"Emptied of His Glory?"

A message given by Dan Musick in the fall of 1998 at Bethany Chapel in Wheaton, IL

John 17:1 These things spoke Jesus; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee: 2 even as Thou gavest Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He should give eternal life. 3 And this is life eternal, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Him whom Thou didst send, [even] Jesus Christ. 4 I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.

In my study of the incarnation I have come across those who believe that when God became man He emptied Himself of some or all of His Divinity, or that He was in some way less than God. Verse 5 is sometimes used to argue that Christ had emptied Himself of His Divine glory at birth and that He regained it after His resurrection. "And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was."

In Phil. 2:5-8 Paul writes that Christ existed in the form of God, that He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but that He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, that He was made in the likeness of men; 8 and that He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross.

Referring to these two passages Calvin writes that Paul's "...object is not to show what kind of body Christ assumed, but that, when He might have justly asserted His divinity He was pleased to exhibit nothing but the attributes of a mean (i.e., humble) and despised man. For, in order to exhort us to submission by His example, He shows, that when as God He might have displayed to the world the brightness of His glory, He gave up His right, and voluntarily emptied Himself; that He assumed the form of a servant, and, contented with that humble condition, suffered His Divinity to be concealed under a veil of flesh. Here, unquestionably, He explains not what Christ was, but in what way He acted."

The "veil of flesh" is an illusion to Hebrews 10:19 "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh;"

Neither Christ's Divinity, nor His Divine attributes, nor the use of those attributes, nor His glory, was in any way emptied. Rather, these were "concealed under a veil of flesh." There is a distinct difference between emptying and concealing. If I were on a family vacation and if I carried all my money in my wallet, I'd much prefer that my wallet be concealed than emptied. There is a big difference.

Remembering that Scripture addresses His glory in at least five time periods can best minimize confusion about Christ's glory.

  1. In John 17:5 note that Christ did not ask the Father for the glory that He had before He was born, incarnate. Jesus asked for the glory that He had with the Father before the world was created. This is the first time period.
  2. The second time period is from creation to the incarnation. Jesus did not ask for the glory He had during this time because there are several instances - we call them theophonies - when Christ's glory was veiled, just as it was in the third time period. It was simpler for Christ to refer back to the first time without having to qualify the second time period.
  3. The third time period is from Christ's incarnation to His resurrection. It was during this third time period that Christ prayed for the future time when He would have the glory He would have with the Father before the world was created.
  4. This fourth time period, thus, is that time between His resurrection and ascension.
  5. The fifth time period is that after His ascension.

During the third period, from His incarnation to His resurrection, our Lord's Divine glory was concealed, not emptied or limited in any way. It was concealed to fulfill Isaiah's (7:14) prophecy regarding His name, "Immanuel, God with us." Unveiled glory would have blinded the humanity He came to serve and to save.

But even before His death and resurrection Christ did reveal His glory. Could you turn to Luke 9:28?

Luke 9:28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. 29 And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment [was] white [and] glistering. 30 and, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: 31 Who appeared in glory and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and they that were with Him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him.

John, who was with Peter and James that day, later wrote, (John 1:14) "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

Four comments regarding Christ's prayer:

  1. Before creation, whenever Christ looked at Himself, He saw unveiled glory and majesty. Now, as He is praying in John 17, when He looks at Himself He sees hands of human flesh, veiling His glory. He looked forward to the day His glory would have the same radiance that blazed before creation.
  2. The glory for which Christ yearned, however, was not a regression back to His preincarnate, pre-creation glory, but it was a progression to a new glory - His resurrection glory. To His pre-creation glory would be added the glory of His human body which would no longer veil His Divine glory. Rather, His glorified human body would now augment the glory of His Divine nature - two glorified natures - human and divine, in one glorified Person.
  3. The veiling of Christ's glory is not unique to the 33 years from Christ's birth to His death. In Old Testament times His glory was veiled in some of the theophonies, just as it was during His earthly life. After His resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus concealed not only His glorified body, but also His identity (Luke 24). And after His ascension, Stephen saw Him siting at the right hand of the Father, but there is no indication that His glory conveyed the radiance it did when it blinded Saul on his way to Damascus.
  4. The reality is that Christ's glory is multi-dimensional, and being God He reveals it when, where and how He chooses. During His life on earth the angels never ceased beholding His glory, the heavens never stopped declaring His glory, nor was the earth ever any less full of His glory (Ps. 19). And the utter humility in the way He poured Himself out for us was no less glorious than the cloud that filled Solomon's temple or the devouring fire that shrouded Mt. Sinai when He gave the 10 commandments.

In John 12 after the record of our Lord's triumphal entry when many still could not believe in Christ, John quotes Isaiah's words, in vs. 40-41, (The Lord) ""has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them. '" Then John writes, "These things Isaiah said because he saw His (Christ's) glory, and he spoke of Him" (vs. 41).

As we continue our worship, I would like to close with Isaiah's vision of Christ in all His glory.

Read Isaiah 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. 2 above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. 3 and one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. 4 and the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.