The Humiliation of Christ
Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5b-8NKJV
This week we focus on the final part of Question 46 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What was the estate of Christ’s humiliation?” It gives the answer, “The estate of Christ’s humiliation was that low condition, wherein he for our sakes, emptying himself of his glory, took upon him the form of a servant, in his conception and birth, life, death, and after his death, until his resurrection.” Last week we looked at Scripture’s teaching on the everlasting punishment of the wicked. This week we consider the doctrine of the incarnation.
In the previous question we spent several weeks examining the kingship of Christ. Christians understand that Jesus is a king. They know the Bible says He is “King of kings” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), and they are accustomed to pray “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” So they are not surprised to think of Christ exalted as a royal figure in all splendor. Yet, we know that Christ did not appear on earth as a king. He was not born in a palace, waited on by dozens of attendants, or praised and exalted by adoring crowds. He was born in a barn, laid in a feeding trough, and cleansed with the poorest of sacrifices allowed by the Law (Lev. 12:8; Luke 2:24).
Theologians refer to this period as the estate of Christ’s humiliation (humbling). This state refers not merely to His birth, but as the Catechism states, to the entire period of His first coming – from conception to resurrection. Jesus had the right to be worshiped and adored by all of creation from the moment of His coming through eternity, but “for our sakes” He came in a “low condition.” He took upon Himself the form of a servant, rather than the form of the greatest hero the world will ever know. The mission of Christ was not to exalt Himself (He already had all the glory of the Father from all eternity, John 17:5). It was to save, exalt, and bring sinful man into the glory of God (Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 5:10).
Thus, the Catechism speaks of Christ “emptying himself of his glory.” This phrase “emptying Himself” is a direct quote of Phil. 2:7 (most modern translations say “made Himself of no reputation” or “nothing”). It does not mean that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, somehow, for a time, became less than God, giving up some of the attributes of deity. That is impossible and unthinkable. Jesus Christ did not empty Himself by giving up something, but as the Scripture and the Catechism clearly state, He emptied Himself by taking on something. Christ, the God-man, the most exalted person that will ever appear before creation, took on Himself the form of a servant. He did not come, shining as the sun in full strength, as He appears now (Rev. 1:16). He came as a servant, in a low condition, with no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), a man of sorrows (Isa. 53:3) and suffering (1 Peter 2:23), tempted in every way like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
Christ went through this period of humiliation to take away our sin so that we could appear before the Father in robes of glory and splendor, purchased for us by His blood. He did it entirely for us – He gained nothing for doing it, nothing whatsoever for Himself that He did not possess already. Since Christ willingly gave up the glory and honor that should have been rightfully His throughout every moment of His entire earthly sojourn, and He did this not for great holy beings who were even the least bit worthy of it, but He did it for sinners like you and me, shouldn’t we be able to endure without complaining – even with thankful joy – the slight, momentary humblings that we occasionally go through in this life for our good and for His glory?