Ascension of Jesus

Jesus' ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley, 1775
Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels
Life of Jesus

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The ascension of Jesus (anglicized from the Vulgate Latin Acts 1:9-11 section title: Ascensio Iesu) is the departure of Christ from Earth into the presence of God.[1] The biblical narrative in Acts 1 takes place 40 days after the resurrection: Jesus, in the company of the disciples, is taken up in their sight after warning them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit; as he ascends a cloud hides him from their view, and two men in white appear to tell them that he will return "in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."[2] In the Christian tradition, reflected in the major Christian creeds and confessional statements, the ascension is connected with the exaltation of Jesus, meaning that through his ascension, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God: "He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty."[3] In Christian art the ascending Jesus is often shown blessing an earthly group below him, signifying the entire Church.[4]

The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the 40th day of Easter, always a Thursday;[3] the Orthodox tradition has a different calendar up to a month later than in the Western tradition, and while the Anglican communion continues to observe the feast, most Protestant churches have abandoned the observance.[5][6]

Background

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.[7][8] Heaven was separated from the earth by the firmament, the visible sky, a solid inverted bowl where God's palace sat on pillars in the celestial sea.[9] 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).[10]

Ascension stories became fairly common in the first and second centuries AD,[11] serving in Greco-Roman traditions as an indication of the deification of a noteworthy person, usually a Roman Emperor and in Judaism as an indication of divine approval.[12] Another function of heavenly ascent was as a mode of divine revelation reflected in Greco-Roman, early Jewish, and early Christian literary sources, in which particular individuals with prophetic or revelatory gifts are thought to have experienced a heavenly journey during which they learned cosmic and divine secrets.[12] 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 to heaven following their resurrection from the dead.[13][14] 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.[15]

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