Editor’s Note: The truth about Jesus comes out, in secular Vacation Bible School, of course! /Linda LaScola, Editor
By David Madison
Little did the author of the Book of Acts know that, in his very first chapter, he sabotaged the Christian faith. He describes Jesus, in front of his disciples, ascending to heaven (vv. 9-11):
“…as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 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.”
In chapter 7:56, we read about Stephen’s vision, right before he was stoned to death:
“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
So Jesus was up there, standing right next to God.
In common folklore, holy people, in order to get close to God, went up there—well, as close as they could get, to mountaintops. Moses is the most obvious example. It was the common belief in the ancient world that heaven was just a few miles overhead; some thinkers felt it could extend to the realm of the moon. But now we know, as the scholar A. N. Wilson quipped, anyone who ascends through the clouds, given enough speed, will pass into orbit. There is no place for Jesus to have arrived at, carried away by the cloud.
Thus we can be 100% sure that the body of Jesus never left planet Earth. Jesus stayed right where he was, on our plane of existence, grounded. Maybe Acts Chapter 1 was intended to be metaphorical, symbolic, true on a ‘spiritual level’? All of these have been suggested. Which is a way of confessing that the story is pious fiction.
But that still leaves the resurrected body of Jesus grounded. Which means—how awkward is this—that Jesus must have died again; the resurrection had an expiration date. Christians have the forced choice suggested by A. N. Wilson: Jesus is either still in orbit to this day (and many Christian suggest that he’s coming back), OR: he died again. Which the New Testament neglected to report (in other words, covered it up).
Theologians are good at making things up, with the apostle Paul being their patron saint. Paul assured his followers that, when they rose to meet Jesus in the sky upon his return, they would have spiritual bodies. Maybe Paul knew what he meant by that, but no one else does. Least of all the folks who celebrate the Empty Tomb on Easter morning.
“What spiritual body?” most would ask.
They like the idea that the real body of Jesus came to life again, and walked out of the tomb, and in John’s gospel, invited Thomas to poke his figure into the sword wound in his side. That was a real body.
To make the resurrection so special, the finishing touch had to be the story about Jesus ascending to heaven. That never happened, of course. Thus a newly alive Jesus-body on Easter morning causes far more problems than it’s worth.
David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.
>>>>>Photo Credits: wikimedia commons. Jesus ascending into heaven ; by Andrea Reese