At Ephesians 4:8, Paul seems to interrupt himself with a quote from Psalm 68. He says, “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men’” (Eph 4:8). As Paul often does, he’s using the Old Testament to make his point. He’s explaining how Christ has the right and authority to give us gifts.
Psalm 68 is a song of victory. David is celebrating the triumph of God over Israel’s enemies. You can imagine the victorious king parading through the streets after a battle with the spoils of war. He’s marching through the city with all the prisoners of war he’s freed. In other words, he ascends on high to lead a host of captives. He has won the battle, so he’s leading those who were once held captive by the enemy.
If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because that is the theme of the gospel itself. The gospel is the good news of Christ the King freeing us from our slavery to sin and Satan. Paul says:
Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17, 18)
Near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, he was visiting the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, where he was asked to read from the book of Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll, and this is what he read:
** “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”** (Luke 4:18-19)
My favorite part of the story is what came next. Jesus sat down. It was customary for teachers to stand while reading the Scripture but sit while teaching. It was their way of showing a distinction between God’s words and those of man, the teacher. When Jesus sat down, he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). It’s enough to send chills through your body.
Immanuel had come. God in the flesh was with them. As John said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). In less than three years, the captives would have liberty. The oppressed would be set free. Through his death and resurrection, Christ would liberate his people once and for all. Slaves of sin would no longer be in bondage.