Acts 1: 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
In regard to this event of the ascension, a Muslim asked:
Given that the Qur'an does not speak about the Resurrection but mentions the Ascension (he was raised up to God, Qur'an 4:158), that is actually a lot more interesting (difficult?) question for Muslims, since Jesus is supposedly still in his normal human body without the transformation of the resurrection.
Nevertheless, let me try to give some perspective on the meaning of the Ascension and how and why I think it was a physical event.
I don't know what "the same way" exactly implies for the questioner, but I believe that Jesus went up in / with the clouds.
Obviously, since the resurrection he had a different kind of body and could '(dis)appear' at an instant and did so at times when he met with his disciples. I think he was taken up with the clouds physically and then went over into this other spiritual dimension that is usually hidden to our eyes, just as he came to them and left them again at the resurrection sunday when they were locked in their room for fear of the Jews.
Why do I believe that Jesus was "coming/going" with the clouds?
First, just because the text does not give any indication that this was only metaphorical. They were staring up to where Jesus had disappeared in the clouds and then angels came to tell them that he will come back just the same way as he left.
That would be enough for the believe that he did, but there is a LOT more to this symbolic act. The story is not a parable, it is a real historical event, but one in which the event itself has a very definite symbolical meaning. (Just like baptism is the physical act of going under water and up from it again, but it symbolizes a reality of what happened in the spiritual realm - the death of the old life and the raising to new life).
What then is this cloud issue about?
After all, ... in Matthew 26, in his court trial, he says only one thing to all the accusations. And his only answer is to the high priest under oath, when he is asked about his identity:
Matthew 27: 62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." 64 "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered.
We should take Jesus' statement very seriously. What on earth was it that evoked such a strong reaction? "The Son of God" was just one of the titles of the Messiah. That was not a problem. The High Priest asked him if he is the Messiah. He did not ask him if he claims deity. Son of God does not mean deity by itself.
Why then is his response blasphemy?
These were some of his last public words. What about some of Moses' last public words? Could they have any connection? Chapter 33 of Deuteronomy is Moses' blessing of the children of Israel, and after he blessed each of the tribes individually, he concludes with this
Deuteronomy 33: 26 "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. 27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, `Destroy him!' 28 So Israel will live in safety alone; Jacob's spring is secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew. 29 Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places."
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy more than from any other book of the scriptures. He intensively lived with it.
And all of the leaders in the religious high court would be familiar with those last words of Moses and his blessing of Israel.
"There is NO ONE like the God of Israel ... who rides ... on the clouds in his majesty." This is the background of the cloud rider image. However, Jesus direct reference is to this passage out of Daniel 7:
13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
That is what Jesus refers to in his answer. He said that he was not only "the son of God" (Messiah) but that this Messiah is a lot more than they realized so far. He is not only the Son of God, he is more, he is the Son of Man of Daniel 7, who clearly is a divine figure. Not only because it is already clear that the one who rides on the clouds is "no one else but the God of Israel" as Moses says, but also because he is given by God (the Ancient one) to be worshiped (rightfully). Jesus says that he is going back to God (from whom he came, dozens of passages of that) and that he is about to receive his eternal kingdom.
And he will come back. Obviously not a comfortable announcement for the religious leaders who are about to kill him. And tying in with the parable of the evil tenants who kill the son of the landowner, and that the stone that was rejected will be the corner stone and crush those who reject him.
He not only claims to be the rightful owner (or heir/ son of the owner) of Israel (he came into his own but his own rejected him... as John expresses it), he is God himself (the one riding on the clouds) who visited them.
Nowhere has Jesus clearer identified himself than in that statement. This was no longer "veiled". This was crystal clear to those who knew the (the last words of the) Torah.
A lot more about this topic I have written up on this page.
But given that the "coming with the clouds" is a very prominent image in the Bible, this is further reason that I am sure Jesus not only announced it to the High Priest but that he physically acted it out in his ascension before the eyes of his disciples.
When he left, only the disciples saw it. When he comes back, then all eyes will see him and that
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:9-11].
Everyone will bow then. Some gladly with Halleluja from the depths of their hearts, and some in deep shame as they await their judgment.
Currently, all of us still have the choice which group we want to belong to. When you die, or when he comes back before that, then the time for decision is over.
Do not reject his glorious salvation.
Luke 24: 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
No other reaction than worship is appropriate.
Now and forever.
Even though the above should have made it already relatively clear there was also the question in response to the answer that this was a real, historical, and physical event:
Are there more statements about this "spiritual dimension" (in the Bible) or is it a consequence of needing to "place" Jesus somewhere other than ordinary physical space after he disappeared?
We have no need to place Jesus "somewhere" in any other way than we need to place the angels "somewhere". Where do Muslims think the angels live?
The Bible is in my understanding quite clear that the invisible world is not "far out there" but that it is all around us.
The visible and invisible world exist side by side, not "over here" and "over there" in seperate locations. These two world inhabit the same space so to speak, interpenetrating each other.
Otherwise, we are not told muchh of details about it. Probably God didn't think it is so important for us to know more details.
Just as angels can step over from the invisible world into the visible at times when their job requires it, so Jesus did step over this "barrier" in his after resurrection appearances.
This is what the Bible testifies too. All else would be speculation. I do not pretend that I can explain how the invisible world works. I think that would be presumptious.
(The Navarre Bible, Acts of the Apostles (1989), p. 33.)
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