Ephesians 4:7-8

“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, 4:8, 4:11

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.

  1. 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
  2. “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.
  3. “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”

Originally 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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 heaven.

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:

  1. Jesus is the absolute ruler over spiritual forces in the heavenlies (1:21)
  2. 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)