Job And The Afterlife: The Descent Of Christ Into Hades #2-Ephesians 4:8-10 (Part Two)

 
By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist) 

Quotation For Contemplation 

2 Timothy 2:7 (AMPC)-Think over these things I am saying [understand them and grasp their application], for the Lord will grant you full insight and understanding in everything.

Introduction 

In our last study regarding the Descent Of Christ Into Hades, we noticed the following: 

The context of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:8-10 deals with the eternal purpose of God in establishing the church.

The creation, redemption, reconciliation, and work of the church is part of the Lord’s plan from long before the beginning of the universe, and it all culminates in what Jesus died at Calvary (specifically, His death, burial, and resurrection).

Because of this eternal purpose, Christ has equipped His church with all of the spiritual resources she will need in carrying out His work.  

Paul quotes from the Old Testament (Psalm 68:18) in order to establish his point regarding the all-sufficient work of Christ.

By using the common analogy of a victorious king who conquers his enemy and takes them captive, Paul illustrates how Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness resulted in His giving gifts to His people, the church, to enable them to carry out His mission in the Great Commission.  

The “One” Who ascended is ultimately Christ (although the original Psalm may have reference to Moses or David as well).  

Christ “ascended” to the highest heavens (i.e., the third Heaven).  

Before Christ ascended, He “descended” to the “lowest parts of the Earth.”

From the Greek Old Testament and from Jewish and Christian usage of this phrase (both before the time of Christ and after), the “lower parts of the Earth” had reference to Sheol, or Hades (the realm of the dead).  

This descent of Christ took place between the time of HIs death and resurrection.  
In this lesson, we will continue to investigate the statements of Paul regarding the Descent of Christ into Hades.

By applying ourselves, we will find the answers to some questions, as well as more questions to which we may not presently find the answers.  

QUESTION SEVEN: Who Were The “Captives” That Are Here Associated With Christ’s Descent Into Hades? 

ANSWER: There are several possible answers to this question. I will here provide some of the most prevalent theories, showcasing the pros and cons of the positions.  

The Descent Of Christ In This Text Had To Do Only With The Saved Dead In Paradise 

Some people believe that when Christ went to Hades, He went only to Paradise (which, as we learned in a previous lesson, was one section of Hades).

It is claimed that while there, He preached to the saved dead and told them that they could now enter Heaven, because of what He had accomplished.

As a result (it is claimed), believers who now die in the Lord go directly to Heaven.

This approach to the passage does have some good things to commend.

For example, it acknowledges that Jesus went to Paradise after He died (Luke 23:43), which is part of Hades.

Furthermore, it treats in a fascinating way the passages in the New Testament which teach that believers go to be with Christ when they die (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23).  

However, there are serious problems with this view.  

First, the text makes it clear that Jesus did not only go to Paradise, but to the “lower parts of the earth,” which was a Hebrew expression for even the deepest parts of Hades (i.e., even extending to the realm where the dammed were imprisoned).  

Second, the passages which speak of being with the Lord can be equally applied to His saints being with Him in Paradise, and do not necessarily infer that they go directly to Heaven.

The Psalmist points out that the Lord will be with His people even in Sheol (Psalm 139:7-17).

As such, there is a sense in which every living person is “with the Lord” now (cf. Hebrews 4:12-13; Acts 17:26-30), and there is a sense in which God’s people are “with Him” when they die (Ecclesiastes 12:7; 2 Corinthians 5:5-8).

There is also a sense in which we will be “with the Lord” at the time of His Second Coming, and we eagerly look forward to that day (2 Timothy 4:6-8).  

Third, Jesus Himself made it clear that His people will not to be with Him in the fullness of Heaven until the time of the Second Coming (John 14:1-3).  

Fourth, the Apostle Paul is clear that God’s people will be in Hades or Sheol until the Second Coming of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

Speaking of this passage, Bible scholar Guy N. Woods has pointed out so eloquently: 

“4. “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15: 55). This is a quotation by the apostle, from Hos. 13: 14, where it reads, in our translation of the Old Testament (American Standard Version): “1 will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction?” Death, in 1 Cor. 15: 55, is thus figuratively used to designate Sheol, the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Hades, the realm of departed spirits. Paul thus represents the risen saint as having accomplished the deliverance from Sheol (Hades) which the ancient prophet promised. 1 Cor. 15: 55 contemplates the deliverance of the righteous spirits only from the power of Sheol (Hades). This deliverance follows the resurrection of the body. The spirits of the righteous must, therefore, await the resurrection of the body before they are delivered from the Hadean realm. Following this deliverance Death (regarded as the ruler) and Hades (the territory of death) are to be “cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Rev. 20: 14). It is following the resurrection that “they that have done good” receive “life” (John 5: 28, 29); it is at the resurrection of the just that the blessed “are recompensed;” (Luke 14: 14); and it was “in that day” (the judgment day) that Paul expected to receive the crown that was laid up for him! (2 Tim. 4: 8).” (Guy N. Woods, Questions And Answers: Volume One, 8515-8530 (Kindle Edition); Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University). 

