The history of the expression "lead thy captivity captive," first found in this scripture, strikingly illustrates the remark of a well-known writer, that "he that does not see Christ everywhere in the Old Testament, sees Him nowhere." It is here addressed to Barak. "Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam." After the victory over Sisera, the Holy Spirit put a song of celebration into the lips of Deborah and Barak, in which they are made to recall the former state of Israel, the gathering of the people, and the circumstances of the conflict. The words occupying our attention take the form of an exhortation in the prospect of the struggle, urging Barak to grapple with, and to bring into captivity, the power which had been holding Israel captive. Passing onward to Psalm 68, we read, "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men [or rather, as in the margin, in the man]; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." (v. 18.) Here the conflict is over (see vv. 1, 2, 12); but the words are not, as in Judges, an exhortation, but a description - a description of the victorious issue of the conflict in the ascension and exaltation of Christ as Man. But there is more, as another has remarked, for "He has led captive the power of the enemy who ruined all - conferred blessing, and as Man, and in His human nature, He has received gifts even for rebellious Israel, that Jehovah Elohim might dwell among them." We learn, therefore, that the divine energy of the Spirit, that wrought in and through Deborah and Barak for the overthrow of the enemies of Israel, was but a foreshadowing of that divine power which was displayed in and through Christ in His conflict with the power of Satan in His death on the cross (compare Col. 2:15), and which will be exhibited through Him when He returns for the deliverance of His people Israel in a later day. The psalm, though all is based upon and flows out from the virtue of His death, refers to the latter; but if we now turn to Ephesians - the last place where the expression is found - the reference is to the former - His overcoming the whole power of Satan. "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men," etc. (Eph. 4:8.) That is, He has brought to nought the power that held us captive; and Satan, as the enemy who has been worsted and overcome, now only waits for the execution of his sentence. (See Rev. 20:1, 2, 10.) Not only so; but we, freed from our captivity (compare Heb. 2:14, 15), are brought into the enjoyment of the present fruits of the victory in the gifts bestowed by the victorious and ascended Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-14.) The effect for Israel will be that their Lord God will once more dwell among them in power and blessing; while believers now have already entered upon the blessings won for them in the provision made "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," and can joyfully anticipate the full result in the future glory of the victory. E. Dennett.
The word here translated "transformed" is only found four times in the New Testament. It is used both in Matthew and Mark to describe the change in the appearance of our blessed Lord on the mountain when "His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light" In these places it is rendered " transfigured." It is met with finally in 2 Cor. 3:18, where it is given as "changed." Who can doubt that there is an intended connection between these scriptures? When the Lord was "transfigured" on the mount, God showed out, in anticipation, the glorified state on which His beloved Son would enter after His death and resurrection. (See John 17:5.) But we believers - shall, by His grace, be glorified together with Him. (John 17:22; Rom. 8:17, etc.); and we learn from the above scriptures how this will be accomplished. Romans 12:2 teaches that it is, first of all, a moral work within - a spiritual change effected by the renewing of our mind. From 2 Cor. 3:18 we gather that while Christ in glory is the model to which we are to be conformed (compare John 17:19; Rom. 8:29), it is by beholding His glory that we are gradually "transfigured" - from glory to glory - into the same image. God thus uses by the Holy Spirit the glory of the Lord to change us morally into the likeness of His beloved Son. But, as 1 John 3:2 tells us, we shall not be like Him until we see Him as He is. We wait, therefore, until His coming for the full accomplishment of the counsels of God, when our bodies as well as our souls will be conformed to the image of His Son. (See Phil. 3:21.) In the meantime our moral growth in His likeness will be in proportion to our present occupation with Him in the place where He is.
"And is it so? I shall be like Thy Son;
Is this the grace which He for me hath won?
Father of glory, thought beyond all thought,
In glory, to His own blest likeness brought."
1 Corinthians 15:29.
It should be carefully noted that this verse is connected with verse 19, the verses between - from verse 20 to verse 28 - being a parenthesis. "If in this life only," says the apostle, "we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable," i.e., if there be no resurrection of the dead; and further, he goes on to say, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?" etc. It were folly to take the place of danger and liability to death through persecution (see vv. 30-32) if there be no prospect of resurrection. It is this which gives the key to the difficult expression "baptized for the dead." Through the perils incident to the confession of Christ in these early days martyrdom was of frequent occurrence. The ranks of the Christians were thus continually thinned; but through the grace of God converts were constantly added, and, in this scripture, they are regarded as filling up the vacant places of those who had departed to be with Christ; and thus, when they were baptized unto Christ, as being baptized for, or over (see note to New Translation) the dead. Such a step, the apostle argues, as led of the Spirit, would be without reason "if the dead rise not at all;" for why should they be baptized for the dead - come into a place where death was a daily possibility - if they had not an assured hope beyond the grave? But, blessed be God, they had this hope; for Christ was risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. E. Dennett.
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To me it is a more real thing knowing Christ as a man in heaven, than seeing Him as His followers did when down here. God has let the reality of His being there into my heart, and the light of that reality shines forth in rays that come to me right down from heaven. I call this, faith in living exercise; but I may have faith, and yet may not be dwelling on the reality of a living Christ in heaven. My heart may not be up there, with all its feelings gathered up to Him.
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Do I know that Christ has brought me near to God? Then I cannot go on a step without feeling a spiritual want to praise and worship God.
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Ah, shall I not say, when I see the worthy One in the very highest place in heaven, "He is the only worthy One! And if suffering for Him down here, will not the going forth of my heart be all praise?
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No one but the Lamb slain is recognised in heaven as worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory, and blessing, in the place where God is, all laid down before the Lamb. G. V. Wigram.