STUDY 6: PHILIPPIANS 2:8

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Having done all that is mentioned in Philippians 2:6 – 8a, Jesus went even further. He ‘humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (2:8b).

A. HE HUMBLED HIMSELF - 2:8 

The verb is tapeinoo (pronounced tap-i-no’-o). It is Aorist Tense – that is, Jesus humbled himself in a decisive action. It is Active Voice: he did it; no one did it to him. And he deliberately did it – heauton – to himself. It didn’t just happen to him. He didn’t do it accidently. He actively did this to himself.

Jesus deliberately, actively, abased himself.

And here we come to Paul’s point in saying all of this about the incarnation: that this is the mindset that he is instructing the Philippians to have. Not ‘selfish ambition or vain conceit’ (2:3), but the mindset (2:5) of humility that is exemplified in Jesus Christ.

He had already humbled himself in doing all that Paul has already stated (2:6 – 8a):

By not grasping his equality with God.
By making himself nothing.
By taking the nature of a servant.
By being made in human likeness.
By being found in appearance as a human.

In all of this he made himself of no reputation, he emptied himself: he who is God became human.

But there is more. Having become an ordinary, run-of-the-mill human being, a ‘servant’, not a king or a military general, or a millionaire, Jesus’ self-denial went even further. He became obedient to death, even death on a cross (2:8).

B. ‘... HE BECAME OBEDIENT TO DEATH ...’

The Greek text has a participle – ‘he humbled himself having become obedient to death ...’ In other words, his humbling himself has its ultimate expression and goal in the obedience that took him as far as, all the way to, death. (The English ‘to’ translates the Greek mechri - a preposition referring to the time or space leading up to a terminus point.)

This commitment of Christ to this ‘end’, this goal, is evident in the New Testament records.

Check the ‘obedience’ that led Christ to his death. Discuss their significance.
Revelation 13:8

 

1Peter 1:18 – 20

 

Hebrews 10:7 – 10

 

Hebrews 12:2, 3

 

Matthew 20:28

 

Luke 9:51

 

Luke 12:50

 

Luke 22:14 – 22

 

John 18:11

 

Matthew 26:42

 

Matthew 26:53, 54

 

This death was planned before the creation of the world, and Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to put this eternal purpose of God into effect in human time and human space.

‘I lay down my life ... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down ... This is the command I received from my Father’ (John 10:17, 18).

What terrible, incomprehensible, amazing thing happened here?

The Living One died.
The One who is the source of all life, died.
The Bread of life died.
The Light of life died.
The fount of living water died.
The one who gave life to the dead, died.
The resurrection and the life died.

He who is life died.

But death, in itself, is not the worst of it; that is not the depth of his deliberate humiliation.

 

C. ‘... EVEN DEATH ON A CROSS!’

His making himself of no reputation, his taking the nature of a servant, his being made in human likeness, his humbling himself, his obedience, took him to a death that was in no way an ordinary death: it took him to death by crucifixion: death on a cross.

Death by crucifixion was extremely painful.

Death by crucifixion was extremely shameful and publically humiliating. It was a death reserved for the worst of criminals and for slaves. In addition, for Jesus, the treatment he received between his arrest and his crucifixion was abusive and degrading.

To die by crucifixion was to be cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).

Note the humiliation described in these verses:
Mark 14:65

 

Matthew 27:28 – 31

 

Matthew 27:39 – 44

 

1Peter 2:23

 

C.1 Cursed by God
But it is the third fact about crucifixion, being cursed by God, that points to the deepest meaning and the deepest agony of this death.

Many people have died extremely painful deaths. Many people have died in extremely humiliating ways. But only Jesus died cursed by God for sins that were not his own.

Jesus had been declared by Pilate to be legally innocent: ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him’ (John 19:4).

God the Father had twice affirmed his approval of the Son: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).

Jesus himself had challenged his opponents to prove him guilty of sin: ‘Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?’ (John 8:46).

The apostles testified to Jesus’ sinlessness: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us ...’ (2Corinthians 5:21). ‘... we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).

While in the perception of the Jewish leaders Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, and therefore worthy of execution, in God’s perception Jesus was totally innocent. He was without sin. In line with the eternal purpose of God, as the innocent one Jesus alone was qualified to bear the curse of the sins of others. He, the innocent one, could take the place of us, the guilty ones, and bear in full the penalty of our sins.

