Kénōsis: A Theology for Holy Week

I love theology.

I always have, and I always will. There’s just something about studying Greek words, doing apologetics, and writing about doctrine that gets me so excited. Like I’ve said in past posts, it really was a difficult decision to choose English Literature over Theology for my major.

Nevertheless, I have still had the opportunity to study theology.

Right now, I’m actually taking an online college course called “Introduction to Theology” through an online university where I’m getting my GenEds done (graduation is in May! Ah, thank God!).

The course itself is quite mediocre. I feel unchallenged by it, and I don’t care for the choice of textbooks or professor lectures. It’s very simple, and it doesn’t go deep like I thought it would. There’s time where I just blurt out loud in frustration, “Honestly, everyone knows that Christ’s first coming was called ‘The Incarnation.’ We’re not that stupid! Yes, I know God the Father, Son, and Spirit make up the Trinity and that they are all equally divine.” *facepalm*

Despite this, I stumbled across an interesting Greek word during my studies of Christ’s “incarnation” that really popped out at me. First of all, the fact that the word was Greek made it so intriguing, and what it translated to was even more so.

The word is kénōsis.

Kénōsis (κένωσις) is a Greek word which literally means “the emptying of…the act of emptying.” It is used quite often in the New Testament to describe what Christ did when he came to earth. For example, it is used in such a way in Philippians chapter two, when the apostle Paul writes:

…rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:7

When it says “he made himself nothing,” that is actually translated as such from the Greek verb kenóō, meaning “to empty” which is a verb form of kénōsis. It literally means to “make oneself into nothing” as Philippians 2:7 says (“Kenosis”).

Side note: I love holy week. Holy week has always been a time to realign my life with the true purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the countdown, and when Maundy Thursday arrives, then Good Friday, followed by Black Saturday, and then, of course, Easter Sunday.

However, as glorious as Easter Sunday is, to truly appreciate it, one has to consider and melancholically ponder on the somber realities of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

It is a time to celebrate and remember the kénōsis; the emptying of Christ.

There is no better time to appreciate and understand kénōsis than Holy Week.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, Christ chose to empty himself and turn his back on the comfort of safety. He chose to march into Jerusalem, knowing the torture and death that awaited him within its gates. He emptied himself of fear, he emptied himself of comfort, and he emptied himself for us. He let go and boldly faced the fate that would come for him in five days.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Jesus dwelt among the people.

On Monday, Jesus was tested by the Pharisees. They tried to find reason to accuse him. Interestingly, the Passover lamb that was eaten on the feast of Passover was inspected and tested for blemishes four days before it was slaughtered…Jesus was inspected by the Pharisees four days before his death…because he was the sacrificial lamb as well.

On Thursday, Jesus ate The Last Supper with his disciples. He emptied himself as he willingly let Judas depart from the table, knowing that he would betray him. Jesus emptied himself when he knelt down to wash his disciples’ feet. He emptied himself when he went out into the garden to pray, and the anguish on his mind made his capillaries burst, and he wept tears of blood. He knew his fate, but he emptied himself for us and chose to face his death.

On Friday morning, Jesus was arrested in the garden by soldiers who were led by Judas, his own disciple.

Friday is the day when the kénōsis of Christ is most observable.

He, the Creator of the world, the God of humanity, the Son of God, chose to let Himself be scourged, beaten, spit upon, mocked, and crucified by His own creation. He let Roman soldiers beat a crown of thorns into his head.

“The Crowning with Thorns” by Caravaggio

He was executed by the most excruciating, slow method ever known to the history of man before or since.

He died of asphyxiation, and his lungs collapsed. His hands, pierced with nails, and his feet, driven through with nails, were all that supported him, and each breath forced him to pull himself up by his impaled hands and push himself up by his punctured feet.

And he stayed that way for six whole hours.

