Eph 4:9-10 “(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
These verses are a parenthetical expression. They are a tangent thought not directly related to Paul’s topic in the previous and following verses. This will be important when we pick up verse eleven. If God blesses, we will consider these two verses as an aside from Paul’s main theme.
Throughout Paul’s ministry, he was a staunch defender of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In verse eight, he has mentioned Jesus’ ascension in connection with giving gifts unto men. Although these gifts are Paul’s main focus, the mention of Jesus’ ascension leads his thoughts again to the assurance of Christ’s resurrection.
Paul’s assertion in verse nine is that since Jesus ascended it should go without saying that He first descended into the earth. Jesus didn’t just come down on the earth, stay awhile, then go back up to heaven; He went down into the earth. He laid His life down and was placed in a borrowed tomb. He lived and died as a mortal man so that we mortal creatures have a living example of the mortal putting on immortality.
While this is the literal sense of Paul’s statement, he spoke of His descending into the lower parts (plural) of the earth. The Greek word rendered “earth” refers to this solid ground we live on, but it can also embrace the inhabitants of this earth. As the children of God, we realize that Jesus also descends (steps down) to the hearts of His people: hearts that are described as having thoughts that are “only evil (Gen 6:5)” outside of His presence. In becoming sin for us, He addressed both corporeal death and our dead state in sin.
Having first descended to the lower parts of the earth, He also ascended up far above the heavens. That He ascended far above is both an indication of place and rank. Although He lives in our hearts, He is chief in rank. He has lifted us above our carnal nature to give us His mind. He is our Head, and we are His body. We are confident in His resurrection because we have been made partakers of its power (Rom 8:11). His ascension, both from the tomb and in our hearts assures us that He is the fullness of all things.
May we recognize the love and compassion of His descension as well as the power and majesty of His ascension by being a living testimony of this great grace!