Happy Belated Ascension Day. This always happens forty days after Easter and this year was on Thursday May 25. Many Christians don’t know anything about an ascension. Interestingly, neither Paul nor the authors of Mark, Matthew, Peter, or John ever mention it. Only Luke and Acts (written by the same author) allude to such an event. Luke states, “While he blessed them, he parted from them” (Luke 24:51). Another Lucian manuscript says Jesus was “carried up to heaven.” Another states, “He was carried up from them.”
Someone may be thinking, “You’re wrong, preacher man. Look at Mark 16:19!” Most New Testament scholars agree that Mark 16:9-20 was not part of that original Gospel. Mark 16:9-20 is called a redaction, which is when an unknown source decides to rewrite or add a particular bias to the story.
Acts 1:11 says, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Please don’t ask me what the second half of that sentence means because I have no idea. It doesn’t make much sense. It sort of seems like Jesus has an elevator that is going to take him up and down when he feels like it, but they didn’t have elevators then.
The idea of ascending wasn’t new. The Old Testament suggests some fifteen ascensions by different folks. It was a lot easier to sell that concept back then because everyone thought that the world was flat, a three-tiered world with heaven on top. We now know that the universe is humongous, and so far space exploration has found no heaven up there.
At times, these made-up stories get out of hand. In 1963 Annie and I took twenty-five teenagers to Europe and the Holy Land. It was disappointing in Israel when all our tours were led by Arab Muslims who knew about our faith but told stories that had no validity. At night, I had to debrief the group and talk about what the New Testament really says. Near the end of our Holy Land tour, our guide took us to a large rock, flat on top with a small indentation. The guide pointed to the indentation and told us that Jesus put his left foot there and shot up into heaven. I wanted to barf.
First of all, the Ascension story came into being about nine decades after Jesus was murdered. Second, the Ascension story was invented because (after telling the made-up stories about a physical resurrection) this new religion now had a problem—how to get rid of Jesus who isn’t really here. They developed a divinely orchestrated ascension story to cover for their divinely orchestrated resurrection story.
Before some of my readers become totally exasperated, please bear in mind that the first time we hear a resurrection tale is some fifty-five years after Jesus was executed. The first time we hear an ascension story is sixty-five to seventy-five years after Jesus’s death.
Luke’s ascension story is as preposterous as the tour guide’s version, but that’s how the early church got rid of Jesus—God shot him into space like a Gemini rocket. Whenever I hear the Ascension story, I can see in my mind’s eye Jesus hurling into space with the afterburners pushing him up faster than the speed of sound.
Once when we were discussing this story, a rocket scientist in the group reminded us that had Jesus been sent up like a rocket almost two thousand years ago, he would still be in orbit. Interesting thought!
I suspect that for many centuries no one ever questioned this story—at least out loud—for fear of facing a nasty death. Fortunately, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Biblical scholarship has allowed us to question much within scripture.
Do you think that Jesus is still in orbit or that the Ascension story is just a tall tale?
Visual courtesy of jimmen. CC by-sa 2.0