O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

This afternoon I was meditating on the assembly Bible reading in Ephesians 4. It saddens me that I have to miss these meetings, but I am encouraged to hear that others are coming, wanting to learn, and enjoying the Scriptures. As a young believer, I learned it was an aspect of fellowship and I was responsible to be at the prayer meeting and Bible study. Some are unable to be there because of distance or sickness, which is understandable and the Lord knows.

Since I am missing the meetings as well, I am passing on some thoughts on the section. “Wherefore he saith when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men.” The apostle is quoting Psalm 68 and three things should be noted: He ascended, He led, and He gave. The context is plain – this refers to the ascended Christ.

Through the years, I have learned to watch carefully when OT verses are quoted in the NT, for the Holy Spirit often makes little changes which thrill my soul with their meaning. Psalm 68 is generally accepted as the time when David brought the Ark of the Tabernacle (a picture of Christ) up to Jerusalem. It traces the Ark from Sinai to Zion; from the wilderness to the kingdom.

In this span of time, God’s people had come through their long journey, enemies had been defeated, and the land of Canaan was theirs. Do you see how this fits with the Ephesian letter: “Blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus?” However, in Psalm 68 it is God Who is spoken to. “Thou hast ascended, Thou hast led, and Thou hast received gifts for men.” The Spirit now changes this to apply to the Lord Jesus, and so we see an OT passage teaching us about Christ. Note the difference. In Psalm 68, it is “received gifts,” but in Ephesians 4, it is “given gifts,” and there is a difference.

The phrase “captivity captive” is found three times in our Bible, and Judges 5:1 explains the meaning. Israel had sinned and was oppressed by the Canaanites under Sisera. The Israelites under Barak, and inspired by Deborah, defeated the oppressor. The ones who were captors ended up being captives.  David sees this as the Lord in the Ark defeating Israel’s enemies so they could enjoy peace in the Promised Land. The gifts were spoils taken from the enemy and shared with the Lord’s people. “He shall divide the spoil with the strong” (Isa 53:12, KJV) refers to the Millennial day when the Lord Jesus lets His own share in His kingdom.

This passage could hardly refer to Abraham’s bosom, for those who were there were not put in another place of captivity. However, think of what our Lord did in His ascending “far above all principalities and powers.” He defeated death at the cross, “That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:14, KJV).

So we can sing, “O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where is thy victory?” (1Cor 15:55, KJV). Again, we can rejoice in the words of the Lord Jesus. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev 1:18, KJV). We have the Lord Jesus ascended, not to Mt. Zion, but “far above all principalities and powers.”

The Lord Jesus led, not earthly kings and enemies, but death and Satan, defeated by Him and one day to be destroyed. The Lord Jesus gave gifts, not the spoils of earth, but the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the blessing of His Heavenly people, the Church.