Ascended in Glory
by Donald T. Williams
"Et ascendit in coelum"; "And he ascended into heaven." —The Nicene Creed
After being crucified, dead, and buried, and after rising on the third day according to the Scriptures, Jesus ascended into heaven.
Skeptics love to cite this affirmation as evidence that the early Christians believed in a three-story universe and hence were purveying myth, not history. But let's look at Acts 1 in the context of the canon of Scripture. Jesus was received by a cloud. Were the disciples projecting his trajectory away from the earth into outer space to a physical third storey of the universe? Was that really their understanding of what they saw?
Well, what if this "cloud" were not just a random stratus or cumulonimbus that just happened to be floating above the Mount of Olives? Remember the pillar of cloud that was the symbol of God's presence with Israel in the wilderness? The cloud on top of Mount Sinai? The cloud of the Shekinah that overshadowed the Tabernacle at its dedication? That appeared again at the dedication of the Temple? How about the cloud that three of the disciples had been enveloped by on the Mount of Transfiguration, out of which a Voice had proclaimed of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son"?
Jesus went back to the Father, back, in other words, to a visible symbol of the presence of God, back to where he had come from after completing his mission here on earth. If you read the Bible on its own terms, instead of importing other terms into it, the statement is not mythological; it is spiritual. Trying to figure out the astrophysics of the Ascension is an exercise in missing the point.
Donald T. Williams Ph.D., is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College. He is the author of eleven books, most recently Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016) and An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Christian Publishing House, 2018). He is a member of University Church, an interdenominational house church in Athens, Georgia.