8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?
When we believe in Jesus and know God’s forgiveness and assurance of everlasting life, it can seem so personal and intimate that we lose sight of the cosmic realities that lie behind it. These verses help us to gain some of that wider perspective. There is first the bold statement from Psalm 68 about Jesus ascending, taking captives and giving gifts. Then Paul backtracks to remind us that if Jesus ascended, he must have descended first. We will consider this, beginning with the descent.
Jesus, God the Son, came down to us. It is the message we celebrate every year at Christmas but the going down extends well beyond his birth. The birth itself is amazing in that the little baby in the manger is also God the Son. He had set aside his heavenly glory to start life in this world in the same way we all to do, a helpless baby. The descent continued because he was tempted, he was rejected, crucified and died. Every step was downward culminating in his burial. These acts of indescribable humility were all for us so that he could obey for us and be the acceptable sacrifice for our sins. He became sin for us so we might become the righteous people of God.
Jesus, then ascended when he rose from the dead. Death was defeated, he appeared to his chosen witnesses and then he further ascended to the Father’s right hand. He entered the heavenly realms as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His status is far above all other authority. Again, this is Jesus acting for us. Here we are provided with the assurance we need that our salvation is entirely secure in him. His victory for us is at the highest possible realm. Because we believe in him and have union with him our salvation could only be lost by Jesus being cast out of heaven by the Father – an utter impossibility.
Jesus also gave gifts to men. The Psalm that appears to be quoted here, says he “received gifts from men.” That is of course true, all people must acknowledge Jesus as their King and pay homage to him. However, Paul is using the victory of Jesus to describe the generous grace of our Lord. He gives to us! It is something like the victorious king distributing the spoils of his victory among his people. Certainly, he gave to all his people the gift of salvation. He also gave special gifts to individuals for the benefit of all. The conclusion we can draw from this is that Jesus provides for his people in our struggles in this fallen world. We all need to be taught, encouraged, disciplined and helped. Our Lord Jesus, working through his servants, provides all. As we face the challenges of life we need to pray for that help. To use a phrase of John Calvin, as we pray, we call down from heaven the blessings won for us by Christ.
Prayer: Loving Father, please help us to call down from heaven the blessing won for us by the Lord Jesus. Forgive us for our self-sufficient attitudes and transform us to a greater Christlikeness. In Jesus name. Amen.
A song to listen to: Raised with Christ
Living Church – Creek Road