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I believe he is referring to the local church, which is the "body of Christ". There are those who would say that he is referring to all believers as the body, but that doesn't work. First: the church is the body (Eph. 1:22-23). The word "church" means assembly, which would not be the word to use if all believers were being referred to. Second, everyone I know who thinks that this verse refers to all believers thinks that there is both a universal body (all believers), and a "local" body (the local church). Yet these verse teach that there is only one body, so it can not be both universal and local; it must be one or the other. The Body of Christ is the institution of the local church. Third, the local church must be in view contextually because a pastor (for example) is not assisting all believers throughout the world, but assists those in his local church. I may help those from other churches, but if my job is to edify the body of Christ, yet I have never made any contact with 99.99999999% of the members of that body, I am really failing in my responsibilities. This passage only really works in a local church setting.
"Leading captivity captive" is a hard expression. Based on the context the meaning must be that when Christ rose from the dead and then ascended into Heaven he took those who were in Paradise or Abraham's Bosom to Heaven with him. They were "captive" in Paradise, existing in comfort, but not yet in Heaven because the sacrifice for sins had not yet been made. Jesus had to be the "firstfruits" (I Cor. 15:20). This "leading" took place when "ascended" (4:8), which was preceded by His descent into the "lower parts of the earth", which would have been the time between His death and resurrection when he was in Paradise. He then takes the Old Testament believers, and those who had received Him during His lifetime, to Heaven. It was then that He sent the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 16:7), and one of the things that this would include was the giving of Spiritual Gifts ( I Cor. 12:7-11).
Just for clarification: When Jesus died His body was placed in the tomb. His Spirit went to Paradise (Luke 23:43), which is also referred to as "Hell" (Acts 2:27). In short, Hell is divided into two parts (Luke 16:26): a side of torment and a side of bliss (16:25). The Old Testament saints went to the Paradise side of Hell to await the payment for sins, and then went to Heaven with Christ. Thus, that part of Hell is empty today, for now when believers die they are "absent from the body and present with the Lord" (II Cor 5:8). All unbelievers have gone, and continue to go, to the torment side of Hell where they await the final judgment (Rev 20). After that judgment they will be sent to the Lake of Fire for all eternity, and death and Hell will be cast in there with them.
So, how does this passage all fit together?
Eph 4:3-16: Comments in bold.
- Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. God wants believers to be unified in the local church (and other places as well, but the emphasis is on the church).
- There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
- One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
- One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. We should be united because there is only one God, Spirit, salvation, faith, baptism, etc.
- But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
- Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. All the gifts we have come from Christ and are given by His grace.
- (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
- He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) Christ died, went to Paradise, and then ascended, so that He might "fill all things".
- And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; Christ gave us "office gifts" - men who hold these offices.
- For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: These men were given to bring the believers to maturity so that the believers could do the work of the ministry and edify the body.
- Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: The goal is unity of faith and knowledge, maturity, and Christ-likeness for the whole church.
- That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; We want to be established in what we believe and practice.
- But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: We are to become like Him, and help others to become like Him, by speaking the truth, but doing it in love.
- From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Christ puts the church together, but every member of the body supplies something and all work together, using their gifts, to bring spiritual (and perhaps numerical) growth.
Hope this helps.