EPHESIANS 4.8

Penn Yan, N.Y.
Dec. 29, 1864.

Will Elder Beebe please give his views on Ephesians. 4:8: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Who were the captives? Your reply will oblige an enquirer after truth.

Hanna Miller.

Reply: - The apostle evidently referred to the prophetic declaration to Psalms 68:18, in which the faith of the inspired psalmist anticipated the glorious triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ over sin, death and hell, in the perfect and complete redemption of his people. The spirit of Christ, which was in the holy prophets, not only signified the sufferings which he should endure, but also the glory that should follow. They not only predicted that he should be put to death in the flesh, but also that he should be quickened in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory. Bearing the weight of all the iniquities of his people, which it pleased the Father to lay upon him, he sank down into the embrace of death and the grave; being delivered up for the transgression of his people, but he was raised again from the dead for their justification; and having finished transgression and made an end of sin, it was not possible that he should be longer holden by the pains of death, for he had power as well to take up his life, as he had to lay it down, for this command, or authority, he received of the Father. The mighty work of redemption which devolved on him, as the mediatorial Head of his church, is frequently set forth as a conflict and victory. As a mighty warrior he comes forth from his chambers, rejoicing like a strong man to run a race. His way was obstructed by the sins of all his members, which like towering mountains reached up to heaven; calling aloud for retributive vengeance. The holy law of God gave irresistible potency to sin, and demanded that "The soul that sinneth it shall die." And the eternal, immutable and inflexible justice of God forbids that the sinner should escape his dreadful doom until every jot and tile of the law should be fulfilled. In entering the field of conflict laden with all the crushing weight of the sins of all his people, he is seen traveling in the greatness of his strength, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save. The day of vengeance was in his heart, for the year of his redeemed had come, and therefore was he red in his apparel, and all his garments stained like him that treadeth in the wine fat.

The sublime majesty of our conquering Hero, in the opening of the campaign, is strikingly portrayed in the prayer of Habakkuk 3: "God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran, Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light, he had horns coming out of his hand; and there was the hiding of his power. Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood and measured the earth; he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting." His "Bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers. The mountains saw thee, and they trembled; the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: as the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear. Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thrash the heathen in anger. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation, with thine anointed; thou woundest the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck, Selah." "Thou didst walk through the sea with thy horses, through the heap of great waters. When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself." The power of earth and hell were marshaled for the conflict. Hell is enlarged, she stirreth up her dead, and every opposing power is put in battle array. But still the unfaltering conqueror rides forth in majesty, with his sword upon his thigh, and his arrows go forth as lightning, and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south. The terrible conflict rages. The sword of Jehovah gleams in the heavens, it awakes against the man who is the fellow of the God of Hosts. Deep waters gather, they come into his soul, and all their billows pass over him. The dreadful hour draws nigh. "Father, save me from this hour!" Yet for this hour came he forth into the world. The cup is presented to his lips. But Oh, his soul recoils, his agonizing sweat like drops of blood fall upon the ground. He prays, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass!" Could that have been, then the great work of salvation must have failed. But hear his words of submission, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." "It pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put him to grief." Death in his most terrible form enters the field; the bloody cross is reared. The fearful cloud darkens in wrath, the pains of hell take hold on him! Death strikes! The heavens darken! The sun is pale and dim, ceases to shine. The presence of the Father is withdrawn, and the gloomy darkness of death involves the quaking earth. The expiring victim writhes in the dreadful struggle. How goes the battle now? Death seems to triumph. Christ as a captive is laid in the chains of captivity, is laid a prisoner in the grave! The pillars of the heavens tremble, the rocks are rent, the graves are opened, and the startled dead awake. But is all lost? We verily thought this victim was he that should have redeemed Israel; but now alas! the deep waters of death have gone over his soul. He is baptized, (not sprinkled) in death. But, "Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy, when I fall I shall arise." O Death, I will be thy plagues! O Grave, I will be thy destruction! Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. The triumph of death is short, the victory of the grave is but for a moment: for your victim shall swallow up death in everlasting victory. The resurrection morning dawns; and now O Death, where is thy sting, and Grave, where is thy victory? Death who had never been despoiled of a victim before, the grave which in all preceding ages guarded well its charge, is now spoiled. Death yields up her mighty dead. The grave, though guarded and secure as men could make it, is spoiled; for it was in this, the Idumean road, the mighty Savior was to travel in the greatness of his strength. It was thus through death he was to destroy death and him that had the power of death. It was thus it behooved him to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Now having abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel; as our God, he has gone up with a shout, and with a sound of a trumpet. "Whom the heavens must receive until the restitution of all things spoken by the prophets since the world began." He hath ascended up on high. For, "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." (Acts 5:31) "According to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." (Ephesians. 1:19-23) Thus when he ascended up on high, as the divinely recognized head over all things to his church, all spiritual gifts were included in him as God's unspeakable gift to the church. "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that scended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things." And of the gifts which were given, and which he has as the head of the church received, the apostle says, "And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." And he also informs us what he gave them for, "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 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 fullness of Christ." (Ephesians. 4:10-13)

