He Led Captivity Captive



John 12:31 (KJV)
31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

Jesus is speaking here in regard to the judgment, conviction, sentencing and total defeat of the “prince of this world,” the devil.  This nugget of truth was recorded through John by the Holy Spirit for our profit.  Then in the following verse He states:

John 12:32 (KJV)
32And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Here Jesus speaks of the manner of death that He will undergo, specifically death on the cross.  He also reveals what the outcome of His death in the flesh will accomplish.

At this point it is imperative to understand one of the methods in which the King James Version of the Bible has been interpreted from the Greek.  Whenever a word in the KJV is italicized, that means that the italicized word was not in the original manuscript, but was added by the translators to bring clarity.  In most cases it accomplishes what is intended.  In some cases the addition not only takes away from the intended meaning of the verse, but totally changes it.  With this said, let’s look again at John 12:32.

Do you notice that the word “men” is italicized?  Now we know that this word was added by the translators, rendering it a word that was not inspired by the Holy Ghost as inerrant scripture.  Let’s remove it from this verse.  Using the rule of context, let’s connect this verse to the previous verse by identifying “judgment” as the subject.  Now take one more step toward a pure interpretation and in place of the italicized word “men” let’s insert the italicized word “judgment” and read both verses again.

31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.  32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [judgment] unto me.

Glory to God!  Jesus, by absorbing all of the judgment of God for the sin of the world has become the innocent and perfect sacrifice who became sin, died in the flesh, descended into the grave and rose from the dead victorious.  In Him (in Jesus) God judged, condemned and put sin to death.  By this one act of obedience, Jesus removed all power and authority from the “prince of this world;” completely and soundly rendered him (the devil) defeated.

Next, after Jesus’ resurrection we find another verse that brings us to the revelation of how He publicly displayed His victory throughout the entire spirit realm.  Look at the following verse:

Colossians 2:15 (KJV)
15And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The word “having spoiled” is defined by Strong’s as:  to divest wholly or despoil.  The Dictionary defines the word “divest” as to:  “strip or deprive (someone of something), especially of property rights.”  What a great truth is revealed through this verse!  Jesus, through his cross and resurrection, has completely deprived every demonic principality and power of their authority and has rendered them all void of any ability or power in the life and the affairs of the Christian.

This truth was first made clearly evident when Jesus “made a show of them openly” by “triumphing over them.”  Let me pull back the curtain a bit so we can see the full, complete meaning of this verse.

In times past, when wars were fought between kings and kingdoms, the victorious king would have a parade within the dominion of the defeated ruler.  If the defeated king was taken alive, he and whatever was left of his conquered army would be pulled, dragged and/or exhibited throughout the overthrown kingdom.  This was for the purpose of openly and publicly exhibiting to the people that those who once had authority over them were completely and soundly defeated; and that there is now a new king established in the land.  It was also tradition for the new king to give or toss coins, as tokens of good will, to the people of the land, indicating that he will be a good and gracious king to them.  This was commonly referred to as “leading captivity captive.”

We can see this referred to in the book of Judges after the defeat of the armies of the Canaanites:

Judges 5:12 (KJV)
12 Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.

Then again in the book of Psalms; David, rehearsing the victories of God for the people, mentions the victorious battle of Deborah and Barak, and other battles, and gives praise to God.  Then in verse 18 of chapter 68 he states:

Psalm 68:18 (KJV)
18 Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.

Again, in the New Testament, we can see Paul using the same verbiage:

Ephesians 4:7-8 (KJV)
7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

I realize that there are other commentaries that interpret Ephesians 4:8 differently.  The most popular interpretation of this verse states that when Jesus rose from the grave that He led all of the Old Testament saints, referred to as “captivity”, who were being held in Paradise, out of Paradise and into the open and loving arms of the Father in heaven, referred to as “captive.”  I truly believe that Jesus did accomplish this task, but I cannot accurately and truthfully hold this verse as proof.

In order to establish the suggestion that “led captivity captive” refers to Jesus taking the Old Testament saints out of Paradise and into heaven; it must be connected to other verses in the Bible which seemingly agree with what is suggested by men.  Also the traditional meaning of this phrase, plus the previous verses (Judges 5:12 and Psalm 68:18), must be ignored.  So let’s look at the only verses that are used to support this belief.

In order to establish that the phrase of “leading captivity captive” is referring to Jesus bringing the Old Testament believers out of Paradise and leading them into heaven, it must be, and can only be linked with the following series of verses in 1 Peter:

1 Peter 3:18-20 (KJV)
18  For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19  By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20  Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

For this verse to have any credibility in establishing a connection with leading “captivity captive,” it is necessary to explore the existence of a place that the Bible calls Sheol.  Without getting into more detail than is needed, I will simply describe Sheol as a holding place that consisted of two compartments:  one being a place of torment (void of God) called hell and the other being a place of “rest” called Paradise.