Finally, the biggest problem with this view is that Paul’s quote (as well as the text in Psalm 68) identifies the ones who are “taken captive” by the Messiah as being the rebellious, and not the righteous.

Indeed, Psalm 68 itself is very clear regarding this.  

Of course, it is possible that Christ announced to the saved in Hades that He had triumphed at Calvary and that one day they would go to Heaven (at His Second Coming).  
The Descent Of Christ In This Text Was Primarily About The Unsaved Dead In Hades

Others believe that Christ preached to the dammed humans who were in Hades, to the ones who were undergoing “torment” (Luke 16:23).

This view has some things to commend for it.

First, it acknowledges that Christ went to the lower parts of Sheol, and not just to Paradise.

Second, proponents of this viewpoint also acknowledge that the work of the Messiah here was primarily to the “rebellious” or the wicked.

It is also worth noting that the “rebellious” in Psalm 68:18 from whom the Lord receives “gifts” are identified clearly as “men.”

Further, this interpretation deals fairly with the specific phrase “lower parts of the earth” in the passage (i.e., by designating this as a reference to Hades).

Finally, this harmonizes with some other texts which may suggest that preaching was done to the dammed humans in Sheol by Christ when He died (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6).  

Critics of this view point out that this would seem to be irreconcilable with Scripture.

After all, after death follows judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Doesn’t the Bible teach that those who are lost in Sheol cannot cross over from the realm of the unsaved to the realm of the saved (cf. Luke 16:19-31)?  

It is certainly true that some form of judgment occurs at the moment of death, as Hebrews 9:27 teaches (even though this is not the same as the Day Of Judgment-2 Corinthians 5:17; John 5:28-29).

Furthermore, the text in Luke 16:19-31 does indeed teach that there was a great gulf fixed between the realms of Sheol which divided the saved from the unsaved, and that this gulf could not be traversed by any in that realm (cf. Luke 16:26).

However, we must also consider that the events in this parable took place before the death of Christ and His resurrection (cf. Luke 16:29-31).  

Is it possible that the death of Christ on Calvary somehow changed these things?

Certainly, Paul teaches that Christ descended into Sheol itself, even to the realm where the rebellious dead were imprisoned.

Further, we know that He ascended from there and eventually went to Paradise itself (Luke 23:43).

So, His death certainly changed SOMETHING about that “gulf!”  

However, at this point, all we can for say certain regarding this is that the “captives” had (at least partial) reference to the unsaved humans.  

The Descent Of Christ Dealt Specifically With The Fallen Angels Who Were Trapped In Sheol

We also need to point out that the text is also possibly teaching that the work of Christ in Sheol had to do with the fallen angels.  

How can this be?  

First, the idea that Christ’s descent into Hades dealt (at least in part) with the fallen angels fits in with the overall theme of Ephesians regarding the mission of Christ.

For example, it ties in beautifully with the continual theme interwoven throughout Ephesians of Christ’s work and its’ repercussions, not only on Earth, but to the heights and depths of the spirit world (Ephesians 1:3, 10, 20; 2:6; 3:10, 15; 6:9, 12).

It also harmonizes incredibly with the teaching of the Book of Ephesians that the work of Christ through the church is somehow directly related to the angels (cf. Ephesians 3:9-12; 6:10-12).  

Second, this interpretation gives full attention to the meaning of the phrase “the lower parts of the earth.”

The phrase included all of Sheol, especially Tartarus, which is where some of the fallen angels were kept imprisoned (cf. 2 Peter 2:4).  

Finally, as we will notice in our next lesson, this viewpoint has some outstanding historical validation and confirmation from the writings of the second century Christians.

According to THIS text (Ephesians 4:8-10), the descent of Christ into Hades-including Tartarus-primarily involved the unsaved humans and possibly the fallen angels.  

QUESTION EIGHT: HOW WAS THE PHRASE “CAPTIVITY” USED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT? 

ANSWER: THE PHRASE HAD REFERENCE TO HOSTILE SOLDIERS WHO WERE TAKEN CAPTIVE BY THEIR ENEMY.  

Let’s look specifically at the phrase “he took captivity captive.”

