Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
(Ephesians 4:8-10 ESV)
Psalm 68 describes a king who has just won a military battle against his enemies and is returning home with the spoils of war. In verse 18 the victorious king ascends Mt. Zion. This was a common practice in ancient Israel. Jewish kings would arrive home after defeating their enemy and would climb Mt. Zion, the holy hill in Jerusalem, in a display of victory.
Trailing behind the king in parade would be captives. But these were not necessarily only foreign nationals that had been taken back to Israel to become slaves. Often they were Jews who had been captured by Israel’s enemies in prior battles. The Israeli king is pictured in Psalm 68 as capturing these captives (“taking captivity captive”) – freeing Jews who had been previously captured.
Finally, the king would disperse the spoils to his subjects, notably those that had been loyal to him.
Paul uses this scenario as an analogy to Jesus. Similar to the military king of Psalm 68, Jesus defeated sin (the enemy of all mankind) at the cross [Colossians 2:15]. Later, after this victorious battle, He ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-11] in a display of victory much like the king climbed Mt. Zion.
Also like the king, Jesus freed captives who rightfully belonged to Him. Human beings are slaves to sin [John 8:34; Romans 6:20] and need to be freed from that bondage. At the cross Jesus reclaimed the human race as His own, freeing us from sin’s oppression [John 8:32].
Finally, after His ascension into heaven Jesus “gave gifts to men”. Just like a victorious human king distributes spoils to his loyal subjects, Jesus disperses spiritual gifts to those who belong to Him, as we learned yesterday. We’ll see exactly what those gifts are in a couple of days.
While hanging on the cross in agony, Jesus looked like a loser. The Jews and Romans thought they had won by removing Him from their lives (sounds like today, doesn’t it?). But their plan backfired on them. Three days later Jesus arose from the grave victorious.
In America we often remind ourselves that “freedom isn’t free” – it has a price. We honor our military personnel who make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf, as well we should.
God’s children need to likewise remember that obtaining our freedom from the bondage of sin was costly. Jesus went to battle for us. He fought a fight we could not fight on our own. And He came out victorious.
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