English Reformer Miles Coverdale described the essence of Christ’s humility in this couplet: “For our sake made he himself small/That reigns Lord and king over all.” The order is important. Jesus already existed as “Lord and king over all” when He was born in Bethlehem. He was God before He became human.
Paul characterizes this act, which the theologians call the “incarnation,” by saying that Jesus “made himself nothing” (v. 7). Although the Greek term literally means to “empty,” it is clear that what was really involved was an addition. Jesus took to Himself a human nature, that He did not previously have, when He was “made in human likeness” (v. 7). The incarnation is as important to the faith as Christ’s death and resurrection, because, without the incarnation, neither the crucifixion nor the resurrection would be possible.
When Paul says that Jesus was “found in appearance as a man” (v. 8), he did not mean that Jesus only looked human. Jesus became truly human at the incarnation, but He is also more than human. Jesus is God in the flesh. The reason for the incarnation is spelled out in verse 8: God’s one and only Son took upon a human nature so that He could be “obedient to death—even death on a cross!” By becoming human, Jesus, who is equal with the Father, became a servant to God and to us. Elsewhere Paul says that God sent Jesus “in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering” (Rom. 8:3). The emphasis on likeness does not point to mere similarity but to sameness. God sent His Son in the flesh so that He could be a sin offering. Your salvation depends upon Christ’s death, which in turn depends upon the incarnation.
>> If you believe that Jesus is God come in the flesh, then you must also believe that He died for your sins. To accept one and reject the other is to reject the whole gospel.
We confess with the centurion at the crucifixion, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) and with Simon Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).