Jesus’ Victory Supplies the Church

4 05 2020

As many times as I have studied this missionary newsletter from Paul, I nevertheless saw something new in this go-around. What surprises me is that a short paragraph I’ve passed over due to its difficulty is, I think, one key to understanding the letter and the grand theology behind it.

Please belt in and grab the safety bar

Paul, from prison, writes:
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7).

That which Christ gives to each believer is immense. Ultimately, Christ Himself is the gift and He desires that His body (the church) know Him fully and grow up into His fullness (4:13). He continues:

“Therefore He [God] says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men” (4:8)

Take note. This is taken from Psalm 68:18, where King David recounts God’s victory in delivering Israel from captivity in Egypt. In that historical incident, two events occurred:

1. PLUNDER.  Egyptians surrendered to the Israelites all kinds of silver and gold (Exod.12:35,36).
2. VICTORY.  The Egyptian army was swallowed up in the Red Sea.

I believe David refers to #1 when he says, “You have received gifts among men” (Ps.68:18). This represents the spoils of war.

I think David then refers to #2 in saying, “You have led captivity captive.” This depicts victory over the enemy. The Egyptian captors became God’s captives and perished. This tragedy speaks of the hard truth that God does and will have vengeance on His wicked enemies who oppose Him.

Back to Paul

Our imprisoned apostle teaches us how to walk out our beliefs. Grace given by Christ to each one of us who believe will empower us to do this.

The source is the victory of Jesus Christ over His enemies through His sacrificial death on the cross. And as the Victor, He shares the spoils of war with us, His body and bride.

What are these gifts? The church that works together beautifully (which we will explore next time).

One more head-scratcher

David wrote, “When He ascended on high” (Ps.68:18). This takes us back to the Exodus story and refers to God dwelling up in Mt. Sinai where His holiness makes surrounding mountains jealous (Ps. 68/16)!

Now Paul applies this ascension in a New Covenant sense:

(Now this, ‘He ascended’ — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)” (Eph.4:9-10)

Wow, this is difficult.

The best I can make of this is that after crucifixion and before resurrection, Jesus’ soul descended into Hades (see Acts 2:27 and 31). Peter also seems to say that Jesus proclaimed the gospel to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:5-6).

I don’t know if this was to announce ultimate defeat of Satan and all his wicked allies, or whether this was a one-time retrospective proclamation to Old Testament people, even giving an opportunity to accept the good news of salvation, or both (any opinions or insights on this?).

What is clear is that Jesus fought the good fight and ascended far above all principalities and powers as the Victor (Eph. 1:20-21). From His victory, He brings grace-gifts to distribute to His own — “every spiritual blessing” in fact (chapter 1). The unfolding verses say that the spoils of victory include five ministries for the Church (next time).

And when we get to chapter six, we will see that the armor of God which brought the victory is a part of Christ’s gift to us, that we might share in His battle and win. The armor is beat up, but its accustomed to victory!

Do you see how this knotty paragraph sheds light on much of Ephesians?

Too much information, I know!

Here is a take-away for you. Jesus wants to share His victory with you and me (“each one of us”).   

  • How have you see His generosity with you in recent days?
  • How has He gifted your church?