Described in the Bible as the lifting up of Jesus Christ into heaven 40 days after the Resurrection (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9), the Ascension signifies the exaltation of Christ as Lord of the universe and is thus closely associated with the resurrection. Ascension Thursday, kept 40 days after Easter, is one of the major feasts of the Christian church.
The Ascension, in Christian belief, was the departure of Jesus Christ from the earth 40 days after his resurrection from the dead. The event is described as occurring in the presence of the apostles; Christ was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. In some New Testament passages (see Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:1-14) the ascension is represented as an observed historical fact. Other passages (see 1 Peter 3:22; 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 4:14) stress its theological dimension. Its significance seems to center on the glorification of Christ and its service as a sign that his earthly mission had been fulfilled.
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The Ascension of Christ was that act of the God-man by which he brought to an end his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, was finally parted from them as to his physical presence, and passed into the other world, to remain there until his second advent (Acts 3:21). Luke describes this event in a word or two in Luke 24:51 and more fully in Acts 1:9. Even if the words "and he was carried up into heaven" are not part of the true text in Luke 24:51, we have good reason for saying, in the light of Luke's clear and unambiguous words in his second treatise, that the doubtful words in Luke 24:51 express what was in his mind. In accordance with the oral testimony of the apostles, he carries on his story of the life of Jesus as far as "the day that he was taken up" (Acts 1:22).
According to the Fourth Gospel our Lord referred on three occasions to his ascending into heaven (John 3:13; 6:62; 20:17). Paul speaks of Christ ascending far above all heavens in order to permeate the whole universe with his presence and power (Eph. 4:10). Such phrases as "received up in glory" (I Tim. 3:16), "gone into heavens" (I Pet. 3:22), and "passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14) refer to the same event. Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to "seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God" (Col.3:1, ERV), and the numerous references in the NT to the session at the right hand of God presuppose the ascension.
In Eph. 1:20ff. Paul passes directly from the resurrection to the exaltation of Christ to the place of supreme power and authority in the universe. In passages like Rom. 8:34 and Col. 3:1 the session might seem to be thought of as the immediate result of the rising from the dead, thus leaving no room, as some have argued, for the ascension as a distinct event; but it is difficult to see that there is any force in any argument derived from Paul's silence in such passages when in Eph. 4:10 he states so emphatically his belief in the ascension. Our Lord's postresurrection appearances had, no doubt, shown that he belonged already to the upper world of light and glory; but with the ascension his fleeting visits to his disciples from that world came to an end, and the heavens received him from their sight. Yet, through the indwelling Holy Spirit they were to come nearer to him than ever before, and he was to be with them forever (John 14:16-18).
To object to the account of the ascension of Christ into heaven as implying a childish and outmoded view of the universe is, more or less, solemn trifling. While we may agree with Westcott when he says that "the change which Christ revealed by the ascension was not a change of place, but a change of state, not local but spiritual" (The Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 180), on the other hand we are not unscientific when we think of the land where "the king in all His glory without a veil is seen" as the upper world of light and glory, high above us as good is above evil and blessedness above misery.
The Heidelberg Catechism suggest three great benefits that we receive
from the ascension.
The ascended Lord is with us in the struggle here (Mark 16:19-20), and we know that he has gone to heaven "our entrance to secure, and our abode prepare" (John 14:2;Heb. 6:20).
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
HADC; HDB; HDCG; W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord; A. M. Ramsey in Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, Bulletin II; H. B. Swete, The Ascended Christ; M. Loane, Our Risen Lord.
See also The Feast of the Ascension.
The elevation of Christ into heaven by His own power in presence of His disciples the fortieth day after His Resurrection. It is narrated in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Although the place of the Ascension is not distinctly stated, it would appear from the Acts that it was Mount Olivet. Since after the Ascension the disciples are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day's journey. Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension and Christian piety has memorialized the event by erecting over the site a basilica. St. Helena built the first memorial, which was destroyed by the Persians in 614, rebuilt in the eighth century, to be destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the crusaders. This the Moslems also destroyed, leaving only the octagonal structure which encloses the stone said to bear the imprint of the feet of Christ, that is now used as an oratory.
Not only is the fact of the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, in John 6:63, Christ asks the Jews: "If then you shall see the son of Man ascend up where He was before?" and 20:17, He says to Mary Magdalen: "Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God." Again, in Ephesians 4:8-10, and in Timothy 3:16, the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact.
The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension must be interpreted according to usage. To say that He was taken up or that He ascended, does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words "sitteth on the right hand of God" mean that this is His actual posture. In disappearing from their view "He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the scripture phrase.
Publication information Written by John J. Wynne. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
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