An important aspect of Christ's activity after His physical body had died and was entombed in Joseph of Arimathia's tomb, was the victory march of the conqueror. After Jesus had
"disarmed powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15),
". . . ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN" (Ephesians 4:8).
In the preceding verse, Paul was paraphrasing, and in the process also modifying and re-interpreting, Psalm 68:18, where we read
"You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there [my emphasis]."
In its historical context, verse 18 of this Psalm paints a picture of the triumphal march of a king who has just led the soldiers in his army in a stunning military defeat of their enemies. In those days, the vanquished enemies who had survived the battle were taken captive, and as the returning army marched into, say, Jerusalem, the POWs were now shackled with chains and forced to bear the taunts of the citizenry.
When I think of this verse, I picture King Jesus in a majestic chariot ascending into the "heavenly places," heretofore the uncontested battleground in which Satan and his hordes held sway. In His train are both the saints of old who have emerged from the realm of the dead and are being led by Jesus into heaven itself, and the spiritual "powers and authorities" which are disarmed through the redemption Jesus accomplished on the cross. They will be freed for a time, but with their power and authority greatly diminished by Jesus' death. From now on, they are powerless to defeat God and His kingdom-building in the hearts of the redeemed.
Furthermore, as the redeemed put on the complete armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-17), they are not to be in attack mode; rather, they are simply to "stand firm" (v.14) against the enemy of men's souls. Apostle Paul says this about the victory of which the church is assured:
"Nay, in all these [seemingly negative] things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8:31-39 KJV)
Desiring to reward the citizenry with the spoils of war, the king and commander in chief would distribute some of the booty of battle to them. These gifts could be articles of clothing, weapons confiscated from enemy troops, household possessions, and perhaps even gold, silver, and precious stones which the victors seized from the homes of the conquered citizenry.
Notice as well, in verse 18 the triumphant king "receives gifts among men" (my emphasis), whereas in Ephesians 4, the triumphant king "gives gifts to men." This difference in wording is perhaps deliberate on Paul's part, yet both verses underscore a common truth; namely, the conquering king, such as David, who was both king and commander-in-chief of Israel's army, certainly deserved receiving gifts from men (i.e. his "subjects").
Christ, however, the antitype to King David, who as the only begotten Son of God and the conqueror of sin, death, and hell, was not content simply to receive gifts from His subjects. No, He delighted in giving gifts to His subjects. Instead of material gifts, He distributed spiritual gifts, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers, so that through the church universal these gifted people would, through their exercising of those gifts, extend the victory of the conquering king for generations to come.
The gifts can be seen legitimately as a "gifting" or supernatural ability given to Christian men and women. More importantly, however, the gifts are the people, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastor/teachers. These gifted people are given to the church universal (and to the church local) so that the victory of Christ might be extended in its redemptive and transforming power to the entire body of Christ (viz., the church) in every generation until the church universal is completely and perfectly formed (see Ephesians 4:13-16; for the "spirituals" see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4).
When Christ completes the building of His church, one living stone at a time (1 Peter 2:5), the church as the bride of Christ will be ready for the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7 and 9). Then our risen Savior and Lord will usher in the events described in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, including the creation of a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells forever (Revelation 21:1).