Led Captivity Captive
The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church about Christ, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8). Here, Paul quotes from Psalms 68:18 where the Psalmist uses the figure of a conquering king returning triumphantly, with many captives, to describe the heavenly King going up to Jerusalem. But Paul uses the words of the psalmist to refer specifically to the ascension of Christ.
The phrase, “led captivity captive” refers to those held captive by death who were raised with Christ at His resurrection. In the gospel of Matthew, we read, “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51–53).
While the graves were opened at the time of Christ’s death, the resurrected saints did not rise till after Jesus arose (Matthew 27:53). How fitting that Christ should raise with Him from the grave some of the captives whom the devil had held in the prison of death. These martyrs were resurrected with Jesus, with glorified bodies, and later ascended with Him to heaven.
The gifts of grace that Christ gave after His ascension, refer to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit dwelling and working in a special way in individuals. The diversities of gifts are: “for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
Paul points out that it is the ascension of Christ that is the guarantee of His ability to give the gifts of the Spirit to men (1 Corinthians 15:12–22). These gifts were intended to operate for the purpose of bringing the church into unity and a fit condition to meet the Lord (Ephesians 4:12–15). The gifts are all from God; therefore no man can boast (1 Corinthians 12:11).
It should be noted that the gifts of the Spirit are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). The previous are endowments of divine power upon individuals in the church to carry-on God’s work for the perfection of His church. The fruits of the Spirit are qualities of character that appear in church members who surrender themselves wholly to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and are moved by the ultimate attribute of the Spirit, which is love (1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:22, 23).
Our High Priest
It was the humiliation of Christ that led to His exaltation (Philippians 2:5–11). By entering into such an experience, He became a compassionate High Priest, familiar with all the afflictions of the human life, even death itself (Hebrews 2:14–18; 7:25–27). As a man, Christ had been subject to all the limitations of humanity, but now He is in a position to give His gifts and pour out His grace in great power and glory; He is the Light of the world, offering His light into every dark place. Thus, He is more than qualified to be the head of the church, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).
In His service,
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