“One” has been used in the
sevenfold unity. Now it is used in “each one” individually.
Paul uses the plural “us”
that includes him in this group.
Key is Christ “gave”: 4:7,
Parallel passages are 1 Cor.
12:4 and Romans 12:6 where “charisma” (gift) is used instead of “charis” (grace). Difference refers to focus on the gift (1
Cor.12, Rom. 12) or the giver (Ep.4)
“Ascended” – Christ
ascension has huge theological significance as seen in Eph. 1:20-22
The “captives” are the evil
powers of Eph. 1:19-22. Christ is the superior of the heavenlies.
- Jews (Targum) associated
Ps. 68:18 with Moses going up Mt.
Sinai to receive the
law. Pentecost is the holiday that commemorates the giving of the Law.
Paul uses Pentecost of Acts 2 to show Christ’s superiority to Moses. Moses
ascended, received the law and it as a gift to men. Jesus, likewise,
ascended, received the Holy Spirit, and gave gifts to men when he poured
out his Spirit: “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the
Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and
hear.” Acts 2:33
- “Received” and “Giving” – The Hebrew word
“received” may have the idea of “fetching” or “going to get” which would
mean you “went to get” something to “give” it. This lines up with the
concept of ancient battles and conquest. The victor would take the plunder
(booty) and divide it, share it or give it. Abraham in Genesis 14. Deborah
and Barak in Judges 5:30. 1 Samuel 30:26-31.
- “Captives” are divided into two groups in Psalm
68:6 – the singing prisoners and the sun-scorched rebels. The “rebels”
would be the Jews who disobeyed and refer to the “rulers and authorities
in the heavenlies” in Ephesians. The captives
could refer to people like the Levites of Numbers 8 and 18 who were taken
by the Lord “the Levites shall be mine” (Numbers 8:6, 14) and then sent
back to serve God’s people. “I myself have selected your fellow
Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord
to do the work at the Tent of Meeting.” (Numbers 18:6) Others serving in the capacity is anticipated
in Isaiah 66:20-21, “They will bring all your brothers, from
all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the
Lord . . . and I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites.”
Ephesians 4:9-10 “he ascended”
applied to God coming from Sinai and ascending Zion (Psalm 68).
Later Judaism used it to
refer to Moses ascending Mt.
Sinai to receive the Law.
Here Paul applies it to
Christ ascending from earth (incarnation) back into heaven.
The question “”What does ‘he ascended’ mean . . . ?”
is a rhetorical question that is not seeking an answer but is instead drawing
attention to the fact of a previous “descent”.
Paul wants to show here with this statement that Psalm
68 is not referring to God in Jerusalem
or Moses at Sinai (who actually ascended and then descended), because neither
one of them had first “descended” from there. Only Christ fits this verse Paul
is trying to say. Christ is the only one to descend from heaven to be able to
ascend back there.
What part of Christ “descent” is referred to here is
unclear in the text. It could be:
- Descent to Hades – may be referred to here but
may be distracting to the point. This descent would be a descent from the
earth to the underworld followed by an ascension
to the earth and then another ascension into heaven. The early church
writers considered this to be Paul’s point and tied it into 1 Peter 3:19.
Verses like Romans 10: 6,7 and Philippians 2:8-10
refer to Christ’s descent into the underworld. But, Paul’s cosmology of
Ephesians is two dimensional: Heaven above and Earth below. There is a
lower part of the earth as seen in Psalm 63:9 and 139:15
- The Incarnation – Jesus descended from heaven to
take on a body to die on the cross and win the victory. After plundering
the rulers and authorities on the cross Jesus then ascends back into
“All the heavens” indicates more than one heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2
speaks of three. Ephesians speaks of the “heavenlies”
(NIV “heavenly realms”). The focus here is on the areas of authority of the
spiritual rulers and powers, thus one heaven or spiritual realm with many
divisions or “heavenlies” or “all the heavens”
“Fill the whole universe” – refers to ruling or controlling everything
at every level, every position in every way. It does not necessarily mean
Christ has expanded spiritually into every molecule and particle in the
universe (although God’s presence is everywhere). The focus continues to be on
Christ’s absolute rule and authority. His authority fills the whole universe. “All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18)
Jesus has assumed YHWH position for Jeremiah 23:24, “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
The book of Ephesians has taught us so far:
- Jesus is the absolute ruler over spiritual
forces in the heavenlies (1:21)
- Jesus is the giver of grace gifts to empower his
people in the age of the triumphal procession (2 Cor.
2:14; Col. 2:15)