(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?Ephesians 4:9(NASB)
Paul is a good teacher, in that he not only encourages and corrects those he is teaching but also reiterates important facts for emphasis and seeks to clarify Old Testament quotations. He explains the meaning of hard words or phrases and provides clarity when giving instruction or when something may be misinterpreted, ambiguous, or difficult to understand.
The apostle was writing to the Ephesian believers from his prison cell and waxed lyrical on the glories of being imprisoned for the sake of Christ. Instead of bemoaning his lot, he used his incarceration to show that even in difficulties and dangerous times, we can live joyfully and victoriously for Christ - and Paul also encouraged believers to "walk worthy of their calling."
"Be humble and gentle, patient and tolerant with each other," he exhorts us. "Make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," he urges, "and do everything in love, for the sake of Jesus." Having presented the godly Christian conduct we should all embrace daily, our unity in the Spirit, and the love we should have for one another, he points out our position in Christ, "we are one body and one Spirit."
Then expanding his teaching he adds, "just as also you were called in one hope of your calling - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all and in all." Paul concluded his line of thinking by saying, "and to each of us grace was given, according to the measure of Christ's gift."
In every one of Paul's epistles, he is keen to clarify his previous remarks. Having just mentioned 'gifts' he continues by introducing a quotation from Psalm 68 where we read, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN."
Paul's teaching skills kick into play once again with the word ascended, and he continues by focussing on the phrase, 'He ascended'. "What does it mean?" Paul asks. "What does, 'HE ascended' mean... except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth!" Paul's clarification continues into the following verse, "He who descended is Himself also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things."
2000 years later, we also require a little help to understand the phrase 'He ascended' and so we turn to the literal, grammatical, and dispensational exegesis of Scripture, and make sure we consider it in its historical context!
We are aware that Jesus descended to earth at His birth and ascended after His Resurrection from the dead. We are also aware that He gave spiritual gifts to men (and women) who believed on Him, on the day of Pentecost when the Church was born. But what did Paul mean and why did he add, "He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?"
To understand 'He ascended', we need to also consider the meaning of "descending into the lower parts of the earth," which can be understood in three ways. But it is important that we do not go beyond the context of the passage, or difficulties can ensue.
The FIRST interpretation is that Jesus came down from heaven at His incarnation. He descended from heaven to earth at His birth. He came down to the lower region of God's creation from the upper region. He came down to live on earth from His eternal abode in heaven above.
The SECOND suggestion is that Jesus descended into Hades - a part of the earth which is lower that the plane on which we live. This took place between His death and Resurrection, during the time that His physical body lay lifeless in the tomb. This place of the dead is often called 'Abraham's bosom' or 'Paradise'.
The THIRD option is that the body of Jesus descended into the sepulchre that Joseph of Arimathea provided when Pilate permitted him to take the dead body of Jesus for burial - the tomb, against which was rolled the great stone.
Both grammatically and contextually scholars consider the third to be the most probable meaning - although all three have merit. Jesus ascended from the TOMB at His glorious Resurrection from the grave. He ascended into the heavenly realm when He returned from earth as the triumphant Victor over Satan, sin, death, and hell, and He ascended to His Father's throne where He holds His present position of authority - seated on right hand of the Majesty of High. His threefold 'ascension' qualifies JESUS to be the One to give spiritual blessings to the Church and heavenly gifts to ALL who will believe on His name.
Heavenly Father, the more I understand Your Word, the more You graciously open up my understanding to new and exciting truths. Help me to grow in grace and give me a teachable spirit and the opportunity to learn more of You. Thank You that Jesus came down from heaven to be my Saviour and ascended back to glory in triumph after defeating Satan, sin, death, and hell, by His sacrificial death and glorious Resurrection. Thank You that my salvation does not depend on what I do but on what Christ has done on my account. Thank You, Lord. This I pray in Jesus' name, AMEN.