“(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:9–10, NASB95)
Verses 9 and 10 are a parenthetical clarification of exactly Who it is who ascended in verse 8. In verse 7 and throughout this letter Paul makes it clear that he is speaking of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who was sent into the world to give the gift salvation to all who believe. In the context of this Paul wrote about Christ ascending and returning to the Father after His resurrection. In these verses he makes it clear his meaning that he is speaking of none other than God the Son who first descended prior to His being able to ascend.
In reading this I was reminded of a children’s action nursery rhyme, “The Grand Old Duke of York,” where the words tell us:
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.
It is a simple truth, for one to be in one place and then in another one has to travel the direction necessary to get there. In the rhyme the Duke marched the men up to the top of the hill such that when they were up there they were all of the way up. He also marched them down again, and sure enough when they were no longer at the top but had returned to the bottom they were down. For them to get back to the top they must again march up the hill all of the way. Just going part of the distance would not do it.
While there have been some who have tried to read a lot into the possible meaning of Jesus having first descended (possibly to Hades to being dead believers back with Him), any additional understanding of the passage is not included in the text. A simple reading affirms that in order for Jesus to ascend back to heaven He first had to descend to earth, which is what Scripture tells us He did.
In the English Standard Version verse 9 reads, “In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?”” The adding of a comma between regions (or parts) adds clarification as to where lower is without implying any entrance into an unseen under world or any accompanying action in relation to that entrance.
Elsewhere in Philippians Paul wrote of Jesus, “(5) Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (7) but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (8) Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, NASB95)
Jesus is and always has been the pre-existent eternal God, One with the Father and the Spirit. At a point in time He humbly emptied Himself to take on the form of man being born as a baby here on earth. In order to do this, we see that He descended from heaven to earth. Then a short thirty-three years later He laid down His life and then He took it back up again through His death, burial, and resurrection. Some would point to this passage specifically pointing to what happened during His death which is not spoken of in this passage. But the greater picture and the co-testimony of Scripture is that on the third day He rose from the dead to appear to His disciples and hundreds of others (1 Corinthians 15) over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3) prior to Him ascending before Hs disciples’ eyes (Acts 1:9).
In simple terms He came, He conquered, and He returned with the purpose for which He came being fully accomplished. This is the testimony of Scripture. Paul tells us that Jesus is one and the same person Who did this.
I’ve been returning to John chapter 9 in my Sunday message preparation, and in verses 8-12 the neighbors of the blind man who was healed denied that this man who could now see was the same person because what happened was so far beyond anything that they could ever imagine. For man, this is a very reasonable assumption. These things are not things that man can do. But for our infinite all-powerful God there is no limit to His ability. What happened is the truth. The Son of God left heaven for a season to become man in order to give up His own life in payment for our sins. But these sins could not destroy Him. As God He also has the power to take it back up again, which is what He did, and in so doing He gave life to all who believe. When He had accomplished His resurrection and stayed around long enough to prove it real, He then returned to the right hand of the Father where He continues to intercede on our behalf awaiting the time that we join Him in His presence.
And as we will see in the verses that follow, His leaving did not leave us void of His presence or His help. Not only did He give us the Spirit of God to indwell, empower, and enable us, He also gave us one another to build up and encourage each other until we all reach the maturity that He intends.
Jesus is the One who did this. That’s the testimony of His Word.