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 Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles takes place 40 days after the resurrection: Jesus is taken up from the disciples in their sight, a cloud hides him from 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] Despite this, in modern times the Ascension is seen less as the climax of the mystery of Christ than as "something of an embarrassment", in the words of McGill University's Douglas Farrow.[4]

In Christian art, the ascending Jesus is often shown blessing an earthly group below him, signifying the entire Church.[5] 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.[6][7]

Biblical accounts

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Death and Resurrection of Jesus
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Luke-Acts, a single work from the same anonymous author, provides the only narrative account of the ascension.[8][1] Luke 24 tells how Jesus leads the eleven disciples to Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives not far from Jerusalem, where he instructs them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit and blesses them. "And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Acts 1 describes a meal at which Jesus commands the disciples to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, a cloud takes him upward from sight, and two men in white appear to tell them (the disciples) that he will return "in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."[2] Luke and Acts appear to describe the same event, but present quite different chronologies, Luke placing it on the same day as the resurrection and Acts forty days afterwards;[9] various proposals have been put forward to resolve the contradiction, but the question remains open.[10]

The Gospel of John has three references to ascension in Jesus' own words: "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the son of man" (John 3:13); "What if you (the disciples) were to see the son of man ascending where he was before?" (John 6:62); and to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, "Do not hold me, for I not yet ascended to my father..." (John 20:17).[1] In the first and second Jesus is claiming to be the apocalyptic "one like a son of man" of Daniel 7;[11] the last has mystified commentators – why should Mary be prohibited from touching the risen but not yet ascended Christ, while Thomas is later invited to do so?[12]

Various epistles (Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:19-20, Colossians 3:1, Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:21-22) also refer to an ascension, seeming, like Luke-Acts and John, to equate it with the post-resurrection "exaltation" of Jesus to the right hand of God.[13] There is a broad consensus among scholars that the brief ascension account in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:19) is a later addition to the original version of that gospel.[14]


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