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)

Hard testing

Job Sees The Light - Twenty-third in a series

Hover over the Scripture references to read the verses under discussion

Job 22:1-3 NIV In Chapter 21 Job argued that wicked people are not punished in a timely fashion, but rather enjoy life as though they are under no scrutiny nor law. Eliphaz could have said to Job, Point well taken. But in Chapter 22, Eliphaz concedes nothing. It is more important to him to flatten Job.

Let’s say your insight about the wicked is right. So what? Do you think God benefits from your tidbit? If you were really wise, it could be a big help to you— but it would profit God nothing. And furthermore, God does not gain anything from your righteous deeds.

There is a sense in which this line of reasoning has validity. All Christians would agree that God did not create man out of any personal deficiency or compulsion, and therefore man cannot give anything to God. This is standard orthodox doctrine. (David Guzik commentary)

From the standpoint of God’s all-sufficiency, man can give him nothing, yet in that God created man in his own image, and showed wonderful love for us by giving us his Son, and has an amazing plan of redemption, resurrection and eternal life, YES, man’s behavior makes a difference to God. We can glorify the Lord by our faith and our deeds that are performed in obedience and the help of the Holy Spirit.

If Job had no relation to God and God had no pleasure or interest in him, why did Satan desire to ruin him and force him to curse God? (Job 1-2) It does matter to God if you shrink from your faith, and whether you grow in it. (Heb 10:38; 1 Pet 1:7 et al) And will we grow in grace and faith if we are not tested? We will be tested! Abraham was tested. All God’s children will be tested (Isa 48:10) to prove and to refine our faith. (1 Pe 1:7; Prov 17:3)

Job was being tested. In this phase the devil is tempting him to feel despairing and angry by reason of heartbrokenness and defamation. It is heart crushing and insulting when friends falsely accuse us. Jesus endured the same, yet “answered nothing” (Mat 27:12 et al).

Job 22:4-11 NIV Job will refute these accusations in time.

Job 22:12-14 NIV Job actually had said in Chapter 9:
Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars.
Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.
Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.
Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number.
Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.
(Job 9:8-11 KJV)
Yet, in a long dialog, who will recall all the statements? There is only One who will.

Job 22:15-20 NIV Eliphaz makes reference to Noah’s flood and other types of catastrophes in these verses. Job likewise has come under severe judgment.

But he can escape! Embrace God's words and ways; prize him not gold; seek his face and favor — Good advice, but aimed at the wrong heart.

Job 22:21-25 NIV These verses predict that Job will be delivered, though not innocent, when he humbles himself.

Job 22:26-30 NIV Commentators point out that Eliphaz is here unconsciously prophesying that Job will deliver his friends from God’s wrath when he prays for them, in the end.

How did Job define himself?

Job Sees The Light - Fourth in a series

Hover over the Scripture references to read the verses under discussion

Job 3:1-3 Although we do not know how long it took his friends to hear of his plight and travel to his home, an adequate time has passed for despair to take up residence in Job’s heart. A crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov 17:22) Spiritual desiccation affects ones entire outlook and health.

Job 3:4-10 A time of testing is marked by two distinct phases: Phase one initiates the test, and is usually brief. It encompasses the event of the disaster, sudden death, or news of an illness or other setback. Phase two is a lengthier time of adjustment to the news or event and living through the time that follows. During this phase one may tumble downward into bitterness and illness or grope upward to seek God's help and to discover why he has caused or allowed the trial. Most Christians probably go in both directions.

Job 3:11-12 Why was I born? What is the point of my life? Everything seems a waste. It’s meaningless, pointless!

Is Job searching for answers or only bemoaning his lack of control over events. Both?

Job 3:13-16 The prospect of resting among others who lived pointless lives seems good to Job.

Job 3:17-19 No man can trouble another in that place.

Job had previously seen black and white—white being himself with material blessings, and black, the have-nots for whom he cared we later will learn, but now he sees gray. The lines of demarcation between the well off and the poor have blurred.

He formerly had a clear understanding of his identity, but now he is confused. Without his possessions, he feels vanquished and empty. He had felt defined by and in them, and now he struggles to evaluate the meaning of his life.

Intellectually, we know that what we own, oversee or are responsible for does not amount to who we are. Yet, it is a common experience of unemployed people to feel hollow— as though others can see straight through them— and for poor people to feel unimportant or disconnected. Likewise, those with seemingly secure rank and wealth often identify with them and feel buttressed.

There is great temptation and tendency to define ourselves by a career, job or bank account. But we are not the sum total of our achievements, much less our possessions or wealth. No, whatever self esteem we have must be based on our oneness with the Lord: Our core identity is that we are his sons and daughters, made in his image, made to love and be loved by him.

Had Job not been stripped of all in which he defined himself— his wealth and servants, his children, his position— could he have had his spiritual eyes opened? Could he have seen God through so many layers of human identity?

Job 3:20-23 Job was a man of God who showed wonderful character and reserve in the first phase of his tremendous test. But in the second, the greatest man of the east (Job 1:3) is revealed to be a saint in need of learning greater perseverance.

Job 3:24-26 Perhaps Satan had been attacking Job’s mind long before he attacked his belongings. Though Job appeared to be completely blessed, underneath —in his heart— the greatest man of the east was troubled with fear and dread. Intellectually he understood he owed everything to God, but he lived as though it all rested on him. The Lord saw he was unhappy under the crushing weight.