Allegheny, Pa., May 5, 1907


Pastor C T Russell preached to his home congregation in Carnegie hall today on "The Ascension of Christ." His text was, "When he ascended up on high he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men" (Eph. 4:8).

The anniversary of our Lord's Ascension falls in this week on Thursday next. After his resurrection the Lord remained for forty days with his apostles, instructing them before he ascended. His instructions, however, consisted largely of the experimental lessons he gave his apostles rather than in particular words. So far as the record shows, he was seen altogether eight times during those forty days, and apparently only for a few moments on each occasion. No lengthy discourses are recorded, no detailed explanations excepting on the day of his resurrection, when walking with the two disciples to Emmaus, as a stranger, he expounded unto them the Scriptures, showing the necessity for Christ's death and his resurrection on the third day. On the other occasion he seems to have been intent upon allowing them to draw certain inferences from the manner [HGL372] in which he made himself known. He identified himself as the same Jesus, who but a few days before had companied with them, eating, sleeping, discoursing, as had been his custom throughout the three and a half years of his ministry. But now, since his resurrection, they were to learn that the same Jesus had somehow changed, and, like the angels, were present with them frequently, yet invisible, and appearing from time to time only as some necessity would make a manifestation expedient. Thus they were to learn and did learn that their Master was no longer dead but alive, and that he was no longer a human being, but a spirit being, clothed with powers which were exercised by the holy angels throughout the Jewish dispensation, namely, the power to appear as men in a body of flesh and clothing as others.

If it is argued that so long a delay as forty days was unnecessary to give such practical instructions and illustrations, we reply that the Lord did not so consider the matter, and that even we can see the necessity for all that was done. The majority of the instances of manifestation were at the beginning of the forty days, one-half of them on the resurrection day, three of the appearances being near the close of the forty days, it follows that during the majority of the forty days the disciples had no communication with our Lord whatever. Evidently his intention was that the novelty of the matter should wear off, and that he would be with them to establish and start them afresh upon the new lines to be pursued from Pentecost onward. The result of their having no communication with him for so long a time is seen in the fact that the disciples began to go back to the ordinary pursuits of life, Peter, James and John, in organizing their old fishing business. This gave the Lord the opportunity of manifesting himself to them, again showing his power to either give or withhold prosperity in their fishing enterprises or other pursuits, and gave the further opportunity of instructing them that they should feed his sheep and his lambs, and in general continue the work which his ministry had merely begun, and which would be more effective in the future than in the past because of his sacrifice and because he ascended to the Father to present that sacrifice on behalf of those who already believed and on behalf of all who would subsequently believe, and to pour out upon his consecrated followers the holy Spirit, the Comforter, to guide them in all the journey of life and to direct them in his service.


Having finally accomplished all that was necessary in the way of their preparation for the future, and having instructed them to tarry at Jerusalem, there to await the outpouring of the holy Spirit upon them as his qualifying power for their ministry in his name, our Lord led them to the Mount of Olives, blessed them, and in the act gradually disappeared upward, a cloud receiving him out of their sight. We are not from this to understand that Jesus took a body of flesh and bones to heaven. On the contrary, the Scriptures distinctly state that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. We are to remember the change which our Lord experienced in his resurrection, and that it was similar to the one which his faithful followers will experience in their resurrection, of which the apostle says, it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown an animal body, it is raised a spiritual body. We are to remember that our Lord was thus raised a spirit being, and that "now the Lord is that Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17).

We are in our minds to associate this with his appearing and disappearing during the forty days, his demonstrations that he was no longer a man, subject to human conditions, but that he was a spirit being, who could come and go like the wind, as he had previously explained to Nicodemus (John 3:8), and that as spirit beings in times past had appeared as men and as a flaming fire in a burning bush, so our Lord had the power to appear in the flesh, sometimes in one form and sometimes in another; sometimes garbed after one manner and sometimes in another the gardener, the stranger, a sojourner, and sometimes in a body similar to the one which had been crucified, bearing the marks of the nails and spear-thrust. We are to remember that these bodies were organized at the moment that he materialized on the spot sometimes in the upper room and sometimes elsewhere. We are to remember that when he accomplished his purposes of instruction and illustration he vanished out of their sight, and the fact that the doors were shut neither hindered his coming or his going. Thus it will be with all of the church of the first born who will share in the first resurrection, as our Lord explained the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one born of the Spirit. We are now begotten of the Spirit, but then we shall be born of the Spirit, and have spirit bodies, and in that respect be like unto the angels, able to go and come like the wind, invisible to men except as some manifestation shall be necessary or desirable.

