Jesus' ascension to Heaven
Difficulties interpreting Jesus' ascension
Difficulties that skeptics and progressive Christians have about the
The ascension of Jesus and the four other individuals mentioned in the Bible
who also ascended or are prophesized to ascend made a lot of sense to folks in
the first century CE. They lived in a pre-scientific
culture and believed in the "three story" view of
cosmology. They viewed the Earth as being more or less in the shape of a
flat dish; columns supported the earth over the abyss; there was a rigid
firmament above the earth. Angels pushed the sun, moon, planets and stars along
the underside of the firmament during day and night. Heaven was located above
the firmament. Floodgates in the form of windows allowed God to pour water down
from Heaven in the form of rain. With this concept of the universe, it made a
lot of sense that if Jesus was to return to God, he would have to ascend from
earth through the air towards Heaven.
This story has presents all sorts of difficulties to many liberal and
progressive Christians today:
||Individuals simply do not rise into the air -- at least not farther than
they can jump -- unless they are pulled up by some mechanism.
||A person ascending a few miles into the air would die from lack of
||Heaven isn't "up there," nor is Hell under the earth.
One solution to these difficulties, as suggested by Markus Borg, is to
abandon the literal interpretation of the Gospel stories of the ascension and
interpret them symbolically. He writes:
"To say that the risen and ascended Jesus is 'at God's right hand,' a
position of honor and authority, means 'Jesus is Lord.' In the first
century, when kings and emperors claimed to be lords, this claim had not
only religious but also political meaning. To say 'Jesus is Lord' meant, and
means, that the Herods and Caesars of this world were not, and are not.
Second, because the risen and ascended Jesus is 'one with God,' he (like
God) can be experienced anywhere. Jesus is no longer restricted or confined
to time and space, as he was during his historical lifetime. Rather, like
the God whom he knew in his own experience, he continues to be known in the
experience of his followers.
To use language from Matthew's Gospel, for Christians the risen and
ascended Christ is Immanuel--'God with us'." 6
If Jesus' family tomb is ever found, as has been
claimed in a 2007 documentary, Christians who
believe that Jesus did not literally rise through the air to Heaven would have
fewer difficulties understanding the ascension as a purely spiritual event.
Difficulties that Oneness theologians have with the ascension:
The United Pentecostal Church teaches Oneness theology (a.k.a. "Jesus-Name"
theology and by the derogatory term "Jesus only"). They reject the belief in the
Trinity that is common among other Christian groups:
||The Trinity concept includes one God who is simultaneously composed of
three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.|
||Oneness theology teaches that God has existed in "three different
roles, modes, functions, or offices through which the one God operates and
reveals Himself." 8
These roles are:
||As God the Father in the Old Testament,
||As Jesus the Son during Christís interval on earth from circa 5
BCE to circa 30 CE
||As the Holy Spirit since Jesus' ascension to the present time.
Needless to say, the Jesus-Name and Trinitarian theologians condemn each
other as heretics.
Mark 16:19 presents problems to both Oneness and Trinitarian theologians. It
"So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into
heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."
This cannot be interpreted literally by Oneness theologians because it
implies that God the Father and Jesus are simultaneously existing. It
cannot be interpreted literally by Trinitarians because it implies that God the
Father and Jesus are two separate entities. The solution is to interpret Jesus'
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Marcus Borg, "The Ascension of Jesus," Beliefnet, at:
David K. Bernard, "The Oneness of God - Chapter 6: Father, Son and Holy
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2007-MAR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson