Psalm 47:5 and Psalm 68:18 - Christ's Glorious Ascension Foretold
Read Psalm 47:5 and Psalm 68:18
It is rather amazing that the event of the ascension of our Lord and Savior, which seems to receive so little attention in the church of the present day, is referred to so often in the Psalms. As we have seen earlier, Psalm 24 speaks very clearly of this great event in the history of our redemption. But, Psalms 47 and 68 again refer to it very clearly.
There is a difference of opinion among commentators as to the time when Psalm 47 was written and what was the occasion for writing this Psalm. This is a problem with ever so many of the Psalms, in fact, there is a great deal of guess work in regard to the occasion for most of the Psalms. There are a few whose settings seem to be clearly identifiable, but the majority are not. This does not detract from the importance nor from the message of the Psalms. Those who cannot find the occasion for the writing of Psalm 47 usually deny that verse 5 of this Psalm refers to the ascension of our Lord. However, the words themselves seem to point very definitely in the direction of the ascension. The church has used Psalm 47 for many years to sing of the ascension of Jesus Christ.
The Universal King
The entire Psalm 47 speaks of the Kingship of the mighty God of Israel. It may be a small and inglorious people, but their God will finally be King over all lands and over all peoples. This is a wonderful truth for the people of God. They may rejoice in the greatness of their God. Let all the people of the earth rejoice. Let them all clap their hands. Jehovah is worthy of the honor of all the nations. He has subdued all the enemies of God's people. When the greatness of this God is sung and His mighty deeds are remembered, Israel tells the peoples in song that their God has gone up with a shout! It was a glorious ascension! He rose with martial music! He went up with the sound of the trumpet! This was befitting the greatness of their King. Let all the people of the earth recognize the exalted position of Israel's God!
Psalm 47 places the ascension of our Lord in the context of the Kingship which God exercises over all that He has made. This point may never be lost from sight when we consider the ascension. How can anyone do justice to the Kingship or the Lordship of Jesus Christ and not give the proper place to His ascension? The church has often impoverished herself in modern times by not giving due emphasis to the ascension of Christ. Those who do not believe the ascension do not have a full gospel! He indeed is Savior by means of His death and resurrection. He shows Himself as Lord through the ascension. Let the church again realize the importance of every step in our redemption. Let the churches again be filled to capacity on Ascension Day! He has gone up with a purpose. Angels rejoice — while those for whom He ascended scarcely take notice.
A Victory Song
While many commentators do not believe that Psalm 47 speaks of the ascension of Jesus Christ, virtually no one doubts that Psalm 68:18 deals with this event. Psalm 68 has a unique place in the hearts of those who know the Dutch versification of this Psalm. The Psalmist speaks of the victories which the God of Israel has obtained over all His enemies. They are not able to stand before Him. His people may rejoice in these victories because in the destruction of His foes He has also destroyed the foes of His people. The Psalmist then describes the way in which God has upheld and has guided His people in the past. They have always been safe. Their God was with them and He led them. Then the writer speaks of the place which God has chosen for His abode. He has picked out the place where His name was to dwell. Bashan and Hermon may be higher in elevation than Mount Zion, but God has chosen Zion to be the place where the ark of God is to dwell — where the name of God will be honored. The Lord has come up from Mount Sinai where He had given His law. That law paved the way for His dwelling to be in Jerusalem permanently. Before Israel could enter Canaan they had to go by the way of Sinai. From Sinai He now comes to show that His dwelling is based on the very firmest foundation possible. From Egypt to Sinai to Calvary to the Mount of the ascension! This is the way of the history made known to God's people!
Referred to Christ's Ascension
The Psalmist now mentions the ascension itself: "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away captives; Thou hast received gifts among men, yea among the rebellious also, that Jehovah God might dwell with them." That these words indeed refer to the ascension of our Savior is attested by the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:8: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." There also seems to be an allusion to the words of Psalm 68 in Colossians 2:15 where the Apostle writes: "...having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Paul indeed quotes Psalm 68:18 differently than we have it in our text, but he nevertheless uses this verse to speak of the ascension of our Lord.
