“(When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)”
~Ephesians 4:9-10 (NRSV).
Hardly ever do we see the writers of the letters of the New Testament provide parenthetical commentary like we see in the above two verses. When it occurs it is striking. Paul is indeed interpreting Psalm 68:18 which he had just quoted in verse 8.
Paul, it appears, is showing a direct two-way transaction noticeable in the incarnation of God the Son, Jesus, coming to earth—he descended—and this, in this context, was purposed to give gifts.
It is possible also to see the relationship between Jesus ascending to heaven at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles (and all believers) on earth shortly afterward—the gift of the Spirit, or ‘spiritual gifts,’ which all believers have access to, barring none.
But, there’s more. It can be seen that Jesus descended not only to earth, but below the earth in his death, physically, and even to Hades, or hell, spiritually—though this latter view has less scholarly support. To fulfil his incarnational mission Jesus needed to experience death, and in achieving victory over Satan at the cross, Christ proves dominion over ‘all regions’—he ‘fills all things.’
He who is fit to ascend also descended—experiencing the fullness of earthly life unto death—the full incarnational reality. God, in human form, shirked nothing of the full human experience so far as death was concerned.
If this passage even remotely refers to Hades, our Saviour descended where we no longer need to; he made that journey so we might be saved from it. And something we often miss is, this is not just an ultimate reality—it’s a daily reality that we’re saved and sanctified from.
The earthly descent turned the image of God on its head totally throwing Satan off the scent—the evil one confounded at his own game.
But the more practical solution is this:
Jesus not only ascended to heaven where he came from, but he lived and modelled the godly life to perfection whilst he was here. And he didn’t just leave a legacy in those eye-witnesses lives; we have the gospel accounts today with which to observe him. In this he is our living Lord. He descended to us to do this. No other picture of God in any other faith or religion would conceive ‘God with us,’ let alone God-incarnate dying a criminal’s death to fulfil the bizarrest redemptive plan.
But again we’re getting distracted.
God came to be with us. He gives good and perfect gifts by pure virtue of his holy investment in the lives of his followers; as we read the text of God—the Holy Bible—and we listen to the Spirit speaking to us as we read, we’re exhorted to live as Jesus lived, reaping whatever special nuances of spiritual gifting he’s endowed us with.
What special nuances of the spiritual gifts has he given you and called you to use?
What “living” qualities of Jesus can you see in yourself as you use these gifts for God’s glory?
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians – An Exegetical Commentary (
Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians – the NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), p. 211.
Harry Uprichard, Ephesians (