SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE:
The apostle bases his teaching on the quotation he makes from Psalm 68. This contains three elements: Ascension on high; leading captivity captive; giving gifts to men. These are the three themes of the passage before us. The first, in verses 9 and 10, of the ascension of Christ and its implications The second, in verse 14, where the attempts of the enemy to disrupt and destroy are thwarted, showing that Christ still leads captivity captive. And the third, in verses 11-13, and 15-16, where the gifts Christ gives are effective in promoting the spiritual growth of His people.
STRUCTURE OF THE PASSAGE:
1(a) Verse 7 GIFT IN THE FORM OF GRACE TO INDIVIDUAL BELIEVERS
The gift of grace to enable us to benefit from the men-gifts Christ has given.
1 (b) Verses 8-11 GIFTS IN THE FORM OF MEN TO BELIEVERS AS A WHOLE
The glorious triumph of the ascended Christ.
The great extent of Christ’s triumph.
The gracious giving of gifts to the church.
2 (a) Verse 12 GOALS ATTAINED THROUGH GIFTS-SHORT TERM
Perfecting (full equipping) of the saints. This perfecting is achieved through:
The work of the ministry (service), as we “speak the truth in love”, verse 15.
The edifying of the body of Christ, by means of the nourishment He gives.
2 (b) Verse 13 GOALS ATTAINED THROUGH GIFTS- FINAL
Unity of the faith- the unity that the doctrines of the faith produce.
Full-knowledge of the Son of God- unhindered appreciation of His person.
Fulness of Christ = moral features of Christ in all their completeness.
3(a) Verse 14 GROWTH IN CHRIST-LIKENESS HINDERED
Children = infants, (immature).
Unstable, tossed to and fro by waves.
Uncertain, driven about by winds of doctrine.
Unwise as to wiles of Devil.
Unwary of being way-laid by those who deceive.
3 (b) Verses 15,16 GROWTH IN CHRIST-LIKENESS HELPED
Speaking the truth in love.
Growing up into Him = likeness to Christ.
Consolidated by truth He gives.
Edification (building up) in love.
1(a) Verse 7 GIFT IN THE FORM OF GRACE TO INDIVIDUAL BELIEVERS
4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ- verse seven begins with “but”, and introduces a fresh aspect on things. At the beginning of the chapter, the apostle writes of the way God has worked to produce what is called in verse 3 “the unity of the Spirit”, and there are seven unique things that consolidate that unity, but now it is the believer’s individual responsibility to arrive at the unity of the faith mentioned in verse 13.
Every one is given grace to make use of the giving of Christ in ascended glory and triumph. Grace is unmerited favour, and in the context here refers to the kind disposition of Christ toward us, which enables us to benefit from the gifts of apostles, prophets, etc, He has given. This grace takes the form of the supply of that spiritual nourishment we need for growth in Christ-likeness, as verses 13 and 16 explain.
1 (b) Verses 8-11 GIFTS IN THE FORM OF MEN TO BELIEVERS AS A WHOLE
4:8 Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men- At this point the apostle marshalls support from the Old Testament. This might seem surprising to us, given the nature of the epistle, with its emphasis on matters that were undisclosed in former ages. But he needs to convince his readers that whilst the church is not in the Old Testament, it is possible to establish three principles from Old Testament scripture which are relevant to the doctrine he is setting forth at this point. It is especially important to do this because the mention of New Testament prophets in the next verses might concern those who revered the prophets of the Old Testament.
So it is that the apostle now quotes from Psalm 68. The psalm begins with words reminiscent of Numbers 10:35 and Psalm 132:8. The psalm traces the way in which God, represented by the ark, had triumphed in Israel in the past, culminating in the bringing up of the ark to Zion. The gifts mentioned by the psalmist would be David’s gifts for the building of the temple. Those gifts in large part being the spoils of war, as a reading of 2 Samuel 8:9-12 will show. The bringing up of the ark and David’s triumph coincide.
Three ideas come together in the verse quoted, therefore. That of ascension, of the defeat of opposing forces, and the distribution of gifts. These are exactly the three principles the apostle is using in Ephesians 4.
One, the absolute triumph of Christ, as indicated by the fact that having been crucified on a cross, He has now ascended to the very throne of God.
Two, the utter defeat of Satan and his forces, crippling them to such an extent that, even though they are allowed a certain amount of latitude, they are easily defeated by means of the resources Christ gives.
Three, the bestowal of gifts in grace, to enable believers to grow.
It is clear that the apostle does not quote the psalm in a word-for-word fashion. The same Spirit that inspired David now inspires him, and he gives the main elements of David’s words, but does so in a way which suits his purpose. David had listed three things that had happened, namely ascended, led, gave. Paul, however, makes the latter two consequent upon the first. In other words the ascension is the main thought, and the leading captive and giving of gifts follow. The sense is, “Having ascended up on high, He lead captivity captive, and gave gifts”. The leading captive and giving gifts take place after the ascension. In fact, are taking place now.
