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What is an ascension to Heaven?

Different ascensions to Heaven are mentioned in the Bible. Most famous is that of the Lord Jesus. But what is an ascension to Heaven and what does it mean? What is so special about it? Will believers also experience it? What is mentioned about it in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

Ascension to Heaven is a going up to Heaven. But in the Bible the word ‘Heaven’ is used for the place where God dwells, but it is also another word for the sky. Nowadays we know that ‘above’ the sky there is space (the universe). The Bible writers did not know that.

Types of ascensions to Heaven
In the Bible it is Enoch who seems to be the first man that experiences something like an ascension (Gn 5:24). Later, all kinds of mystical books were written about that event and even in the New Testament (NT) it is mentioned that Enoch never died (Hb 11:5). But nowhere in the Bible is it stated that Enoch actually ascended to Heaven. However, many people think that he was the first man to experience it and was taken up into Heaven (there where God resides). But what is man’s place in Heaven? In the Bible it is stated explicitly that God gave the earth to man and give him dominion over it (Gn 1:28; Ps 115:16; Is 45:12). Man was also created out of earth’s material (Gn 2:7). It is therefore seems more likely that God directly transferred Enoch to the realm of the dead without dyeing first. This was likely a great sign of grace from God for Enoch, since the world in which he was living (the so-called prehistoric time) was quite violent and evil.

Another famous ascension to Heaven is that of the prophet Elijah (2 K 2:11). This explains the fable that this prophet would return just before the coming of the Messiah (Mal 4:5). John the Baptist is connected with Elijah. John, however, was a unique, historical person with a father and a mother (Lk 1:13). Thus, it seems that, just like Enoch, Elijah isn’t taken up into Heaven. In the Bible is only written that God took him away into the air.

Philip (not the apostle, but one of the seven servants (Acts 6:3)) also seems to have experienced an ascension. The Spirit of God suddenly took him away (Acts 8:39-40). But this also was no ascension into Heaven, but movement through the air. The Lord Jesus also experienced this also sometimes (e.g. Jh 10:39; 20:19).

Also the apostle Paul seems to have experienced an ascension even up into the ‘3rd Heaven’ (2 Cor 12:2). From what is written there one can see clearly that this was not a description of a factual ascension into Heaven, but a vision.

In other Bible texts an ascension is pictured in theoretical sense, namely that an ascension to Heaven would be needed when someone would need an answer from God (Rm 10:6). But reading these verses carefully would show that this is rather been presented as an impossibility. That it is impossible for humans. It is taken as something being completely obvious (Prov 30:4).
The Bible also has verses that state that God undergoes ascensions to Heaven. But only after He first came down to the Earth (e.g. Gn 17:22).

Ascension Day
The ascension of the Lord Jesus to Heaven is something quite different from all that is discussed above. This is not presented as a vision or wishful thinking of His disciples. He underwent a factual ascension to Heaven. His disciples saw Him go up before their eyes (Acts 1:9-10). It brought them great sorrow. They understood that this was a farewell for some time to come.
After His crucifixion they thought He had died. But after three days He seemed very much alive and well! From His ascension to Heaven, however, they understood that He would not go back again to the realm of the dead, but to His Father’s Kingdom in Heaven.

His ascension to Heaven happened during the days of which Moses had commanded to count them (Dt 16:9); seven full weeks from Pesach until the 50th day. Then the Israelites needed to present the first fruits of their harvest to God and therefore a feast was celebrated; the Feast of Weeks (Hebrew: Sjavoe’ot / Greek: Pentikostis). The period between Pesach and Pentecost thus is marked by the Feast of Pesach. Pentecost is the fulfillment and rounding up of the Pesach period in the Springtime.

The ascension of the Lord Jesus was 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3). This means that He returned to His Father in Heaven just before Pentecost. After arriving there God gave Him the Holy Spirit and He pours Him forth on His disciples (Acts 2:33). Pentecost stands thus in direct connection to His ascension to Heaven that has, amongst others, the following meanings/consequences:
• The Lord Jesus stands closer to God, His Father, then any man.
He did not undergo a one way journey from Earth to Heaven, but He returned to His place of origin in the presence of God (Jh 6:62; Ef 4:10). That makes Him being a Man unique and incomparable with humans. Despite He became a Man He received, different from normal humans, access to Heaven. Thus proves that humans cannot follow Him in everything and that He has a reason for being in Heaven.
• The Lord Jesus has become the Servant of God’s new worship.
His death and resurrection marks the initiation of the New Covenant (NC). The NC demands a new way of worship. He became High Priest of it in the Temple of God in Heaven.
• The Lord Jesus had to make room for the Holy Spirit (Jh 16:7).
The Spirit of God continues His work on Earth (Jh 16:13-14). Thus, God’s Sjechinah finally returned back to the Earth (1 Pe 2:9), although for the time being only to the reborn believers. This makes them a temple of God until the restoration of God’s Temple on Earth in Jerusalem.
• His ascension to Heaven marks His return as Messiah (Acts 1:11).
The suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus represent the further fulfillment of Pesach. His return shall be further fulfillment as well; the whole of Creation and the whole of Israel will then be (temporarily) delivered from the power satan (rev 20:1-3). After that God’s work of salvation shall enter a new phase.