By Chaplain (Col) Stephen W. Leonard, USA, Ret.

“And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into Heaven.” Acts 1:9-11

The disciples of Jesus, though warned by Jesus that this would happen, were truly shocked by His unjust trial and crucifixion. They were equally surprised by His resurrection on the third day, though Jesus, likewise, had told them this would happen beforehand. 

Now, He abruptly, after 40 days of post-resurrection appearances, was leaving earth for the courts of Heaven. Again, He foretold them about this as well, promising to send His Holy Spirit to comfort them and remain with them. (John 14

Apparently, telling them beforehand all these things, they were still truly surprised, just as though He had never said a word to them. But they finally remembered when they reviewed His Word after the fact. 

Telling them He must return to His Father in Heaven, they simply did not compute this in their minds. Still, the Ascension took place on the 40th day after His resurrection. 

The number 40 has special meaning in Scripture; either 40 days or 40 years. The raincreating the great floodlasted for 40 days. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness, during which He was tempted by the devil. A number of other 40 day or 40 year occurrences take place in Bible accounts. 

But now Jesus was prepared to take His leave of earth to return bodily to the courts of Heaven. How would such a transition take place? In other biblical occurrences, Jesus simply disappeared from the sight of those around Him, or was supernaturally “hid” from their sight. But here, He visibly ascended up into the sky and was hidden in the clouds before their eyes. Why, then, did Jesus and His Father choose this particular form of ascension into Heaven? 

He had gathered the 11 disciples, given them final instructions, including the Great Commission, and then, ascending into the air in their presence, finally disappeared in a cloud from their vision. Why did he effect His transition from earth to Heaven in this manner?

We can only suggest certain things which appear to us to accompany His ascension. First, it was visibly a bodily ascension. Jesus came in the flesh to earth in the form of a baby born of the Virgin Mary. He left us in the flesh, the body of God, in the person of Jesus Christ. Quite apparently, Jesus wedded Himself in His incarnation to human flesh for all eternity. As our mediator, between God and man, we will always be able to see Jesus, for He is from His advent on “God in the flesh.”

Jesus chose to transition to Heaven, in the sight of man, rising into the air until hidden by a cloud. He did this according to the angel at His ascension to show exactly how He would return in His Second Coming; “in this very same manner.”

Man cannot understand the place of Heaven being in a different plane or sphere of existence from earth. Jesus chose this specific manner to transition between these two spheres of existence. Heaven is not in interplanetary space. Its location is not spatially far from us. But it is in a place of existence removed from our sight. 

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus differentiates between Hades, the place of the unbelieving deceased, and Heaven, the place of the believing deceased. It teaches that there is “a great gulf fixed” between these two places, and that there is no crossing this “chasm,” nor is there any communication across this “chasm,” once it is affected. 

Jesus wished to emphasize His leaving, and the Holy Spirit’s coming in His place. He did this with His visible ascension, and with the visible signs of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling believers at Pentecost. The “Counselor” is here. Jesus is in the courts of Heaven, where He holds all things together.


“Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again, with his Father’s glory, with his angel train; for all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow, and our hearts confess him King of glory now.”
(5th verse of Caroline Noel’s hymn,”At the Name of Jesus,” 1870)

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