Thursday, 8 September 2016
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? Ephesians 4:9
Paul now introduces a parenthetical thought concerning what he just said in verse 8. There he cited the psalm which said, “When He ascended on high…” He demonstrates that the psalm was intended to be a messianic psalm and which pointed to Christ’s descent from heaven to earth. It is thus also a presentation of the divine/human nature of Christ. Christ ascended, but in order to ascend, it meant that something else had to occur first. In order for us to think this through, he places it in the form of a question, “[W]hat does it mean but that He also first descended…?”
It is His human nature which is being referred to here. The reason for this is to show that what was asked of us in verses 1 through 3 was already imposed on Christ the Lord. We are not being asked to do anything that He did not take upon Himself. Those words read –
“…to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This is what Christ did as is noted in Philippians 2:5-8 –
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Understanding this, we are shown that God stepped out of the eternal, infinite realm and united with humanity; He “descended.” This is something that Jesus spoke of in John 3:13 –
“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
However, Paul’s words go further. He says that “He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth.” Questions often arise as to what this term means. Sensationalists will generally say that this means that He went down into Hades itself. They even tie this into the words of the psalm concerning His leading captivity captive, indicating the releasing of souls from a type of prison. But as we saw in that analysis, it is not speaking of that at all. This is not speaking of His descent into hell. It is speaking of His incarnation.
A contrast is being made between His ascension to “far above all the heavens” of the next verse, and the lowly state of being confined to “the lower parts of the earth” of this verse. Again, the reason for Paul’s words of verses 1-3 explain what he is talking about. We are in “the lower parts of the earth” and we are being asked to conduct ourselves in a particular way. In order to be compliant and grateful for our current station, we are being told that Christ Himself, very God of very God, came and did the same. Because He was willing to do so, we should likewise be willing to emulate Him. The coming verses, after the parenthetical thought, will continue to show us this. We are to live in this world and to pursue life in this world, but we are to do it with the heavenly attitude which Christ retained while He walked among us.
Albert Barnes rightly states this concerning Paul’s words –
“Into the lower parts of the earth – To the lowest state of humiliation. This seems to be the fair meaning of the words. Heaven stands opposed to earth. One is above; the other is beneath. From the one Christ descended to the other; and he came not only to the earth, but he stooped to the most humble condition of humanity here…
Life application: Beware of those commentaries which tend to over-sensationalize Scripture. There is enough sensation in the work of Christ to fill our hearts and minds with an eternity of wonder. When people speak of dreams and visions, of angles and demons, and of heaven and hell, they often get off into unnecessary explanations of these things. The sensationalism sells well, but it is more often than not an inappropriate analysis of what is being relayed.
Lord God, You ask us to be reasonable in our interpretation of Scripture and to not become puffed up in our analysis of it. It is so easy to follow after sensational statements about dreams, visions, angels, and demons, but it is normally just a giant distraction from what You are actually trying to tell us. The work of Christ is sensational enough all by itself. Help us not to claim things which are not according to Your word, nor to follow people who make such outrageous boasts. Help us to follow sound interpretation and to fix our eyes on Jesus – the most sensational Person ever! Amen.