Ephesians 4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
God directed the apostle to move on to speak of the ability that God gives to each of His children. In Hebrews 4:16 we read:
Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 we learn that we are saved by grace. Now in chapter 4:7 we are told that we also are given the necessary grace to serve God. This grace is the ability to do the task that God has for us with joy and with gratitude. This grace is given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Thus we know again that every true born again Christian can do all that God requires of us. There are things in the physical realm that we cannot do. Sometimes we are too quick to say: “I can’t”, however there are some things we cannot do. We might be able to do them with someone else helping us. In the spiritual realm, we cannot do anything without Christ. Jesus says that in John 15:5. The good news is that Jesus Christ enables every true child of God to do what is required of every child of God. All saved people are commanded to live holy lives. The standard is God, not some person’s opinion. Every true child of God is commanded to stop sinning and to live a righteous life. Every true child of God will sin, but no child of God can live in habitual sin. That must stop and it will if the person is truly saved. True Christians have a testimony that draws others to want to know the Lord. That same testimony will also cause others to hate them because they do not want to do what is right. The true child of God can face persecution and grow through it and also maintain a good testimony if he or she walks in the Spirit.
In verse 8 Paul wrote of the activities of the Lord Jesus Christ during the three days He was in the tomb after His crucifixion and prior to His resurrection.
Psalms 68:18 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.
The Lord Jesus Christ was and is different than we are. While His body lay in that tomb, He was busy ministering to the Old Testament saints who were held captive in Paradise. He led captivity captive. He took the souls of the Old Testament saints and delivered them from Paradise and brought them to heaven. The Paradise in which they were resting and waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is no longer needed. Luke 16 describes that place in some detail.
Jesus also gave gifts unto men. Those gifts will be described further in Paul’s epistle.
In verse 9 Paul was directed to continue this important ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ during those three days in the tomb. He ascended up to Heaven during that time, but we read that He also descended to the lower parts of the earth. You notice there that He did not descend to the lowest part of the earth, but to the lower parts of the earth. As we noted already, this is a reference to the place known in Luke 16 as Abraham’s bosom. In Luke 16 we are told there was a gulf fixed between the two parts of that place. Abraham was in Paradise along with Lazarus. There were other saints there as well, but God chose to mention those two. On the other side of the fixed gulf, was hell. The rich man was in hell. He was in torment, and as we see there, he was fully aware of where he was and he was also aware of his family that was still alive. He now had a concern that they not come to the same place he was in. He asked Abraham for some relief from the torment he was in. Abraham had no way of giving him relief. Abraham reminded this rich man that he had his riches while on earth and he had been very tight with those riches. It did not bother him that Lazarus was a poor man who could have used some help. Now Lazarus was resting and the rich man was in torment and his former riches were of no help to him. His torment was going to go on into eternity. Lazarus’ suffering had only been for a short time.
In our text, Jesus went to Paradise and took the souls of the saints out of Paradise and brought them to heaven. There are those who claim that Jesus went to hell at that time. There is nothing in the Bible to support that imagination. The lost were already in torment in that place. They will meet Him at the great white throne judgment. He will not go to hell for them. They will meet Him and then they will be cast into the lake of fire.
John 3:17 makes it clear that Jesus Christ did not come to condemn the world. The lost are already under condemnation. Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Those who reject His offer of salvation condemn themselves. They choose to reject God’s offer of salvation and thus the sentence of death rests upon them.
We know that the Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming Messiah. We know that Job spoke of his Redeemer and he knew that he would one day stand before Him and see Him. Job believed in the resurrection of the saints. David did as well as did many others in the Old Testament. Those who died believing in the promises of God were in Paradise and Jesus went and presented Himself to them and brought them into heaven. They will receive their glorified bodies at the end of the Tribulation time. They will be part of the first resurrection as described in Revelation 20:5-6. The first resurrection is the one that all should be at, but sadly many will not be there because they rejected God’s offer of salvation.
Jesus Christ encouraged the Old Testament saints with His presence in Paradise and His taking them up to heaven. They had waited patiently and they had trusted in the prophets. Jesus was rewarding them in part at that time that Paul spoke of. There is more to come for them yet.