While studying this phrase as it was used in the Old Testament, we discover the following: 

“Second, NIV and NRSV present the final phrase in the first line in Ephesians 4:8 as he took captivity captive. This might seem like the complete opposite of leading captives in his train and thus a major change from the Psalm text. However, as most translations have it, and as virtually all commentators agree, the abstract noun captivity is an idiom for captives themselves (cf. Num. 31:12, LXX; BAGD: 26; Barth, 1974:431; so NAB and NJB in both Ps. 68 and Eph. 4:8). The Greek OT (LXX) translates the Hebrew in such a way that in English it can accurately mean both “taking captives” and “taking captivity captive” (hence leading captivity captive appears in KJV/NKJV of both Ps. 68:18 and Eph. 4:8).” (Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (Elmer A. Martens & Willard M. Swarley, Editors), Ephesians: Believers Church Bible Commentary, 3333-3343 (Kindle Edition); Waterloo, Ontario; Herald Press) 

This explains the diversity of translations in our passage in Ephesians. 

Ephesians 4:8 (CEV)-As the Scriptures say, “When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people.”

Ephesians 4:8 (ERV)-That is why the Scriptures say, “He went up high into the sky; he took prisoners with him, and he gave gifts to people.”

So, these were “enemy captives” that Christ somehow (in some way) took captive (in some other sense).

This shows us again that the scope of the passage includes those who are in opposition to God. 

QUESTION NINE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT HE TOOK THE CAPTIVES CAPTIVE?

ANSWER: THERE ARE SEVERAL POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO THIS QUESTION WHICH WE WILL INVESTIGATE. 

The Lord Announced Doom To The The Unsaved Humans And To The Fallen Angels

The first theory is that Jesus simply went to the underworld and told the dammed humans and angels fallen angels that they were doomed.

One researcher, Michael Heiser, in contrasting 1 Peter 3:18-20 with the ancient book of Enoch, explains the possible connection: 

“Peter uses typology in 1 Peter 3:14–22 . Specifically, he assumes that the great flood in Genesis 6–8 , especially the sons of God event in Genesis 6:1–4 , typified or foreshadowed the gospel and the resurrection. For Peter, these events were commemorated during baptism. That needs some unpacking, since the points of correlation aren’t apparent. In an earlier chapter we saw the tight connections between Genesis 6:1–4 and the epistles of 2 Peter and Jude. 1 We discovered that 2 Peter and Jude communicated something about the flood and the sons of God that wasn’t found in Genesis, but which came from the Second Temple book of 1 Enoch. Specifically, 1 Enoch 6–15 describes how the sons of God (called “Watchers” in that ancient book) who committed the offense of Genesis 6:1–4 were imprisoned under the earth for what they had done. That imprisonment is behind the reference to the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19 . 2 Recall that the prison to which the offending divine beings were sent was referred to as Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4–5 . The Greek behind the terms is often translated “hell” or “Hades” in English, but those renderings are a bit misleading. Tartarus of course has no literal geography. This is the language of the spiritual realm. Tartarus was part of the underworld (biblical Sheol), a place conceived as being inside the earth because, in ancient experience, that is where the dead go—they were buried. Broadly speaking, the underworld is not hell; it is the afterlife, the place or realm where the dead go. That “place” has its own “geography.” Some experience eternal life with God in the spiritual realm; others do not. 3 In the 1 Enoch story, the Watchers appealed their sentence and asked Enoch, the biblical prophet who never died ( Gen 5:21–24 ), to intercede with God for them ( 1 Enoch 6:4 ). God rejected their petition and Enoch had to return to the imprisoned Watchers and give them the bad news ( 1 Enoch 13:1–3 ; 14:4–5 ). The point to catch is that Enoch visits the spiritual world in the “bad section of town” where the offending Watchers are being held. As was the case with 2 Peter 2:4 and its mention of being imprisoned in Tartarus, this story from 1 Enoch was on Peter’s mind in 1 Peter 3 . It is the key to understanding what he says. Peter saw a theological analogy between the events of Genesis 6 and the gospel and resurrection. In other words, he considered the events of Genesis 6 to be types or precursors to New Testament events and ideas. Just as Jesus was the second Adam for Paul, Jesus is the second Enoch for Peter . Enoch descended to the imprisoned fallen angels to announce their doom. First Peter 3:14–22 has Jesus descending to these same “spirits in prison” to tell them they were still defeated , despite his crucifixion. God’s plan of salvation and kingdom rule had not been derailed—in fact, it was right on schedule. The crucifixion actually meant victory over every demonic force opposed to God. This victory declaration is why 1 Peter 3:14–22 ends with Jesus risen from the dead and set at the right hand of God—above all angels, authorities and powers . The messaging is very deliberate, and has a supernatural view of Genesis 6:1–4 at its core.” (Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering The Supernatural Worldview Of The Bible, 6237-6268 (Kindle Edition); Bellingham, WA; Lexham Press). 

On the surface, this view has much to commend for it.

It acknowledges the work of Christ involved the area of Sheol (and specifically Tartarus), and this gives full weight to the phrase “the lower parts of the earth.”

