You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive: you have received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also…
I. HIS ASCENSION. It would seem, then, that the two radiant messengers who appeared to the disciples, as they were gazing after their Master with ardent eyes, formed only a small part of His celestial retinue. It would seem that in His train there were thousands and myriads of the chariots or cavalry of God. And may we not presume, further, that His reception in heaven, imperfect as our ideas of it unavoidably are, would yet be such as was befitting the Divine dignity of His person and the unparalleled glory of His achievements?
II. HIS VICTORY AND TRIUMPH. It often happens that the fruits of a victory are very imperfectly perceived at the moment; and that they are more fully manifested in the triumph which commemorates it. Now, what a triumph is to a victory, that the ascension of the Saviour was, to the victory which He achieved at His death over our spiritual foes. The one is the completion or commemoration of the other — the manifestation of its reality, and the proof of its unparalleled magnitude and importance. To the inhabitants of heaven the ascension of Jesus Christ proved conclusively His victory; for when He entered heaven He was seated at the right, hand of the Father, invested with unlimited dominion as Mediator and Saviour, "angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him." Still further, when He entered into heaven, He entered it in a public capacity, as the forerunner and representative of His people, to take possession of it in their name, and to prepare it for their accommodation.
III. HIS RECEPTION OF GIFTS, AND THE OBJECT FOR WHICH HE RECEIVED THEM.
1. What are the gifts here referred to?
(1) Among those gifts may be mentioned first, the extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Spirit.
(2) At His ascension, the Saviour was empowered to dispense the Holy Spirit not only in His miraculous but in His sanctifying gifts and operations. These latter influences, though less splendid and striking in their nature and effects, are far more valuable than those miraculous gifts. The renewing and purifying influences of the Spirit are inseparably connected with a state of grace and acceptance, and they seal the soul to the day of redemption; for they produce that conformity to the moral image of God which prepares for heaven, and which is the sure presage of admission to it.
(3) At His ascension, the Lord Jesus was empowered to dispense not only the gifts and influences of the Spirit, but all the blessings of salvation. "Him hath God exalted with His right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour," etc.
2. How did He obtain these gifts?
(1) As a donation from the Father.
(2) As a reward due to His previous labours and sufferings.
(3) While this arrangement is most wise and equitable in reference to Him, it is fraught with infinite kindness to us. To whom can we go for whatever we need with such freedom as to Him? And if there be any friend on whose kindness we may calculate with confidence, it must surely be that Friend who died for us on the accursed tree.
3. For whom He received those gifts. It is a custom which has prevailed among almost all nations, that princes when ascending their thrones, and conquerors when celebrating their victories, have sent presents to their friends, and distributed largesses among the multitude. But how poor and worthless are the presents and largesses bestowed by earthly princes and conquerors, — such as gold and silver, and costly apparel, and other spoils taken in war, — compared with the gifts conferred by the Captain of our salvation, when He celebrated His victory, and ascended to His resplendent throne at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
4. What the object is for which the Saviour received gifts for men. "That God the Lord might dwell among them."(1) What is implied in God's dwelling among men? Dwelling among them as their God and father and friend, maintaining a gracious and hallowed intercourse with them, by imparting to them the influences of His Spirit, honouring them with the tokens of His love, and accepting of the worship and obedience which they render Him.
(2) How did the communication of the gifts committed to the Saviour contribute to the production of the intended result, that is, to God's dwelling among men? The miraculous gifts conferred on the apostles not only enabled them to proclaim the tidings of reconciliation to heathen tribes and nations, but served farther to attest the Divine authority of their message, and to recommend it to the consideration and belief of those to whom it was proclaimed. The other influences of the Spirit, accompanying the Word, were still more effective: for they aroused the stupid and the ignorant as well as the learned and refined, dispelled their prejudices, opened their understandings, and prevailed on them to admit the truth into their hearts, and to submit their stubborn wills to its humbling proposals and its holy requirements.
(R. Balmer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.