A confusing text

in my sunday sermon,  i passed over a section of the text in order to conserve time and stay focused on the main point of the text.   it’s not that the passed over section is not important…just not the primary emphasis.   here is the text:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.   This is why it says:  “When he ascended on high,  he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”   (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?   He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)   Ephesians 4:7-10

this passage is paul’s great description of jesus.   his ascension is  in reference to acts 1:9

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

the part about leading captives in his train and giving gifts to men, is an obvious reference to a portion of a psalm written by david that speaks of god, the victorious king, ascending mount zion and receiving gifts in his honor.

When you ascended on high,
you led captives in your train;
you received gifts from men,
even from the rebellious–
that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.   Psalm 68:18

paul takes this verse about a victorious israelite king leading his captives in triumphal procession,  receiving gifts of honor and thanks  and applies it to the victorious,  ascended christ in relation to his church.

paul then states that he descended to the lower regions of the earth.   scholars have three different interpretations.   one is a connection to obscure and unexplainable reference in first peter,  where it is written that jesus descended into hades during the time between his death and resurrection.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.   He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,  through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison  who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.   1 Peter 3:18-20

others believe the lower regions of the earth is clearly paul’s way of contrasting heaven…the way jesus did in his conversation with nicodemus:

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.   John 3:13

still others believe paul is simply speaking of the grave,  after jesus had died.  i opt for this interpretation, for the record.

seems like a lot of words to describe jesus…but that’s just the way paul is.    i suppose  if we knew him better,  would our vocabulary be filled with all kinds of extra words and phrases to declare our wonder and admiration for all that he has done?


One thought on “A confusing text

  1. OK, OK, (based on the sermon) I will try to give up the whole pastor label (even in my head). I will even start using the word ministry/minister for everybody, but you are really stretching me. That’s a lot of history to wipe out for me.

    Now, you’re messing with the Apostles Creed. I’m having to rewrite my vocabulary! 🙂
    (Honestly, I never got the whole “descended into Hell” part anyway.)

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