7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Now that Paul has spent the first three chapters telling us who we are in Christ, he has begun telling us what that means, and how we are to live in that knowledge (4:1-6). In the following verses, Paul shows us that who we are—and the gifts we possess—was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
How did He do this? “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” Paul here quotes the Psalmist (Psalm 68:18) in order to set up a proof of Jesus’ descent into the earth. For He could not have ascended if He had not first descended. And Jesus descended as far as one could go. He went into the lower parts of the earth. It is from this verse that the phrase, “He descended into Hell” was added to the readings of the creeds, as this was not present when they were first written. However, creeds are not Scripture, and as long as what is added (or taken away) does not diminish the meaning of what is said, or lead one into error, we should not be so concerned with such wording. So, rather than get into a discussion about whether Paul is talking about Jesus descending into Hell or simply the grave, let’s look at the glory of this statement.
Psalm 24:7-10—Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah. When Christ ascended on High, He led captivity captive. Those who had been waiting for the day when they would finally see the day when the Messiah would open up the gates of Hades and bring out all those who waited for Him.
Imagine the scene when Jesus came marching up to those gates with those He had ransomed. Those who had been waiting for so long. Now, these had not been suffering. They were not suffering; they had been in that part of Hades called “Abrahams bosom” (Luke 16). And when Jesus commended His spirit to the Father, that spirit was released from His body to go and declare to the saints who had “fallen asleep” the good news of the kingdom of God. And can you imagine, if you were standing at those gates, what a sight it must have been? And then a voice calls out for those gates to open, and let the King of Glory in. Now, whether or not the angels of God could see all of this happening, we could speculate about endlessly. I don’t think they did. Because I think God wanted the angles to see this happen in all its glory, as it happened, that they might behold it as the breathtakingly spectacular event that it was. Jesus—the King of Glory—with that thief close on His heels, followed by the multitude of the Old Testament saints!
Do you feel the darkness tremble?
When all the saints join in one song,
And all the streams flow as one river
To wash away our brokenness?
And here we see that, God, You're moving;
A time of jubilee is coming,
When young and old return to Jesus.
Fling wide, you heavenly gates;
Prepare the way of the risen Lord!
By going down to death, He has defeated death (1st Corinthians 15:55) by being the firstborn of the dead (Colossians 1:18). And He did this by rising again from the tomb. He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. He descended to the lower parts of the earth. He tasted death. He preached to the spirits in prison (those who died before the cross, that is. This does not speak of any type of “Purgatory”). He showed Himself alive to His disciples, and those on the road to Emmaus, and to 500. Then, he returned to Heaven, with the command, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates!” (Psalm 24:7). And now He sits at the right hand of the Father, awaiting the day He will return. And because He has filled all in all, He continues to pour out that grace from His measure, until we grow into the fulness of Christ.
And He Himself gave some… You can't turn on your TV without seeing some self-serving “preacher” saying how he was "ah-NO’N-t’d!!" by “Gawd Hisself.” But here’s the problem with that. We are not to call ourselves. It is not up to us what our calling is in the Christian life. Just because someone may want to preach does not necessarily mean they should preach. That’s not up to us to decide. For He Himself gave some… It is Christ who calls, it is Christ who sustains, it is Christ who fills all in all. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. Let’s examine each one of these offices. Let’s see if these “Five-Fold Ministries” or “Foursquare Ministries” matches up with what Paul is describing.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles… The Greek is transliterated here, apostolos (apostolos). The office of apostle is closed. There are no more apostles. We have heard all we need to hear from the apostles in the books of the New Testament that the Holy Spirit gave them to write. 1st Corinthians 12:18—And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. These apostles were set in the church, to bring the word of God from Christ to us. Now that we have that word, the apostles have ceased to be (at least as we know them).
Since the Holy Spirit spoke to the apostles, then the writings of the apostles which we have are what we are to submit to, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). The word “gave” in this verse is in the aorist tense. And I believe this is important. The aorist tense has no regard for time (past, present, future). Paul had to use this tense in order to display all the offices that (a) have been, and (b) are still being, officiated over by Christ. There had been apostles before Paul, and some of them were still living. There were to be pastors and teachers come along after him. Therefore, this was the only tense that would work.
…some prophets… Boy, here’s another word that people like to throw around. TBN is full of “prophets.” (They're also full of something else, but we won’t get into that right now). Many of these folks (and those like them) like to fancy themselves as “prophets”—Those who see the future as God shows them. Now, I will never say that God doesn’t show us things before they happen. In the last couple years before 2001, I had three dreams (and I can remember them as clearly now as when I had them) that, taken together, were symbolic of what happened that day. I may go into them another time. Of course, this does not mean that I consider myself a “prophet,” and that every word I say, write, or type comes directly from God.
