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Jesus' ascension to Heaven
Location and timing of Jesus' ascension
Location of the ascension:
The Mount of Olives (a.k.a. Olivet and Mount Olivet) is on the eastern side
of the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount and the rest of the city of
Jerusalem. The mount is in the form of a two mile (3 km) ridge which has three
In biblical times, people believed that the Earth
was relatively flat suspended by columns above "an abyss." Above the earth
was a rigid firmament that separated Heaven from the Earth. It was a natural
assumption that people are physically closest to God when they are at the top of a
mountain or hill. This is seen in the stories of Mount Sinai and the Tower of Babel.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain many references to "high places" as the location
of worship. So it was natural that the early Christian church would assume that
when Jesus ascended to Heaven, he would have left from the summit of a hill or
When it came to recognizing the location of the ascension, the most Christians have ignored
the story in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus ascended from the town of Bethany. As
the "Bible Places" website states:
"Scripture indicates that the Jesus ascended into heaven in the vicinity
of Bethany. This village is down the east slope of the Mt. of Olives about
1.5 miles (2 km). In this case, none of the traditional locations for the
ascension are correct."
Most believers have zeroed in on the three summits of the Mount of Olives. Today there is a
religious structure on each of the three summits. Information on the Internet is
somewhat scrambled and confusing. This is our best try at deciphering it:
- During the fourth century, CE, Helena, the mother of Constantine, visited the Holy Land and selected locations associated with various events mentioned in the Bible. She selected one of the summits of the Mount of Olives as the ascension location. Today the Paternoster Church is located at the location that Helena selected.
The original Chapel of the Holy Ascension was built in 392 CE,
destroyed by the Persians during their invasion of Jerusalem in 614, was
subsequently rebuilt by Crusaders, and later captured by Salah al-Din in the year
According to the Mount of Olives Hotel website:
"As a gesture of compromise and goodwill, Saladin ordered
the construction of a ... mosque and mihrab two years later next door to
the Chapel for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main
Bible Places' web site states:
"It contains what is traditionally the last footprint
of Jesus on earth before he ascended into heaven." 2
The Venerable Bede wrote of the Mount of Olives in the 8th century CE:
"On the very top of it, where our Lord ascended into heaven, is a
large round church, having round about it three chapels with vaulted
roofs. For the inner building could not be vaulted and roofed, by reason
of the passage of our Lord’s Body; but it has an altar on the east side,
sheltered by a narrow roof. In the midst of it are to be seen the last
Footprints of our Lord, the place where He ascended being open to the
sky; and though the earth is daily carried away by believers, yet still
it remains, and retains the same appearance, being marked by the
impression of the Feet. Round about these lies a brazen wheel, as high
as a man’s neck, having an entrance from the west, with a great lamp
hanging above it on a pulley and burning night and day. In the western
part of the same church are eight windows; and as many lamps, hanging
opposite to them by cords, shine through the glass as far as Jerusalem;
and the light thereof is said to thrill the hearts of the beholders with
a certain zeal and compunction. Every year, on the day of the Ascension
of our Lord, when Mass is ended, a strong blast of wind is wont to come
down, and to cast to the ground all that are in the church."
The Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension was built in 1870. It has a bell tower about 200 feet in height (64 meters). The Mount of Olives Convent of the Ascension of Our Lord is at this location. According to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem:
"The convent's area is 54,000 square meters, surrounded by a wall, a kilometer and half in length. It has a large olive grove which supplies the sisters with olives and oil. Today, 46 sisters live at Mount of Olives. Among them are Russians, Arabs, Romanians, Estonians, Australians and Germans." 3
Timing of the ascension:
As noted above, the author of Luke has Jesus ascending to Heaven on a Monday, one day after his resurrection on Sunday. But the same author, while writing Acts, says that 40 days passed between his resurrection and ascension. The liberal theologian Marcus Borg has written about this apparent contradiction:
"The number 40 often has a non-literal meaning in the Bible. It is a number that means a relatively long period of time, just as "three" is a number signifying a relatively short period of time. ..."
"What is going on here? Is the author unaware of the contradiction of '40 days'? Or is this an indicator that the author does not intend this story to be understood literally? ... The author of Luke-Acts was very sophisticated, and my hunch is that he or she intended some stories to be understood non-literally." 4
More details on the date of the Ascension, relative to Jesus' resurrection.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"The Chapel of Ascension," at: http://www.mtolives.com/
"Mount of Olives," Bible Places, at: http://www.bibleplaces.com/
"Convent of the Ascension," Russian Mission, at: http://www.jerusalem-mission.org/
Marcus Borg, "The Ascension of Jesus," Beliefnet, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
How you may have arrived here:
Copyright © 2007 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-AUG-22
Author: B.A. Robinson