by Mike Ratliff
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17 ESV)
Earlier this month the temperature overnight in Kansas City dropped into the 30’s, the morning was clear, and there was very little wind. I took my camera to work with me hoping for a photo opportunity as the Sun rose over the pond across the street from where I work. I knew that with the cold air and the warm water there there might be fog rising up over it. I waited until just before 8am then walked through the wet grass to a spot that would be sunny yet the fog, if there was any that is, would be between it and me. It all worked out better than I had hoped. I took several photos with my digital camera as the Sun poured through gaps in the fog. The best one shows the mirrored image of the trees surrounding the pond on the glassy smooth surface of the water. Click here to see it.
Few who have seen this photo has been able to simply look at it without saying how it makes him or her ‘feel.’ My son-in-law made the comment that he expected to see some hobbits come rolling over the green hill in the foreground. A fellow I work with who took his vacation in New Zealand last year commented that it looked like one of those mystical places up in the mountains he fell in love with. In any case, my point is that everyone’s interpretation of this photo is his or hers. It can mean whatever they want it to mean to them because this photo is somewhat abstract in appearance. Is our Lord Jesus Christ like that? I mean, is who He is open to discussion? Are all those ‘abstract’ versions of Jesus in our time valid? Those who insist they are make a grave error. That error is that the Bible, the Word of God, Sacred Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is God.
(1) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, (2) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (3) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (5) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (6) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (7) but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)
In vv1-5, we read Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian church and us to be humble through having the mind of Christ. Then Paul gives us Christ’s example of true humility in vv6-11. Let us take a closer look at our Lord’s example and how this makes it clear that our Lord’s deity is not to be questioned. Let us start in v6. The relative pronoun ‘who’ refers back to ‘Christ Jesus’ at the end of v5. Here is the KJV translation of v6.
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: (Philippians 2:6 KJV)
The ESV translated the Greek word that is rendered as ‘being’ in the KJV as ‘though he was.’ This is a crucial Greek word for us to study here. It is ὑπάρχω or huparchō. This is not the usual Greek word for ‘being.’ Instead, God had Paul use ὑπάρχω, which emphasizes the essence of a person’s nature. This word speaks of the person’s continuous state or condition. In Philippians 2:6 ὑπάρχω is used to show that Jesus Christ continued to be what He was before His incarnation, God or in the form of God. The Greek word Paul used for ‘form’ here is μορφή or morphë. Two Greek words are translated as ‘form’ in English. This one, μορφη, is where we get our English word ‘morph.’ Μορφη was used to express the way in which a thing exists and appears according to what it is in itself. So, when Paul said Christ Jesus was ‘in the form of God,’ we should grasp that he is speaking of the ‘essential nature and character of God.’ Therefore, what Paul is telling us in v6 is that apart from His human nature, Christ possessed all the characteristics and qualities belonging to God because He is God.
The other Greek word that is translated as ‘form’ in English is found in v8. It is σχῆμα or schēma. This word should look familiar to you. It is where we get the English word ‘scheme’ and ‘schematic’ for instance. The ESV translates this as ‘form’ referring to ‘human form.’ σχῆμα always refers to the outward appearance or fashion of what it referring to. That is why the KJV translates it as ‘in fashion’ in v8.
Jesus Christ is God and has always been God. His ὑπάρχω has always been in the μορφή of God because He is God. At His incarnation as a Man His outward ὑπάρχω took on the σχῆμα of a human male. However, He never stopped being God. Now let us compare v6 with John 10:29,30.
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:29-30 ESV)
Jesus Christ is equal to God. Christ did not empty Himself of His deity to become a man. Because Jesus Christ is equal with God, those who would seek to ‘snatch” His true followers out of His hand would also be seeking to snatch them out of God’s hand as well. Now back in Philippians 2:6,7 we see that Christ “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.” This tells us that Christ merely relinquished His glory, which He had because He is God. Prior to His crucifixion and death, He asked the Father to glorify Him in a position next to God with the glory which He had even before the world was created (John 17:5). Jesus had to come as Man without any emphasis on His deity because the world would only have wondered at Him instead of receiving Him as Lord and Saviour. He was rejected by most people as a Man, but He never lost His position before God that He held prior to His incarnation.
Do you see it my brethren? Our Lord Jesus Christ is God, has always been God, and always will be God. During His time on Earth as the suffering servant, He remained God. Only the focus on His glory was absent. The reason Christ obediently humbled Himself this way was to accomplish God’s will.
Soli Deo Gloria!