It also points out that the work of Christ involved not only saved humans in Paradise, but also the “rebellious,” and the “captives,” even among those in Sheol (the unsaved humans and also the angels who were imprisoned there, as demonstrated in the word Tartarus).  

However, there are some problems with this interpretation.  

First, Why would Jesus need to announce to the dammed angels that they were still dammed?

The fallen angels in context (the ones who had sexually sinned with humans in Genesis 6 in an attempt to corrupt the bloodline of the Messiah) were ALREADY RESERVED FOR JUDGMENT in chains of darkness (2 Peter 2:4) when Christ descended to Sheol. They already knew that they were dammed!

So, why the need to announce it again?  

Second, according to the book of Enoch, the fallen angels had ALREADY been told their fate by Enoch LONG BEFORE the death of Jesus.

So, why would Jesus need to go and tell them that they are doomed, when they would have known it so well already?

The same is true of dammed humanity (Luke 16:19-31).  

Third, if Christ taking captives captive in Sheol had reference to literally taking the fallen angels captive, then how was this any different then what they were already experiencing?

Were they taken captive somewhere else?

In what way were they taken captive that was different from what they were already experiment?

How could they be more captive then they already were?  

The Phrase Had Reference Specifically To The Announcement That Repentant Fallen Angels Might Possibly Be Forgiven One Day

Another view which has been advanced about this text in Ephesians is that the Lord here offered a glimmer of hope that one day, the fallen angels could be forgiven if they would repent.  

How could the phrase “He took captivity captive” imply possible forgiveness for fallen angels?  

First, this interpretation harmonizes (in some ways) with the original text of the Psalm 68 quotation. We have seen that the ‘captives’ has reference to (at least) some of the fallen angels in Tartarus.  

Second, please notice that one of the things which Psalm 68:18 tells us is in the “taking captivity captive,” the Lord will thereby dwell with the “people” (and keep in mind that the ones here are identified as the “rebellious”): 

Psalm 68:18-You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even from the rebellious, THAT THE LORD GOD MIGHT DWELL THERE.  

Notice that the result of the “taking captivity captive” is that God dwells THERE.

Where is “there?”

In context, “there” seems to be with “the rebellious.”  

Third, this harmonizes with Paul’s sentiments in Ephesians regarding the fact that the church will somehow (and someday) be an instrument of God to the fallen angels (Ephesians 3:9-12), and that God’s desire in the Gospel is to bring all things together in Christ, whether things in Heaven or things on Earth (Ephesians 1:9-10).  

Fourth, this coincides with something Paul wrote to the Colossians: 

Colossians 1:16-20-16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,

20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

Please notice that in describing the things in “heaven” which God has reconciled through the blood of Christ’s cross, the Apostle Paul specifically mentions the “principalities and powers.”

We have learned in our previous lesson that this phrase had specific reference to the fallen angels.

Also, please notice that Paul makes it doubly clear that he has supernatural spiritual beings in mind, for he identifies not only things in heaven, but also things which are “invisible.”  

Speaking of this passage, another author has written: 

“Throughout the New Testament are more Scripture passages indicating that the ministry of Christ on earth also accomplished final reconciliation in heaven. Many times we read these passages and simply skim over them because we really don’t grasp their import. We have not understood that the ministry of Christ, God the Son, has significance far beyond the confines of earth and humanity. It is true that the ministry of Christ-His Incarnation, life, atoning death, resurrection, and glorification-took place in interaction with humanity. However, the efficacious effects of His ministry go far beyond humanity. This will become clear as we explore further. One of these passages is in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. In this passage, Paul describes the vast magnificence of Christ and Christ’s ministry…This is a wonderful, powerful passage extolling the surpassing magnificence of the Savior. Each verse deserves full exploration. However, for our purposes, let us focus on a few key phrases…Each of these translations agree on this essential point: In this passage Paul is saying that all “things in heaven” were reconciled to God “through the blood of His (Christ’s) cross.’ In these verses, Paul is declaring something astonishing-that Christ’s ministry of reconciliation reached into heaven…Therefore, it is easy to simply slide over the rest of the words in the passage without truly grasping the full impact of their meaning. We do this because we are not used to thinking that ‘things in heaven’ were also reconciled to God through Christ. Yet, this is exactly what Paul is saying in this passage! To what is Paul referring when he says ‘things in heaven’ are ‘reconciled’ to God through Christ? It might be easy to read this passage and assume that Paul is referring to those saints who have died and gone on to heaven before the Incarnation. This is not sufficient. There is no indication that Paul is referring to earthly saints now in heaven. In the context of these verses, Paul is intending to portray the vast scope of the work of Christ. To interpret ‘things in heaven’ to mean earthly things that have gone to heaven would be to still limit the work of Christ to merely earthly things-just earthly things that have been moved to a new place. The only satisfying interpretation of Paul’s phrase ‘things in heaven’ is to understand them to mean things native to heaven. The Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament echoes this understanding of Colossians 1:20: ‘Reconciliation with God…also embraces Supra terrestrial beings…’. The Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary says, ‘An actually reconciliation or restoration of peace in heaven, as well as on earth, is expressed by Paul’ (emphasis in the original). There can be little doubt that this is Paul’s plain meaning. If we interpret ‘things in heaven’ the same way we interpret ‘things on earth,’ we must understand Paul to mean heaven’s sentient population-the angelic host and other heavenly creatures…The Greek word translated “reconcile” in this passages is apokatallasso. It is a stronger form of katallasso which is used by Paul to mean humanity’s reconciliation to God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18, 20; Rom. 5:10). Apokatallasso not only means ‘reconciling,’ it has a stronger meaning to ‘reconcile completely.’…In the ages to come, Christ will be fully Lord of all on earth and in heaven because His Incarnation, life, sacrificial atoning death, and resurrection has directly affected all of God’s creatures on earth and in heaven.” (Michael A. Wiley, The Salvation Of Angels: Understanding The Heavenly Impact Of Jesus Christ, 109-113 (Kindle Edition); Xulon Press) 

