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The Ascension

Criticisms Concerning the Ascension

Here are samples of some of the criticisms of the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ ascension.

It wasn’t enough that Jesus rise from the dead; he also had to ascend to heaven. But where, when, and how did this happen?

Mark 16:14-19 - Jesus ascends while he and his disciples are seated at a table in or near Jerusalem
Matthew 28:16-20 - Jesus’ ascension isn’t mentioned at all, but Matthew ends at a mountain in Galilee
Luke 24:50-51 - Jesus ascends outisde, after dinner, and at Bethany and on the same day as the resurrection
John - Nothing about Jesus’ ascension is mentioned
Acts 1:9-12 - Jesus ascends at least 40 days after his resurrection, at Mt. Olivet

Other related scripture that support the ascension of Jesus.

Acts 1:22; 2:33-35; 3:21; 5:31; 7:56 presupposes the past occurrence;


Another form of criticism of the ascension is the Bultmann school of interpretation which delegates the story of the ascension to the realm of legend: “According to I Cor. 15:5-8, where Paul enumerates the appearance of the risen Lord as tradition offered them, the resurrection of Jesus meant simultaneously his exaltation; not until later was the resurrection interpreted as a temporary return to life on earth, and this idea then gave rise to the ascension story.”


Another form of criticism is that Christ ascended directly from the cross. It is supposed to purported to be found in Phil. 2:6-11. John 12:23; 13:21; Hebrews 10:12. These verses can be refuted by Hebrews 13:20; Gal 1:1; I Thes. 1:10; 4:14; Acts 17:31 and many others.


In explaining the ascension Donald Guthrie states “The upward movement [of Jesus’ physical figure] is almost the only possible method of pictorially representing compete removal. The OT instances of Enoch and Elijah present certain parallels. Inevitably a spatial notion is introduced, but this is not the main thrust of the Acts description. The focus falls on the screening cloud, precisely as it does in the transfiguration account…The reality of the ascension is not seen in an up-there movement, so much as in the fact that it marked the cessation of the period of confirmatory appearances.”


The significance of the Ascension


First, with respect to Christ the scripture is filled with examples of “triumphalist” language. The ascension was a means to exaltation as described in Acts 2:27, 33-36; 5:31; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1, and is now crowned with glory and honor in Heb. 2:9. Jesus is also described as having authority, power, and dominion in Eph 1:21, and is to be head over everything in every way for the church in Eph. 1:22-23.  In sum he is now Lord of all, and as such, entitles him to sovereignly bestow gifts of whatever kind he pleases upon men (Eph. 4:7-8, 11).


It is truly the fulfillment of Christ’s earthly work and physical presence on earth, and as such the implication for us it to rely on Christ’s work for justification before God, and it is not a call for us to now “do our part”, after Christ has done his.