That said, what is a propheths (propheths)? It can be defined, “In Scripture, a person illuminated, inspired or instructed by God to announce future events; An interpreter; one that explains or communicates sentiments.” Now, let’s be careful about this whole “instructed by God to announce future events” thing. Because to many people, that’s what a prophet is—one who tells the future. But, a propheths can also be “an interpreter.” And consider this: when we interpret the word of God, and we rightly divide it, and use it properly, it is possible to discern future events.
And I don’t mean in strictly eschatological terms. When we look at the lives of many of the people mentioned in the Bible, we can draw a distinct parallel between their lives and our own. That is why God moved men to write these things: as warnings (and encouragements) that what happened to these men and women can (and probably will) happen to us.
Of course, a propheths can simply mean “An interpreter,” or “one who interprets Scripture.” This is an office that is still in effect today, but not in the way some people think it is. The Mormons believe Joseph Smith (and all who have come after him) to be a propheths. They believe that these men have spoken “From God’s lips to our ears.” Some believe that people like Kim Clement, and Rodney Howard-Browne, and Benny Hinn are propheths because they stand up on stage and give these wild stories about what “God told me…” And even though these exaggerated fairy tales don’t come true, we can't say anything about these charlatans, lest we be accused of “touching God’s ah-NO’N-t’d.”
Of course, these same people who claim that the Scripture says that we will always have prophets in the order of Elijah and Isaiah, don’t want to hear the Scriptures that say,
- Then the LORD said unto me, “The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.” (Jeremiah 14:14).
- They don’t want to hear the words of Jesus, when He warned us, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15), or “…there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).
- They will not hearken to the words of the apostle whom Jesus loved, who warned us to not believe every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1st John 4:1).
- They do not heed the caution from Peter, who said, But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not (2nd Peter 2:1-3).
…some evangelists… A word that has been misused over the last few centuries. An “evangelist” (Greek: euaggelisths [euaggelisths]) is “A preacher or publisher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, licensed to preach, but not having charge of a particular church.” You may have heard of “itinerant preachers.” That is exactly what an euaggelisths is. It is one who goes from place to place, having no charge over anybody, but always submitting to (and preaching of) Christ. And Christ has called some to do that. Do not be fooled. A “televangelist” is NOT an euaggelisths. They claim to have authority from “Gawd Hisself” to preach blasphemies in His name. If you value your eternal soul, avoid such as these.
…and some pastors and teachers… Pastors. Literally, “shepherds.” The Greek is poimenas (poimenas). This is the only place in the New Testament this word is translated as anything other than “shepherd.” It is the same word used to describe Jesus by:
- Our Lord Himself (John 10:11—“I AM the Good Shepherd.”)
- The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:20—Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep…)
- The apostle Peter (1st Peter 2:25—For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.)
Teachers (didaskalous [didaskalous]) were/are “in the religious assemblies of the Christians, [the ones who undertake] the work of teaching, with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit.” These are the ones who search the Scriptures, to lead and guide people into the truth. Consider again 1st Corinthians 12:28—And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
So, the question is this: is the office of “shepherd” (pastor) different than the office of “prophet”? I believe the distinction to be this: The one who oversees the local assembly and interprets the Scriptures is the “prophet,” while those who minister to the individual believers (the sheep) are “shepherds/teachers.” The apostles wrote as they were led by the Spirit (2nd Peter 1:19-21). The prophets are subject to the word of God. The shepherds and teachers are subject to the prophet. Therefore, we can come to the conclusion that the “shepherds and teachers” Paul is writing of here are the ones who do not necessarily lead the assembly, but do the ministerial duties of discipling individuals.
All these are to work together for one single, overarching, supreme purpose—for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The prophet interprets, the shepherds and teachers teach and guide, the evangelists go out and spread the good news. That all who know Christ—or seek to know Him
- May be a building fitly framed together, growing into a holy temple to the Lord (Ephesians 2:21).
- May all be of one mind (Romans 12:16; 1st Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:2), knowing only Christ, and Him crucified (1st Corinthians 2:2), from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God (Colossians 2:19).
- May be more than just sedentary followers, but rather that they may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2nd Peter 3:18).
- That we may be partakers of His fullness, His likeness (Romans 6:5), to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, to be conformed to the image of the precious Son of God (Romans 8:29).