The guardhouse of hell is a real place where all rebellious, disobedient people and those who have rejected the offering of the Christ for their sin are kept imprisoned until the time of the White Throne Judgment of God.  Paradise, the other part of Sheol, was the place where all of the loyal, obedient and those who have accepted or looked forward to the coming of the Messiah (Jesus), were held until the way was made for them to enter into heaven.

At first glance, and with the help of some commentaries, I can understand how it seems that the two scriptures can be considered as “two witnesses” that could establish a truth.  But upon very close examination and in studying 1 Peter 3:18-20, I find it difficult to use it in supporting the fact of Jesus leading the inhabitants of Paradise into heaven.  God says in the book of Isaiah, “Come now, and let us reason together…”  He is stating that He approves of our thinking/reasoning together with His Spirit to determine or prove a truth.  So let’s reason together, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, examine these verses.

1 Peter 3:18-20 (KJV)
18  For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened [made alive] by the Spirit: 19  By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20  Which [at] sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

The first observation in the above verses is the statement that Jesus was brought to life by the Spirit.  Then, without beginning another sentence Peter continues by saying that it was also by the same Spirit (the Holy Spirit) that He went and preached.  Now the question is:  Who did He preach to by the Spirit and when did He do this?  The answer to that question is hidden in plain sight.  Those to whom He preached by the Spirit are those who were disobedient in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.  Let’s go a bit further and define some words that can help us understand the context.

Take a closer look at the word “prison”.  This word is translated by the Strong’s as:  “a guarding…figurative of the place… a hold.”  The Thayer’s simply calls it “a prison” and points out that the very same word is used by Paul in 2 Cor 11:23 when he states that he has been in prison (the jail or dungeon) more frequently than many of his peers.

The next word that will have an effect on our understanding of the verse is “disobedient.”  The Strong’s defines this word as:  “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely).”

So if I were Peter trying to communicate the same thoughts, I could say that:

“These spirits, who are now imprisoned and guarded, were previously preached to by the Holy Spirit.  It was at this time that they willfully and perversely chose to disbelieve the message.  Their act of willful disobedience took place during the time that Noah was building the ark.  It was at this time that Noah and his family were saved from the flood, but everyone else who existed on the earth while Noah was working on the ark perished; even though God extended much patience toward them for the 120 years’ time in which Noah, by faith, was working on the vessel that would offer salvation.”

Now let me develop this a bit further using the scripture to reveal a side of Noah that may have been concealed.

Following are several scriptures that speak of Noah:

Genesis 6:8-9 (KJV)

 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. 9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.

Hebrews 11:7 (KJV)
7  By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

2 Peter 2:5-6 (KJV)
5  And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6  And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;


Certainly God knew how long it would take Noah to construct the ark (120 years) thereby exhibiting His patience and desire for repentance of the rebellious and disobedient people of that time.  Assuming that the word of God is correct (and it is) then Noah was a man who was “just and perfect in his generations.”  He was a man who “by faith” and with “godly reverence built the ark.”  He was a man who believed God regarding the warning of the flood, and followed the plan of God in plain sight of all of the inhabitants of the earth.  He was a man who not only, daily demonstrated the coming judgment through the building of the ark, but presented to the world that this judgment could result in the salvation of anyone who would repent and seek the favor of God. He was the man who, as said by the Holy Spirit through Peter, was a preacher (the Strong’s definition of this word is: “a herald of divine truth”) of righteousness to the people of his day.

Then a final question comes to mind:  can we actually substitute the word “prison” (considering the precluded definition of what this word actually means in the Greek) for the word Paradise?  When Jesus told the thief on the cross next to Him:

Luke 23:43 (KJV)

43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.


Is that what He literally meant?  Absolutely!  The Strong’s definition for the word “paradise” is:  “a park, i.e. (special) an Eden (place of future happiness, “paradise”).”  Does this sound like a synonym for “prison?”  I think not.  So logically if the “captivity” were actually the Old Testament saints, then:  Jesus would have found them in Paradise and not in a place called “prison,” which is what 1 Peter 3:19 describes as their place of residence.

In summary:

  1. Noah was a preacher of righteousness to the people of his time.
  2. The Holy Spirit, in unison with the pre-incarnate Christ Jesus, preached through Noah to the disobedient and unbelieving people of the earth during the time that the ark was being built.
  3. Upon the deaths of the disobedient, their spirits were sent to a place referred to by Peter (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) as “prison.”
  4. Jesus’ soul went to Sheol when he died in the flesh.
  5. Jesus did not preach a message of salvation to the spirits in “prison” or “hell” after His death on the cross; but did herald His triumph to the ones who were in Paradise in as much as they were told that the time is near for them to be in the very presence of the Father, yet not until the way was established by Him (which took place after He was given new life by the Spirit, at the time of His resurrection).
  6. The phrase of “led captivity captive” in Ephesians 4:7-8 does not have any connection with the liberation of the Old Testament saints from Paradise.
  7. The phrase of “led captivity captive” does specifically and exactly describes what Jesus did to Satan in demonstrating His total and absolute victory and Satan’s total and absolute defeat.

Praise God forever!