"(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)In this parenthetical thought, Paul continues to help us understand what David meant when he wrote in psalm, "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives." (Psalms 68:18) Paul is telling us that, in speaking of He who ascended, David is also prophesying about He who descended; not only to Earth to live among us and to die a substitutionary death on our behalf, but of He who also descended into Hades to free all who had and will die in faith. Jesus speaks of Himself as the one who descended that He might also ascend back to the Father after redeeming all of mankind. "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." (John 3:11-13) Isaiah prophesied of the one who would, not only descend to Earth but also descend to the lowest parts of the Earth, here referring to Sheol or Hades as it was know in the Greek language. "Shout for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it; for the Lord has redeemed Jacob and in Israel He shows forth His glory." (Isaiah 44:23) Finally, the writer of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as being the one who, not only descended into Hades, but who also then ascended through the heavens to the Highest place to sit at the right hand of the Father. "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." (Hebrews 4:14)
Some may ask, why did Jesus need to descend in order that He might ascend to where He once existed with the Father? The answer is two fold. First, David said of Jesus, in ascending, "You have led captivity captive." (Psalms 68:18 NKJV) The captivity that He led captive were those who had died in faith and, in Sheol (or Hades), awaited the savior who would free them from their captivity and raise them up with Him to dwell in the glorious presence of God. We are told by Matthew that, after Jesus's resurrection, many of the saints who had died in hope were also raised with Him and were seen alive in Jerusalem by many. "The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:52-53) Jesus descended so that those who had died in hope of the resurrection might finally receive the reward of their hoped and faith.
Secondly, Jesus descended to the lowest parts and then ascended to the highest might in order that He might show to us that He is the one who fills all in all. There is no place we can go, not place that we can be committed to, where God is not. In our lowest lows, in our highest highs, God is there. David sang of the Lord, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,' even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You." (Psalms 139:7-12) Stop and think about this for a moment. We all have times where we feel lost, far from God, and alone in this world, but even in our darkest despair, God is with us. We may feel so far from God that we are sure He does not see us, hear us, or care for us, but even in that very moment, God is nearer to us than our very breath. Where ever you are, what ever you are facing, take this moment to turn to God and you will find that He is closer than you ever imagined and that through it all, He never left your side. What comfort, what joy, what strength to know that in all times and in all places, God is with us. Let us always remember what God spoke when He said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)