Summary: Written and published July 2015: This article explains what is referred to by theologians and teachers as the humiliation of Jesus Christ. His obedience to do the will of God in service to others is an example for all Christian believers to follow. But the article pulls the curtain back farther by going into greater depth concerning the necessary requirements of our redemption, and how this can easily be seen by direct comparisons made between the two Adams (I Cor. 15:45-47). These comparisons are simply remarkable and enlightening. What follows is a detailed explanation of the nuances of many different spiritual insights, and can’t help but take more the form of bible study. So be prepared: I am not saying you need to possess any special theological knowledge in order to benefit, but effort and commitment will be exercised.
Most Christians are familiar with the following passage of Scripture in Philippians chapter two describing what we call the humiliation of Jesus Christ – when God became a man.
Philippians 2:5-11 (NKJV)
“Let this mind be in you which was also in 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. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
There are many wonderful truths concerning the experience of Jesus Christ found in this passage. Central is the suffering of the cross in the redemptive work, and then His exaltation. Doctrinally, it does not get into redemptive results for the believer. Instead the passage intends to show the mind and attitude of the Son of God in it, that mind the believer is to emulate as to other Christians. “…having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:2-5) The mind that was in Christ Jesus was one of humiliation leading to obedience to the will of God. It was His love making Himself nothing to serve others. This is what the believer emulates from His example. Then further, there is this biblical principle and lesson: exalt yourself and you will be humbled, but humble yourself and you will be exalted. And Jesus is the perfect example. These are the targeted lessons.
However, we gleam other understandings indirectly from the passage. There were a number of crucial elements required for our redemption to have been accomplished, and for the work to be perfectly efficacious and eternal in value. It had to be a man who was responsible to do the work. And the work required the form of a sacrifice, which as we know had to be spotless to be acceptable. We know that the animal sacrifices of the law were not desirable to God – they could never accomplish the needed work (Heb. 10:1-12). The necessary sacrifice had to be a man and a perfect Man at that. Yet this ruled out the entire human race – in Adam all were made sinners.
Romans 5:19 (NKJV)
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”
The one Man was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who changed His state and became a man. If we put the three passages together – Phil. 2, Heb. 10, and Rom. 5 – we see a clear picture. He is the Son of God, in the form of God and equal to God, yet considered His position as not something to be held on to exclusively. Why? Because there was a necessary work to be accomplished if any fallen men were to be redeemed. And there was no man in Adam qualified to do it. Neither could an animal or an angel accomplish the work. So, the Son was willing to humiliate Himself by changing His state, becoming a man.
All three passages speak of His obedience. Obedience to what, who? He was willing to become obedient to another’s will, even that of God. The passage in Hebrews ten (10:1-12) really makes this clear – “…when He came into the world, He said…a body you have prepared for Me…then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.'” He was obedient to God’s will as to the work of redemption on behalf of man, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The obedience we emulate is obedience to the will of God. In Gethsemane Jesus prayed, not My will, but Thy will be done. In prayer, we should pray the same. In our Christian walk, we are obligated to do God’s will only, all else is the flesh and sin.
In the passage in Philippians, indirectly, we may see a great contrast being made between the first Adam and Jesus as the second Adam. Man in Adam is man in the flesh, and never anything more than this. But the second Adam is Jesus the Lord from heaven – “…who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation…” But the first Adam was not like this. Rather it was the opposite. Adam was in the form of man, he was in this state, but he desired by robbery to be equal with God. Thinking that God was hiding or holding something from him, he ate of the fruit in order to get into this new place, to exalt himself. But the result in consequence of his actions was that he was humbled and abased by sin and the fall.
But Jesus, the second Adam, willingly abased Himself, and the result is that He is exalted. It is not just that He took on flesh – this certainly was humiliation for a member of the Godhead. But He abases Himself – He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant. Then there is this further step – He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Almost in every way He is the opposite from the first Adam, particularly in method and results.