Yet we must also point out that there are significant challenges to this interpretation.

Perhaps the most notable is that the Apostle Paul specifically declared that God does not “give aid” unto angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16).  

Furthermore, is there any evidence from Scripture that the fallen angels have (or will) repent of their sin?  

While the “taking captivity captive,” may have reference to salvation for fallen angels, this interpretation of our passage does not seem to definitively prove such.

Taking Captivity Captive May Have Reference To An Offer Of Forgiveness For The Lost In Sheol (Including Both Lost Humanity And Fallen Angels) If They Choose Repentance 

This viewpoint suggests that the phrase “taking captivity captive” may be a reference to God extending the possibility of forgiveness to the lost in Sheol.

It is argued that often in the Bible, sinners are often identified in the Bible as being “slaves” of sin.

For example:  

John 8:34 (Amplified)-Jesus answered them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Furthermore, those who are identified as slaves (or captives) of sin are then identified as becoming slaves (or captives) of God when they turn to Him:

Romans 617-18-17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Romans 6:22-But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

Colossians 4:12-Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

Titus 1:1-Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness,
James 1:1-James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

1 Peter 2:16-as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.

So, in accordance with this understanding, the “captives” would be the lost (either condemned humans or fallen angels, or both) who repent and turn to the Lord in Sheol.

There are some things about this view which are commendable.

First, it honors the phrase “lower parts of the earth” (which also includes Tartarus and thus the fallen angels as well).

Second, it’s use of the phrase “taking captivity captive” harmonizes with this concept from other passages of Scripture.

Third, many of the second century Christians believed that this was one of the ideas being advanced by the Apostle in this statement.  

However, it suffers from the objections noted above.

Specifically, is there evidence that those in Sheol would repent if they had opportunity?

Certainly the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 was suffering (and the suffering he was enduring was designed by God specifically to repent), yet is there evidence that he was actually repentant?

We see that he was remorseful; yet there is quite a difference between feeling sorry and actual repentance.

Paul makes this clear:

2 Corinthians 7:10-10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Notice that the sorrow which God produces leads to repentance.

Thus we see that repentance is not the same as remorse.  

With this in mind, we have to ask: was the rich man truly repentant?

Furthermore, is there any evidence from Scripture that those in Sheol are willing to repent?  

Of course, we should also keep in mind the desire of God in this connection.

His desire is that all will be saved.

Is it possible that this desire extends to those who are lost in Sheol?

To answer, consider the following.  

First, we have noticed that the suffering of the rich man in Sheol was designed by God to try and bring him to repentance.  

Second, let’s notice a passage from the Epistle to the Philippians that specifically addresses this: 

Philippians 2:9-11-9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice that Paul specifically mentions that God’s desire is that every knee will one day bow before God. He also specifically mentions three spheres where He desires this to take place: in Heaven, on Earth, and “under the earth.”

What does this last phrase mean?

Looking at the other passages where this phrase is used in the Bible, we see it has a reference to Sheol:

Revelation 5:3-And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.

Revelation 5:13-And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Among the early Christians, the phrase “under the earth” had a definite reference to Sheol.

For example: 

“Therefore, stop your ears when anyone speaks to you contrary to Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate. He was truly crucified and died—in the sight of beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father raising Him to life—in the same manner as His Father will also raise us up, we who believe in Him by Christ Jesus.” (Ignatius (c. 105, E), 1.69)

“Christ became man in the midst of men, to recreate our Adam through Himself. [He is Lord of] things under the earth, because He was also reckoned among the dead, preaching the Gospel to the souls of the saints. By death, he overcame death.” (Hippolytus (c. 200, W), 5.209.)

