"The Ascension" by Benjamin West
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "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."Thus, the first thing we confess in this article of The Apostles' Creed is that Jesus ascended into heaven. But what does that mean? What exactly happened?
Allow me to offer this summary of C. S. Lewis' thinking on the matter from my book, Mere Theology....
So how does Lewis handle the apparent crudities of the Ascension story? He points out that the statement that Christ “sat down at the right hand of God” is a metaphor, a poetical quotation from Psalm 110. He maintains there is no question of a human body existing in interstellar space. The Ascension belongs to a New Nature. We are discussing only what the connection between the old nature and the new, the precise moment of transition, would look like.
In order to explain the Ascension to modern minds Lewis tries to disentangle the various senses of the word “Heaven.” Heaven can mean:
(1) the life of God beyond all worlds.
(2) Blessed participation in that life by one of God’s creatures.
(3) The whole nature wherein rescued human spirits, still remaining human, can enjoy such participation fully and forever. This is the Heaven Christ went to prepare for us.
(4) The physical Heaven, the sky, the space in which Earth moves.
He elucidates that what enables us to disentangle these senses is not any special spiritual purity but the fact that we are the heirs to centuries of logical analysis. He cautions us against the supposal that the writers of the New Testament mistook Heaven in sense four or three for Heaven in sense two or one. He points out that you cannot mistake a half sovereign for a sixpence until you know the English system of coinage. In the apostles’ idea of Heaven all these meanings were latent, ready to be brought out by later analysis. Thus, Lewis concludes, if God were to represent his Son’s transition from earth to Heaven, in sense one, how would he do it, for first century minds to conceive, other than by having his Son appear to go up into Heaven, in sense four?