Where did Jesus go when he ascended in the sky after his resurrection?
Acts 1:9 says, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Jesus was in a physical body. He lifted off the ground the disciples stood on beside him and ascended into the sky. As they are watching, a cloud blocked their view of him. And just like that, he was gone. Some people read the verse as Jesus riding a cloud out of their sight. But I don’t think that’s what it says. They had eyes on him, but then a cloud took him (blocked him) from their sight. Either reading of this passage still leads to the same conclusion: Jesus ascended into the sky and out of their sight.
Where did he go?
In the next verse, an angel appears to the staring disciples and answers that question, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus ascends to Heaven. This is the Present Heaven we discussed in a previous post and will expound on in more detailed in the next one.
But the question I want to tackle in this post is: where is Present Heaven?
How long did Jesus ascend before he reached Heaven? Did he break out of earth’s atmosphere into space? Did he float past Mars and Jupiter? At what point did Jesus reach his destination? Did he leave the Milky Way galaxy and go past the Andromeda galaxy? Did he snap his fingers and move at the speed of light until he arrived at Heaven?
That Jesus physically ascended in the air towards Heaven forces us to ask questions about where he ascended to. He ascended from the Earth and ascended to Heaven. There is an obvious change of location. But is Heaven a location in some remote part of the cosmos?
No. Jesus didn’t float for ten days or ten billion light years until he arrived at Heaven.
Heaven is not here on Earth, but it is right here.
In Acts 7 we see Stephen, a disciple of Jesus, preaching the gospel to the Jews. His message outrages them, and they seize him to kill him. As they’re hurling rocks at him, Stephen cries out in vs 56, “And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”
Stephen looks up. There he sees the sky open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Like a curtain on a stage, God pulls the curtain back, and it reveals Heaven before Stephen’s eyes. It’s not in a far off galaxy in space, it’s right there in view. And there is Jesus, the one who ascended there only four years prior, in plain view of his disciple.
He sees Jesus standing in all his glory at the right hand of God. What a sight it must have been! Within minutes, Stephen would be there in their presence. But even now he gets a glimpse.
And that glimpse gives us insight into the whereabouts of Present Heaven.
What does it reveal? It tells us that the location isn’t confined to this material universe. Rather, it’s better to see it existing alongside our universe. It’s right here. The only thing separating us from Heaven, and therefore God, is a thin veil.
Imagine the sky above like a can. If God were to take the can-opener and take the lid off, we could see right into the Heavens. This is the picture of both Acts 1 and Acts 7. When Jesus disappears from their sight in Acts 1, he eventually slips right into the realm of Heaven. As they stone Stephen, the skies open to reveal Heaven lies just behind the curtain. Jesus is there.
So where is Heaven? Yes, it’s “up there.” But even more so, it’s right here. It’s just behind the veil that separates the two realms. Heaven is close. Sometimes in life there are moments when it feels as if Heaven and Earth have collided. The veil is sometimes paper thin and God’s presence completely overwhelming.
What benefits are there to knowing the location of Present Heaven? There are many implications of Heaven’s nearness. We’re reminded that God sees everything and hears everything. Our prayers need not travel far distances. Not only is God the all-hearing One, but He lives just on the other side of the veil. Close. Ready to meet our needs.
But perhaps the closest implication for my heart is this:
Jesus is near.
Just behind the veil Jesus sits mediating and interceding on behalf of his people (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). Our great High Priest and Savior, who promised to be with us always, is truly with us. He’s right here. If God pulled the curtain back, we’d see Jesus’ blazing eyes (Revelation 19:12) and majestic status as exalted King of kings. From just outside the veil he rules the world and is directing it towards his sovereign ends.
This is comfort for those who belong to him, especially in these tumultuous times.
Picture by Rembrandt “The Ascension of Christ” 1636