So then when our Lord ascended gradually disappearing upward it was a further part of the great lesson He was teaching his disciples respecting his Ascension. How else could they have known that He had gone? How else could a great spiritual truth be taught to natural men? We are to remember that the apostles were still natural men because, as we read, "The holy spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:39.) Hence all the instructions given to the apostles were suited to them as natural men and as such are helpful to all natural men attempting to approach God before they have received the begetting of the holy spirit and the ability to understand spiritual things. We can see that the entire procedure of our Lord was designed as an assistance to the faith of the apostles and all who should afterward believe on Him through their word: We can see that no other method of instruction on this subject would have been so satisfactory, so conclusive. The body in which our Lord had appeared as He ascended in their sight and was received into the cloud was of course an earthly body in heaven. He did not need such a body before He was made flesh, and He did not need it now, since He had again been made a spirit being.


The apostle in our text is quoting the words of prophecy from Psa. 68:18, which reads, "Thou hast ascended on high; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." The apostle by inspiration applies [HGL373] these words to the Lord Jesus. He tells us that the gifts that were given, mentioned in the passage, were those conferred upon the church at Pentecost, the gifts of the holy spirit, and which as fruits of the spirit still continue with the Lord's consecrated people, His servants and handmaidens. We may discuss these gifts on the anniversary of Pentecost, but on this occasion let us look particularly at the captivity which Jesus led captive. What does this expression signify? Some have suggested that it means that He led his own captivity captive; that is to say, that He had been a captive in death and that His Ascension implied his victory over death. But this evidently is not the meaning intended by the apostle, whose thought rather is as expressed by some translators, "Ascending on high He led a multitude of captives and gave gifts to men." What captives? What multitude of captives? How and where?

In answering the question we are reminded of our Master's teachings, which are summed up in the statement of the prophet Isaiah, who likens the human family to prisoners and compares the tomb to a great prison house. Twice does the prophet declare the deliverance of these prisoners: He represents our Lord as saying, "He (Jehovah) hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." (Isa. 61:1) And again the prophet declares that Jehovah God gave Christ "to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison house and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." (Isa. 42:7.) Moreover we find that our Lord quoted at least one of these prophecies and applied it to himself and his own preaching, saying, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." The essence of his preaching was the opening of the prison doors and setting at liberty the captives of sin and death. He repeatedly told that he had come into the world to seek and save that which was lost to give his life a ransom for the prisoners. He repeatedly emphasized the resurrection hope, the hope for release of the prisoners from the dungeon of death. He declared, "I am the resurrection and the life," "No man cometh unto the Father but by me" there could be no reconciliation to the Father and no recovery from death except through the Redeemer.

Hearken again to his words: "Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the life resurrection; they that have done evil unto the resurrection by judgments." (John 5:28, 29.) Here then we have the testimony of Jesus and the prophets respecting the great work he came into the world to accomplish the release of mankind from the bondage of sin and death. But the power to release could only be accomplished by our Lord's own death, only by becoming our Redeemer could he become our Deliverer. In his own words the key to hades, the right or power to open the prison house of death and to bring forth the prisoners, came into his possession by reason of his death. He bought us with his own blood, bought Adam and all of his posterity the world of mankind in general. Jesus Christ by the grace of God tasted death for every man, and the assurance of the scriptures is that in due time every man shall profit by this redemptive work each and all shall be set free from the bondage of sin and death and have opportunity to return unto the Lord and demonstrate their loyalty to him and his righteousness, and to attain again to all that was lost in Adam.


We are not to get the thought, however, that the Lord at his Ascension led up to heaven a multitude of captives who previously had been in death. The captives are still dead, they are still in the prison house. The time has not yet come for the Great Redeemer to fulfill toward the race the promised work of calling them from the tomb, an example, an illustration of his power to do which was given in the case of Lazarus and others. Not only do the Scriptures teach that the resurrection is to be accomplished at the second coming of Christ and that meantime our friends in general "sleep in Jesus," waiting for the time when he shall call the prisoners forth from the tomb in the Millennial morning. If corroborative testimony on this point is desired by any, it is found in our Lord's own words, "No man hath ascended up to heaven save he which came down from heaven." (John 3:13) But still more, if possible, to the point is the testimony of St. Peter respecting the Prophet David, whom the Apostle Paul mentions as one of the ancient worthies who had God's approval. St. Peter says, "David is not ascended to the heavens," and he uses these words after our Lord had ascended up on high and after he had received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The entire testimony of the Scriptures agrees that the resurrection of the dead the resurrection of mankind from the power of sin and death to the original perfection lost in Eden does not belong to the present time, but to a future age following our Lord's second advent. Mark the apostle's words explanatory of these, uttered after our Lord had ascended on high. He says: "Times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached unto you, whom the heavens must receive (retain) until the times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began." Since, then, we see that Jesus did not take with him a multitude of captives of sin and death when he ascended on high, when we see that the time for their deliverance is still future, when we see that before their deliverance the church must be gathered and taught and chiseled and polished and refined and made ready for the first resurrection to be the bride, the lamb's wife and associate in his Millennial kingdom and in its work of blessing the world when we see these clear teachings of the Scripture, we inquire what then is meant by the statement that "he led captivity captive," or


