I always had trouble relating to Jesus. I believed he was the Christ, the son of the living God. I believed in his virgin conception, sinless life, miracles, and his bodily resurrection. I loved him, worshipped him, and served him. I just could not relate to him.
As God, he always had a leg up on me. I could not be like him. I could not live up to his standards. I could not be perfect. I worshipped him because he was the Christ. I could not relate to him because he was the Christ. He knew everything. He could do anything. He was God.
Then I read Philippians 2 and started looking at and thinking about the humanity of Jesus. This journey did not take away from his divinity as so many have done. Rather, I questioned whether Jesus was truly human or did he just appear that way.
The more I studied the more I realized I was a Docetic Gnostic, but never knew it. This belief system was based on the assumption that Jesus only appeared to be human to those who saw him, but in reality he was not.
I tested my view and have tested the views of others with questions like these: Did Jesus know Chinese? Did Jesus ever hit his thumb or get a sliver in his hand while working in his shop? Did he ever make something and then throw it away because he didn’t like how it came out? If Jesus played basketball, would he make every shot he ever took?
If your answer to questions like these is, “He’s Jesus. He can do anything.” Or, “He can’t do anything wrong.” Then you, too, might be a Docetic Gnostic like I was.
Philippians 2 includes an early church hymn. No one knows if Paul penned this hymn or simply quotes it. However, it gives a glimpse of insight concerning the nature of Jesus. There are wonderful comments made about Jesus; he was obedient, a servant, and humble. The part that grabbed my imagination, however, was that Jesus “emptied” himself. The noun form of the verb used here is kenosis. These verses are sometimes known as the Kenosis Passage.
What did Jesus empty himself of when he became a human being? The text does not say directly. My mind, however, has led me to believe he emptied himself of his divine qualities.
He didn’t give up being divine; he had God the Father’s DNA. However, he emptied himself of his prebirth attributes. Namely, I am thinking of the omni aspects of God.
God is all-powerful (or omnipotent). When Jesus became a seed, a fetus, then an infant and toddler, he had no power. He was vulnerable, so vulnerable Joseph escaped with his family to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-23) for fear of Jesus’ life.
God is all-present (or omnipresent). Jesus, however, chose to be at one place at one time. He placed limits upon himself.
God is all-knowing (or omniscient). Jesus, however, did not know when he was coming back (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). Could it be that when he asked some of his questions, he did so because he did not know?
God is all-goodness. He cannot be tempted with sin (James 1:13), but Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), according to Hebrews 4:15, in EVERY WAY we are (think about that a minute), yet was with-
out sin! Was temptation easier for Jesus to resist than for us because he was Jesus?
The best way, at this time, for me to put these thoughts together is that Jesus emptied himself of these divine attributes when he truly became a human being. Then, as he grew in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), he filled himself up again. Jesus learned to walk, talk, read, write, be a carpenter, and come to an understanding of who he really is, “Emmanuel, God with us.”
By the time of his baptism, he is God’s Son (Matthew 3:17), not just in DNA, but in attitudes and actions. By his miracles throughout his ministry and his own bodily resurrection, he demonstrates he is not only human, but divine.
Jesus emptied himself and filled himself up. He shows us what it is to be truly human. He shows us what it is to be truly divine. I am in awe of Jesus. It is impossible to understand what he did to become a real human being. I am so thankful that he did. My admiration and awe of Jesus has skyrocketed as I contemplated these concepts.
I now not only have a Christ to worship and adore, I have a Jesus to relate to in my daily struggle. I now not only have an idea of who God is, I have an idea of who a true human being is!
Joseph Grana II serves as dean of the College of Ministry and Biblical Studies at Pacific Christian College, Hope International University, Fullerton, California. He also serves as professor of biblical studies.