Summary: What Paul describes here definitely applies to us. Jesus has taken many captives, literally, He lead captivity captive.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Some have seen here a depiction of something strange and mysterious-that Jesus went to hell, or the compartment sometimes called Abraham’s Bosom-the place of rest for those who died before Jesus’ death and resurrection. That there, Jesus emptied the portion where people like Lazarus-the poor man in the parable of Jesus-and Abraham, waited (Luke 16). According to this understanding, the other compartment-where the rich man went, with flame and torment, is still populated. That will be thrown into the Lake of Fire at the end of time, as described in Revelation 20. I don’t know if that’s what Paul is describing here, with Jesus descending to the lower parts of the earth. But what Paul describes here definitely applies to us. Jesus has taken many captives, literally, He lead captivity captive.
Anti-Slavery & Freedom
I once saw a painting in which Abraham Lincoln was depicted, rising to heaven, and his beard was made of images of freed slaves ascending with him (I’ve searched for this for some time and can’t find it; maybe you can help). When Jesus died, He died abandoned. When He rose, and ascended to heaven, He carried all of us with Him. We may not like it, but we are like those freed slaves in Lincoln’s beard. I say we may not like it because the Bible teaches we are all slaves of some sort.
Bob Dylan was a pretty famous rock-and-roller in his day. And after he had achieved his fame, he had a powerful encounter with Jesus-he became a believer. Shortly after his transformation he released an album, Slow Train Coming, with a hit song “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody”. It has several verses, with a repeated chorus (you can look at the lyrics here: http://bobdylan.com/songs/gotta-serve-somebody/) . Here’s a sample:
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
God has never been in favor of slavery. He wants us to be free. And we’re never truly free until we are His servants. True freedom isn’t just the ability to do whatever you feel like. In fact, doing whatever your passions tell you is a very effective pathway to slavery. Instead, true freedom comes when you are able to not do what you don’t want to do. Most of us don’t want to be slaves to our own anger. Most of us don’t want to be slaves to sexual desire. Most of us don’t want to be slaves to our hunger for tasty food. Most of us don’t want to be slaves to compulsive thoughts and fantasies. Most of us don’t want to be slaves to debt. Yet, many in the world today are slaves to some or all of these. Jesus descended to Earth and died; He rose from death and ascended back to heaven so He could carry us with Him from Earth to heaven. In this, everything becomes new.