Here are the basics about his ascension.
Here is the diagram outlining the states of Christ:
If you need a quick explanation of the entire image, please click on this link:
His ascension is on the right, as the arrow sweeps upward.
Let’s begin with a formal definition of the ascension: it “is the enactment of Jesus’s transition from his earthy life and ministry to the right hand of God the Father by his public bodily rising from the ground into the skies over the village of Bethany” (EDT, p. 87).
Now let’s look at Scripture.
If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
Jesus led them out to Bethany, outside Jerusalem, raised his hands and “while he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51).
Luke, doing his research by interviewing eyewitnesses who were with Jesus from the beginning, describes the ascension clearly in his history:
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
Other passages in Scripture that describe the ascension:
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)
62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! (John 6:62)
2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:2-3)
Note that in the above verses Jesus uses the word place three times.
28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (John 16:28; cf. v. 10)
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
9 What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (Eph. 4:9-10)
What does the ascension mean in Christ’s life?
He is now the God-man, since he acquired (sinless) human nature at his conception. The God-man received the glory he had before he became the God-man.
Jesus is about to die, and he prayed to the Father that his glory would be restored to him:
4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (John 17:4-5)
God exalted him to the highest placed in heaven and on earth:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)
Many scholars believe the above verses were taken from an ancient Christian hymn.
And the same goes for the next verse. It was part of an ancient hymn. He was taken into glory, which matches John 17:5:
He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)
We saw in John 14:2-4, Jesus was taken up into heaven, which is a place
If heaven is a place and Jesus went there, where is it?
That is a topic in the category Last Things. For now, let’s reference these theologians:
The universe and the earth are feeble reflections of the heavenly realm. Millard Erickson is right:
In premodern times the ascension was usually thought of as a transition from one place (earth) to another (heaven). We now know, however, that space is such that heaven is not merely upward from the earth, and it also seems likely that the difference between earth and heaven is not merely geographic. One cannot get to God simply by traveling sufficiently far and fast in a space vehicle of some kind. God is in a different dimension of reality, and the transition from here to there requires not merely a change of place, but of state. So, at some point, Jesus’s ascension was not merely a physical and spatial change, but spiritual as well. At that time, Jesus underwent the remainder of the metamorphosis begun with the resurrection of his body (pp. 710-11).
So, heaven is a place, but with its own dimensions. Though our universe palely mirrors it, it is not as if heaven is a planet. Yes, it has mansions and a river (at least one), and a tree of life, and a new Jerusalem, and in that sense our universe borrows from it.
Erickson’s description correctly contradicts Grudem’s claim about heaven. Grudem writes: “It is surprising that even some evangelical theologians hesitate to affirm that heaven is a place or that Jesus ascended to a definite location somewhere in the space-time universe” (p. 617). But then Grudem goes on to say that heaven is invisible to our eyes, as if it is a different dimension. It cannot be part of the space-time universe, where we are on a tiny planet, and be another dimension, which we don’t occupy.
However, those two options are available to the reader:
(1) Heaven is in our space-time universe;
(2) Or it is in another dimension that our space-time universe deficiently mirrors.
One thing is for certain, heaven is not on a planet, as some teach.
So how can I know Jesus more intimately?
Christ publicly, bodily, and visibly was raised up from the earth and went into the clouds, possibly clouds of glory or just ordinary clouds. When he was out of their sight, he disappeared and went into the heavenly dimension, where dwell God, his throne, angels, cherubim, Old Testament saints and other beings and things. He is now the heavenly God-man, after acquiring a new state: humanity.
I like to imagine big cheers thundering across heaven as the nail-scarred God-man processed towards the throne, where he was about to be seated at the right hand of the Father and receive all praise and glory (Rev. 5:12).
Written by James Malcolm
ARTICLES IN “DO I REALLY KNOW JESUS?” SERIES
15. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Ascended into Heaven