After Jesus was crucified and buried, he was resurrected. This was something that he said would happen, but his followers were still surprised. This amazing event was hard for some of his disciples to believe, but Jesus visited them and talked with them. For 40 days, Jesus was busy encouraging his followers and teaching them that the crucifixion wasn’t the end. The crucifixion had been the victory. Now the next stage had begun, living out that victory and establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth.
One part of this that we may struggle with is our concept of spirit. During his 40 days, Jesus had a body. The Bible is clear that he could be touched, and he could eat. It also says he could pass through solid walls and vanish. It says that though people didn’t recognise his body, it still had the scars of the crucifixion.
Talking about this body, Paul says it is spirit. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:35, “What kind of bodies will they have? What a foolish question!”
It may be a foolish question, but Paul tries to answer it for us. He says, “They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies.” (1 Corinthians 15:44)
At this point it is easy to slip into Greek philosophy, which says there is a body and there is a spirit. We think that the essence of a person is the spirit, which kind of floats around and has no substance. But Paul isn’t saying that. He says Jesus had a body. His spirit occupied a spiritual body. When we die in faith, we get a new body that is immortal. A real body that is more substantial than our current decaying body of death. We will exchange our current bodies for glorious bodies like the one Jesus had.
For 40 days Jesus walked and talked and ate in this real, substantial, glorious body. And after 40 days he left and went to heaven. Scripture records the event.
Mark 16:19 – “When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”
Luke 24:51 – “[Jesus] left them and was taken up to heaven.”
Acts 1:9 – “[Jesus] was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him”
Jesus was taken up. It happened 40 days after Easter, which was three days ago on Thursday 25 May. Jesus was on the Mount of Olives with his followers. He did not take himself up. He was taken up by God into heaven.
Jesus did not float up like a ghost. Jesus had a real and substantial body. So was it like Superman? Was it like a man standing on an invisible elevator? Was a cable lowered from the sky so that he was pulled up?
Let’s make an important point here. Jesus was fully human. He was a completely normal, fully human resurrected person in a normal resurrection body. You will have exactly the same body as Jesus one day. Jesus didn’t float away on a cloud because he was God.
There have been in history various views of the ascension. One is that like Superman, Jesus did a vertical take-off and soared into outer space above the clouds. Most of us realise that Jesus isn’t living in space, and that if he had gone straight up from the Mount of Olives it would have been straight down for people on the other side of the world. In reaction to this view, other people have suggested that the ascension is a metaphor. This theory says Jesus didn’t really have a body, and what actually happened was that his spirit was disbursed through the whole world so that he is with us in spirit wherever we are. This often connects with the idea that when he died Jesus went straight to heaven without ever getting a body.
The ascension requires us to think differently about our world. It asks us to think that we live in a world where people can have substantial and real spiritual bodies that can vanish.
A common way to perceive the world is called the receptacle view. This view says the physical world is a place – a receptacle. Heaven is another place – another receptacle. You can be in one container or the other, but not both at the same time. This is not the biblical view. The Bible sees heaven and earth as being related. They are not different locations in creation. They are rather different dimensions. Science is actually coming around to that view.
Theologians such as T.F. Torrance say that Jesus did not rise through the air until only his feet were sticking out of the bottom of a cloud. These theologians say that Jesus was taken into another dimension. This other dimension is heaven. Heaven is where Jesus lives. He lives there as a human being in a body, just as we shall when we get our new bodies and are moved to this other dimension.
These two dimensions are connected. They have a relationship. The human being Jesus in heaven in his human body is in charge of this dimension. In John 14 Jesus says, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”
In Matthew 28 Jesus says, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”
The ascension of Jesus is when we are reminded of the reality of heaven. We are reminded that it is a real and solid place where we will live in real and solid bodies. We are reminded that Jesus is already living there as a human, along with all who have already died in faith.
And we are reminded that he is coming back. He is coming back the way he left in his real and substantial body. When we die, we will get a glorious body like his and live with him.
In the meantime, there is a human being in charge. He lives in heaven. We don’t need to be in charge, we just need to follow his orders.
We also have the spirit of God within us. The Holy Spirit is here, as Jesus told his followers just before he left. “And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”
Luke tells us that after his disciples saw Jesus depart, they were filled with great joy and rejoicing. They went back to Jerusalem singing and praising. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.
It seems quite likely that they were excited because Jesus was coming back soon and would be king of the world. While we wait for the return of Jesus, we have much to do. We have to be filled with the Holy Spirit and tell everyone about the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Jesus is alive and living in heaven. Jesus is coming back. Jesus is already ruling.
We believe in the three in one, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Our message to everyone is that they are all invited to be citizens of God’s kingdom, and to live with the king of that kingdom here on earth and in heaven.