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Jesus' ascension to Heaven

Biblical & other descriptions of the
ascension of Jesus and four others

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Biblical references to three other ascensions:

bulletEnoch: Genesis 5:23-24 mentioned that Enoch lived for 365 years on Earth, that "Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." (King James Version)

Hebrews 11:5 clarifies the Genesis passage, stating:

"By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God."

Apparently, Enoch was "translated" from Earth to Heaven while he was still alive.

bulletElijah: 2 Kings 2 in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) discusses Elijah and Elisha walking together near the Jordan River. Elijah was wearing a magical cloak. He struck the water with it and it divided, leaving a dry path across the river. Verse 11-12 states:

"As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, 'My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!' And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart."

Elisha then picked up Elijah's cloak and struck the water with it. It had lost none of its magic, because the water divided, leaving a dry path across the river. The purpose of this story appears to be to show the ancient Hebrews that "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha."

bulletThe two witnesses: Revelation 11 discusses two witnesses who prophesy while clothed in sackcloth. They have the power to prevent rain and spread plagues. A beast comes out of the bottomless pit and kills them. Three and a half days later, they are resurrected, striking terror among the people. Revelation 11:12-13 states:

"And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven."

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Biblical references to the ascension of Jesus:

bulletMark is generally regarded as the first Gospel to be written. Chapter 16 describes how Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb where Jesus was laid and found it empty. Later, Jesus appeared to various of his followers: first Mary Magdalene, then to two unidentified followers. Finally, he appeared to the eleven surviving disciples as they were eating. He instructed them to spread the gospel around the world, and to baptize believers. He said that those who believe will be able to conduct exorcisms to rid people of indwelling demonic spirits, they "shall speak with new tongues" and be immune to the venom of poisonous snakes and liquid poisons. Verse 16:19 states:

"So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."

One might assume that the disciples were eating a meal either in Jerusalem or the Galilee when Jesus appeared. Thus it appears that he ascended from one of those locations.

bulletMatthew does not mention the ascension. Although the author of Matthew copied much of his/her material from Mark, he chose to ignore this event.
bulletLuke in chapter 24 describes events on Easter Sunday:
bulletMary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other identified women visited the empty tomb during the morning.
bulletPeter later confirmed that the tomb was empty.
bulletJesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus.

On Monday, three days after Jesus' execution, the two followers returned to the eleven surviving disciples in Jerusalem and were visited again by Jesus. He led them from Jerusalem, beyond the Mount of Olives, until they reached Bethany"

Luke 24:50-51 states:

"And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.

His followers, all being observant Jews, returned to the Jerusalem Temple to praise and bless God.

Luke's description has Jesus' ascension occurring at Bethany on Monday, only one day after what we now call Easter Sunday.

bulletJohn mentions the ascension in passing, without giving any details:
bulletJohn 6:62: "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?"
bulletJohn 20:17: Jesus said to Mary Magdelene: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
bulletActs describes in Acts 1:3 that Jesus visited with his followers for forty days after his resurrection. Acts 1:9-12 states:

"And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.

The author of Acts describes Jesus' ascension as occurring at Mount Olivet some 40 days after what we now observe as Easter Sunday. It is this timing, and not the timing mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, that the Christian Church has generally accepted for the date of the ascension.

Most Christians believe that the phrase "shall so come in like manner" means that Jesus will return to the same spot on the Mount of Olives from which he ascended. However, the text is ambiguous at this point. The text only states that Jesus would descend from the clouds; he might return to Earth at some other location without contradiction the passage.

The discrepancy between the Gospel of Luke and Acts over the timing and location of Jesus' ascension is curious, because they were apparently both written by the same author, although at different times.

bulletIn Ephesians, Paul refers to the ascension in Chapter 4:7-10:

"... he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (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.)

Unfortunately, Paul does not give a location or timing of the ascension.

bullet1 Timothy 3 also accepts the ascension as an established fact:

1 Timothy 3:16: "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."

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Creedal references to the ascension:

The ascension is also confirmed in three of the Christian Church's most important early creeds:

bulletThe Apostle's Creed states that Jesus:

"... descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;"

bulletThe Nicene Creed states that:

"On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father."

bulletThe Athanasian Creed states that Christ:

"... suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty ..."

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The ascension in early Christian writings:

According to Wikipedia:

"Outside of the Biblical Canon, the Ascension is discussed in the Pistis Sophia. Irenaeus in Against Heresies describes the ascension briefly: it gives a timespan of eighteen months between the resurrection and the ascension, while in another part of the same text he describes the timespan as eighteen aeons. The apocryphal text known as the Apocryphon of James describes the teachings of Jesus to James and Peter 550 days after the resurrection, but before the ascension, suggesting an even longer period. 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bible quotations are from the King James Version.
  2. "Ascension," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Latest update: 2007-MAR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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