Christ in the Psalms: The Psalm of Ascension—Psalm 68

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This morning we’re going to finish up our series on Christ in the Psalms. We spent this Advent Season looking at the Old Testament references to all of the major events in the life of our Savior. This morning, I want you to see the Ascension of Christ prophesied in the 68th Psalm. We’ll also look at two other passages in the New Testament. I’ll explain the significance of the Ascension and then close with a few practical lessons.

“You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.” (Psalm 68:18, ESV)

“He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:7–11, ESV)

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:7–13, ESV)

There is only one verse in the 68th Psalm that is considered Messianic. It is verse 18. Many scholars believe that the occasion for the Psalm’s writing may have been David’s conquering the city of Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:6-8), or moving the ark to Zion (2 Sam. 6). The Apostle Paul obviously saw in this Psalm a prophecy of the ascension of our Lord to the Father’s right hand where he reigns in power and majesty, constantly interceding on our behalf.

Between Psalm 68:18, Acts 1:7-11, and Ephesians 4:7-13 we can glean four important truths:


    • “You ascended on high ... “ (Psalm 68:18a, ESV)
    • "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV)
            1. Jesus’ ascension was his final act in his earthly ministry
                1. from this moment on, the Son of God would reign in glory
                    1. that glory is described in John’s Revelation
                      • “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (Revelation 1:12–17, NIV84)
                2. the word ascend in Psalms 68:18 was often used to refer to someone ascending a throne or ascending to a place of authority
            2. in Psalm 110 God sets the Messiah at his right hand as king and priest
                1. as king to see all his enemies under his feet (v. 1)
                2. as priest to serve God and channel God’s grace forever (v. 4)
                3. the fact that Jesus Christ is enthroned as sovereign of the universe should be of enormous encouragement to all believers
                  • ILLUS. When generals and kings returned from war, in the old Roman ages, they celebrated their triumphs by riding through the streets of the capital. Following would be the Roman army, followed by the trophies of war—booty and prisoners. The populace crowded the windows, filled the streets, thronged the house-tops, and showered down acclamations and garlands of flowers upon the conquering general as he rode along.
                4. without being too literal, we may conceive a similar scene that attended our Lord's return to the celestial kingdom
                  • “The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary. When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious— that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.” (Psalm 68:17–18, NIV84)


            1. The Ascension Established Christ’s Personal Reign as King of Kings
                1. Jesus went up to the place of power, pictured as a throne at the Father’s right hand
                    1. in the culture of that day, to sit at the right hand of a ruler, king or emperor was to occupy the position of executive ruler on the monarch’s behalf
                    2. it represented absolute authority and power and rulership
                      • “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18, ESV)
                      • “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:20–21, ESV)
                      • “For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.” (1 Corinthians 15:27, ESV)
                2. Jesus, during His earthly ministry, repeatedly asserted that He would ascend to God, and reign with the Heavenly Father
                      • “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:62, ESV)
                      • “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12, ESV)
                      • “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (John 16:28, ESV)
            2. The Ascension Established Christ’s Spiritual Omnipresence
                1. in his heavenly sanctuary, Jesus is accessible to all who invoke his name, and he is powerful to help them, anywhere in the world
                  • “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24, ESV)
            3. The Ascension Established Christ’s Heavenly Ministry
                1. the reigning Lord intercedes for his people
                  • “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34, ESV)
                  • "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)
                2. Christ’s heavenly ministry is His constant mediation on our behalf and is based on His shed blood
            4. In His Ascension the Anointed One Ascended His Throne


    • “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train ... “
            1. in Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul says it this way: He led captivity captive (v. 8)
                1. the Apostle pictures Christ as a victorious general, who delivers those held captive by the enemy, and then leads them in His triumphal victory march


