Why Did Jesus Ascend to Heaven?
Dear Father Joe: Why did Jesus ascend to heaven? Why not just stay here on earth? If He was immortal, He never would’ve died, and we could all see Him and know He is God. I don’t understand this.
I like this question so much. The answer to it is really revelatory of the difference between how God is and how we are. It’s questions like this that help us really soak in the Scripture passage where God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8). So, let’s get after it.
For my answer to make sense, we have to look at the problem. The problem was our human nature. When God made humans, it was so we could know, love and serve Him and do so in freedom and fullness of heart.
The Trinity, that communion of life and love, created creatures that could enter into their community in freedom and joy.
The problem is, we used that freedom poorly and, as a result, our nature got “broken” or distorted. God goes into detail about this in the Book of Genesis.
When Jesus was conceived in Our Mother’s womb, He was conceived fully human and fully divine. In the moment of that conception, human and divine nature were fused together in the very person of Jesus. Why would God do this? Quite simply, because our nature was the problem keeping us from Him, He took it on.
He took it on so that He could redeem our nature and save us. How does that work? Well, by being fully human and fully God, He sanctified all the non-sinful elements of the human experience. Simply by living as a human, He made every human experience holy. By working with His hands, human labor became holy. By crying, He made tears holy. On and on and on.... But He didn’t just live, He died, too.
As our Mass prayers put it: By dying, He destroyed our death and by rising, restored our life.
So, He made our life and death holy and redeemed our nature through His resurrection. The next step is heaven: Jesus needed to take our human nature with Him to heaven so that we could go there one day. Jesus puts it this way: “I am going ahead of you to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you also may be” (Jn 14: 3).
So, Jesus ascended into heaven to take our human nature there and open it up as a possibility for each of us, which is wonderful news. If the story ended there, we would be blessed beyond all description, but it doesn’t end there.
He sent his Holy Spirit to us.
He told the disciples it would happen. If you look in the Gospel of John, He talked about it even before His death and resurrection. Let’s take a look at The Gospel of John (Jn 16:7): Jesus said to His disciples, “It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”
He was and is talking about the Holy Spirit here, but of course the disciples didn’t understand it, who could’ve predicted that?
When we look at Jesus’ ascension, we see that He let them know that the time for the coming of that Spirit was at hand. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for that gift, and, as you know, He sent His Spirit to them during the Feast of Pentecost.
As a result of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to spread all through the world and lead people to Jesus. They were not perfect, but they were fearless and filled with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord.
By placing His Spirit in them, Jesus was spreading Himself out throughout the whole world in a way He could not, even in a resurrected body.
And now, that Spirit is yours. The disciples did not keep that Holy Spirit to themselves, but they passed it along generation after generation. In your baptism and confirmation, you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that allows us to become a part of His body on earth.
Our human wisdom tells us it would be better if Jesus had remained here in his resurrected body, but we believe Jesus: It is better that He left. We believe it is better because He opened heaven for us and entrusted us with His mission in the world.
Call on the Holy Spirit every day as often as possible and remember who and what lives in you!
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.