A Home for the Ark
Historically there had been a long delay in finding a proper place for the abode of God in Israel. The ark was taken with the people on their journey through the desert. Even when the people had come into the land of promise and were led by the Judges for many years, there was no permanent place for the dwelling of God. No wonder that David wanted to build Him a house. But, it is not that house, that temple, which is the most important thing; the symbol of His presence is found in the ark! When that ark has arrived on Mount Zion, the place has been found where He will cause His name to dwell forever. That ark came to Mount Zion in the midst of the rejoicing of God's people. In fact, David is so overcome by the event that he gives gifts to the people! This Psalm now reflects the things which have taken place on that glorious day. Symbolically the Psalmist speaks of the thousands and twenty thousand chariots of God that accompanied Him in His ascent to this place which He had chosen for Himself.
Christ's Welcome Home
This is the way in which the ascension of Jesus Christ must be seen. He has ascended. He goes above in triumph. He takes His seat at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. His work has been accomplished. He has left His enemies behind. They have been vanquished. God's people are now safe. Their Lord is ascended to the throne-room of the universe. He is Lord. Let all adore Him!
When the Psalmist describes the ascension and all that is connected with it, he says that He led away captives. Paul says that "He led captivity captive." God's people had been captives again and again. This situation is ended. No longer are the servants of the God of Israel to be held in chains. Not only has He freed them, He destroyed their captors and the place which held them captive. Death and Hell are now captive. So complete is the victory which He has won and which He now celebrates in His ascension.
Psalm 68 speaks of the fact that the Lord has received gifts from among men. Those who are now held captive by Him have to bring tribute. They are to lay their gifts on the altar of the God of Israel. He hereby simply carries out the usual custom of those who have gained victory over a people, that the people are now to bring gifts of obeisance to the conqueror. Paul, however, speaks of this verse in a different way. He says that "he gave gifts to men." Is there a contradiction? Not at all. The conqueror indeed receives gifts and He receives them in order that He may distribute these gifts among His people! David gave gifts to the people when they had finally brought the ark to Mount Zion. Christ sends forth His gifts immediately after the ascension. He had told His disciples that that would be one of the glorious results of His leaving them. He would ascend and send the greatest gift imaginable, the Holy Spirit to dwell with them forever. Nor has He ceased to give gifts ever since that time.
The Psalm has spoken of the triumph of Israel's God over all His enemies and the author now mentions specifically that even the rebellious will bow the knee. These, too, are vanquished. They fought against Him, but, in the final analysis, no one shall be able to withstand Him. His triumph is complete. This is precisely the purpose of our Lord's ascension. He has conquered those who had risen against Him, so that He may be able to dwell with them! This may sound like a paradox to many, but, that is the way in which He causes His Kingdom to come. This is understood by His disciples and later by the rest of His people. He does not conquer in the spirit of the conquerors of the ages. He conquers for the benefit of the conquered!
When the ark was safely placed on Mount Zion, the kingdom of Israel could come into its own. This theocracy surely could not function properly as long as the symbolic presence of Israel's God was far removed from the place which He had designated as His dwelling place. The palace of the King of Israel will have no permanency as long as the ark is not in its proper place. God saw to it that this was accomplished.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is beautiful and it is glorious when we follow our Lord from Bethlehem through Judea and Galilee to the crucifixion and to the resurrection, but it is not complete. True, He already exclaims on the cross: "It is finished." His resurrection is an evidence of His victory over death and the grave, but He has not yet attained the place which is rightfully His. He must ascend to the place where He was before so that He may not only rule His church, but may rule over all things. The ascension accomplishes it. Christ Jesus is on the throne of the universe. Let all men bow to Him!
Questions for Discussion:
- Is the revelation of God a revelation of events or of words? Or of both?
- Is it necessary for us to know what the occasion was for the writing of each one of the Psalms? Does it help to know this for the right interpretation?
- Can we ever say that the one event in the history of our redemption is more important than the other? Can we say that one is of lesser importance than the other?
- Why does the New Testament often quote the Old Testament in an imprecise way? Is this proper? May we do this?
- Do we receive more gifts from the ascension of Christ than from most of the other events? Would it be more proper to exchange gifts on Ascension Day than on Christmas Day? Explain.
- If one believes in the redemption through Christ, but not in His Lordship, does he have a full gospel? Is this deficient faith quite common?