Ascension of Jesus

Ascension of Jesus
Ascension of Jesus
Ascension of Jesus
Ascension of Christ by Garofalo 1520
Observed by Christians
Type Christianity
Significance Affirmation of the ascension of Jesus
Date Thursday[n 1] in the sixth week following Easter Sunday
2010 date May 13 (Western),
May 13 (Eastern)
2011 date Jun 2 (Western),
Jun 2 (Eastern)
2012 date May 17 (Western),
May 24 (Eastern)
Celebrations A traditional Christian Feast
Observances Prayer
Related to Passover; Christmas (which honors the birth of Jesus); Septuagesima, Quinquagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, which lead up to Easter; and Easter Sunday (primarily), Pentecost, Whit Monday, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi, which follow Easter

The Ascension of Jesus is the Christian teaching found in the New Testament when the resurrected Jesus was taken up to heaven in his resurrected body,[Acts 1:9-11] in the presence of eleven of his apostles, occurring 40 days after the resurrection. In the biblical narrative, an angel tells the watching disciples that Jesus' second coming will take place in the same manner as his ascension.[1]

The Ascension of Jesus is professed in the Nicene Creed and in the Apostles' Creed. The Ascension implies Jesus' humanity being taken into heaven.[2] The Feast of the Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter, is one of the chief feasts of the Christian year.[2] The feast dates back at least to the later 4th century, as is widely attested.[2]

The account of Jesus ascending bodily into the clouds is given fully only in the Acts of the Apostles, but is briefly described also in the Gospel of Luke (often considered to be by the same author) at 24:50–53 and in the ending of Mark 16 at 16:19.


Biblical accounts

  • In the Epistle to the Romans[10:5-7] (c. 56-57),[3] Paul of Tarsus describes Christ as in heaven and as having descended into the abyss─the earliest Christian reference to Jesus in heaven. The fuller account of the Ascension, the earliest account, according to the two-source hypothesis,[4] is in Acts of the Apostles[1:1-11] where Jesus is taken up bodily into heaven forty days after his resurrection as witnessed by his apostles, after giving the Great Commission with a prophecy to return.
  • In the Gospel of Luke, there is no time marker to say when the Ascension took place. Some read the text of Luke literally and take the final four verses of the last chapter as if events were contiguous on the same day─i.e., the Ascension taking place on Easter Sunday evening.[5] Others hold the Ascension took place 40 days after the Resurrection based on Acts 1:3.
  • The Gospel of John[20:17] (c. 90-100)[6] refers to Jesus returning to the Father. Some[7] interpret 'Receive the Spirit' of John 20:22 as a possibly meaning that Jesus was then already ascended and glorified on the late Sunday of resurrection.
  • In the First Epistle of Peter (c. 90-110),[6] Jesus has ascended to heaven and is at God's right side.[1 Pet. 3:21-22] The Epistle to the Ephesians[4:7-13] (c. 90-100)[6] refers to Jesus ascending higher than all the heavens.
  • The First Epistle to Timothy[3:16] (c. 90-140)[6] describes Jesus as taken up in glory.
  • The appended ending of Mark[16:19] includes a summary of Luke's resurrection material and describes Jesus as being taken up into heaven and sitting at God's right hand. The imagery of Jesus' Ascension is related to the broader theme of his exaltation and heavenly welcome, derived from the Hebrew Bible.[2] The image of Jesus rising bodily into the heavens reflects the ancient view that heaven was above the earth.[8]
  • One mention of the Ascension found in the Christian Bible is in the Gospel of Mark[16:14-19]—but see article on Mark 16. In one segment of the account, Jesus and the remaining eleven apostles are seated at a table. The passage summarizes a number of teachings attributed to Jesus: they are to spread the Gospel (see also Great Commission) and those who believe will be known by their ability to handle venomous snakes without ill effects, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to speak in "new tongues," and the like. The next segment in the most common, later ordering of the account states that after teaching these things, Jesus was received into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. No description of the Ascension itself is given; Mark simply states that it happened. This traditional but possibly non-canonical ending of Mark is considered a summary of Luke's resurrection appearances, commission, and ascension, plus miracles from the apostolic tradition.[9]
  • The Gospel of Luke[24:50-51] is even more brief in its description. Jesus led the eleven to Bethany, not far from Jerusalem. While in the act of blessing them, Jesus was carried up to heaven. Since Luke was once the first part of Luke-Acts, scholars surmise that this Ascension, less detailed than that in Acts 1:9-12, is from a different hand, perhaps created when Luke-Acts was divided into Luke and Acts.[5]
  • The Acts of the Apostles[1:9-12] reports that for forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus continued to teach His followers. Jesus and the eleven were gathered near Mount Olivet, to the northeast of Bethany. Jesus tells His apostles that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the "Comforter," see also Paraclete, and that they will spread His message the world over, i.e., the Great Commission. Jesus is taken up and received by a cloud. Two men clothed in white (i.e., angels, see also Two witnesses) appear and tell the apostles that Jesus will return in the same manner as he was taken.