We answer that the meaning is that the value of our Lord's death was the ransom price for Adam and all of his race, and hence, although none of these were then led forth from the tomb, nevertheless, he who redeemed them might properly be spoken of as the great Victor who had conquered the power of death and who had delivered the captives, since power to accomplish this delivery was to be secured through the merit of his sacrifice and the great work itself fully provided for, merely awaiting the convenience of the great Deliverer and the program which the Father [HGL374] had outlined in his great plan of the ages. In this prophetic sense our Lord's death and resurrection and Ascension meant the deliverance of the entire groaning creation from the bondage of sin and death in God's due time- "every man in his own order, Christ the first fruits, then they that are Christ's at his coming" his parousia, his second presence, during the Millennium.

Thus we see that the deliverance of the captives, the resurrection of the dead, is in the Lord's plan divided into classes every man in his own order or rank; one classification, the first classification, sometimes called the first resurrection, includes merely the church class, the elect, for it is written, "Blessed and holy are all they that have part in the first resurrection." Another classification is mentioned by the apostle in Heb. 11:39-40, where, having described the overcomers of the past, he says that "they without us shall not be made perfect, God having provided some better thing for us." In other words, the church of this Gospel age, the bride class, ranks first in the divine order of deliverance from the power of sin and death, and through the glorified Christ; the Ancient Worthies will subsequently be delivered from death to perfection of life on the earthly plane, and then every man in his own order, the residue of the world sleeping in death, in the prison house, will be delivered.

Not only will they be delivered from the unconscious condition of death, represented as a sleep but after being awakened the captives will be released. This was illustrated in the case of Lazarus. At the Lord's command Lazarus came forth, he was awakened, rescued from the prison, death, but he still was bound with the grave clothes, and our Lord instructed that they loose him and set him free. Similarly the world when awakened will still be under the bondage of weaknesses of the flesh as at present, and, it will be the work of the Millennial age to release these bonds and set fully free from the dominion of sin and imperfection all the members of Adam's race redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. Thank God that in that glorious epoch everything will be favorable to those whom the great Deliverer has purchased, and whom he is willing to make free indeed if they will but hearken to his commandments and avail themselves of the privileges which his kingdom will supply. The great enemy Satan will then be bound for a thousand years and be unable to injure or deceive and every influence surrounding them will be favorable, and the Lord's judgments everywhere present to chasten them for misdeeds and to reward and bless and uplift them in response to their good intention and good effort. Thus the actual leading forth of the multitude of captives, the twenty thousand millions of the human family gone down to the sleep of death, comes during the Millennial age to the vast majority of the race. As for those who will refuse to hear the voice of the great Deliverer refuses to obey him, we are clearly informed that their portion will be second death. We read, "It shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear the prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." Acts 3:23.


We have taken a general view of the divine work of rescuing the human family, but now come to a special feature whose provisions have been limited by the Lord. During this Gospel age some of these prisoners of sin and death have been delivered in a measure from their captivity. The church, believers, whose eyes and ears have been opened by the Lord's favor and who have seen and comprehended to some reasonable degree the message of divine mercy, in advance of its coming to the world, have passed from death unto life they are reckoned as having been delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:21.) These, however, are still subject to the weaknesses and frailties of the mortal body and to the besetments of the world, the flesh and the adversary. Only in the spirit of their minds do they readily enter into the joys of their Lord now. They, too, must wait until the dawning of the Millennial morning, but they have the promise that "shall help her right early in the morning." Psa. 46:5.

We perceive that now we are free to the extent that we possess knowledge and faith and exercise these; we are legally free, though actually still bound with the bondage of corruption, as the Apostle declares, "We cannot do things that we would." Our ground for rejoicing by faith is that God is reckoning us and dealing with us, not according to the imperfections of our imperfect bodies, but according to the perfection of our new minds. If the new mind is loyal to him, in other words, if we are pure in heart, pure in intention, in endeavor, we may be sure that he, who has begun the good work in us will complete it, and he has informed us that the time of its completion will be in the First Resurrection, when we shall be made like him and share his glory and see him as he is. Meantime he that hath this hope in him, he who is thus set free, he who realizes that God is counting

him not according to the flesh but according to the spirit, will surely purify himself to the extent of his ability, even as he recognizes the perfect pattern of the Lord as the standard for all those who are seeking to walk in his steps.

The release that has come to us is very different from the one which will come to the world. Theirs will be an actual release, though of gradual accomplishment, as each shall come to a knowledge of the Lord and to obedience in harmony with that knowledge; each shall have divine assistance upward and onward, out of the sin and death conditions at present prevailing in his body and will step by step attain all that is meant by the Apostle when he speaks of the glorious liberty of the sons of God, into which he assures us the entire groaning creation shall be delivered all who desire this inestimable blessing. All others, according to the divine provision, are to be cut off in the second death.

Prev   Next