We have briefly referred to the conflict in which our Lord was engaged, and to his ultimate triumph over his captors; but as sister Miller particularly enquires, Who were the captives? We will offer a few thoughts in reply to that particular enquiry.

As the idea of captivity necessarily implies captives taken and held as trophies, we are here to understand a previous and subsequent captivation.

Of the previous captivity mentioned in our text, we understand that in which sin, death and hell had captivated and held in chains of darkness all the chosen people of God, for whose deliverance God sent forth his only begotten Son. In their legal standing we are told that they were carnal, sold under sin. God's chosen people, whom Christ came to redeem, were called captives, and were in a state of captivity, and lawful captives too. For having been captivated by sin, death reigned over them, and they were all their lifetime subject to bondage. But Christ was anointed "to proclaim liberty to captives, and to open the prison door to them that were bound." (Isaiah. 61:1,2) But "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive be delivered? But, thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered." (Isaiah. 49:24,25) The legality of our bondage was settled by the strength of the law, which said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die," thus consigning us as sinners to the dominion of death, and death reigned over us, and in bondage also to sin, sin having dominion over us, and sin reigning over us unto death. Such was our captivity to sin and death confirmed also by the law of God, that we could not possibly be delivered from our captivity until the utmost demands of the law were canceled, and our captors taken captive and led into captivity.

By the subsequent captivity, we allude to the personal captivity of our Redeemer. He was made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, and, as we have shown, he as bearing our sins, was numbered with the transgressors: led as a lamb to the slaughter, consigned to the dominions of death, and imprisoned in the grave until his triumphant resurrection in which we are in our text and context told that "He led captivity captive." That is, he captured the very powers that had captivated his people, and had held him as their Surety in captivity, until the time of his resurrection. "Having spoiled principalities and powers," (the principalities of sin and death, both of which had held regal dominion,) "he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." (Col. 2:15) The mighty principalities and powers which had reigned unrivaled from the entrance of sin into our world were conquered and led into captivity by the great Captain of our salvation, who said to John, "I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I live forever, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." Completely subjugated and put under him, neither hell nor death can possibly extend their power beyond the limits he has fixed for them. He has destroyed death, and him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

The former captivity of his people is now a captive to our conquering King. Sin is vanquished; hell is subdued; Satan is held in a mighty chain, and his works are destroyed.

"Deep in the shades of gloomy death
The mighty prisoner captive lay;
The almighty captive left the tomb,
And rose to everlasting day.

See how the Conqueror mounts aloft,
And to his Father flies;
With scars of honor in his flesh,
And triumph in his eyes."

Elder Gilbert Beebe
March 1, 1865

Republished – The Remnant
September-October 1995
Volume 9, No. 5