Obedient to the Point of Death: Philippians 2:8

death of Christ

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c) Phil 2:8: Concerning Christ, Paul recorded that while “in the form of God, himself he emptied” (Phil 2:5–7). Then, when “in appearance he was found as a human, he humbled himself.”

In contrast to the word “likeness” (homoiōma), which focuses upon an essential quality of something,[1] “appearance” (schēma) refers to the recognized shape or outward form in which something occurs.[2]

Christ both was and looked human (1 John 1:1–4).[3]



The King of kings came to earth and deliberately chose to abase himself,[4] taking the lowest place.[5] He accomplished this by “becoming obedient (hypēkoos) to the point of death.”[6]

Jesus had to learn submission by choosing to conform his will. Such an attitude did not come naturally to him (Luke 2:48–52; Heb 5:7–8). Even his death occurred due to an act of obedience, not an accident of history.[7]

He offered himself both to the Father and to the service of humanity (Heb 10:5–7; Luke 19:10).[8]



Unlike the Greek word doulos, the Hebrew word translated as “slave” (evedh) can also mean “servant.”[9]

By becoming a slave, Christ fulfilled the role of the suffering servant of the Lord, the one whose coming Isaiah predicted seven hundred years earlier (Isa 52:13–53:12).[10]

In describing his impending death, Jesus spoke to his disciples in language reminiscent of Isaiah’s Servant Songs (Luke 18:31–33; Luke 22:37; Mark 10:42–45).[11]

Furthermore, Christ took the role of a slave in washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3–17).[12]

Paul had previously used Isa 53:4–12 as the background for 2 Cor 5:21,[13] so his gentile readers likely knew these verses from the book of Isaiah.[14]

Since Christ renounced his privileges and served as a slave to the point of death, surely we as his followers can regard no task as beneath our dignity.[15]



Death on a cross” was the cruelest form of execution officially practiced in the Roman Empire.  Government officials generally reserved it for those guilty of treason and for slaves.[16]

Christ rejected the culturally honorable options of dying in resistance to oppression or by suicide. Instead, he allowed himself to be executed in what people considered the most shameful way to die (Matt 26:51–54).[17]

In Jewish thought, God’s curse resulted in death on a cross (Deut 21:22–23).[18] That their messiah would die by crucifixion was unthinkable (John 12:31–34).

Gentiles considered the notion that a god would willingly perish that way absurd (1 Cor 1:23).

In Greco-Roman society, those engaging in polite discourse forbade even speaking the word “cross.”[19]

According to the 1st century BC philosopher Cicero:

Even if death be threatened, we may die free men; but the executioner, and the veiling of the head, and the mere name of the gibbet, should be far removed, not only from the persons of Roman citizens—from their thoughts, and eyes, and ears.

For not only the actual fact and endurance of all these things, but the bare possibility of being exposed to them—the expectation, the mere mention of them even—is unworthy of a Roman citizen and of a free man.

Does not the kindness of their masters at one touch deliver our slaves from the fear of all these punishments?[20]



Christ’s execution created a divine scandal.[21]

The one who was equal with God surrendered to a death reserved for criminals,[22] a fate so terrible that honorable people refused to even mention crucifixion. However, the cross reveals God’s true character and his outrageous love which he has lavished upon us (John 15:12–13).[23]

Where such love exists, rivalry, selfishness, and arguments cannot persist (1 Cor 1:10; Phil 4:2).[24]

Instead, God calls us to accept suffering for Jesus’s sake (Phil 1:29).[25] The Holy Spirit transforms those experiencing genuine life in Christ into his likeness.[26]

Paul rejected a triumphal demeanor, for that contradicts Christ’s attitude (1 Cor 1:25–31).[27]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Phil 2:8. Why would both Jews and gentiles be scandalized by the notion that people would worship someone who had been crucified? How can we follow Christ’s example?




Go to The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11)

[Related posts include Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); The Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father: Orthodoxy or Heresy?; Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); In the Beginning Was the Word (John 1:1–2); A Most Cruel and Ignominious Punishment (Matt 27:26–37); Receiving Christ’s Righteousness (2 Cor 5:21); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 3: The Image of God (Genesis 1:26–31)]


[1] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 215.

[2]Danker, et al., “σχῆμα” (schēma), BDAG, 981.

[3] Hawthorne, Philippians, 120.

[4] Danker et al., “ταπεινοω” (tapeinoō), BDAG, 990.

[5] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 216.

[6] Hawthorne, Philippians, 122.

[7] Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 148–9.

[8] Hawthorne, Philippians, 122.

[9] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “עֶ֫בֶד” (evedh), BDB, 713–4, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/712/mode/2up.

[10] Hawthorne, Philippians, 119.

[11] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 212.

[12] Hawthorne, Philippians, 119.

[13] J. V. Fesko, “N.T. Wright on Imputation.” RTR 66, no.1 Apr 2007: 2–22, 12.

[14] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 212.

[15] Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 140.

[16] Thielman, Philippians, 119.

[17] Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 150.

[18] Hawthorne, Philippians, 122–3.

[19] Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 150.

[20]M. Tullius Cicero, For Rabirus on a Charge of Treason (The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero; trans. Charles Duke Yonge; Covent Garden: Henry G. Bohn, 1856), 16, Http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0019%3Atext%3DRab.%20Perd.%3Achapter%3D5.

[21] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 217.

[22] Hawthorne, Philippians, 123.

[23] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 208.

[24] Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 149.

[25] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 218.

[26] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 227.

[27] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 197