For reflection/discussion.
Read Galatians 3:10 – 14. What is this common ‘curse’ from which none of us is exempt, and which Jesus bore in our place?

 

Read Isaiah 53:3 – 10. How is the substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Christ portrayed in these verses?

 

And what is God’s part in this?

 

Read 1Peter 2:24a. What do you learn from this verse?

 

Read Matthew 27:46. How does Jesus cry express the core meaning of being ‘cursed’ by God?

 

To be ‘cursed’ is to be cut off from God. It is to be eternally condemned. This curse, this separation from God, this prohibition of the sinner from access to God, began in Genesis 3.

How is awareness of alienation from God expressed in these verses?
Genesis 3:7 – 10

 

Exodus 20:18, 19

 

Isaiah 6:5

 

Ezekiel 1:26 – 28

 

Luke 5:8, 9

 

As we read in Galatians 3:13, Christ became a curse for us. He took the curse. He took the prohibition, the ban. He took the alienation. He took the rejection by God. For us. He put himself in our place under the curse and condemnation of God.

And what results from this extreme obedience of Christ, the Son of God?

Study these verses to discover the purpose and result of this substitutionary death under the curse and condemnation of God.
Galatians 3:13

 

Romans 5:10, 11

 

2Corinthians 5:19

 

Colossians 1:20 – 22

 

Ephesians 2:18

 

Hebrews 4:14 – 16

 

Hebrews 10:19 – 22

 

This death, this subjection of the Son of God to the curse of God to secure our redemption from that curse, was the eternal purpose of God. It was planned, as we have seen, before the creation of the world, before the beginning of time.

All through the Old Testament there are multiple anticipations of this death. These are not just in the written prophecies like those in Isaiah 53, but, from the beginning, in prophetic symbol and prophetic ritual. This death is proclaimed in:

The promise of the offspring of Eve who would defeat the evil one (Genesis 3:15).

The provision of animal skins (which required a death) to provide a covering for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21).

The ram provided by God as a substitute for Isaac (Genesis 22:8 – 14).

The original Passover lambs by whose death/blood the firstborn of the Israelites escaped death (Exodus 12). And all Passover lambs offered in subsequent years.

The many animals slain as sin and guilt offerings in the daily, weekly and monthly rituals of Israel (Leviticus 1 – 7; Numbers 28:1 – 15).

The sin offerings included in the annual festivals: the Feast of Weeks (Numbers 28:26 – 31); the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16); the Feast of Tabernacles (Numbers 29:12 – 39).

And all through the centuries that these ritual offerings were made, there remained in the Tabernacle/Temple that prohibitive curtain that banned human access to even the symbolic presence of God in the Most Holy Place. Only the High Priest could enter there, under strict conditions, on one day each year, the Day of Atonement, to present a sin offering to the Lord. And it is here, in relation to this curtain, that we see most clearly and with grand certainty, that the death of Christ achieved the purpose and result for which he submitted to it:

‘And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.’ (Matthew 27:50, 51).

John informs us that what Jesus cried out just before he died was ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30). That is, it is accomplished. It is completed. The goal, the purpose, has been achieved. The grand, incredible, eternal plan of God to save us sinners, that was anticipated and predicted right through the Old Testament, has been accomplished. Effectively. Completely. Permanently. By Jesus Christ, who humbled himself and became obedient unto death. This death. This cross. This curse.

 

D. YOUR ATTITUDE SHOULD BE THE SAME ...

Paul has given this brief but potent description of the self-denying humility and obedience of Christ not because the Philippians didn’t know this. His purpose is not to teach them about the two natures and the death of Christ. His purpose, rather, is found in the first five verses of this chapter.

He has said what he said about Jesus Christ because he wanted to encourage the Philippians, and us, to have the same mindset as Jesus Christ.

Now that you have looked deeply at the mindset of Christ in 2:6 – 8, what added depth of meaning is given to Paul’s previous commands?
‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition ...’

 

 

‘... in humility consider others better than yourselves’

 

 

‘Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’

 

 

How does Christ’s example challenge your priorities?

 

 

How does what Christ did for you define what it means to ‘love one another’?