Why Did Jesus Float Into The Sky? Part One

by Brian Colmery
The story of Jesus' ascension can sound like someone recounting a strange dream: "We were just there talking, and then my friend started floating into the sky!" It can feel superficial, like a mythical story added into the history of Jesus to pad his stats as God in the flesh. It dares you to skim past it and move on to things that feel more respectable and easier on the intellect (even if those things include tongues of fire from heaven). Most of all, it feels removed. How does Jesus floating into the sky mean anything to us who are still on the ground?

And yet there it is in Acts, written by Luke the doctor, who insists that he did thorough research and was sticking to the story as it happened (Acts 1:1-2, cf. Luke 1:1-4). It is the climax of the first recorded Christian sermon (Acts 4:33-34). And it has a home right in the middle of the Apostles' Creed, one of the earliest summaries of Jesus' life. The gospel writers, the apostles, and the early church saw the ascension as a central part of the life and ministry of Christ. How can we see it like they did?

Where Did He Go?

Acts 1:9 says that Jesus commissioned the disciples and then he "was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." The disciples were left "gazing into heaven as he went," to the point that a couple of angels had to tell them to stop (Acts 1:10-11). We are left with the image of Jesus floating up into the sky, the disciples tracking his progress until a cloud blocked their view.

So where exactly did Jesus go? The passage emphasizes that Jesus isn't just ascending into the air but into heaven. (The angels themselves make this connection in verse 11: Jesus was "taken up from you into heaven.") This helps relieve some of our mild embarrassment over a passage like this. Luke is not suggesting that Jesus is hanging out in Earth's upper atmosphere because heaven is actually a few thousand feet north of Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus’ ascension is the visible element of his movement into heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of God. The mechanics of this shouldn't trouble us. If quantum physics has shown us anything, it's that space and matter are more complicated than they look. And if the resurrection has shown us anything about physical bodies, it's that we shouldn't assume we know what God can and can't do with them.

The rest of the New Testament emphasizes Jesus' movement into heaven. Peter declares in his sermon at Pentecost that Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 4:34-35). Paul cites an early Christian hymn that culminates with Jesus being "taken up in glory" to heaven (1 Tim 3:16). God's own power is at work when the Father raised Christ from the dead "and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph 1:20). And the book of Hebrews only makes sense in light of the ascension: Jesus has passed through the heavens (Hebrews 4:14) as our high priest. He has entered "heaven itself...to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (9:24). As the ultimate high priest offering a final sacrifice for sins, he "sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:12). Clearly the ascension is more than a miraculous sideshow. It is Jesus' movement from earth into heaven after accomplishing redemption for us.

What Is He Doing?

Some books finish with an epilogue or an afterword, a bit more to say after the action is all done. Jesus' ascension can feel like that. The big things—his life, death, resurrection—are all done, but here's a bit more at the end. The New Testament shows us that the ascension is not an afterthought but a culmination: after dying and rising from the dead, having conquered Satan, sin, and death, the ascension is Jesus' installation as king.

Patrick Schreiner, in a very helpful little book on the ascension, demonstrates that Jesus ascends into heaven to be installed as our ultimate prophet, priest, and king. Those things which he began on earth are completed and consummated in heaven. For example, on earth Christ was our ultimate priest: he was a mediator between us and God, he prayed for his people, and he sacrificed himself as a perfect sin-offering to bring us forgiveness. But Hebrews shows us that this culminates in his ascension into heaven. Having passed through the heavens, Christ our high priest can help us in our time of need. We have a perfect mediator in heaven who understands our weaknesses (Heb 4:14-16). It is in heaven that our great high priest, having "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins...sat down at the right hand of God," showing that our forgiveness is achieved and the work of redemption is completed (Heb 10:11-12). And it is in heaven that Christ "always lives to make intercession for us," praying for his people in heaven itself (Heb 7:25).
The same is true for Christ's prophetic ministry and his kingly ministry. As the Word of God in the flesh, Christ spoke the words of God on earth, filled with the Holy Spirit. In heaven, Christ sends the Spirit to inspire and illuminate scripture and to fill the church across the world (John 17:7-15, Acts 1:8). On earth, Christ truly was the King of kings who called people to himself while conquering the darkness of Satan, sin, and death. But in heaven Christ is installed as King where he reigns "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion" (Eph 1:20-21). From heaven Christ calls people from every tongue, tribe, and nation to be his people.

All that Christ was and did on earth, the ascension magnifies and increases. Christ ascending to heaven is not a strange epilogue, but the culmination of his life and ministry. Our Prophet, Priest, and King speaks, intercedes, and rules from heaven.

This might still feel a bit removed, and our next post will explore how Jesus’ ascension relates to our daily lives. But for now, we can see and savor that the same Jesus who walked on earth is now in heaven speaking, praying, and reigning for us, his people.
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