ESV - 8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.
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What does it mean that Jesus "led captivity captive and gave gifts to men"? The context of Ephesians 4:8 lies in the passage of Ephesians 4:1-16. Paul was speaking of the unity of the body of Christ which should inform the spiritual conduct of every believer. He declares that there is one Lord, one Faith, one baptism and by this he meant that believers are eternally united in Christ who purchased them with his shed blood. He also recognizes that God has given each believer special gifts by which to minister to the body of Christ. These gifts and offices are set out in Ephesians 4:10-12 and the purpose of these gifts is clearly outlined in "Ephesians 4:12-13 where he teaches that these gifts and offices are "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" So what does it mean that Jesus "led captivity captive and gave gifts to men"? In answering this question, we need to appreciate that Paul is foremost describing the death and resurrection of Christ by which he descended to lowest parts (place of the dead) and on the third day, he rose again with power and glory. 1 Corinthians 15:4 says of Christ "he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" There is divided opinion on the meaning of the first part of Ephesians 4:8 regarding Christ having "led captivity captive". Some theologians believe that the statement is symbolic of Christ's victory over death in the same way that a triumphant ancient king led captives as he celebrated his victory. Matthew Henry Commentary observes concerning this verse: "As great conquerors, when they rode in their triumphal chariots, used to be attended with the most illustrious of their captives led in chains, and were wont to scatter their largesses and bounty among the soldiers and other spectators of their triumphs, so Christ, when he ascended into heaven, as a triumphant conqueror, led captivity captive" Other Bible scholars view Paul's statement here as a foreshadow of the triumph that Christ would make of his divine enemies when he comes to earth to conquer them and reign as Eternal King (Hebrews 1:13; 10:12-13). While this is futuristically true of Christ, the passage context favors the first interpretation because the passage clearly alludes to Christ's death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. We can therefore deduce that Jesus snatched spiritual captives from Satan (cf. Matthew 27:52-53) and conquered Death and Hell (1 Corinthians 15:55) and empowered His Church to eternal victory. Besides, Christ gave the church gifts on his ascension when He sent the Holy Spirit to take His place as the Superintendent of His Church. Ordinary men like Peter were henceforth empowered by the Spirit to minister for Christ so that the Church moved into all ages, resounding with the power of the Spirit of God. Notice that Peter preached the first sermon under the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and as scripture affirms "...the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)" Many other signs and wonders were performed by the apostles confirming that the power of the Kingdom of God was now with men (cf. Daniel 5:21b). By taking captivity captive, Christ clearly demonstrated that henceforth "... the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5) and that Kingdom of God shall advance against the kingdom of darkness "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). This is the true Kingdom power that Paul contemplated as he penned the letter to the Ephesians. The Church as Christ's Kingdom agent on earth will conquer and break the strongholds of Satan by the power of the Risen Christ.
To me it means that when Our Lord Jesus suffered, bled and died on the cross (Matthew 27:52) these saints held captive went with Him to paradise. In another sense, it means that all who believe in Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection are freed from the condemnation of their sins because they have been washed by His blood and have the gift of salvation. This being done, now we are to use our gifts, talents as you might call them, to work and bring others to God. Check out Matthew 12:36-40,46-50; John 1:12-14;Luke 16:19-31.
All of the old testament saints went to paradise. In the center of the earth. Hell on one side, and paradise on the other with a divide between the two. Remember the rich man who called out to Abraham to send Lazarus to give him a drop of water to cool his tongue. Before Jesus died he told the thief with him on the cross, today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus went under the earth. But He took all of the old testament saints to heaven. He led captivity captive. Now we as believer go straight to heaven when we die. But it is only our soul/spirit that is saved. We will be reunited with new sinless bodies at the resurrection.. John 11:25-26. John 3:18 All believers have eternal life and can never be condemned again, Unbelievers are condemned already, because they have not believed on the name of he Son of God. Firs John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye MAY KNOW YE HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.
The gifts part of this scripture is easily answered because God has given us apostles, (prophets), evangelists, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints. He has given us gifts of the Holy Spirit, although not all of these are accepted even though the gift of healing is always desired, coveted and received by faith alone. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the word of wisdom, word of knowledge, aka foreknowledge, and discernment of spirits. Second group is healing, miracles, and the gift of faith. Third group that so many are ignorant of or even cause to reject their brothers and sisters in Christ are tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophecy. Does everyone have these gifts? No! Of course not. Gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as the spirit himself wills, but all gifts can be manifested as the spirit wills it or as the gift is given in answer to the seeker seeking it through prayer, fasting or others prayers by or through the laying on of hands. With men things can be impossible, but with God's help all things are possible. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever until this dispensation of grace is completed. To believe otherwise is foolish, but you can believe a lie or you can believe the word of God rather than men. We must always remember the Holy Spirit is the teacher with the greatest authority to teach us, not man. Then there are numerous other gifts like helps, hospitality, mercy, exhortation, praise, worship ect, ect. And then the greatest of all, the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, meekness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These are virtues that are developed in us all as we allow the Word of God and the Holy Spirit control over our flesh. Now as for taking captivity captive: I will always believe Jesus Christ went into Abraham's bosom and took all who dwelled there to heaven with him. For the righteous by faith dwelling there could not ascend to heaven until Jesus Christ blotted out their sins with his blood, just the same as for you and or I. We can not ascend without that blood blotting out our sins. His righteousness must become our righteousness through salvation. A free gift from our heavenly Father for accepting his Son. Abraham's Bosom is empty; that is where Jesus went before the ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, the place of power, dominion and might. He awaits, interceding for the saints of God until he returns to earth with the rod of iron to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Maranatha come Lord Jesus! You are wonderful. You are the forerunner of our faith. Amen!
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