Having identified and clarified the idea of creational archetypes of APEST, as well as the stages of the hero’s journey, we are now in a position to better grasp the meaning of what has been called the “ascension gifting” described by Paul in Ephesians 4:8–11. But to understand the ascension gifting properly, we need to grasp the cultural reference of the victor’s parade and then consider how exactly it is that Jesus perfects and redeems the fallen archetypes in order to bequeath them to his people.
Scholars universally acknowledge that the imagery in Ephesians 4:8–10 is drawn from recognizable public ritual/events in the life of the various city-states of the Roman Empire existing around the time when the New Testament was written. So when a ruler or a general who went forth on a mission (cf. Quest) to conquer or defeat an enemy returned in triumph to his home city (cf. Return), the public were all invited to attend the victor’s parade in celebration of the triumph. As the ritual precursor to a big party, the victorious champion would display the various spoils of war (of treasure and slaves) as part of the victory parade. But what made these parades extremely popular events is that the victor would also generously distribute much of the bounty with the public. The various “triumphal arches” in the cities throughout the world have their roots in this enduring cultural practice.
This archetypal pattern provides Paul with exactly the image that he needs to make sense of the so-called ascension gifting. In this passage, Jesus is portrayed as “descending” into the world; he is victorious and “takes captivity captive” and subsequently in his “ascension” leads the victory parade and bestows the boon on his people. The metaphor describes our victorious Lord who, having plundered the enemy, quashed the rebellion and disarmed the vanquished powers, so brings peace and salvation to broken humanity (cf. Colossians 2:15).
What is intriguing and revelatory in this case is what is retrieved from the vanquished rebellion and bequeathed to the citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. The context requires that we see that Jesus actually takes the unredeemed APEST archetypes from the created order and redeems and remodels them in the image of his own humanity. It is these now recapitulated “victory gifts” that he subsequently bestows on the ecclesia (church) as its permanent possession—like the triumphal arches, the living testament of his victory.
The mere fact that Paul attaches his teaching on APEST to the highly significant event of the ascension of Christ already gives it substantial theological weight. The Ascension is no everyday event; it is a vital aspect of Jesus’ resurrection, involving his return to his Father, the sending of the Spirit, and his ongoing role as King and Judge, and of course his commissioning and constituting of his church:
Therefore there can be no other basis for Christian discipleship and ministry than the resurrection for it is none less that the ascending and exalted Head of the Church and of mankind who distributes the charisms [gifts] and missions of discipleship (Ephesians. 4:7–11).