He led captivity captive

Sixth in the Ascension Series

The Word in prophecy proclaims that two magnificent works of God would be accomplished at Christ’s ascension:

When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Eph 4:8)

Since these two are mysterious and complex, we will look into them one at a time.

What does it mean to lead captivity captive? The first mention of this phrase is found in Judges 5.

In Judges 4 we read that Israel was under the heel of Jabin king of Canaan, whose military captain was Sisera. ‘The children of Israel cried unto the Lord, for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.’ (Jdg 4:2-3)

Deborah, a prophetess and judge, called Barak to enforce what the Lord had told him to do, to take ten thousand men and to draw the enemy to the Kishon River where the Lord would deliver them into Barak’s hand. Barak said he would do so if Deborah would go with him. (Jdg 4:6-8)

Deborah agreed to but warned that the honor for the victory would go to a woman. And, though Barak and his army pursued Sisera and his chariots and men, the Lord having stirred them to flee, Sisera himself was later killed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.

Deborah and Barak sang that day,

…They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam…
(Jdg 5:11-12)

The song praised the Lord for His deliverance of Israel. Those who were delivered understood that God himself had rescued his people from oppression and tyranny, even though they sang that Barak led captivity captive.

Could Christ have led the minions of evil angels as conquered enemies if God had not provided the victory? Could the Lord have endured the cross despising the shame had his Father not assisted him? As He cried out to quote Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me”— it was to remind those who looked on that “he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” (Ps 22:24)

Christ could lead captivity captive in his ascension because his crucifixion, a perfect sacrifice, conquered death and sin. Those who love Christ, who are his servants and children, now have the right and the grace to stand against the devil in the power of the Spirit, to live uprightly, not caving to the flesh and its demands.

We are freed from ‘the works of the flesh’ (Gal 5:19-20), even though the flesh and Spirit oppose each other. (Gal 5:17) We take up the armor and pray in the Spirit. (Eph 6:10-18;Rom 8:38) Christ has won and the power of the enemy can no longer enslave us if we will stand. When He ascended, he led captivity captive!


The Ephesians passage noted at the start quotes Psalm 68, verse 18, Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.

This verse reminds us that we are rebellious and often fail in our war against the flesh, as Paul describes in Romans 7:

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
(Rom 7:23-24)

The verse preceding Psalm 68:18, says: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place." (Ps 68:17)

The law was given to Moses and no one across the centuries could keep it perfectly, but Christ did, and was foreseen by David in Psalm 68 as glorified for this wonderful obedience, surrounded in His ascension by thousands of angels and twenty thousand chariots of God.

These chariots and angels also surrounded Moses on Sinai, so we are led to understand the Law of God in the context of Christ’s pure example, salvation, grace and enabling power for us. Do not be discouraged in failure but look to Christ.

In contrast, Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind by only one chariot of fire. (2 Ki 2:11)

The omnipresent Lord nevertheless has a physical body

Fifth in the Ascension Series

In the previous post we reflected on Christ’s words to Mary Magdalene not to “cling” to him, that is, to touch him in the sense of fastening or adhering to him.

She had been first to the grave, and in train were Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, another follower. (Mar 16:1) An angel told them to tell his disciples that he was not there but was risen. It would seem that initially, all of the women were afraid to obey the angel (Mar 16:8) but Mary Magdalene did so.

Peter and John ran to see and then returned to their homes or the place in Jerusalem where they resided, though it was in Galilee that they were told Jesus would meet with them. Mary Magdalene remained after they left, and was then privileged to see the Lord.

At first she did not recognize him but when he spoke her name, her eyes were opened. She naturally reached to touch him or fell at his feet to do so, and he said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)

In the last post we quoted John Walvoord (1910-2002), a former pastor and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, that touching the Lord was inappropriate. Because Christ’s glory was veiled, Mary Magdalene could not see that she was intruding in a holy realm, and doing so with a familiarity unsuited for this immense purity. After the Ascension, the veil was removed:

The ascension is important because it constitutes the second step in the exaltation of Christ which began at the time of His resurrection. When Christ rose from the dead, He assumed a resurrection body which was suited for glorification, even though for the time being the glory was veiled in order that He might minister to His disciples. When He ascended into heaven, however, this veil was taken away, and Christ resumed His rightful place of honor in heaven with the added glory of His victory over sin and death. The ascension, therefore, marked a new step in the exaltation of Christ as well as a new phase in His ministry. (Walvoord)

Christians can attest that today it is right and necessary to cling to the Lord, not physically, but with our full heart, soul and mind.

