(42) he ascended into heaven

The story contained in the Creed consists of two basic movements, first descending then ascending. The Son of God went down to become also the Son of man. His descent began in the glory of the Father Almighty. God’s eternal Son laid aside his garments of light and his powers, and came to be part of our blighted, untoward, earthborn race. As Jesus of Nazareth, he suffered at men’s hands, was crucified, died, and was buried. Down, down he went, even into hell, the abode of the past and the dead. He had plunged from the highest heaven to the depths of death, through the whole range of existence, right to the very bottom of being. But even at the lowest ebb of his powers, the light that was in him could not be put out by the very deepest darkness. God at his weakest survived and defeated the full force of the destroyer which had always dragged down everything he had created.

Then began the second movement of the Creed—the ascension of Christ as the Son of both God and man. This ascending movement of the victorious Lord began right in the abode of the dead. What took place there can only be described by sanctified imagination. At this phase of Christ’s ascension, paradise came into being, for his victory over death affected even the condition of the faithful dead, bringing them into fuller life, security, and peace.

Next, Jesus returned to become part of our world again. What we call his resurrection is really the second phase of his ascension. He took up his bodily nature again, along with all his human powers, plus a portion of his divine powers. The risen Jesus was the same, and yet very different, as his humanity was being glorified. He appeared from time to time among his old companions for some weeks. He helped them to recall what he had formerly said and done, and all of it took on new meaning in the light of his resurrection. The Lord promised to give his personal power to the words of his disciples if they would go out as apostles to tell the world all the good news about him.

But there was to be yet another and final phase of Jesus’ ascension. One morning when they were all walking up the hill toward Bethany, Jesus turned and raised his hands. Even as he was blessing them, he began to move away from them-—out of focus somehow—and they lost sight of him as in a shimmering cloud. That was no mere mist of water vapor. Men had seen that cloud before. It was that sign of the presence of God which had led the Israelites through the wilderness— the same cloud that had come down upon the Mount of Transfiguration. The apostles understood at once that their Lord and Master had gone back to his Father and home—as quietly as he had come into this world thirty-three years before. His human qualities had gone along with him into heaven as he took up once again the full powers of God. When Jesus disappeared as a bodily presence from this world, he took on a way of existing that is quite different from ours, with powers and possibilities that we can’t even imagine. But his going opened a door into heaven for us men. It is now possible for beings from the abode of the dead and from this world, as well as heaven, to come to be forever with God. All this was accomplished by the three phases of the ascension of Christ.