He led captivity captive- captivity is personified here to represent all that had held the Ephesians captive as unbelievers, (see chapter 2 verses 1 and 2), and would try to lead them captive as believers, (see chapter 4 verse 14). Such is the triumph of Christ that He can move through the sphere of the prince of the power of the air unhindered. In Daniel 10:12,13 we read of the way in which the progress of the angel Gabriel was hindered by an evil angel-prince, and he had to be assisted by Michael the archangel. No such delay is suffered by Christ, who rises to heaven with “angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him”, 1 Peter 3:22.
It is clear from Scripture that the Lord Jesus has defeated the enemy in all of his guises:
The Prince of this world came to Christ when He was down here, yet He could say he “hath nothing in Me”, John 14:30. As a result of Calvary the prince of this world has been cast out, John 12:31.
As the one who wields the power of death, he has been utterly defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ, Hebrews 2:14.
As god of this age he is defeated every time a blinded mind is made to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6.
As Satan, the adversary, he is defeated when Christ intercedes for His own, Luke 22:31,32, and thus demonstrates He is for us, Romans 8:31-34.
As Devil, the accuser, he is defeated by Christ our advocate, 1 John 2:1.
And gave gifts unto men- in Psalm 68, which the apostle uses here, the gifts David gave were as a result of his victory in battle. We read in 1 Chronicles 18 that he smote Moab, and “the Moabites brought gifts”, verse 2. The Syrians “became David’s servants, and brought gifts”, verse 6. Tou, King of Hamath sent his son to David to congratulate him, “and with him all manner of vessels of gold and silver and brass”, verse 10. And what did David do with these gifts? “These also King David dedicated unto the Lord”, verse 11. By this is meant that he gave them to Solomon to build the temple.
So the illustration is apt. Gifts dedicated to the temple which were the result of David subduing his foes. So the gifts Christ gifts in ascended glory are the spoils of war, for He has defeated His foes, and each gift is the sign that this has happened. For the gifts are men who have been delivered from captivity to Satan, and brought into the service of God so that the “holy temple unto the Lord” of this age may be built and edified, Ephesians 2:20-22. And the fact that Christ is able to freely give them is the sign of His complete victory.
4:9 (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? Verses 9 and 10 form a parenthesis, in which the apostle shows the completeness of the triumph of Christ, for all areas of the universe have felt the influence of His presence. Even the realm of the dead has known that presence temporarily, so there is no place the forces of evil can hide from His supreme power. That is not to say that the Devil has any sway in Hades, or even goes there. The notion that he is King of Hell is a pagan fiction.
That Christ’s soul went to Hades seems certain from Peter’s use of Psalm 16 on the Day of Pentecost. Peter’s words may be summed up as follows; David’s tomb is occupied; David’s throne is unoccupied; Christ’s tomb is unoccupied; God’s throne is occupied. If Christ is to occupy David’s throne on earth, He must first of all rise from the dead to die no more, for His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and must not be interrupted by death.
David’s sepulchre was with them to that day, so his flesh did see corruption, and his soul did stay in hades. Not so the Messiah’s flesh and soul. He had no corruption within, but God saw to it that no external corruption touched Him, for He was laid in a new and unused tomb. A tomb, moreover, that was protected by a sealed stone, which barred any unclean person or animal from intruding. In addition, because He rose again so soon, there was no time for Joseph of Arimathea to die, and be deposited in the sepulchre.
Just as His flesh was preserved from corruption, so His soul was not left in Hades. Peter used Psalm 16 not to show that something was prevented from happening, as if the psalm said “Thou wilt not abandon My soul to Hades”, but rather, to show that something had indeed happened, namely that Christ’s soul had returned from Hades and He was risen from the dead. The apostle Paul used Psalm 16 to the same end in Acts 13:34-37.
It is sometimes objected that the spirit and the soul are inseparable, and therefore where Christ’s spirit went His soul went too. And since we know His spirit returned to the Father, then His soul must have done so also. However, Ecclesiastes 12:7 is clear that when a man dies “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”. So the spirits of all men go back to God, awaiting the resurrection day when they shall be reunited with their bodies, yet the souls of men go to Hades. They are separable then. Perhaps the reticence of some to accept these things is based on a false notion of Hell, or Hades. That place should not be confused with Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire. The Greek word hades is the equivalent of the Hebrew word sheol, as the quotation of Psalm 16 by Peter in Acts 2:27 shows. There is no suggestion in the Old Testament that sheol was a place of suffering for believers.