Then, after those six hours had passed, Christ emptied himself of his greatest possession: his life. Completely surrendering himself to his love for us, he gave up his life…willingly, and without complaint.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:30, NIV

In this moment, Christ was emptied. He completely and fully emptied himself of his own life. He laid himself down selflessly, because he desired us that much. He humbled himself to the point of death.

To fully appreciate the goodness of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, we have to mull over and dwell upon the sadness and supposed defeat of Friday and Saturday. That’s why I watch the grueling two hours and seven minutes of Mel Gibson’s historically and Biblically accurate retelling, The Passion of the Christ every year: because it makes me weep, it makes me remember, and it makes me appreciate his decision to die for my wretched self.

Friday and Saturday is a time to meditate on the kénōsis of Christ. His decision to render himself completely and utterly defenseless in the hands of his creation.

He chose to empty himself of himself.

“The Entombment of Christ” by Caravaggio

He surrendered himself.

His love for us drove him to kénōsis, and his love for us drove him to his death.

And his sacrifice made us free.

And the best part of it is that he did not stay dead.

I was on Netflix this last week watching a documentary called “The Countdown to Calvary,” hosted by one of my favorite actors, Hugh Bonneville. It was actually better than most secular documentaries made about Christ, but again, it had its doctrinal flaws (not as if I was not expecting that).

Bonneville was a student of theology at Cambridge University, so as the documentary drew to a close, I expected him to at least mention the resurrection once…since that’s the most well known controversy surrounding the historical event of Christ’s death.

He never did.

Jesus’s resurrection was never mentioned.

Not. One. Time.

I wasn’t shocked, but I actually began talking out loud and yelling about how the resurrection is the most important part. That’s what makes Jesus’s death so amazing. I know the world does not see it that way, but I do.

It was gruesome, it was gory, it was excruciating, it was harrowing torture, it ended in death. Jesus really did die, but the reason for all of our celebrations is that he did not stay dead.

“The Resurrection of Jesus” by Piero della Francesca

And all the emptying, all the kénōsis, was rewarded with victory. Christ’s resurrection proclaimed victory over death, over sin, and over Satan himself. Because Jesus emptied himself, we are free. Because Jesus emptied himself, he can live in us. Because Jesus emptied himself, we love him. Because Jesus emptied himself, our chains are gone.

Nothing holds us back from living the life he has called us to.

Nevertheless, we are called to live as Christ lived. We are called to empty ourselves. We are called to the theology of kénōsis.

We all know what we must empty ourselves of. We all have that sin, that obsession, that inexplicable habit that competes in our hearts for the place of lordship with Christ. Something that may not even be a sin at all. Something that we worship without even knowing.

We are called to empty ourselves of it.

But that’s where the victory is found. Christ emptied himself, and he was victorious. He was utterly victorious. When we empty ourselves, when we “kenóō,” we prepare our hearts for the victory he is about to pour out on us. He rewards his children, and he rewards our decision to obey the call to live actively in kénōsis.

May that be our anthem this Easter. May we walk boldly and firmly in it. Let us empty ourselves, pour our distractions at the feet of Christ, and rely upon his grace and mercy to lead us to victory.

Shalom aleichem! (peace be upon you 😎 )

Emily 🐻

P.S. This is one of my favorite short videos on Good Friday and the hope of Easter Sunday – it literally gives me chills. It’s only a few minutes long, so please give it a watch:

Works Cited

“Kenosis.” Wikipedia, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosis.

4 thoughts on “Kénōsis: A Theology for Holy Week

Add yours

  1. Oh, this was WONDERFUL. What a beautiful and thought-provoking way to start my Holy Saturday. I love being able to name things, especially if it means going to the original Greek terms–and I, too, want to “live actively in kénōsis.” Thank you so much for sharing this with us!
    Have a blessed weekend 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment, Maribeth! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I love Greek words, too, especially when they help us better understand the scriptures! Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday! 😀

  2. Awesome post Emily, this made my Monday and it pointed me to empty myself to get the victory – just as Christ did. Have a great Monday babes! Love Dad!

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