The original Gospel of Luke and the Acts were both written by the same author and were thus very unlikely to contain such discrepancies in their original form.[10]

Not only is the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, Christ asks the Jews: "What if then you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?"[Jn 6:62] and to Mary Magdalene Jesus said, "Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to My God and your God.' " 20:17 In Acts,[2:30-33] Ephesians,[4:8-10] and 1 Timothy[3:16] the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact, while Hebrews[10:12] describes Jesus as seated in heaven.

The Gospel of Matthew ends[28:18-20] at a mountain in Galilee with Jesus commanding the Disciples to spread the Gospel to the ends of the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (the "Great Commission"). No mention is made there of the Ascension.

The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditional view is that Mary was also present at the Ascension, following her mention in Acts 1.[citation needed]


The Ascension rock, inside the edicule, is said to bear the imprint of Jesus' right foot.
The Ascension edicule

The place of the Ascension is not distinctly mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Luke 24:50 states that the event took place in Bethany while it appears from Acts that it took place on the Mount Olivet (the "Mount of Olives"). After the Ascension the apostles 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.

Before the conversion of Constantine in 312 AD, early Christians honored the Ascension of Christ in a cave on the Mount of Olives. By 384, the place of the Ascension was venerated on the present open site, uphill from the cave.[11]

The Chapel of the Ascension in Jerusalem today is a Christian and Muslim holy site now believed to mark the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. In the small round church/mosque is a stone imprinted with what some claim to be the very footprints of Jesus.[11]

Around the year 390 a wealthy Roman woman named Poimenia financed construction of the original church called "Eleona Basilica" (elaion in Greek means "olive garden", from elaia "olive tree," and has an oft-mentioned similarity to eleos meaning "mercy"). This church was destroyed by Sassanid Persians in 614. It was subsequently rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again by the Crusaders. This final church was later also destroyed by Muslims, leaving only a 12x12 meter octagonal structure (called a martyrium—"memorial"—or "Edicule") that remains to this day.[12] The site was ultimately acquired by two emissaries of Saladin in the year 1198 and has remained in the possession of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem ever since. The Russian Orthodox Church also maintains a Convent of the Ascension on the top of the Mount of Olives.

Christian theology

Eastern and Oriental Christianity

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In Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox theology, the Ascension is interpreted as the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation, in that it not only marked the completion of Jesus' physical presence among his apostles, but consummated the union of God and man when Jesus ascended in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The Ascension and the Transfiguration both figure prominently in the Orthodox doctrine of theosis. The bodily Ascension into heaven is also understood as the final token of Christ's two natures: divine and human.[13]

The Orthodox doctrine of salvation points to the Ascension to indicate that the state of redeemed man is higher than the state of man in Paradise before the fall.

The Orthodox understand Christ's physical presence to continue in the Church, which is the "Body of Christ".[1 Cor 12:12-27] Jesus' promise that he will be "with you always" is understood not only in terms of his active, divine grace, but also in the divine institution of the church (human sinfulness notwithstanding).

Christ's Ascension into heaven is understood as a necessary prerequisite for the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.[Jn 14:15-20] [14:25-28] [15:26] [16:7] The biblical texts regarding the Ascension also prophesy the Second Coming of Christ, stating that Jesus will return not only in the same glorious manner, but in the same place. In other words, the Second Coming and Last Judgment will take place on the Mount of Olives, with the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) below and to the left.

Reformed tradition in Protestantism

The Westminster Confession of Faith (part of the Reformed tradition in Calvinism and influential in the Presbyterian church), in Article four of Chapter eight, states: "On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world."

Article 46 of the Heidelberg Catechism answers the question What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven? by stating "That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead."

The Catechism also asks: How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us?, replying, "First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit [...]"