Those who understand the verse to mean “lower parts, even the earth”, must show how that is relevant to the subject in hand, which is the complete triumph of Christ. The expression “that He might fill all things” seems conclusive that every part of God’s universe must be under Christ’s control. His influence pervades every sphere, and this not only because of His Deity, (for Psalm 139 makes clear that no place in creation is out of reach of God, even sheol, for the psalmist said, “If I make my bed in hell, Thou art there”, verse 8)), but now also because of His manhood, and the fact that He has passed through death, been raised, and has ascended to heaven. The range of thought in both chapter 1:20-21, and 2:4-7, is between Christ in death, and Christ in heaven, not between Christ on earth and then in heaven.
4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)- Christ fills all things in the sense that He does not allow any evil force to invade His domain. The enemy is completely vanquished. Solomon built the temple when there was no adversary (same word as Satan) occurrent, 1 Kings 5:4. “Fill all things” seems to imply that every sphere is under the influence of Christ, and His soul went to hades temporarily to establish this. The Lord Jesus compared the experience of Jonah in the whale’s belly with His when He would be in the heart of the earth, Matthew 12:40. Jonah thought of that experience in terms of being in sheol, for he said, “out of the belly of hell (sheol) cried I”, Jonah 2:2. In no way can Christ’s words “in the heart of the earth” refer to being in a tomb. In any case, it is His soul in relation to sheol that is in view in Psalm 16, not His body.
4:11 And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; The apostle is now resuming his argument of verse 8 on the subject of the gifts the ascended Christ has given, after the parenthesis of verses 9 and 10. Some of them were apostles, some were prophets, etc. In this passage the gifts are the men themselves, not ignoring the fact that they had gifts, of course. In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 it is individual believers who each have a gift or gifts. Here the emphasis is on that which consolidates the unity that God has formed, and which enables the saints to progress towards the unity of the faith. In chapter 2:20-22, the apostle likened the church to a temple. The apostles and prophets lay the doctrinal foundation of the temple, the evangelists bring stones into the temple, and the pastors and teachers adorn the temple, just as Solomon’s temple was adorned with costly stones, 2 Chronicles 3:6. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:4-17.
Being foundational, we would not expect the apostles and prophets still to be given nearly two thousand years later, especially as Peter warns, not against false prophets counterfeiting true prophets, but false teachers counterfeiting true teachers, 2 Peter 2:1. We can expect the continuous giving of evangelists, and pastor-teachers, however. Thankfully there are still true evangelists, who pioneer in the world, preaching Christ where He has not been named. Solomon brought stones from beneath the temple site and cedar wood from the world of the Gentiles, and evangelists do the same on a higher level, bringing suitable material from both Jew and Gentile into the spiritual temple, the church.
Once the new converts have been brought in by the evangelist, the work of the pastor-teacher begins. The fact that there is no “and” between the words pastor and teacher strongly suggests that it is the same man looked at from different angles. There is a rule of Greek grammar known as Sharpe’s Rule, and it runs as follows: “If two nouns of office, title or quality are joined by ‘kai’, with only the first having the definite article, they refer to one and the same person”. Since this is the case here, the pastors and teachers are the same persons, looked at as functioning in two complementary ways.
A pastor will see to it that those newly saved are encouraged and protected. He will have both a rod and a staff, as Psalm 23 describes. A rod to ward off evil teachers, a staff to lead into green pastures. David knew as a shepherd-lad the need to function in both ways. As he led his flock through the valley to another pasture, he was aware that it was the valley of the shadow of death for the flock. Around, in the scrub along the path, there would be adders, but a swift stroke of his rod would deal with these. Above, the vultures hovered, ready to swoop on the stragglers. The flock needed to be protected from these also, not to speak of the lion and the bear. True pastors will be alert to danger in the spiritual realm, and will realize that the enemy can strike from different directions, and in different ways. It will not always be “as a roaring lion”, 1 Peter 5:8. It may be a more subtle, serpent-like approach, as 2 Corinthians 11:3 indicates. But whichever way the danger comes, the pastor must be ready for it. Well might the apostle say to the Ephesian elders, “Watch”! Acts 20:31.
As teacher, he will see to it the truths of the faith are taught. There is an ongoing and pressing need for the Scriptures to be expounded systematically and in depth. The flock cannot survive the onslaughts of the enemy if they are only fed a diet of exhortation and anecdote. There is no substitute for the ministry of the word by those gifted to give it. It was only in the days of the apostles that the gift of prophecy was available. Those with that gift were able to stand up and tell the mind of God without prior notice. They would have to be prepared in heart, of course, but they did not prepare their message. This gift is not available today, which is why there are teachers given by Christ to His people, so that they may expound the scriptures after careful and diligent preparation. May the Ascended Christ be pleased to continue to give His people such gifts, and may the Lord’s people value them and benefit from their God-given ability.
