Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:7c “. . .is given grace according to the measure of the gift
No boasting is allowed. Our assigned tasks are a “gift” from Christ. Elsewhere they are called “graces.” The specific empowerment for their use is “given” and even called “grace.” Whatever our gifts, be not proud. We neither earn them, nor beg for them in prayer. We merely seek out which one is ours, and then yield our bodies as lowly vessels for its fruition. We only give what we are given. The disciples were able to feed the multitude only with bread received from Jesus’ hand. All is traced to grace.
The emphasis on grace is heightened by the word “measure,” which implies concern for details. God “who is above all” relates to “every one.” He who works “through all” takes time to determine a gift for each one. In the distribution of gifts, Jesus oversees all and overlooks none.
Jesus takes time to “measure,” to mete out the gifts, singling out each of us for unique usefulness. Each allocation is administered by Christ Himself, who takes time to examine our situation, and to dispense to each of us the gift He deems essential. No one ever receives too much to do, or too little power to perform. We are precisely enabled for an assigned task.
To be saved is to be gifted–this statement in and of itself is nothing less than a declaration of Christ’s great love and His minute watchful care. Our only adequate response to this love is to give what we have been given. Since Christ took time to give us a gift, we must take time to exercise it. Anything less dishonors Christ and harms His beloved bride, the Church.
Eph. 4:8a “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high,. . .”
Paul now takes time to state what right Jesus has to give gifts to all in the Church. It is a prerogative He earned. The Apostle quotes Psalm 68:18, which honors YHWH as the victorious God of battles. The verse pictures YHWH triumphing over His and Israel’s enemies, and then ascending His throne in a victory procession. Paul believed this verse prefigured the Ascension of Jesus, which was a triumphal parade for the conquering Christ. The Ascension publicly manifest Christ’s victory over evil. . . .
Eph. 4:8b “. . .He led captivity captive,. . .”
This denotes victory over enemies who had previously held the new captors captive. Jesus took captive all those things which had held us captive. His Ascension publicly displayed His conquest of death, sin, the world, demons, and Satan. Death bound Him, but He broke its chains; the stone, the watch, the seal, they were all in vain. Death is dead! Sin assailed Him furiously, but never defiled Him. He passed through the world without being corrupted. He entered it as the spotless Lamb of God without blemish. When He left the world He was still the spotless Lamb of God without blemish. Having “spoiled principalities and powers” (CL 2:15a), He reduced the demons to impotence. At Calvary they brought forth their best troops, but in vain, for Jesus “made a show of them openly” (CL 2:15b). Jesus made a mockery of the demons and their leader, Lucifer. Satan bruised Jesus’ heel, but our Conqueror mounted aloft, crushing the dragon’s head beneath His feet, and chaining Lucifer to His victory chariot.
Eph. 4:8c “. . .and gave gifts unto men.”
Psalm 68:18 reads, “received gifts from men.” Paul interprets the verse in light of Christ’s final intent. Jesus received gifts in order to give them to His people. This whole verse from the Psalms is best explained by an illustration from the ancient world. In olden days, war victories were grandly celebrated. The conqueror would ride a triumphal chariot into town. Having received an abundance of spoils of war, the victor would share his bounty by casting prizes into the throng of cheering supporters.
By quoting from Psalm 68:18 and playing upon a scene common in his day, Paul draws a poignant picture of our Savior and His present relationship to the Church. Having vanquished His and the Church’s enemies in battle, Jesus has received spoils of war to distribute among His people.
Jesus is the Victor. He has earned the authority of a conqueror, and has the right to delegate and convey spoils of war to His people as He pleases. Jesus said, “All power is given unto me” (MT 28:18). He then said, “therefore” go (MT 28:19). He earned authority, and shares it.
At Pentecost Peter preached, “Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he (Jesus) hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (AC 2:33). Interestingly, Psalm 68 was associated with Pentecost in the synagogue lectionary (Bruce). Jesus has the promise of the Spirit, and shares Him with every believer.
Also, in our present context, Jesus has earned the right to give spiritual gifts to each, individual believer, and does so. No one is overlooked. Each is given a victor’s prize, a trophy, a part of the bounty. Our spiritual gifts are spoils of war from our conquering king. He expects us to use these gifts to help His Church carry on His victory march through the ages.
Eph. 4:9 “(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also
descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”
The ascent of Christ implies a former descent. The Ascension was a return to Heaven by One who had come from there originally. The glory of Christ’s victory can be appreciated only by fathoming the depth Christ descended to wage war in our behalf. In His incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth; in His burial, into the earth. He “led captivity captive” only after He came down to wrestle the captors in their own foul realm. Jesus fetched spoils of war in our sinful world. He came down to win the victory.
Eph. 4:10a “He that descended is the same also that ascended up”
He who descended “is the same” who ascended. The One who reigns earned the right to do so. When Jesus descended, He gave up everything, and could return to Heaven only if He achieved His mission of ransom and redemption. There was “no way back into the place of power and fellowship with God had He failed to fulfill the Divine purpose” (Morgan). Failure was impossible, but this does not negate the fact, when Jesus came to earth He risked everything. The honor, glory, and dignity of God hinged upon His mission. He had to bear sin, enter death, fight Satan, ransom a race, and bring it into submission. All this He had to do without stain and loss.
By a victory won by Himself, Jesus earned the right to return to His former throne. The Ascension was God’s eternal seal stamped on the victory Christ won in His descent.
Eph. 4:10b “. . .far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
In His Ascension, Jesus regained everything He gave up, and more. He gained the added right to rule His Church and to distribute to each of its members the spoils of war as He pleases.
Having returned to the palace whence He came, having risen from deepest depths to highest heights, He is enshrined above all the created order. From this highest possible exaltation, He fills “all things,” which in this context refers to the Church. Holding kingly sway, He fills the Church with His Spirit. From His regal position He saturates the Church with spiritual gifts at His prerogative. He fills the organism with the life of His Spirit. He fills the organization with empowered gifts of the Spirit.
The Ascension means the Church is Christ-filled, not Christ-deserted. He did not ascend to leave us. Jesus did not forsake us. He did not lose the battle and quit the field. It is actually better for us that Jesus has ascended. He said, “It is expedient for you that I go away” (JN 16:7).
He could not have as effectively filled the Church had He remained on earth in body. Speaking more accurately, He could have due to His divinity, but His corporeal presence would so tend to overwhelm us creatures of sense that we would find it difficult to fathom His presence elsewhere in Spirit. Being near His physical presence would be deemed an advantage over being far away. Rather than seeking to be indwelt by His Spirit, our primary emphasis would be to dwell by His body.
Due to His physical absence, we better sense that the Church, in every nook and cranny, in every joint, vessel, and member, in every word and deed, is filled with Christ the Giver. As perfect God, He is active every where among us. “Lo, I am with you always” (MT 28:20). As glorified man, we are able to perceive He is present any where. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst” (MT 18:20).
Instead of standing here gazing up into Heaven as the disciples did, let us sit in quiet contemplation, dwell on the truth He fills us, and see what we can profit from this great thing which has come to pass. Let us march forward with His authority, let us be filled with His Spirit, let us each find and use our spiritual gift for the honor of our conquering Christ.