We come today in our study of The Apostles' Creed to one of the most vital, but often neglected doctrines of the Church, the doctrine of the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Perhaps, this doctrine is neglected because some Christians find it embarrassing. The doctrine itself seems to commit us to a pre-Copernican view of the universe--that heaven is up in the sky, hell is down below the ground, and eat is in between.
C. S. Lewis has very articulately summarized both the difficulty and importance of this doctrine in his book, Miracles....
All the accounts suggest that the appearances of the Risen Body came to an end; some describe an abrupt end about six weeks after the death. And they describe this abrupt end in a way which presents greater difficulties to the modern mind than any other part of Scripture. For here, surely, we get the implication of all those primitive crudities to which I have said that Christians are not committed: the vertical ascent like a balloon, the local Heaven, the decorated chair to the right of the Father’s throne. ‘He was caught up into the sky (ouranos)’, says St. Mark’s Gospel, ‘and sat down at the right hand of God.’ ‘He was lifted up’, says the author of Acts, ‘and a cloud cut Him off from their sight.’
It is true that if we wish to get rid of these embarrassing passages we have the means to do so. The Marcan one probably formed no part of the earliest text of St. Mark’s Gospel: and you may add that the Ascension, though constantly implied throughout the New Testament, is described only in these two places. Can we then simply drop the Ascension story? The answer is that we can do so only if we regard the Resurrection appearances as those of a ghost or hallucination. For a phantom can just fade away; but an objective entity must go somewhere—something must happen to it. And if the Risen Body were not objective, then all of us (Christian or not) must invent some explanation for the disappearance of the corpse. And all Christians must explain why God sent or permitted a ‘vision’ or ‘ghost’ whose behaviour seems almost exclusively directed to convincing the disciples that it was not a vision or a ghost but a really corporeal being. If it were a vision then it was the most systematically deceptive and lying vision on record. But if it were real, then something happened to it after it ceased to appear. You cannot take away the Ascension without putting something else in its place.