Its Theological Treatment in Paul’s Writings
- God was "with" us fallen human beings in the person of Jesus, who emptied himself of his divine privileges and independence and assumed the nature of a servant in order to be obedient to his Father's will and take the place of sinful humans and receive on our behalf God's judgment on sin.
- But—he would add—that is not all that "God with Us" means to believers after the resurrection: God the Holy Spirit together with the risen and exalted Jesus resides in believer's bodies, making them the temple of God, and empowering them to holy living.
Direct Statements about the Son's Preexistence and the Incarnation
Of the gospel writers, only John directly makes statements about the preexistence of God the Son and his incarnation in Jesus.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-2, 14 NIV)But Paul in Philippians chapter 2 either quotes an already existing Christian hymn on the subject, or composed one himself, when he writes in verses 5-8
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)Depending on your Bible translation, you may have a different wording: instead of the NIV's "being in very nature" you may have "though he was in the form of God" (NRSV, ESV). Here is the ESV's version:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form 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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)The Greek word rendered "form" (morphē) implies an inner as well as an outer character, hence the NIV's translation "nature" is not too free: in fact it gets at the essence and avoids the suggestion that English "form" gives of an external form.
Even if this hymn is not Paul's own composition, he would never have quoted it—almost like he quotes Old Testament scripture—if he didn't agree with it fully. So we can say that Paul's view of "God with Us" in the birth of Jesus was that God the Son (John's Logos) existed eternally in the divine nature (morphē) and on fully equal terms with God the Father, but that he willingly gave up for a time this privileged existence in equality with God in order to accept the limitations of life as a human servant of God.
This is what is meant by the phrase "he made himself nothing", which the RSV, NRSV, NASB and Holman Bible, following the KJV and ASV translate as "he emptied himself." It is this Greek verb (kenoō) to which we owe the theological name of this act by God the Son: kenōsis. Some theologians used this literal rendering "emptied himself" to justify their claim that in becoming human in Jesus, God the Son lost his divine powers. It is true that during his earthly ministry Jesus admitted that only God the Father knew the time of the Second Coming.
““No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36 NIV)We also assume that as a human child Jesus had to acquire skills—learn to walk and talk, read and write, do carpentry, etc. Hence, Jesus was not omniscient as a human, in the strict sense of that word. But however you may choose to explain it—Jesus possessed divine powers that were his not as a gift from God but by right as God.
In any event, the point of the phrase "made himself nothing" (Greek ekenōsen "emptied himself")) is not to account for Jesus' supposed human limitations in knowledge and power, but to express the sacrifice made by God the Son in forgoing continuing his pre-human existence as God with all its privileges and with no suffering involved, in order to suffer as a human to redeem a lost human race. The downward movement expressed in verses Philippians 2:5-8 is not a movement of degradation but of humble service.
Some modern translations render “servant” as “slave.” Now it is true that Greek doulos can have that meaning. But that does not seem to be the intended meaning here. A slave has no choice but to obey. Jesus was first and foremost God’s servant. And his obedience was not obligated, but freely and voluntarily given.
Instead, the "servant" metaphor is intended to recall the Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 53—even though the Greek word used in LXX is the synonym pais. So in spite of the conclusion drawn by some interpreters, through comparing the picture of Jesus girded with a towel to wash his disciples' feet (John 13), the "nature of a servant" referred to in Philippians 2 is one who primarily serves God by accomplishing the task that God sent him to do. This is so beautifully expressed in Hebrews 10:5-7
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘… I have come to do your will, O God’.””The New Testament author of Hebrews 10:5-7 is quoting a passage in Psalms 40:6-8
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. 7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. 8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”The author of this psalm expresses his desire to serve Yahweh his whole life long, using an imagery taken from the law of Moses about a slave who may refuse liberation at the end of a period of indentured service in order to continue a life-long slave in exchange for retaining the wife his master procured for him while he was a slave (see Ex 21:6; Dt 15:17). As the author of Hebrews uses it, the verse has a beautiful application to Jesus, because it shows that not animal sacrifices availed to purge our sins, but Jesus' own perfect obedience in the body that God prepared for him.
Son of God, son of Dav id, Christ,
As God's servant, taking the very nature of a servant (of God), Jesus was Immanuel, "God with Us," in that he acted for God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—to be "with" us in saving us from our sins. As a servant in the sense of that word in Isaiah 53, he represented God acting to save us. Just as David and the Davidic kings, as servants of Yahweh, represented Yahweh by executing his will among their subjects.
According to Paul, how was God with us in the earthly life of Jesus, and how is he even more with us in Jesus exalted to the right hand of God?
