The Victorious, Exalted Christ Gives Gifts to You

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people." (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 4:8-10

Every now and then we come across a passage of Scripture that leaves us scratching our heads. "What in the world does this mean?" we wonder. Ephesians 4:8-10 is such a passage. For centuries, interpreters have debated its meaning, without any clear consensus on many of the details.

The passage is based on a quotation from Psalm 68:18, which reads: "When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious." Yet Ephesians 4:8 has the one who ascended on high giving gifts to people not receiving them. Then, this verse is followed by a curious statement that the one who ascended also descended. But when and how?

From my research on this passage, here's what I have found. First, though the Hebrew text of Psalm 68:18 portrays God as the victorious king who receives gifts, some Jewish versions of this verse picture God as giving gifts to his people (an action that appears in the Hebrew text of verse 35). Second, though some commentators believe that the descent of Christ in Ephesians 4:9-10 refers to his visit to the underworld, it is probably better to see here a reference to his incarnation (or perhaps to the descent of the Spirit). The "lower, earthly regions" are the places we live, to which the Word of God descended when he became flesh.

What is Paul's point in all of this? In verse 7, he said that Christ gave grace to each one of us individually. This act of giving, which comes after his victory on the cross and his glorious ascension, is similar to what happens when a victorious king is enthroned, only in reverse. The victorious, exalted Christ chooses, not to sit back and receive gifts from his people, but rather to give gifts to us.

In the following verses of Ephesians 4, we'll learn more about these gifts and their purpose. For now, let us step back and marvel at the grace of God in Christ. The Word of God who became flesh, the one who conquered death, the one who reigns above the heavens, this glorious one has given gifts to you. How amazing! What a wonder!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Take some time to reflect on the truth of Ephesians 4:7-10. The reigning, victorious, exalted Christ has given gifts to you. What are your thoughts? How does this make you feel? What difference might this make in how you live today?

PRAYER: All glory be to you, Lord Jesus Christ. You did not count equality with God as a matter of hanging on to your benefits. Rather, you emptied yourself, becoming human, taking the form of a slave. You chose the cross, taking upon yourself the penalty for my sin. Because of your faithfulness, God the Father has highly exalted you, giving you the name that is above every name and enthroning you above all other beings.

All glory be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, because you have given gifts to your people, including me. Your grace overflows, filling my life, filling your church, filling this world.

All glory be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, exalted king, giver of all good gifts. Amen.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.