The Second Helvetic Confession addresses the purpose and character of Christ's ascension in Chapter 11:

Christ Is Truly Ascended Into Heaven. We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, in his same flesh, ascended above all visible heavens into the highest heaven, that is, the dwelling-place of God and the blessed ones, at the right hand of God the Father. Although it signifies an equal participation in glory and majesty, it is also taken to be a certain place about which the Lord, speaking in the Gospel, says: 'I go to prepare a place for you' (John 14:2). The apostle Peter also says: 'Heaven must receive Christ until the time of restoring all things' (Acts 3:21).

Critical analysis

The Jesus Seminar considers the New Testament accounts of Jesus' ascension as inventions of the Christian community in the Apostolic Age.[5] They describe the Ascension as a convenient device to discredit ongoing appearance claims within the Christian community.[5]


The Feast of the Ascension is one of the great feasts in the Christian liturgical calendar, and commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day from Easter day. However, some Roman Catholic provinces have moved the observance to the following Sunday. The feast is one of the ecumenical feasts (i.e., universally celebrated), ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter, and Pentecost.

Artistic depictions

The Ascension, by Dosso Dossi, 16th century. Many Ascension scenes have an upper (Heavenly) and a lower (earthly) part.[14]

The Ascension has been a frequent subject in Christian art, as well as a theme in theological writings.[15] By the 6th century the iconography of the Ascension had been established and by the 9th century Ascension scenes were being depicted on domes of churches.[16][17] The Rabbula Gospels (c. 586) include some of the earliest images of the Ascension.[17]

Many ascension scenes have two parts, an upper (Heavenly) part and a lower (earthly) part. The ascending Christ may be carrying a resurrection banner or make a sign of benediction with his right hand.[14] The blessing gesture by Christ with his right hand is directed towards the earthly group below him and signifies that he is blessing the entire Church.[18] In the left hand, he may be holding a Gospel or a scroll, signifying teaching and preaching.[18]

The Eastern Orthodox portrayal of the Ascension is a major metaphor for the mystical nature of the Church.[19] In many Eastern icons the Virgin Mary is placed at the center of the scene in the earthly part of the depiction, with her hands raised towards Heaven, often accompanied by various Apostles.[19] The upwards looking depiction of the earthly group matches the Eastern liturgy on the Feast of the Ascension: "Come, let us rise and turn our eyes and thoughts high..."[18]

Paintings and mosaic

Icons and illuminated manuscripts

See also


The gospels are censed during the liturgy of the Ascension in an Oriental Orthodox church in India. Note the image of the Ascension on the altar wall and the Nasrani menorah in the foreground.
  1. ^ In some areas, however, the Ascension of Jesus is observed on the following Sunday (see Sunday observance).


  1. ^ "Ascension, The." Macmillan Dictionary of the Bible. London: Collins, 2002. Credo Reference. Web. 27 September 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d "Ascension of Christ." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  3. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 321
  4. ^ The account in Acts was originally in Luke-Acts. The short account of Ascension in Luke is a condensed of this fuller account in Acts Chapter one, presumably by the same author. The Ascension is only mentioned in the revised ending to the gospel of Mark, based on Luke, added to Mark in the second century. Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998.
  5. ^ a b c d Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Empty Tomb, Appearances & Ascension" p. 449-495.
  6. ^ a b c d Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  7. ^ John Marsh, Saint John - The Pelican New Testament Commentaries: Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. 1968. pp. 639-643
  8. ^ Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0
  9. ^ May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977.
  10. ^ Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Luke 24:51 is missing some important early witnesses; Acts 1 varies between the Alexandrian and Western versions.
  11. ^ a b "Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem," Sacred Destinations. Web: 4 April 2010. < Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem>
  12. ^ "The Chapel of Ascension." Web: 4 April 2010. < Chapel of the Ascension>
  13. ^ St. Leo the Great, Tome, Section V.
  14. ^ a b Renaissance art: a topical dictionary by Irene Earls 1987 ISBN 0313246580 pages 26-27
  15. ^ Encyclopedia of World Religions by Johannes P. Schade 2007, ISBN 1601360002 entry under Ascension
  16. ^ Festival icons for the Christian year by John Baggley 2000 ISBN 0264674871 page 137-138
  17. ^ a b Robin M. Jensen "Art in Early Christianity" in The New Westminster Dictionary of Church History by Robert Benedetto 2008 ISBN 9780664224165 pages 51-53
  18. ^ a b c The meaning of icons by Leonide Ouspensky, Vladimir Lossky 1999 ISBN 091383677X page 197
  19. ^ a b The mystical language of icons by Solrunn Nes 2005 ISBN 0802829163 page 87

External links

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