The world of the Ascension is a three-part universe with the heavens above, a flat earth centered on Jerusalem in the middle, and the underworld below. Heaven was separated from the earth by the firmament, the visible sky, a solid inverted bowl where God's throne sat "on the vaulted roof of earth."(Isaiah 40:22). Humans looking up from earth saw the floor of heaven, made of clear blue lapis-lazuli (Exodus 24:9-10), as was God's throne (Ezekiel 1:26).
Stories of heavenly ascents were fairly common in the time of Jesus, signifying the means whereby a prophet could attain access to divine secrets, or divine approval granted to an exceptionally righteous individual, or the deification of an exceptional man. Figures familiar to Jews would have included Enoch (from the Book of Genesis and a popular non-Biblical work called 1 Enoch); the 5th century sage Ezra; Baruch the companion of the prophet Jeremiah (from a work called 2 Baruch, in which Baruch is promised he will ascend to heaven after 40 days); Levi the ancestor of priests; the Teacher of Righteousness from the Qumran community; the prophet Elijah (from 2 Kings); Moses, who was deified on entering heaven; and the children of Job, who according to the Testament of Job ascended heaven following their resurrection from the dead. Non-Jewish readers would have been familiar with the case of the emperor Augustus, whose ascent was witnessed by Senators; Romulus the founder of Rome, who, like Jesus, was taken to heaven in a cloud; the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules); and others.