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What does it mean that Christ “had descended into the lower parts of the Earth?”

August 7, 2021

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) Ephesians 4:9-10.

What does it mean that Christ “had descended into the lower parts of the earth?”

The following answer is an excerpt taken from a M.DIV exegetical paper on the meaning of Ephesians 4:

There have been multiple views proposed concerning Christ’s descent. Specifically, the main views are (1) He descended in Hades, (2) His descent at His incarnation and death, (3) the descent of the exalted Christ in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2). However, to answer this question objectively one must consider the exegesis of the Author’s intended meaning.

The Greek grammar construction that is rendered in English – “except that he also descended” shows that His descent preceded His ascent. Therefore, view (3) above cannot harmonize with the sense of Eph 4:9-10.

Next, when Paul used the verb κατεβη – that is, ‘He descended,’ the only sphere that Paul has mentioned with the verb, explicitly, is earth (v. 9). The only other sphere in the context is the heavens (v. 10).   

“. . . He descended into the lower regions of the earth . . .”

The gentive της γης ‘of the earth’ must be joined to its antecedent τα κατωτερα ‘the lower parts’ in order to determine locale. This genitive is partitive as Paul is describing a portion of the earth, namely the low-lying parts – that is, in the ground or the grave. The regions of the earth and the regions of the heavens are the regions that are mentioned in this context, therefore a descent is from heaven to earth, namely the lower regions of the earth in the sense with being buried but not from earth to Hades. Jesus did not ascend from Hades, but He did ascend from the earth (cf. John 8:21-23; 16:28). Therefore, view (1) above cannot harmonize with the sense of Eph 4:9-10.

The sense of the author’s intended meaning is that the descent has to do with the burial of the Lord Jesus Christ after His penal-substitutionary death on the cross. This fits better with v. 10, namely, “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.” Thanks be to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has defeated the devil, sin and death and He has provided redemption to everyone who would ever trust in Christ to be saved from the coming wrath of God. Those whom Christ has redeemed are the recipients of gifts to build up the Church and these gifts all of grace (cf. Eph 4:7-8; 11-12).

Doron Gladden.

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