            1. 1st—Old Testament saints, who up until Christ’s death and resurrection were in Sheol, in Abraham's Bosom (Lk. 16:22), at His ascension were transferred to Heaven above
                1. in this view, Jesus goes to the Paradise side of Sheol, and leads them out of Paradise and into Heaven
                2. early Church Fathers and theologians referred to this as The Harrowing of Hell
            2. 2nd—in His death Christ defeated sin, defeated death, defeated Satan and his demonic hosts
                1. in this view, the captives are not the redeemed, but the enemies of Christ’s kingdom—Satan, Sin, and Death
                  • “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15, ESV)
                  • ILLUS. Again, this is a picture here is of a conquering general who, upon his return to the capitol city, parades his troops, the spoils of war, and last—his captured enemies—before cheering citizens.
                2. all those who come to Him in repentance and faith are liberated from the power of sin, and death, and Satan
            3. 3rd—leading captivity captive applies not to persons but to a principle
                1. Christ triumphed over sin and death
            4. admittedly the passage is a difficult one and calls for a measure of tolerance among those who may differ in their viewpoint
                1. in other words—we can’t be dogmatic about interpreting the passage
                2. the key to interpreting the meaning is how we understand what Paul means when in Eph. 4:9 he writes: In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, [of] the earth?
                    1. does Paul mean that Jesus simply descended from heaven to earth—referring to our Lord’s incarnation?
                    2. or, does Paul mean that Jesus descended into the place of the dead referred to in the Old Testament as Sheol and in the New Testament as Hades?
                    3. or, does Paul merely refer to Jesus’ burial when He descended into the grave?
                3. all three are legitimate interpretations
                    1. regardless of the interpretation, however, it is Christ who leads His people to victory over sin and death and the power of The Evil One
                      • ILLUS. Onward, Christian Soldiers "At the sign of triumph, Satan’s host doth flee; On, then, Christian soldiers, On to victory! Hell’s foundation quiver At the shout of praise; Brothers, lift your voices, Loud your anthems raise!
            5. I tend to agree with the 2nd view as the most consistent with the rest of Scripture and the historical picture it paints of a conqueror
                1. in Christ, I am victorious over the world, the flesh, and the devil
            6. In His Ascension the Anointed One Led His People to Victory


    • “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men ... “
            1. He also distributes the booty, the spoils of war, to His troops
            • ILLUS. When God delivered His people from Egypt, He brought them out with great treasures from the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35, 36). These gifts were used by the people of Israel to build the tabernacle (Ex. 35) that the LORD God might dwell there.
                1. similarly, when God brought us out of the world through His redemptive grace in Christ, He also gave us rich gifts that we might build a His Kingdom
            1. now, you might notice that in the Psalm the Lord receives gifts from men, but in Ephesians, Paul writes that the Lord gives gifts to men
                1. why the difference?
                    1. a literal translation of Psalm 68:18 in the original Hebrew reads: “Ascending to the height thou didst lead captive captivity, and received gifts in man.”
                2. in the Hebrew word translated, received implies to receive something in order to re-distribute it
                    1. the Apostle Paul is essentially interpreting the Hebrew Old Testament for us
            2. Jesus, like a conquering general, showers his soldiers with grace gifts


            1. in Romans and 1 Corinthians, the gifts are endowments conferred by the Holy Spirit upon believers
                1. Spiritual Gifts are not toys to play with
                    1. they are tools to build with
                    2. and if they are not used in love, they become weapons to fight with, which is what happened in the Corinthian church
            2. every Christian, according to the Scriptures, has received a supernatural spiritual gift that enables them to minister to the body of Christ
                1. these gifts are for the general good of the Church
                  • ILLUS. Just as no part of our body; no joint or member exists for itself, but for the good of the whole.
                2. you, brother, whether you have much grace or little, must, according to the effectual working in you, supply your part to the increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love
                3. see that you regard your gifts in this light; trace them to Christ, and then use them for the object for which he designed them
            3. In His Ascension the Anointed One Gave Gifts to His Church


    • “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
            1. His return will be personal, visible, and glorious
              • “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30, ESV)
              • “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” (Revelation 1:7, ESV)
            2. regardless of what views different people may take of God’s prophetic program, Christians agree that Jesus is coming again
                1. this in itself is a great motivation for faithful Christian service
            3. at His coming he will establish His Millennial Kingdom
                1. it will be a time when the lion and the lamb lay down together
                2. it will be a time when Christ reigns in absolute righteousness over the earth and makes His enemies His footstool
            4. In His Ascension the Anointed One Promised to Return

V. Lessons

            1. Christ’s Ascension Should Afford Us Supreme Joy to Remember That He Who Descended Into the Lower Parts of the Earth Has Now "Ascended up Far above All Heavens.”
                1. and He will one day return in power and glory with the angels and His saints to establish His Kingdom on earth
            2. Christ’s Ascension Has Secured Our Eternal Inheritance Now That Jesus Has Entered into the Heavenly Places
                1. heaven is secured for us, for it is in the actual possession of our legal representative, who can never be dispossessed of it
                2. he who possesses all the heavenly blessings in Christ shall never lose them, for the covenant cannot be changed, nor its gifts withdrawn
            3. Christ’s Ascension Guarantees That Our Prayers Will Be Heard
                1. God the Son becomes our mediator with the Father
                2. Jesus is our great high priest, who has passed into the heavens, who allows us to come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need
            4. Christ’s Ascension Was a Triumph over the World That Allows Us to Triumph over the World, the Flesh, and the Devil
                1. the ‘sting’ of death has been removed for the believer
                2. Satan, is a wounded lion
                3. the flesh no longer is our master
                4. the law he hath fulfilled; its curse has been removed, and the handwriting against us, he has nailed to his cross
                5. we are triumphant in Christ!
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