Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



Kenotic Theories.

There are several of them but all have the common basic thought that Christ, when He became incarnate, "emptied Himself" and in this way "brought the eternally pre-eistent Logos within the limitations of human personality".

The difference between the theories lies in the extent of the "emptying". Most of them are either pantheistic or purely humanistic and ignore or deny the divine as completely as the earlier theories did the human.

To make the "emptying" mean as much as this is going completely contrary to the remainder of the New Testament which, as we have already seen, maintains the fact that Christ is God. While avoiding these two extremes it is necessary for us to have an understanding of the answer to the question, "Of what did our Lord empty Himself?"

The shortest answer is that He divested Himself of the "glory" which He had with the Father before the foundation of the world. Dean Alford puts it as follows - "He emptied Himself of the form of God', not the essential glory, but the manifested possession.....of the glory which He had with the
Father before the world began and which was resumed at His glorification. He ceased while in the state of exinanition (this word means 'being emptied or self-renunciation') to reflect the glory which He had with the Father."

Wiley sums up the matter this way -- "The divestment of the glory means the giving up of the independent exercise of His own divine attributes during the period of His earthly life. We may also confidently believe,

  1. that the pro -existent Logos gave up the glory which He had before the foundation of the world, in order to take upon Himself the form of a servant;
  2. that during His earthly life, He was subordinate to the mediatorial will of the Father in all things; yet, knowing the will of the Father, He voluntarily offered Himself in obedience toHis will;
  3. that His ministry during this period was under the immediate control of the Holy Spirit, who prepared for Him a body, who instructed Him during the period of His development, who anointed Him for His mission, and who enabled Him at last to offer Himself without spot to God". ( Christ.Theol. p.209).

(ii) The Exaltation.

The State of Exaltation refers to the period when our Lord laid aside the earthly state of Humiliation and again assumed His glory and majesty. This is divided into stages, the Descant into Hades, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Session. The passage in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians like wise carries on from the Humiliation to the Exaltation.

(1) The Descent into Hades.

This refers to the brief interval between the death of our Lord and His resurrection. It is not stated in so many words in the scriptures but in the creeds it is said that our Lord "descended into Hell".

The doctrine is based on Ps.16:10 and Acts 2:27,31. The difficult passage 1 Peter 3:19-20 may have reference to it also. The Greek word 'Hades' and its Hebrew equivalent `sheol` signify the hidden or unseen state and are used of the realm of the dead in a general way.

They have no specific reference to a place of punishment or shoel as we conceive it. Another word is used for that. It was this unseen realm of the dead that our Lord entered as conqueror (cf .Eph.4: 8, 9). Thus this was the first stage of the Exaltation, the beginning of His triumph.

"One day, in Satan's realm - the dark domain, 

Where souls of dead in chains of death remain,

The Prince of darkness, boastful, spake aloud,

To his abject, imprisoned, awestruck crowd:

'Hearken, ye spirits. Lo, I bring this day,

Another victim bound beneath my sway:

Jesus, the Nazarene, the Master Fraud,

Who proudly claims Himself the Son of God:

I laid the snare, which the Imposter caught,

And to the tree of shame the Boaster brought;

And now between two thieves He helpless hangs,

In Death's dissolving and resistless pangs.

You shall behold Him pass through Hades' door,

To walk among the living — nevermore!

My power shall hush the Archpretenders`s breath,

And bind Him hopeless in the realms of death.

Then Hell itself in fear began to quake,

And, in alarm, thus to the Devil spake,

'Jesus: Dost thou not fear that mighty Name?

And is this Jesus — Nazarene — the same,

Who once cried, "Lazarus! Come forth." and swift,

The bands of death were loosed, his fetters rift,

And through thy gates impassable he broke,

So soon as that almighty word was spoke?

Let but that Jesus once invade these halls,

And in that hour thy boasted empire falls!

What if the victim thou dost proudly claim, S

hall as the Victor bring thy pride to shame?

"While Hell thus spake, a voice like thunder rolls,

Throughout the realm of Death's imprisoned souls:

'Lift up your heads, ye everlasting gates:!

The King of Glory at your entrance waits.

Then Hell inquires, 'Who is this glorious King?'

And with the answer all its chambers ring:

'The Lord of Hosts — strong to subdue all foes.

Mighty in battle — none can Him oppose.

"Then in the realm of Death's unbroken shade,

Appeared the Conqueror in light arrayed.

It was as tho' in crimson and in gold,

The splendour of a thousand suns had rolled,

Their mingled glory in one matchless beam,

And lit up Death Shade with the lustrous gleam.

Ineffable that glory; as it shone,

Like to the radiance of the Great White Throne,

Precipitate, demons of darkness fled,

And lost souls, to the confines of the dead.