Unlike the gospel writers, Saint Paul's letters did not re-tell stories of the deeds of Jesus or quote his claims. But as we have seen, like the gospel writers, Paul had definite convictions as to who Jesus was. One the ways he expressed these views was by statements like the one we have studied in Philippians 2. But he also used various titles and metaphors to describe him. In many ways, these are just as powerful and expressive as the hymn in Philippians 2. We will consider them in three categories: those that express his relationship (1) to God, (2) to humanity, and (3) to the Church. First …
1. Jesus in relation to God
Son (of God)
The first of these titles describes him in relation to God the Father. It is the title "Son of God". An equivalent phrase often used by Paul is simply "his Son", referring to God.
A representative passage in which Paul uses the term is Romans 1:1-4 (Question 1).
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Matthew 28:19 gives a baptismal formula to be used in making disciples of all nations. They are to be baptized "in the name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". It has often been observed that this is one name, not three. But it has provided the Church with a convenient nomenclature for our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Trinitarian references also occur in Paul: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father”” (Galatians 4:6 NIV).
Yet though all three Persons of the godhead are equal and in essential oneness, the term "Son" in the title God the Son, identifies him primarily not with the Spirit, but with the Father. For the world "son" is a term of relationship that requires a point of reference in a parent. Accordingly, although Paul clearly regarded all three Divine Persons as "God', he tends to use the term "God" in his letters for the Father (see in Galatians 4:6, parallel to John's use in John 3:16), and the term "the Lord" for the Son. A fairly typical example is found in the opening verses of Romans (1:7), where he writes:
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here in Romans 1:1-4, as in the Philippians 2 hymn, Paul references both the divine and human natures of Jesus. The movement in Philippians 2 was exalted preexistent state to humble service to glorious exaltation. Here it is human nature as "son of David" that has an intended mission to rule, followed by a revealing of the divine Sonship in the resurrection. The two views do not contradict, but they enrich each other.
Notice that Jesus was "son of David" in his human nature which began at the miraculous virginal conception in the womb of Mary of Nazareth. Paul stresses that "according to the flesh [his human nature] Jesus was son of David, but as to the title Son of God he was "declared" to be such by his resurrection. The resurrection was God's official statement that Jesus was his Son and the one through whom he would judge the world (see also Acts 17:31— “because [God] has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed [same Greek word as "declared" in Romans 1], and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead”” (NRSV). The passage does not mean that Jesus only became God at his resurrection. But by the resurrection it became clear to all with eyes to see that this "son of David" was "Son of God" in a much more profound sense than that term was used for the Davidic kings.
Notice also that in v. 4 the full name with titles is given as: "Jesus Christ our Lord". Jesus is his human name—Y'shua, but it has a meaning: announcing his conception and future birth to Joseph, the angel Gabriel said: “you are to give him the name Jesus [Y'shua], because he will save his people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:21 NIV) .
"Christ" is of course merely a transliteration of the Greek word khristos "the Anointed One", which is the Greek translation of Hebrew-Aramaic Messiah. Hence, Y'shua is the Messiah promised in OT scriptures. And finally he is "our Lord." "Lord" is the translation of Greek kyrios, which in the NT has a whole host of implications.
At the very least, and most conservative, it means "master" or "owner" of servants/slaves, or even "sir" as a form of polite address. We are Jesus' servants, and he is our master.
At the most, this may be a reference to the use of Greek kyrios in the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT to render the Divine Name Yahweh. But since there is no evidence that the name Yahweh was ever modified by a possessive pronoun ("our Yahweh"), the first interpretation—reflecting Hebrew ădōnēy-nû "our Lord" which is used of God in Neh 8:10; 10:29; Psa 8:1, 9; 135:5; 147:5 —is more likely. Paul is not here stressing Jesus deity, which elsewhere he certainly does. Here he simply wants the Roman believers to know that they share with him faith and obedience in one Master, Y'shua the Messiah and Savior.
2. Jesus in relation to Humanity
The Second/Last Adam
But "Son of God" and "Christ" by no means exhaust the titles and metaphors Paul uses for Jesus.In Romans chapter 5 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15 he regards Jesus as the Second (or the Last) Adam. this is a particularly rich theological statement, that Paul spins out in some detail. In Romans he writes:
Rom. 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-28 NIV)
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written:“The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49 NIV)
Just as through his disobedience to God's command Adam brought death and alientation from God upon all those who were descended from him by being in him genetically, so through his perfect obedience which included becoming "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," Jesus the Second/Last Adam destroyed death and alienation for all those who by faith are "in Christ"—to use Paul's favorite term for Christians. So for Paul every human is "in Adam", but only believers are "in Christ". "In Adam" all die, but all those "in Christ" will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22), both spiritually and even physically in the bodily resurrection that awaits us at the end of time.
