Has there ever been a moment when you were reading, and a phrase or a sentence jumped out at you from the page and grabbed your eye like a fish hook? Sometimes it is due to incongruity (“What in the world is that doing there?”), but I speak more of the sort where something is so congruous, so poignant, that you simply cannot help but pause and stand to attention. This happened to me as I was reading the fourth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Quoting Psalm 68, he writes,
“Wherefore he saith, ‘When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
One phrase in that hit me in the eye: He led captivity captive. The poetry, the imagery, the psalmist painted and the apostle emphasized is incredible. This is a profound verse, and in it, the entire gospel is contained.
When he ascended up on high – Paul continues in the next couple verses to make statements about Christ, saying, “Now he that ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” Thus we see a picture in Christ’s ascension first of His descension. He left His heavenly home, and all the glories therein, that He might descend to the earth and live life as a man. Living a perfect life, He was crucified on the cross, taking upon Himself the holy wrath of God against sin. Dead, He was buried in the earth; but not for all time. Three days later, He burst forth in glorious day, defeating death once and for all. Some days later, He ascended into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, far above all principalities and powers, and above every name that was named. All this is the glorious ascension of Christ.
He – This is He, Jesus, the Christ, fully God yet fully man. He, the One who gave His life for sinful man, who then ascended up, is the one spoken of here as a conquering King. For…
… Led captivity – What is the captivity that Paul speaks of? Looking back through the ages, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden. There a decision was made by the first man and woman that has affected us throughout the eons. Not only did Adam and Eve sin, but we sinned in them. Mankind has gone on sinning, rebelling against the order and law set up by Almighty God. There is no one who is even near righteous. Because of our willing rebellion, we are in captivity to our sin, and thus, to death: for the wages of sin is death. Our flesh is in control; our sin is rampant; even when we attempt to do well, it stinks to God. We are, all our days in bondage to sin. Not only that, we are under the domain of the Enemy of God, the Devil, kept within the kingdom of darkness, from which there is no escape. Unless…
… Captive – Oh, what glory, what triumph is in these words! Taken together, when Jesus rose again and ascended, He led a glorious parade of all that held us captive. Like the conquerors of yore, He led the Slave Masters known as Sin and Death in fetters. He absolutely defeated, once and for all, the enemy of our souls, taking them in open shame. The wrath of God was poured out, and sin was atoned for; the stone before the tomb was blasted away, and death’s sting was squashed; Christ ascended upon high, and all else was put under His feet. He has led captivity captive! All that once stood over us as our masters – Lust, Envy, Pride, Anger, Fear, Anxiety, Depression, Loneliness, Bitterness, Greed, to name a few – has now been defeated. All that stood between us and our Creator has been dealt with. No more does it have power over us, for He is our Lord and Savior. But the glory does not end there…
… And he gave gifts unto men – The gifts which God has given us are numerous, perhaps greater that I can number. Principally, we have been given the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God within us. As all that stood between us and God has been removed by Jesus, God now comes and dwells within us. We have also been given the grace of God, receiving that which we do not deserve. Not only saving grace, but a working grace too: for in the context of this verse, the gifts which God has given us are gifts for ministering. Specifically named are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Not all of us are called to the same position; but we have all been given the grace of God to spread the good news of His kingdom and to build up the body of Christ. The purpose of these gifts, given to the once captive, is to set other captives free, and to strengthen the Army-Family known as the Church for the battle for the glory of God.
That poetic phrase, “He has led captivity captive”, is one that I pray I keep close. For in certain moments, it can feel that I am once again in captivity to my old masters. It seems that the fish hook of temptation is stuck deeply within my heart, and I cannot but help to obey. No longer: because of the work of God, I can take that hook out, and allow the grace of God to pull me towards Himself. For that is the goal of all this: to bring us back to Himself. He led captivity captive, that we may be captive to His grace.
Apologies for no posts in a while. I have been away, enjoying myself at youth camp, vacation, and a friend’s wedding in Colorado. Posts shall come forthwith, Lord willing.