Whilst through the open gates and broken bars,

Towards realms of light more fadeless than the stars.

The Prince of Life a host of captives led,

From out the night and bondage of the dead."
(The Golden Legend quoted from "The Forty Days" by Geoffrey Knight).

(2) The Resurrection.

The Resurrection marks the second stage in our Lord's Exaltation and the crowning event of His earthly mission. The resurrection must be considered historically and doctrinally.

(a).Historical Proofs.

No fact in history is substantiated by more direct and circumstantial evidence than the resurrection of Christ. Those who saw Him were many and the appearances in varying places and at various times. (John 20:15,16; Luke 24:13ff; 34; 50,51; John 20:19,24.29, 21:lff;1 Cor.15:6-8).

In a letter of undoubted authenticity written within about twenty years of the resurrection, some of these were stated to be alive and therefore able to contradict the fact if not true. No one ever produced the body or showed the tomb where the remains were during the early years of bitter controversy and persecution at the beginning of the Christian era, when the whole emphasis of the preaching of the Gospel was on the resurrection of Christ.

The story of "the stolen body" was obviously a fake in view of the precautions taken to prevent such a thing. "The silence of the Jews is as significant as the speech of the Christians." (Fairbairn). If the resurrection is not fact, the early disciples were either impostor, deliberately proclaiming something they knew to be false, or they were enthusiasts, completely carried away by mere imaginary visions.

Neither of these propositions is sufficient or satisfactory to explain the sudden and complete change of attitude in the disciples from utter gloom to triumphant gladness: the persistent maintaining of their massage against terrible and growing opposition and persecution; the amazing spread of the Christian faith against all the night of the Roman Empire, finally to conquer it. It is true that there are problems in connection with the reconciling of the various accounts in the Gospels, but we must remember that we have not the whole story.

Likewise the accounts we have are from different people and written from different angles. Even so there is an undoubted ring of truth about then and it is possible to present a perfectly rational and consistent account from the records we have.

One such account is found in Geoffrey Kingt s little book "The Forty Days". It is based on the fact that each Gospel has a different expression as to the time on the first Easter morning when the events took place. He argues that the account of each writer is mainly of the events taking place at the time mentioned in the Gospels.

The day is a little older in each Gospel, the order being John, Matthew, Luke, Mark. It is an interesting account of the events and quite a convincing theory. Another theory is found in a book by C.C.Dobson entitled "The Empty Tomb and the Risen Lord."

(b).Doctrinal Implications. 

There are a number of doctrinal implications which arise from the fact of the resurrection.

  1. The Resurrection was the conclusive proof of the Deity of Christ. Acts 17:31; Rom.l:4; 1 Cor.l5:l4,l5' . He claimed to be God, the resurrection proved it.
  2. The Resurrection was God's seal to the atoning sacrifice of our Lord and to its value, and efficacy. Had He not risen there would have been no assurance that He was other than man and thus no assurance of the efficacy of His death as an atoning sacrifice. It is the proof that our faith is not vain. It is the stamp of God`s approval that the sacrifice was accepted. It is therefore the ground for our justification (Rom.4:25).
  3. The Resurrection , as the commencement of the glotified humanity of Christ, forms the basis of a new spiritual fellowship. This new spiritual fellowship is the church, the body of Christ. ( Collosians 1:15, 3:9,10, Ephesians 4:22-24).
  4. The Resurrection is the strongest guarantee of the Resurrection of the Christian. (See 1 Cor.15.) 
  5. The resurrection has also a spiritual message and meaning for the Christian. In virtue of his union with Christ he is called upon to repeat within himself and share in a special way the redeeming acts of Christ, dying to sin and sharing in His Resurrection life. (Ron.6:1-11; Eph.2:6; Col.3:1.)

(3).The Ascension.

The third stage i.e the ascension. This must not be understood as merely from one part of the universe to another. It was a withdrawal into the of "presence of God" to carry on there a new ministry on our behalf. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us more than any other book the reason for the ascension.

It was necessary for Him to withdraw into the presence of God to appear there on our behalf (Heb.9:24), and to present the merits of His atonement (Heb.l0:19,20). He is there also to do vital work on our behalf now, to intercede for us. (Heb. 7:25) .

Lastly, the ascension was necesary in order that the Church might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John l6:7). The coming of the Holy Spirit was the sure proof that Christ had ascended to His Father and a further proof therefore of the reality of the Resurrection.

(4) The Session.

This last stage is sometimes taken in the sense that Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, making intercession for us., and thus as a continuation of the ascension. Taken this way it means that our Lord will return to set up His Kingdom on this earth from the Session. Sometimes, though, it is taken to refer to the time when our Lord shall return to set up His Kingdom on this earth and take His seat upon its throne.

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