The passage tells us we are to have the same mind as there was in Christ. It specifically refers to His frame of mind – His thoughts and willingness – in leaving the glory He was in, and coming down into this world He created, and dying on the cross. What was His thinking that governed this entire path? No reputation and being a servant is a certain form of nothingness. Death on the cross is a greater level of nothingness. What were His thoughts that motivated Him to such humiliation and abasement? The path of obedience to God is one of humiliation. We are called upon to have the same mind. And there is nothing so humbling as obedience. When we are truly obedient we have no will of our own at all. In Adam’s example, besides exalting himself, also we see he was disobedient unto death (Gen. 2:17). In contrast, Jesus was obedient unto death. In Christ was the willingness to humble Himself and empty Himself, while Adam was full of himself, looking for self-exaltation.
We see His humiliation. His obedience brought this on. But being the Son, considering His position, why should He be so willing to obey? The answer is His perfect love, both for the Father and for us. On the night of His betrayal He spoke to His disciples of the approaching work of the cross:
John 14:30-31 (NKJV)
“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.”
Not just love for the Father, although this was unquestioned and leads to His obedience. But also it was for the joy set before Him – this was the believer/church. He loved us and gave Himself for us. He loved the church and did the same. The church is the treasure He found hidden in the field, and then sold all that He had to buy the field (Matt. 13:44).
Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV)
“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Ephesians 5:2 (NKJV)
“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…”
He did not want to remain alone. But if He did not die, He would be alone – the Son of Man in glory, but without any brethren (John 12:23-24). He loved us and died for us, so that He could share His glory with us (John 17:22). He re-enters the glory as a Man, the Son of Man glorified (John 12:23, 13:31-32). And how important is this, that He accomplished this work as the perfect obedient Man? It is so, as the author of our salvation, He would be responsible for bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:9-11). So, it was perfect love for the Father and perfect love for others that brought Jesus down into the place of obedience.
Does not love like to serve? Selfishness desires position and reputation, and to be served. Love likes to serve. Jesus said, “I am among you as He that serves.” (Luke 22:27). And He will always do this and never give it up. Presently He is our High Priest constantly washing our feet from the defilement that accumulates as we walk around in the world.
John 13:1-4 (NKJV)
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.”
Peter asked, “Lord, are you washing my feet?” But Jesus answered, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this (John 13:6-7). The “after this” always refers to when they would receive the Holy Spirit. All through the gospel of John, and especially in chapters 13-17, similar phrases are used by Jesus to express this truth (i.e. see 14:20 – “At that day…”). The Son of Man had to be glorified first, before the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, could be sent to them (John 7:39, 16:7). This was a uniquely Christian position. Jesus knew His hour had come and He would soon be going to the cross, and by it returning to the Father. So, then He girds Himself and washes their feet. The experience for the disciples is symbolic.
Hebrews 7:24-26 (NKJV)
But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;
His present priesthood is for the believer, and is constantly ongoing without interruption. He is always washing the believer’s feet from the defilement of this world, that which we accumulate in our walk. He ever lives to make intercession for us – not for the world, but for us. By this present ministry, He saves us to the uttermost. It is not that we are not saved now – we are and should always be assured of it. But we wait patiently with perseverance for the end of our salvation, the glorifying of our bodies (Rom. 8:23-25). However, in the meantime, while we remain on the earth and in this world, His priesthood is continuously working on our behalf. This is His present service to us, and in it He remains a servant. Even later, in the heavenly blessing we receive for watching for the master, Jesus will serve us (Luke 12:37). Jesus never gives up His service towards His brethren. May this same mind and love be in each of us as we see it in our Lord – knowing that He came from God and was going to God, He girds Himself. It is what He is doing now.
One last point of teaching I would like to share concerning the Philippian passage. In all creation, everything is confined to its present created state. Everything produces after its own kind, without exception. Evolution is a farce. Nothing has the innate ability to ever change its state. Yet the passage shows us that Jesus did exactly this. Being God, He willingly chose to become a man. He did change His state. Although He never stopped being fully God, He became fully man (Phil. 2:6-7).