It has often been noted that Paul and the other NT writers consider Jesus the "Second Adam." But what is less widely known is that these same NT writers extend the Second Adam metaphor to all believers. For Adam was the first in the line of sons of God. Luke calls him that in the genealogy of Jesus: "Adam, the son of God." And by faith all believers become "sons of God" (Galatians 3:26). And Paul—for whom the present, groaning creation is due to the sin of the First Adam—waits eagerly for its freedom at the revealing of—not just Jesus, the Son of God, but—the sons of God, that is to say, the glorification of all believers (Romans 8:14, 19).
Paul also writes that believers are a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), which literally means more than just that God has made us over in Christ, but that we constitute a new Genesis 2 product, we are all "Second Adam"s. A second way that this theme shows itself is in the fact that Paul calls us all "sons of God." In the OT Adam was the "son of God," and Davidic kings were also allowed this title. But otherwise it was used—only in the plural—for angels.
The Image of God
Related to the concept of Jesus as the Second/Last Adam is that of the perfect Image of God.
“The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47-49 ESV)
In this verse Paul doesn't say believers bear the image of the "man in heaven" now, but that "we shall … bear" it. Is that image of Jesus in heaven the same as the image of God given to the First Adam restored? We do not know. It is tempting to say so, since the theme of the "image of God" given to Adam and borne successively by all humans is so prominent a theme in the Old Testament.
However, because the Second Adam is more than just an unfallen version of the First, but something much greater, his image is also much grander and more glorious than that borne by Adam unfallen. So it is that Paul can write elsewhere of the exalted Jesus as —not just possessing, but being—the glorious image of God:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)
As a result, Paul can exhort believers, who by faith have been baptized into Christ, and are now "in Christ," to put on that same pure and true image of God that is Christ's:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV)
“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:6-10 ESV)
Head of the Body
Another of Paul's favorite metaphors for the relationship between Christ and the Church involves the image of a human body. In that image Christ is the head and believers are members of his body. It is not certain that ancients understood that all direction came to the body's members from the brain. But it is likely that that is the import of what Paul writes here. Furthermore, the imagery draws upon the picture in the Book of Daniel of the great image in the dream God gave to Nebuchadnezzar, where it is explained to him by Daniel that the head of gold on the statue represented himself and his kingdom, and the rest of the body those kingdoms that would follow—Persians, Greeks and Romans—that would be inferior to him (made of silver, iron and clay). The Hebrew word for "head" rōsh always implies "chief" or "ruler" as well as "first (in time)". So Paul writes of Christ:
Eph. 1:22 And [God] put all things under [Christ's] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,
Eph. 4:15 … [by] speaking the truth in love, we [believers] are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Eph. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Col. 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. [Notice how here Paul plays on the meaning "first" embedded in Hebrew rōsh. Notice too that he makes it quite explicit that by "head" he means preeminence and rule.]
Col. 2:19 [Christ is] the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. [Here he elaborates what he meant in Ephesians "and is himself its Savior".]
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV)
Bridegroom of the Bride
Another metaphor, which Jesus himself used of himself in relationship to the citizens of God's kingdom, is the Bridegroom and the Bride. According to Jesus, the final eschatological Kingdom of God would consist of a great wedding feast with joy, singing, dancing and feasting. Paul seized upon this known metaphor to make an ancillary point. When he wrote to the Corinthian believers:
“I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (2Corinthians 11:2 ESV)
it was to remind them that, since by faith they have become the fiancées of Jesus, they are now his bride and must remain faithful to him. In the OT idolatrous Israel was described as committing spiritual adultery. Paul warns the Corinthians that dallying with sin of any kind was spiritual adultery against Christ the Bridegroom.
Resident in the Temple of God
The final metaphor we shall consider this morning has no clear OT antecedant. It is true that Israel viewed God as their Rock and salvation. But nowhere do we find the image of Israel, God's people, as a temple that he inhabited. Instead, God's OT temple was the physical structure on Mt. Zion.
Jesus did use a similar image, when he said to Peter: "You are Peter [petros, a little stone], and upon this rock [petra, a large stone, meaning either himself or faith in him] I will build my church" (Matt. 16).
Peter himself uses the imagery in his first epistle.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”” (1Peter 2:4-6 NIV)
But Paul develops it in ways unique to his pastoral and teaching ministry.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but there is here a twofold manner in which Paul says we are the temple in which God dwells. First, he says that individually our bodies are temples in which God dwells, so that we should live pure and holy lives. This is the emphasis of the Corinthians references.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV)
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)
“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 6:15-7:1 NIV)
But secondly—as Peter’s mention also stresses—we are corporately a single temple in which God dwells. This is the emphasis of Paul’s later letter to the Ephesians.
“Consequently, you [Gentiles] are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people [believing Israel] and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple [eis naon hagion] in the Lord [en kyriō]. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling of God [eis katoikētērion tou theou] in (his) Spirit [en pneumati].” (Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV).