He led captivity captive

Sixth in the Ascension Series

The Word in prophecy proclaims that two magnificent works of God would be accomplished at Christ’s ascension:

When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Eph 4:8)

Since these two are mysterious and complex, we will look into them one at a time.

What does it mean to lead captivity captive? The first mention of this phrase is found in Judges 5.

In Judges 4 we read that Israel was under the heel of Jabin king of Canaan, whose military captain was Sisera. ‘The children of Israel cried unto the Lord, for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.’ (Jdg 4:2-3)

Deborah, a prophetess and judge, called Barak to enforce what the Lord had told him to do, to take ten thousand men and to draw the enemy to the Kishon River where the Lord would deliver them into Barak’s hand. Barak said he would do so if Deborah would go with him. (Jdg 4:6-8)

Deborah agreed to but warned that the honor for the victory would go to a woman. And, though Barak and his army pursued Sisera and his chariots and men, the Lord having stirred them to flee, Sisera himself was later killed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.

Deborah and Barak sang that day,

…They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam…
(Jdg 5:11-12)

The song praised the Lord for His deliverance of Israel. Those who were delivered understood that God himself had rescued his people from oppression and tyranny, even though they sang that Barak led captivity captive.

Could Christ have led the minions of evil angels as conquered enemies if God had not provided the victory? Could the Lord have endured the cross despising the shame had his Father not assisted him? As He cried out to quote Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me”— it was to remind those who looked on that “he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” (Ps 22:24)

Christ could lead captivity captive in his ascension because his crucifixion, a perfect sacrifice, conquered death and sin. Those who love Christ, who are his servants and children, now have the right and the grace to stand against the devil in the power of the Spirit, to live uprightly, not caving to the flesh and its demands.

We are freed from ‘the works of the flesh’ (Gal 5:19-20), even though the flesh and Spirit oppose each other. (Gal 5:17) We take up the armor and pray in the Spirit. (Eph 6:10-18;Rom 8:38) Christ has won and the power of the enemy can no longer enslave us if we will stand. When He ascended, he led captivity captive!


The Ephesians passage noted at the start quotes Psalm 68, verse 18, Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.

This verse reminds us that we are rebellious and often fail in our war against the flesh, as Paul describes in Romans 7:

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
(Rom 7:23-24)

The verse preceding Psalm 68:18, says: "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place." (Ps 68:17)

The law was given to Moses and no one across the centuries could keep it perfectly, but Christ did, and was foreseen by David in Psalm 68 as glorified for this wonderful obedience, surrounded in His ascension by thousands of angels and twenty thousand chariots of God.

These chariots and angels also surrounded Moses on Sinai, so we are led to understand the Law of God in the context of Christ’s pure example, salvation, grace and enabling power for us. Do not be discouraged in failure but look to Christ.

In contrast, Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind by only one chariot of fire. (2 Ki 2:11)

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