Wednesday, 7 September 2016
Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.” Ephesians 4:8
The verse begins with “Therefore.” This is stated to explain the previous words, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” In order to show this, Paul cites the substance of Psalm 68:18. He changes several words and he goes from the 2nd person to the 3rd person. Thus, it is not a direct quote, but rather it conveys the substance of what was said and then he equates it to the triumph of the work of Christ –
“You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
Even from the rebellious,
That the Lord God might dwell there.” Psalm 68:18
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was the place where God met with man. Its placement in Zion was the sign of victory of God over His enemies. They were defeated, the land had been subdued, and God rested in His place. The thought of ascending on high is that of being exalted above all the others who have been placed in subjection to Him. Though Zion was not the highest peak in elevation, it was considered the highest place of honor. Thus, any time that someone traveled to Jerusalem, regardless of direction or elevation from which they came, they were said to “go up” to Jerusalem.
As the Lord who dwelt between the cherubim of the ark had been brought to this place of exaltation, and as it was a sign that His enemies had been vanquished, it says, “You have led captivity captive.” This signifies that those who were once the captors (called the abstract “captivity”) had themselves been made captive. They were now the subdued prisoners who were conducted in bonds during the triumphal procession to that spot of exultation.
Quite often this verse is cited as a display of the prisoners being released from captivity by the work of Christ. Though this is something He did, it is not what is being referred to here. Rather, it is the foes of God being brought into captivity. After this defeating of His enemies, it then says, “You have received gifts among men.”
Ascribing this thought to the work of Christ, Paul modifies it and says, “And gave gifts to men.” This is the specific explanation of the previous verse which said, “…but to each one of us was grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” The spoils of war were handed out to the subjects of the kingdom according to the pleasure of the vanquishing ruler. Likewise, God passes out His gifts of victory according to His choosing as well.
Paul’s words, though modifying the psalm, do not change the intent. The two thoughts side by side say:
And gave gifts to men (Paul)
You have received gifts among men (Psalm)
The same idea is expressed. Christ received gifts which He then immediately turned around and handed out to His subjects. This follows from other times in Scripture where the same thought is denoted by a sudden and succinct expression. Scripture may say something like, “Bring me a heifer,” which is simply a shortened form of “Bring a heifer to me for sacrifice.”
The analogy Paul is making is that Christ was victorious in His work. He was exalted to the highest position, there at the right hand of God, and from that position He gives the Holy Spirit to His subjects in the measure He so chooses.
Life application: If you have called on Christ, you have been sealed with the Spirit. Now it is your responsibility to take the gift you possess and use it for God’s glory. Each thing that you do should be geared towards returning glory to God for the grace which He has bestowed upon you.
Lord God, are we too busy with the things of life to honor You with who we are as Your people? In an act of grace, Christ came and lived the life that we were unable to live. He gave up His life in exchange for our failings, and He then granted us the guarantee of eternal life – all undeserved; all grace. And yet, we have so much to do – sports, TV shows, dining out and watching a movie. How busy we are! What ungrateful subjects of the King of kings! Forgive us, and turn our hearts towards the advancement of Your kingdom. Our lives are but a span… a short one. Use us up now Lord. Use us up to Your glory which will radiate for all eternity. Amen.