2 (a) Verse 12 GOALS ATTAINED THROUGH GIFTS-SHORT TERM
4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
The overriding reason for the giving of the gifts is to perfect the saints. In other words, that they might be fully equipped to respond to the ministry of those who teach the word of God, who, in their turn, base their teaching on what the apostles and prophets wrote. This end is reached by the secondary actions of fostering the work of ministry, and edifying the body until maturity is reached. The work of ministry is defined in verse 15 as “speaking the truth in love”, the responsibility of all believers, in their appointed spheres. The edifying of the body is described in verse 16. In verse 14 there are warnings about things that hinder this whole process.
2 (b) 13 GOALS ATTAINED THROUGH GIFTS- FINAL
4:13 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:
Just as the unity of the Spirit is the unity that the Spirit of God produces and promotes, so the unity of the faith is that unity which the faith, (the body of Christian doctrine), is sure to achieve. In a day to come all the differences of interpretation, and the difficulties and disarray those differences bring with them, will be forever gone. All God’s people will then be in full agreement with one another as to the truths of the faith. There is no suggestion that these differences will increasingly disappear as the age draws to a close, culminating with a state of things on earth where all believers are in agreement. That is not a possibility all the time we have the flesh within. It does encourage a state of mind, however, which would love to see that happen if it were a possibility.
Another feature of this future state of completeness is described here as the (full) knowledge of the Son of God. We shall never know the Son as the Father knows Him, Matthew 11:27, but we shall have the most extensive knowledge of Him that believers can have. Delivered from this body of clay with all its hindrances and frailties, and bearing the image of the heavenly, 1 Corinthians 15:49, we shall be enabled as never before to enjoy and appreciate Him.
The apostle now describes the condition believers will arrive at as “the perfect man”, a fully mature and developed state. In verse 12 he had spoken of the perfecting of the saints, and the word he used has to do with being fully equipped for a particular purpose. Here the idea behind the word “perfect” is of maturity, and is in direct contrast to the infancy of the next verse. We should notice that the next phrase does not begin with “and”, as if the measure of the stature is a further thing to which we shall arrive. We are justified in thinking that the perfect man is a man who is marked by the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ. This is a long phrase, and it is often helpful when handling such expressions to begin at the end and work backwards.
We begin then with Christ, the Anointed One. When a man was anointed in Old Testament times it meant that God approved of him, whether he was anointed to be a prophet, a priest or a king. Whether that man lived up to the position was a different matter, Saul being a case in point.
Jesus of Nazareth was anointed on the banks of the river Jordan, Acts 10:38. Whereas, however, men of old were anointed with physical oil by fellow-men, in this case, things were different. The anointing was by means of the Holy Spirit Himself, the one symbolized by the oil, and it was the Father who did the anointing. There was another major difference, even the fact that this anointed one would not fail and disappoint.
So when the apostle speaks here of Christ, he speaks of one who had the Father’s full approval. That full approval was not only because He is God’s beloved Son, but also because all the features that the Father was looking for in a man upon the earth were found in Christ. These features could be summed up in the expression the apostle John uses of Him in John 1:14, “full of grace and truth”. All that was pleasurable to the God who is love and light, were found in Him as He manifested grace and truth in His life down here. He is no longer down here, however, but has ascended up on high, for the heavens must receive such a man as this. Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost were, “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ”, Acts 2:36. He was Christ when He was born, as the angel declared in Luke 2:11, He was Christ because of His anointing at Jordan, and now God has re-affirmed His approval of Him as one who had lived blamelessly upon the earth, and by so doing became the supreme example for His people to follow.
Working backwards through our verse, we come to the word stature. This can mean physical height, as in 1 Samuel 16:7. It can also be used in another sense, as when in John 9:21,23 the parents of the blind man said, “He is of age, ask him”. “Of age” translates our word stature. It denotes that stage at which a person can be thought of as fully-developed. This fulness and completeness was seen in Christ down here, and should be seen increasingly in His people as they “grow up into Him”, verse 15, and will be fully attained when we arrive in heaven. Then we shall have reached the measure of His fulness.
The unity of the faith is the unity which having a common set of beliefs ensures. At the Lord’s coming we shall not only be changed as to the body, with a body like Christ’s, Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Corinthians 15:45-54, but we shall be changed morally, too, so as to be like Christ who is righteous and pure, 1 John 3:1-3. With all hindrances removed we shall have the most extensive knowledge of Him that believers can have. This will enable us to fully represent Him, as we shall be conformed (a word which speaks of inward conformity) to His image. We shall not be conformed to His Sonship, for that is not transferable, but rather to the image of Himself as a Son, representing sonship in our measure. A full measure, indeed, as far as is possible, but not the personal measure of Christ, which is unique. This will result in the perfect man. In other words, the new order of manhood which Christ displayed when down here in Adam’s world, will also be perfectly displayed in His people in that day. The measure of the moral height of Christ’s glorious person is the measure to which we shall be conformed.