“However, [He saves] with dignity of honor others who voluntarily follow. This is so “that every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth”—that is, angels, men, and souls who had departed from this temporal life before His coming. “(Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.575)

What does Paul mean that God’s desire is that every knee will bow and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?

Many believe that the Apostle simply means that everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, will be forced to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) on the Day of Judgment.  

However, there are at least two problems with this view.  

First, Paul is actually quoting here from the Old Testament Scriptures.

Notice what God said through Isaiah the Prophet:

Isaiah 45:23-23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath.

Now, what specifically does God mean when He says that every knee will bow and every tongue will take an oath?

Look at the context: 

Isaiah 45:22-25-22 “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath.

24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him.

25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ ”
The “bowing of the knee” and “taking an oath” to Jehovah was an invitation from God for people to be saved.

Which people?

Specifically, to those who had been ashamed of Him.

Furthermore, we see that these individuals can find salvation in the Lord, and that this in turn leads them to worship Him.

These findings strongly argue against a forced confession of unbelievers.  

Second, the word translated here as “confess” is fascinating to consider:

“It is clear from v. 22 that those who bow their knee and swear allegiance to God do so willingly because God asks them to turn to him and be saved. If the bowing was forced, there wouldn’t be any talk of asking…it would be commanded. Perry agrees that this passage cannot be teaching a forced worship for several reasons including the fact that God calls all nations to turn and be saved, the swearing of an oath is not something done by the enemies of God, and finally, the people praise God [53] . That those who bow and swear allegiance do so willingly is important because this passage is quoted twice by Paul in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11….But the idea of a forced confession does not square with the meaning of the Greek word Exomologeo (Strong’s 1843) used in this passage. [63] According to Vincent, the word translated “confess” in v. 11 has the idea of “frank, open confession” and then goes on to say, “There is no objection to adding the idea with thanksgiving …” [64] The same Greek word…is used in Rom 14:11 where the NASB translates it as “give praise”. Vincent’s comment on this Greek word in Rom 14:11 is illuminating. Primarily to acknowledge, confess, or profess from…the heart . To make a confession to one’s honor; thence to praise. [65] Marvin Vincent It’s hard to imagine someone professing “from the heart” or confessing “to one’s honor; thence to praise” if the worship is forced. Further, there’s no example in the NT where the word translated as “confess” ( exomologeo ) in Phil 2:11 means anything but a voluntary confession. Every use of the word [ exomologeo ] in the New Testament connotes a voluntary confession. This includes all the cognate verbs, homologeo ; and the related noun, homologia . Inherent in the nature of confession is willing and, sometimes, joyful acknowledgment. It will not do to suppose that the humble confession of Phil. 2:11 is a reluctant and forced confession from Jesus’ conquered enemies. [66] (emphasis mine) Thomas Johnson Consider too that Paul is quoting from Isaiah 45:23 and there is no hint of forced worship in this passage for a couple of reasons: 1. In Isa 45:22, God says, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth…” which not only proves the worship Paul speaks of is voluntary, it further supports the universalistic interpretation. 2. In v. 24, God says, “They will say of me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’” These aren’t exactly the words of a defeated enemy being forced to admit allegiance. Finally, does anyone believe for one second that God would accept forced (i.e. false) worship? If God rejects the sacrifices from His own people if they come with impure hearts and/or motives, why does anyone think He’ll accept the coerced worship of a subjected soul?” (David Burnfield, Patristic Universalism: An Alternative To The Traditional View Od Divine Judgment, 947-1044 (Kindle Edition); Boca Raton, Florida; Universal-Publishers)

Now, it is important to keep in mind that that these passages may simply reflect the idea that God desires everyone (both fallen angels and condemned unsaved humanity) to repent and be saved.

Certainly, we see this desire of our gracious Lord expressed throughout His Word (cf. Ezekiel 18:23; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 2 Peter 3:9). 

Yet despite His gracious offers of redemption, people continually reject the Lord and His plan of salvation.

Is there any reason to believe that this would change in the Afterlife?  

While it is possible that the phrase “taking captivity captive”‘may have reference to the lost in Sheol having opportunity to be saved (or at least potentially one day having such an opportunity), these questions and considerations should be given careful thought.  

Taking Captivity Captive May Have Reference To Christ Descending To Sheol And Formally Announcing His Victory And Taking Away The Power Of Death From The Fallen Angels 

A final view we will consider deals with the belief that Christ’s descent into Hades was to “formally” take the power of death from the powers of darkness.

It is suggested that by virtue of His Descent into Hades, Jesus engaged in some kind of warfare and directed His forces against the devil and his angels after His Ascension. 

