“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Many people perceive Christianity as a list of rules to follow in an attempt to appease God. It is true that there are many commands in the Bible about how to live a holy life that pleases and glorifies God. But remember that we cannot really “do good” for God, but He can “do good” through us. And any good in our life is but a natural outgrowth of what He has done for us. Christianity is not about what we can do for God, but what He has done for us. Christ’s gift of forgiveness to us is unmerited and cannot be earned. As believers we also receive both individual spiritual gifts as well as the fruit of the Spirit.
The quoted passage comes from Psalm 68, a psalm that probably referred to the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Sukkoth), God’s presence at Mt. Sinai, the conquer of Jerusalem through God’s power, and God’s protection of Israel against their enemies. 68:18 is an image of God ascending the hill of victory carrying the spoils of victory and the enemy captives with Him. He had set the Hebrew captives free and brought them back to Israel. Paul’s letter reveals that this is a prophecy of Jesus and His victory over Satan, death, and Hell.
Jesus ascended into heaven after appearing to His followers for 40 Days after his resurrection. To say he ascended assumes that he once descended to earth from heaven at the incarnation. Although this particular text is not indicative of it, during the three days His body lay in the tomb he also descended into Sheol to set the righteous captives free (1 Peter 3:18-21; 4:6). All the righteous who had died before Christ’s sacrifice could not be resurrected until redemption was completed on the cross of Calvary. He descended into the grave to lead that host of captives into freedom as well as proclaim to the enemy forces that what they had seen as a victory was actually their defeat!
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:15