8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.”
This verse demonstrates the right of Christ to distribute operational gifts to the church as He deems fitting.
Verses eight and nine are the two most difficult verses in Ephesians to interpret. We cannot be certain about interpretation of these verses.
The “therefore” refers to the reason God assigns gifts to the church.
He [God] says:
Verse eight is a summary quotation or a paraphrase from Psalm 68, not an exact quotation. Psalm 68 expresses the idea that a military victor had the right to give gifts to those who fought with him. God gives gifted believers to the church.
Paul quoted part of Psalm 68:18 by allusion, not by direct citation. Those who claim that this verse contains error superimpose something that is not there. Paul used this passage simply for an analogy to his point.
“When He ascended on high,
Psalm 68 is a Psalm of conquest of the Jebusite city. It celebrates the triumphal ascent of God up to Mount Zion. “He ascended” represents Christ’s victory over sin when He ascended to heaven.
He led captivity captive,
When a king would take his victory parade through Jerusalem and up Mount Zion, he would display his soldiers freed from foreign armies in triumphal procession (2 Co 2:14). These soldiers were recaptured captives. The king would announce their freedom publically. Christ takes all His people with Him without exception.
And gave gifts to men.”
As a military conqueror allocates spoils to his colleagues, so Christ imparts gifts to the church. The word “gifts” here is yet another term expressing the all-inclusiveness of God’s gifts of people to minister in His economy.
The Holy Spirit in this passage says “gave gifts,” whereas Psalm 68:18 says “received gifts.” Some say that this is an error in Scripture, but Paul is not quoting the Psalm here but paraphrasing it for his own purpose. He did not give an exact or formal representation of the passage but an application of the principle of the Psalm.
There is room for everyone in the service of the King.
The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension defeated Satan, sin, and its consequent eternal death (Co 2:15). Jesus took captivity itself captive by His work on the cross (1 Co 15:57). By this, He led people back to heaven.
All the gifts that God provides are for the church, not for private use. God devotes four passages of Scripture to spiritual gifts: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, and Ephesians 4 list these gifts. There are somewhere between 20 and 25 gifts listed in these chapters.
Each Christian has at least one gift and probably more. There is room for everyone in the service of the King. We have capacity to fill our role in God’s kingdom. It is time to engage with our gifts.
Note my full study of spiritual gifts here and the following articles: http://versebyversecommentary.com/1-corinthians/1-corinthians-124f-gifts-i/