This view has much to commend for it.  

First, it fully honors the meaning of the phrase “the lower parts of the earth,” as well as acknowledging that the text deals partially with the fallen angels.  

Second, this interpretation shows that Jesus’ purpose in descending to Hades was also to “announce” to those who in Paradise that their “captivity” in that realm is limited, and that they will one Day (at the Second Coming) be granted entrance into Heaven.  

Third, this interpretation harmonizes with what Paul wrote in the aforementioned Epistle to the Hebrews.

Speaking of the work that Christ has accomplished, the Apostle tells us: 

Hebrews 2:14-15-14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Here, the Lord became like one of us (i.e., fallen humanity) in order to specifically wrest away the power of the devil.

The power the devil had over humanity was the fear of death, and Jesus-through His death (cf. 1 John 3:8) took away that power from the principalities and powers.  

The phrase “taking captivity captive” had reference to the proclaiming of Christ’s victory to the saved and to the unsaved.  

QUESTION TEN: WHAT DID THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST HAVE TO DO WITH HIS VICTORY OVER THE POWERS OF DARKNESS? ? 

ANSWER: IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, WHAT CHRIST ACCOMPLISHED AT CALVARY, AND THROUGH HIS SUBSEQUENT DESCENT INTO SHEOL, PAVED THE WAY FOR HIM TO ENGAGE THE POWERS OF DARKNESS AFTER HE ASCENDED. 

It is important to remember that the Descent Of Christ into Hades is not the only thing which this passage describes. Without an understanding of His Ascent into Heaven, our picture of Christ’s Descent into Hades is incomplete. 

What does the Ascent of Christ into Heaven have to do with His Descent into Hades?

Many of the early Christians believed that by virtue of His death on the Cross and His Descent into Hades, Christ Jesus (at the time of His ascension) was somehow empowered to lead a war in the heavenly realms against the forces of darkness.

It was believed that through this warfare, the Lord was able to completely take away the power of death from Satan.  

Interestingly enough, there is a passage in the Book of Revelation which may be relevant to this part of our study.  

In the Book of Revelation, John describes the church age from the First Coming to the Second Coming of Christ in a series of seven visions.

As one author has described it:

“”Thus interpreted, each individual church is, as it were, a type, not indicating one definite period in history, but describing conditions which are constantly repeated in the actual life of the various congregations. [1] Therefore this section appears to span the entire dispensation, from Christ’s first coming to save His people (1: 5) to His second coming to judge all nations (1: 7)….It should be carefully noted that this section also covers the entire dispensation, from the first to the second coming of Christ. The very first reference to Christ pictures Him as having been slain and as now ruling from heaven (5: 5, 6). Towards the end of this section the final judgment is introduced. Notice the impression of the second coming on unbelievers. ‘And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One sitting on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb! For it came, the day, the great one, of their wrath; and who is able to stand?’ (6: 16, 17). Now notice the bliss of believers. ‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun fall upon them, nor any heat; for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd and shall lead them to life’s springs of water; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes’ (7: 16, 17). This is a picture of the entire Church triumphant, gathered out of all the nations and thus, in its entirety, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, an ideal which is not realized until the day of the great consummation. We have again spanned the entire gospel age. 3. The seven trumpets (8: 1–11: 19) The next section consists of chapters 8–11. Its central theme is the seven trumpets that affect the world. What happens to the Church is described in chapters 10 and 11 (the angel with the little book, the two witnesses). Also at the close of this section there is a very clear reference to the final judgment. The dominion over the world became the dominion of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever.’ ‘… And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged…’ (11: 15, 18). Having reached the end of the dispensation, the vision ends. 4. The persecuting dragon (12: 1–14: 20) This brings us to chapters 12–14: the woman and the Manchild persecuted by the dragon and his helpers. This section also covers the entire dispensation. It begins with a very clear reference to the birth of the Saviour (12: 5)…This section, too, closes with a stirring description of Christ’s second coming in judgment. ‘And I saw, and behold, a white cloud; and on the cloud I saw one sitting like unto a son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle…. And he that sat on the cloud cast his sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped’ (14: 14, 16). 5. The seven bowls (15: 1–16: 21) The next section comprises chapters 15 and 16 and describes the bowls of wrath. Here, too, we have a very clear reference to the final judgment and events that will take place in connection with it. Thus we read in 16: 20, ‘And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.’ 6. The fall of Babylon (17: 1–19: 21) Next comes a very vivid description of the fall of Babylon and the punishment inflicted upon the beast and the false prophet. Notice the picture of Christ’s coming unto judgment (19: 11 ff.). ‘And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he judges and does battle….’ 7. The great consummation (20: 1–22: 21) This brings us to the final section, chapters 20–22, for Revelation 20: 1 definitely begins a new section and introduces a new subject. [2] This new subject is the devil’s doom. A comparison, moreover, with chapter 12 reveals the fact that at the beginning of chapter 20 we are once more standing on the threshold of the new dispensation. While in 12: 9 we are told that in connection with Christ’s ascension and coronation the devil is cast down , here in 20: 2, 3 we read that he is bound for a thousand years after being cast into the abyss. The thousand years are followed by the little season during which Satan is loosed out of his prison (20: 7). This, in turn, is followed by a description of the final overthrow of Satan in connection with Christ’s coming in judgment (20: 10, 11 ff.). At this coming the present universe, fleeing away, makes room for the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem (20: 11 ff.). A careful reading of the book of Revelation has made it clear that the book consists of seven sections, and that these seven sections run parallel to one another. Each of them spans the entire dispensation from the first to the second coming of Christ. This period is viewed now from one aspect, now from another. [3]..There is another line of reasoning which confirms our position that each of the seven sections extends from the beginning to the end of the new dispensation and that the seven run parallel to one another. [4] Different sections ascribe the same duration to the period described. According to the third cycle (chapters 8–11) the main period here described is one of forty- two months (11: 2), or twelve hundred and sixty days (11: 3). Now, it is a remarkable fact that we find that same period of time in the next section (chapters 12–14), namely, twelve hundred and sixty days (12: 6), or a time and times and half a time (3½ years) (12: 14). The three designations— forty- two months, twelve hundred and sixty days, time and times and half a time— are exactly equivalent. So the section on the trumpets (chapters 8–11) must run parallel with that which describes the battle between Christ and the dragon (chapters 12–14). A careful study of chapter 20 will reveal that this chapter describes a period which is synchronous with that of chapter 12. Therefore by this method of reasoning, parallelism is vindicated. Each section gives us a description of the entire gospel age, from the first to the second coming of Christ, and is rooted in Israel’s history under the old dispensation to which there are frequent references.” (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation Of The Book Of Revelation, 16-19 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)

