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What or who was the captivity led by the Lord in Ephesians 4.8?

"He led captivity captive" is a reference by Paul to Psalm 68.18 where the psalmist is possibly thinking of the triumphal ascending of the Ark up mount Zion to be set there in its dwelling place. This would prophetically point to the ascension of Christ to heaven. Having ascended to heaven Christ received gifts in grace and continues to distribute them to men. Notice the difference between the Lord receiving gifts in Psalm 68 and giving gifts in Ephesians 4. From the day of Pentecost Christ continues to give gifts for the edification and blessing of His people. The impartation of these spiritual gifts and graces is dependent on an ascended Christ. This much I think is clear from the passage.

What then does "He led captivity captive" mean? Deborah in her song concerning Barak says, "Lead thy captivity captive thou son of Abinoam" (Judg 5.12). The picture is that of the custom of a conqueror distributing and sharing, in token of his victory, the spoils of the foes among his people. So Christ has defeated at Calvary the enemy – Satan and his hosts (see Col 2.15). The availability and giving of these gifts is an evidence of the great triumph of Christ in His death at Calvary and of the fact that He is ascended to heaven. I cannot accept the view of some that this verse is referring to the Lord delivering Old Testament saints out of bondage in sheol, or that of others that it refers to the saints who arose after the Lord’s resurrection and appeared to many (Mt 27.52,53). The latter view of this passage would demand an additional and separate resurrection to the doctrine of two resurrections taught in Scripture – a resurrection of life and later a resurrection of judgment (Jn 5.28,29). I cannot see any indication anywhere in Scripture to support the idea that Old Testament saints were led up to heaven by the Lord. When the Lord ascended to heaven He was unaccompanied. I believe the "captivity" of Ephesians 4.8 must refer to Satan and his infernal forces that were defeated at Calvary. In view of this it is good for all who have been gifted by Christ to serve the Lord Jesus in the light of Christ’s victory. This will give confidence and incentive in service.

John J Stubbs

In what sense does the devil have the power of death (Heb 2.14)? Does this mean that he can take life?

As to the past history of the Son of Man, Hebrews 2 sets before us the wonder of His incarnation in three statements:-

  1. "who was made a little lower than the angels" (v.9)
  2. "he also himself likewise took part of the same" (v.14)
  3. "in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren" (v.17).

The second of these statements is relevant to the question. "The children are partakers of flesh and blood" – they became partakers without lot or choice – "he also himself likewise took part of the same" – i.e.voluntarily, in that which was outside of Himself. But why did he take "part of the same"? The reason is given in the second part of v.14: "that through death he might destroy him that had (or hath) the power of death".

The word translated "destroy" does not mean "annihilate", but rather "render inoperative, nullify or make of none effect". The devil is obviously not yet destroyed, but his doom is certain. Satan is still actively opposing the purposes of God in the world but he received a death wound at the cross; he is a defeated foe. The devil has already been robbed of his power as far as the believer is concerned.

As to the expression "the power of death", it should be borne in mind that the Greek word rendered "power" is kratos which means "dominion"; thus the idea is not "power over death" but "sovereignty of death", i.e. a sovereignty of which death is the realm. The final authority of death is in the hands of God (Deut 32.39). There is no suggestion in Scripture that Satan can inflict death on a person without the permission of God ("but save his life" – Job 2.6)

Because the devil is the originator of sin (Jn 8.44) and sin brings death, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6.23), in this sense the devil exercises power in the realm of death.

The risen Christ has the keys of death and of hades: "I am he that liveth and was (became) dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death (or ‘of death and of hades’)" (Rev 1.18), i.e. Christ has absolute authority in these realms.

David E West


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