Only God could have done this. Of course Jesus was the Creator of all things and stood outside of creation itself, not ever being confined by any principles concerning it. But we do see this change in state, and His willingness to humiliate Himself in such a way. The reasoning, as far as we may apprehend it by the Spirit’s teaching, we’ve discussed above. But this change in state on His part led to certain consequences of great importance in our redemption. By it, and by the work it permitted Him to do as a Man, the believer has a change of state given to him “in Christ.”
This change of state for the believer becomes a great Protestant controversy in doctrine. Usually an actual different state of existence is completely denied, and redemption is applied to the Adam state – man in the flesh. What is taught in most Protestant circles is the redemption of the Adam man, where God endeavors to fix up and improve our Adam state, making it presentable and acceptable in His sight, and fit for His presence and glory. Man’s same position is maintained and continued, redemption seen as the necessary upgrade to the present state of man.
But this is error and the Scriptures do not teach or support this. Jesus’ change in state allowed Him to complete a perfect work which did result in a change in the state of existence for the believer – we are the new creation of God, created in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:17, Eph. 2:10). Further, Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren in this new creation (Rom. 8:29). He is “the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” (Rev. 3:14) Being raised from the dead, He lives a new life unto God (Rom. 6:10).
As believers, we have entered into these redemptive truths by having died with Him (Rom. 6:2-5, Col. 3:3, 2:12). By death we ended our previous state. His resurrected life is our new life and existence. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). My life ended, and any life I now have is Christ in resurrection. I am now born of God. The life I once had as born in Adam has ended. I am no longer in the first Adam as Adam’s child. I am now in Christ, the second Adam. I am “in Christ” as born of God (John 1:13). I am no longer a son of Adam. I am a son of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). This is the new state, the new existence. It is the new creation of God where all things are of God, and nothing is of Adam (II Cor. 5:18). The old man died with Christ on the cross (Rom. 6:6). By faith I reckon the flesh as dead. I am alive unto God as Jesus is – in His resurrected life (Rom. 6:10-11).
I need to add a few more thoughts. The passages of Scripture that we brought together above – Phil. 2, Heb. 10, Rom. 5, with the addition of Heb. 2 – all view Jesus in His title of Son of Man, the second Adam. They all are comparisons, directly or indirectly, between the two Adams. None of this is Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. Messiah is a limited title, connected with the nation of Israel according to Jewish prophecies and promises. As a title of Jesus, it has little to do with the church. Messiah is the son of David after the flesh and the King of Israel. You cannot separate these thoughts from this particular title. But none of these thoughts are found in the above passages. His title of Son of Man is broader in scope and more comprehensive in application. He was lifted up from the earth as the Son of Man (John 3:14, 12:23, 32). He was raised from the dead as a Man, being exalted to the right hand of God. The Son of Man is in glory (Heb. 2:6-11), and the Spirit has been sent down to gather His body in union with Him (I Cor. 12:13). These were not the Jewish understandings of Messiah. They properly understood that when Messiah came to Israel, He would remain forever (John 12:34). They could not comprehend a Messiah lifted up. They could not conceive of a Messiah dying.
Another important understanding is this: The Holy Spirit did not teach me these principles and truths through my knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages. These are broad biblical principles and understandings that only the Spirit can teach from God’s word. Look at the teaching above, you may judge for yourself whether it is divine teaching, whether it is from God or man. The general principles explain, and in a sense, govern the understanding of the detail of Scripture. I understand that Greek and Hebrew knowledge has its place, but there isn’t a quicker path for a teacher, in my estimation, to fall into the conundrum of not seeing the forest for the sake of the trees. The principles allow you to always see the forest, and they should be sought out and understood first.
Allow me to recount the important points of emphasis from the Philippian passage.
1.) “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…” It is the example we see of obedience in humiliation and abasement, one we easily and directly see in Christ. However, indirectly, the passage speaks of the work of man’s redemption Jesus accomplished. His example stands in such contrast to the first Adam. In this, redemptive thoughts concerning man come in, the means and requirements necessary to accomplish an eternal and perfectly efficacious work, honoring the majesty of God through it all.
