Was Jesus an astronaut?
I guess that the landing on the moon in 1969 was one of the biggest events of my childhood. It fired the imagination. Incredibly memorable. The count down. The clouds of smoke as the rocket motors got started; the taking off of the Saturn V rocket with the lunar module aboard. Science fiction finally meeting reality. The discovery of space beckoned…just incredibly exciting for a teenage boy.
I think it may have been about that time that the theory was banded about that Jesus was in fact an alien astronaut and that the ascension was his return to the mother ship in orbit around earth: the cloud into which he was taken; the men in white standing around; everyone looking up, just as they looked up on that day in 1969 as the Apollo mission set off for the moon.
But this idea may all be due to a misunderstanding of the report in Acts about the Ascension which we mark today.
Professior NT Wright, in an article in Christianity Magazine asks the question: ‘Did Jesus actually float up into the sky at the Ascension?’ He makes the point that in describing the Ascension we are using earthly words to try to describe a heavenly reality.
Just as Caxton could not have had the language to describe a micro chip or even comprehend that dozens of copies of the Bibles he was printing painstakingly on the first press could eventually be stored on something the size of a finger nail and carried around in your pocket on a mobile phone, so we find the whole concept of heaven and where it is located difficult to describe or even comprehend. We just don’t have the language.
However, as Wright mentions in his article, because of the Ascension, we can easily perceive heaven as something far away…Jesus has gone and he is not relating to us anymore….gone and left us alone.
But, equally, the Biblical world view is that heaven and earth join together. They meet at the Temple. And Jesus refers in John 2 to his body as being the true temple where heaven and earth meet.
But Jesus is not here anymore. Have we lost that place where heaven and earth meet?
But Wright points out that some passages of Scripture suggest that Jesus is in a secret but hidden place which will be revealed. 1 John 3:2 and Colossians 3 suggest an ‘appearing’, as if the heavenly places are not miles away in interplanetary space but right here with us now, but we just cannot see them.
The cloud surrounding Jesus when he ascends is rather like what happened at the transfiguration and the cloud and fire in Exodus…God is touching Earth, Heaven is breaking through the barrier to our dimension, our reality.
Although this is a point that Wright does not make, I am intrigued that the word in Ancient Greek (the language in which Acts was written) ἐπαίρω which is translated ‘lifted up’ can also refer to the gesture of prayer…of hope.
I don’t think it is stretching it too much to say that it means he disappeared from sight into the cloud but travelled to that same place that is the destination of all our prayers; by the same means that our prayers travel there….a place which is hidden from us but superior exalted and so ‘up’ to that extent, perhaps in a different dimension, but which is actually very close by; which is all around us, indeed which is even here now……if we could only see it…and from which the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit as they sent him to the disciples at Pentecost.
If we understand the heavenly realms to which Jesus ascended as present here and now; even though we don’t have the language to describe how he ascended, even though we cannot perceive them, but recognise that they are all around us, then how reassuring for those moments of need, those times when we are desperately holding up in prayer our friends and relations and ourselves in moments of crisis.
How incredibly encouraging to know that help is at hand very close for the crises we face…not distant in interplanetary space, not removed from earth by a returning astronaut who has completed his intervention on earth, but close by although in another dimension, close enough to touch; close enough to comfort and reassure…
Close enough to hold our hand
The Ascension of Jesus
(Mk 16:19–20; Lk 24:50–53)
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ac 1:6–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.