In one section of Revelation, John describes a battle between Michael (one of the angels of the Old Testament) and the devil.

He writes:

Revelation 12:7-12-7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,

8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.

9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.

12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

Now, notice: when did this battle take place?

Revelation 12:5-She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child WAS CAUGHT UP TO GOD AND HIS THRONE. 

It was after the Ascent of Christ into Heaven (following His Descent into Hades) that His forces triumphed over the devil and his angels, forcing them to be cast down to the ground.  

As such, the Ascent of Christ into Heaven (and the battle between His forces and the forces of the enemy) were made possible by His Descent into Hades.  

Conclusion 

From our present study, we have learned:
The “captives” who were mentioned in the text refer to those in Sheol (especially the saved with the announcement of Christ’s victory), and the unsaved (the “rebellious” of Psalm 68:18), and probably to the fallen angels (who were bound in Tartarus).  

The phrase “captivity” was used in the Old Testament to refer to enemies of God and His people who were captured and enslaved.  

The phrase “taking captivity captive” had primary reference to Christ announcing His victory to the inhabitants of Sheol.  

What Christ accomplished at Calvary and in His Descent into Hades paved the way for Him to wage war against Satan and his forces at the time of His Ascension.  

In our final lesson on this passage of Scripture, we will examine at least three more very important questions relevant to our studies.  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Study Questions 

In what way could Colossians 1:16-20 indicate that God desires the salvation of the fallen angels? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Consider the suggestion that those in Sheol could one day repent of their sin and turn to the Lord. What are some strengths and some weaknesses of this viewpoint? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fill in the blanks:

“Christ became man in the midst of men, to recreate our Adam through Himself. [He is Lord of] things under the earth, because He was also reckoned ________________________, preaching the Gospel to the ______________________. By death, he overcame death.” (Hippolytus (c. 200, W), 5.209.)

However, [He saves] with dignity of honor others who _________________________________. This is so “that every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth”—that is, ____________, ______, and __________ who had ________________ from this temporal life before His coming. “(Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.575)

Who in the Bible crossed the gulf between Paradise and Tartarus? __________

What are some evidences that the saved in Hade will remain there until the Second Coming? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

According to the book of Enoch, what was Enoch commissioned to tell the fallen angels? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why is the Ascent of Christ important in regard to His Descent into Hades? Consider Revelation 12:1-12 in your answer. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What is the meaning of the Greek word exomologeo? Furthermore, what does this word tell us in regard to Philippians 2:11? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

For Prayer Partners

    1. Carefully study 1 Peter 3:18-22. Considering what we have learned from Ephesians 4:8-10 thus far, do you see any parallel ideas between these two texts? If so, what? (Hint: Pay special attention to verse 22).  

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