As the church year rolls along, this week—May 25—we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord, the Messiah. Among the passages for the Ascension are Acts 1:1-11, the Psalms that speak of the Lord being King (Psalm 47 and 93), and the Gospel of Luke 24:44-53 and which says, “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (v. 51). We have to look at this close—He was carried up into Heaven.
We know that at His resurrection the Messiah was raised with a physical body; He ate physical food with them (Luke 24:40); They touched His physical body (John 20:17, Matthew 28:9, John 20:27). Yet, though He was physically raised in a real body, He could walk through walls (John 20:19-20). So, He was raised in his physical body—the same physical body that he had at the crucifixion—yet, while He was the same he was somewhat changed. And, at the Ascension this same—yet somewhat different—body ascended into Heaven: flesh and blood “was carried up into Heaven.”
The belief of 1st Century, Second Temple Judaism was for a physical body resurrection—of course they expected this at the end of days, not in the middle of history as Jesus did. Looking at 2 Baruch 50:2 we see how the Jews expected the dead to rise, “For the earth will surely give back the dead at that time; it receives them now in order to keep them, not changing anything in their form. But as it has received them so it will give them back. And as I have delivered them to it so it will raise them.” Second Maccabees also addresses the resurrection, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.” Second Temple Judaism did not look forward to some disembodied afterlife existence, but forward to a raised physical body—a resurrection of their physical body, flesh and blood just as Christ was raised!
Yet, Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot go to the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:50). We are faced with a dilemma: Christ went into Heaven physical bodily and Paul says flesh and blood cannot go into Heaven. The Jews looked toward a physical body resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven.
While it looks as a contradiction, if we look at Paul’s words a bit closer we might see it a bit different. Paul’s usage if ‘flesh and blood’ has to be looked at as a figure of speech. Flesh and blood has to be looked at as an un-regenerated person—the unsaved, the person who still lives according to the flesh. At the resurrection the body will be animated by the Holy Spirit. It has to be remembered that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was resurrected (Romans 1:4). And it will be by the same power that the saved person will be resurrected—resurrected bodily in a flesh and blood body just as was the Christ. The “flesh and blood” then would be, a body not animated by the divine Spirit—an un-regenerated person. Jesus’ ascension was a body animated by the Spirit.
Jesus’ ascension was into the realm of God—into God’s space. And. This space of God intersects with our space—Heaven is where God is; and where God is intersects with where we are. And, as N. T. Wright put it, “The Jesus who has gone into [God’s dimension] is the human Jesus.” The “us” that will be resurrected is the human “us.” The ascension teaches us that while flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (the unsaved person—the person not animated by the Holy Spirit), flesh and blood will inherit the kingdom of Heaven—the saved person, the body animated by the Holy Spirit! As Wright put it, “for Jesus to go into the heavenly dimension, is not for him to go up as a spaceman miles up into space somewhere, and not for him to be distant or absent now. It is for him to be present, but in the mode in which heaven is present to us. That is, it’s just through an invisible screen, but present and real.”
Too often we look close at Easter and overlook the Ascension as we move towards Pentecost. Yet, the Ascension shows us who will inherit the kingdom of Heaven as well as in what form the they will be in at the resurrection. We too often see the ascension as Jesus leaving, yet he is always present with us. Are you animated by the Holy Spirit?
At the Ascension a bit of earth went to Heaven and at Pentecost a bit of Heaven came to earth.
Let us not overlook the Ascension!
Collect for the Ascension:
O Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his
promise, he abideth with his Church on earth, even to the
end of the ages; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in
glory everlasting. Amen.
In June, Theology From the Coast will begin a podcast on YouTube; more details will come soon.
Until Next Time May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You; All Y’all!