In expressing this idea, we may be inclined to envision Christ as a spirit only, and not a body. How could Christians everywhere cling to Him today, or you may prefer to say, Walk with Him, if He is not omnipresent?

Lutherans believe that the body of Christ is omnipresent but the Reformed position is that ‘Christ is omnipresent only in His deity and is local as far as His body is concerned.’ A 19th century Presbyterian theologian, Charles Hodge, wrote that ‘locality is an essential attribute of any body, as an omnipresent body loses the characteristics of a body.’

For this reason, Christ is presented in Scripture as bodily present in heaven now even though He is spiritually present everywhere. The locality of the body of Christ is essential not only to His present ministry on the throne in heaven but also confirms the reality of the ascension itself as a bodily ascension, His second coming to the earth in glory as a bodily return, and His bodily presence in the millennial earth. (Walvoord)

The disciple who ran ahead of Peter to the grave explains our expectation and hope:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Did Christ ascend twice or once?

Fourth in the Ascension Series

Did the Lord ascend to heaven the day of his Resurrection, or at any other time during the 40 days, or only on the fortieth day?

Some Bible expositors who say that Christ ascended on Resurrection Day, point to John 20:17 -

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

They discern that his ascension was imminent because Matthew describes a (very slightly) later meeting of Jesus with Mary Magdalene and other women where all of them held his feet and worshipped him (Mat 28:9 KJV; Luke 24:10 KJV) but he did not warn them not to cling or to touch him.

A commentary by John Walvoord points out: “It is more probable that Christ rebuked Mary when she touched or clung to Him (Gr. hapto) because this was improper for her to do.”

We recall that he also said to his disciples: I go to prepare a place for you, and this promise was made long before he actually went to heaven. (John 14:2) Likewise, I ascend unto my Father, a present-tense statement, did not mean his ascension was imminent but only that it was a certainty. (Walvoord)

Other ways or reasons to ascend?

We know that the Lord could materialize suddenly in his Resurrection body or appear in ‘other forms’ (Mark 16:12 KJV; Luke 24:30-31 KJV; John 20:26 KJV). Could he have materialized in heaven as he did on earth? If so, would that be an ascension?

No, the Father had a special time and place for his Son to ascend to join him. He performed this miraculous journey to confirm Scripture, and Christ arrived at his destination for this cause as well. (Acts 1:4 KJV; Eph 4:8-10 KJV; Ps 68:18 KJV)

Another reason given by some theologians for why the Lord needed to ascend on the day of his resurrection is gleaned from Hebrews 9 (Heb 9:6-20 KJV), the chapter that explains how Christ was a type of the high priest who entered into the Holy Place of the Temple on the Day of Atonement. (Heb 9:12 KJV)

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Such a viewpoint does not credit or proclaim the crucifixion of the Lord and his death as the once-for-all sacrifice that we embrace as our door to salvation but rather considers that great sacrifice as unfinished. Not until he presented his blood in heaven was it effective for us.

This is why Catholics and some Protestants consider the Lord’s Supper or ‘Eucharist’ as emblems of Christ’s very body and blood. The “first ascension” is a “perpetual offering” that is extended in the sacrament.

Yet, for those who believe the Good News, it is further stated in Hebrews 9—

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Heb 9:24-28 KJV)

We know that the Lord was a high priest like Melchizedek, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. (Heb 7:16 KJV)

The offering that Christ made of his blood was on the cross. “His sacrifice was finished and altogether ended when He was taken down from the cross and was buried. He did not continue sacrificing when He was in the grave. He did not offer Himself as a sacrifice when He rose again.” (Ref) He does not offer himself in sacrifice again and again. It is finished!

We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10 KJV)

Attention Readers

Have you visited the Biotech Blog on this website? Find information and resources to help you think about biotech as a Christian.

During the summer of 2017, I explored the topic of kidney donation. Is it right for a society to permit that? To encourage it? What do you think? Read the Live Kidney Donation Series!

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