He Ascended on High (Just as the Lord Promised)

Considering Ascension Day, I am struck by how often New Testament authors employed the Old Testament when describing Christ’s ascension. Recently I noticed at least three instances of this in Ephesians. Here I tease out points of contact between the Old Testament passages Paul referenced and his broader argument in the epistle. It is fascinating how Paul connects Christ’s ascension with church life, so practical.

Everything Under His Feet

In Eph 1:22, Paul quoted Ps 8:6 to articulate Christ’s exalted state following His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand. In Psalm 8, the psalmist praised the Lord for His power in creation and the glory He placed upon humanity as stewards of all He had made. In Eph 1:22, Paul quoted Ps 8:6 saying that when God raised up Christ and He ascended to God’s right hand in heaven, everything was placed under Christ’s feet Paul’s use of Ps 8:6 concerned not humanity, as in the original literary context of the psalm, but Christ. The psalmist praised God for placing humanity over the natural world, but Paul used Ps 8:6 to articulate Christ’s rule over not just the physical universe but also the heavenly spiritual rulers that oppose believers. In Eph 3:10, Paul argued that God’s plan of unifying Jews and Gentiles in Christ was to demonstrate His victory over the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens—those that seek to divide God’s people, unified in Christ. 

The Generous Conqueror

In Eph 4:8, Paul quoted Ps 68:18 to shape the Ephesians’ understanding of spiritual gifting and service in the church. In Psalm 68, the psalmist recounted God’s great power over those who had opposed the Lord and His people from the days of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai to the conquest of Canaan. The psalmist portrayed God as One who ascended to the heights of the mountains, received gifts from people, and overtook the lands of the rebellious so that His people might dwell in them; God was victorious over all. In Paul’s interpretation of Ps 68:18, he placed Christ as the ruling Victor who gifts His people in the church with abilities for spiritual service that the church might function as a well-coordinated body. Paul wrote that gifted leaders labor “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). 

Ruling the Ruler of Darkness

In Eph 4:27 and 6:10-13, Paul portrayed the Devil as the opponent of the church, echoing the descriptions of the Devil in the Old Testament. In Gen 3:1-7, through the serpent the Devil tempted Eve to disobey God. The Devil slandered God’s character and perverted His word to humanity. When Adam and Eve sinned, their fellowship was broken. Rather than being naked and unashamed, they were naked and sought to cover themselves (Gen 2:25; 3:7). As a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, the Lord stated that there would be hostility between the Devil and humanity until the day when the seed of Eve would strike the Devil on his head (Gen 3:15).

In Eph 1:20-23 and 3:8-10, Paul wrote that in Christ’s resurrection and ascension, He ruled over the spiritual forces in the heavens. The Seed of Eve struck the Devil when He came alive out of the tomb and took His place of authority at God’s right hand in heaven. Paul wrote that divisions in the church were the result of the Devil’s influence. The Ephesians thus needed to lovingly speak words that resulted from fellowship with the Holy Spirit so that they might be a community of grace and forgiveness (Eph 4:29-32). As the Ephesian church put on the armor of God, they could together withstand the Devil’s efforts to divide them against one another. “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph 6:12).