2.) When it comes to His exaltation, the important emphasis of the passage, and also of all New Testament scripture, is that, even though He enjoyed the glory in eternity past as the Son in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18, 17:5), now, after death and resurrection, He re-enters the glory of God as a glorified Man. This is essential, and this is the emphasis. He never stopped being God – the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily (Col. 1:19, 2:9). But it dwelt in Him as a Man, the Son of Man. So much of the proper understanding of our redemption hinges on this fact – now, today, there is a Man exalted by God, who has entered into the glory of God.
This may only be indirectly implied in Philippians when it speaks of His exaltation, but the importance of His change of state, being God yet becoming a man, carries on through the whole passage. In Hebrews, it is directly brought out: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down at the right hand of God.” (Heb. 10:12)
When the Scriptures speak of judgment we see this: “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:26-27) All judgment He will execute because He became a man and accomplished redemption on behalf of man – so He has the right given to Him to judge all men. This was not given to Him because He is God or Jehovah. It is given to the Son, because the Son is the Son of Man. He became a man and accomplished the specific work which is the basis of the judgment of all men.
But really, He will judge all that is included in creation, things seen or unseen. This we have in passages in Ephesians and Colossians (Eph. 1:17-23, Col. 2:13-15). In Ephesians the view of Him in God’s purposes starts with the Son of Man dead in the grave, and then as a Man raised out of there by the exceeding great power of God. As a Man He is glorified and exalted far above all principality and power and might and dominion. As a Man His body is united to Him in exaltation and glory, the church, the fullness of Him.
Clearly all of this is dependent on the truth and fact of a glorified Man exalted by God. And this is what should be taught concerning His glorification and exaltation, His re-entering the glory of God. He is not exalted because He is God, although that truth always remains unchanged. He is not given the name Jehovah by being exalted. He was already Jehovah when Isaiah saw His glory, He sitting on the throne in the temple vision (Isa.6:1-5, John 12:41). He had all the glory previously, but He sets it aside when He became a man (Phil. 2:6-7). It is sure that He re-enters the glory, but not because it was rightfully His as God. He re-enters because God exalts Him as a Man who perfectly glorified God concerning man’s sin, and in blessed obedience to God He accomplished, as a man, the will of God. And so, God glorifies the Son of Man (please read John 12:23-24, 13:31-32).
Now the name of Jesus, because of redemption being accomplished and the Man glorified, is above every name there is, and is equated with the “title” of Lord – “Lord over all.” But Lord is the title, not the name. The name exalted above every name is Jesus, and because it is so exalted, it is the only name that is associated with this title (Phil. 2:9-11). I understand that Jesus was given the name at His incarnation. But then it wasn’t associated with the title. It couldn’t have been so associated until after He suffered and died, being then raised and glorified. The name Jesus couldn’t be attached to the title “Lord,” having authority of all judgment implied, until as a Man, He finished the work of redemption. On the day of Pentecost, Peter says this in his preaching, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36) Jesus is the name, Lord and Messiah are the titles. But now, after resurrection and after Pentecost, and by the acts and power of God in glorifying Him, it is the human name to be associated with these titles. Jesus is the name associated with the Son of Man title. It is the name now connected with the titles, King of kings, Lord of lords. Jesus is the second Adam, the Seed of the woman. Hopefully this will tighten up some straying thoughts.
3.) The final point from the passage is indirectly seen. His change in state leads to the believer’s change in state. “In Christ” we are the new creation of God, the results of the redemptive work. But this all viewed as a work accomplished by this Man, on man’s behalf, allowing some, those that believe in Him, to have their own change in state. We are no longer in Adam, but are “in Christ” the second Adam. We are no longer sons of Adam, but now sons of God.
There is more Scripture to support the reality of this change of state for the believer. Peter tells us we have been made partakers of the divine nature (II Pet. 1:4). Of course, we do not acquire any of Christ’s divine attributes, but we have the moral nature of God – holiness and righteousness. Jesus was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 5:21). This is the new man, the new creation of God.
Ephesians 4:24 (NKJV)
“…and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”