4:9 lower parts. The ascending Lord was not merely ascending back from the earth, but from “the lower parts of the earth.” This somewhat enigmatic geographical reference could, by itself, perhaps refer to the deep ocean bottom, but this would not yield captives. More likely it refers to the great pit at the center of the earth, indicated in the Bible as the prison confining the souls of the dead, the place called sheol in the Old Testament Hebrew and hades in the Greek New Testament, but often translated “hell” in the King James Translation.
One of Christ’s purposes when He came to earth was “to preach deliverance to the captives, and...to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). This statement of Jesus was taken from Isaiah 61:1, where it read “...to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” When Christ died on the cross, He in the Spirit “went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (I Peter 3:19). The word “preached” can better be translated “proclaimed”—that is, proclaimed His victory over Satan. Christ had said prophetically (Psalm 16:10), “thou wilt not leave [i.e., ‘abandon’] my soul in hell” (Acts 2:27). He returned from Hades with “the keys of hell and death” (Revelation 1:18), bringing “captivity captive” with Him as He returned. His spirit returned to His body resting in Joseph’s tomb, and He arose from the dead, alive forever more. The souls of those who had died in faith came with Him from their resting place in hades in “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), and then, in a mighty miracle, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose” (Matthew 27:52). With the thief on the cross who had also believed, the Lord then presumably took them all with Him into “paradise,” in “the third heaven” (Luke 23:43; II Corinthians 12:2,4), where they will remain with the Lord until He comes to earth again with them, and with the souls of all who have died as Christian believers since that time (I Thessalonians 3:13; 4:14).