey, p. 78.

[7] Meaning “comparative degree,” not “essence” (Vine, sec. 2, p. 280).  Due to Jesus’ kenosis, the Father was “greater” than He was–i.e. at a higher station–for a time.

[8]ISBE, vol. 4, p. 914.  More extensive treatments of this issue can be found in ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 914-921; and Archer, p. 357-361.

[9]Modalism is an early heresy in the church that came out of an attempt to make the Trinity understandable.  It taught that God was one person manifesting Himself in three different ways, or modes:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  This is a frequent misconception about the Trinity currently held by many Christians.



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