The Deity of Christ

The claim that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the eternal Son of God infuriated the Jewish leaders at the time (Jn. 5:18), and caused them to accuse Jesus of blasphemy (Jn. 10:33). Now Paul, the completed Jew, carefully stresses the Deity of Christ in Phil. 2:6,7, “Who, though He was in the form (morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

The key word is “morphe,” which is usually translated as nature or form. It stresses the inner essence or reality of that with which it is associated. Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (vs. 6). In other words, Jesus did not have to strive to be God or even be like Him, because He was and is God. He voluntarily surrendered His independent use of His own divine attributes. When the devil tempted Jesus to turn the rocks into bread to save Himself from starvation, He simply responded, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The devil wanted Jesus to use His own divine attributes independently of the Father to save Himself. He could have called ten thousand angels to save Himself on the cross, but He did not, because He came to do His Father’s will.

Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature [morphe] of a servant, being made in human likeness” (vs. 7). “Made himself nothing,” literally means, “He emptied Himself.” He divested Himself of His self-interest, but not of His Deity. Jesus humbled Himself and took on the very nature of man. He was truly God and also truly man. “Likeness” implies similar but different. He differed from the rest of humanity in that He was sinless. His self-renunciation was necessary to assume an authentic human experience that included geographical location, human development in mind and body, and the need for food and sleep. He had to totally depend on the Heavenly Father.

The phrase, “Being found in appearance as a man” (vs. 8), refers to a temporary and outer appearance in contrast to “morphe,” which signifies a permanent inner quality. The condescension of Jesus included not only His birth, but also His death, which was the worst possible “death-even death on a cross.” Martin Luther said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that he sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” He left His exalted position to be like us in order to die for us.

St. Irenaeus, an early church father wrote, “The Word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of His great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what He is Himself.” His life was the epitome of humble submission leading to death and exaltation. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God” (Phil. 2: 9-11).

Dr. Neil

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