“Christ,” so the Catechism instructs us, “in sight of His disciples, was taken up from earth into heaven.”

This does not mean that the disciples on mount Olivet could, with their earthly eyes, behold the heaven of glory, and see the Lord enter into it. What they did see was that He was taken up from them, as a sign to them that He departed from them to see them no more, “and a cloud received him out of their sight.” The meaning is, evidently, not that they saw Him ascend up all the way into the clouds, but that, as soon as He was taken up from them, some such cloud as had enveloped Him on the mount of transfiguration hid Him from their gaze.

Heaven is “above.”

Hence, to assure them that He ascended up into the heaven of glory, the sign of His being taken up from the earth was given the disciples.

But, although the heaven of heavens is a definite place, and not a mere abstraction or condition, it differs from the earth. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. With our present bodies we could not enter into heaven, nor live its life. Our earthly eyes cannot behold it. And the gaze of the disciples, though earnestly directed toward the firmament, after their Lord had been taken up from them, could not follow Him into the heaven of glory. A cloud received Him out of their sight.

Hence, it is idle, too, to speculate about the definite location of this heaven of glory in the present universe. It is true that the Scriptures speak of it as “high” and even present it as “the highest.” Whether, however, this means that the glorious abode of the exalted Christ, and of the redeemed saints, and the holy angels, is above and beyond the starry heavens, as is often supposed, is a matter of speculation rather than of revelation. There may well be an element of symbolism in the language of the Bible when it speaks of the highest heavens. At all events, we dare not speak of the distance of this glorious heaven from the earth in terms of our earthly laws of space and time. Those that study the starry heavens inform us that the most distant of the heavenly bodies are millions and; even billions of miles distant from our earth; and there is no reason to doubt their calculations. If, then, we would pursue the same line of figuring, and apply it to the distance of the heaven of heavens, and to the ascension of our Lord, it would lead us to the conclusion that the Lord, after He was taken up from the mount of Olives in the sight of the disciples, had to travel millions upon millions of miles before He reached His destination. It would also mean that the holy angels, whenever they make their appearance on the earth, have to travel the same distance. And, finally, it would imply that, when the earthly house of this our tabernacle is dissolved, we would still have to make a long journey before we would arrive in the “building of God,” the “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

The trouble with this line of reasoning and calculation is, of course, that we think earthly of heavenly things, and that we try to apply our earthly laws of space and time to relations that are heavenly.

Wherever, as far as its definite location is concerned, we conceive the heaven of glory to be, whether we think of it as above and beyond the firmament, or whether we conceive of it as interpenetrating our world, as surrounding us on all sides, though we cannot see it; we may never think of it as far away in the earthly sense of the word, so that there is no contact between heaven and earth, and as if it actually would have to take a long time to reach it.

When Christ was taken up from the earth on the mount of Olives, He was at once in glory, in the highest heavens. The transition took place in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Proof of this is the fact that at the same moment, while the amazed disciples were still staring into heaven, two angels from that same heaven of glory stood by them to announce that their common Lord had been taken up from them into heaven, and would so come again.

This heaven of heavens is a part of God’s original creation. The statement of Gen. 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” must include the heaven of glory.

And, even as the earth, so the heaven of glory has a history.

Originally, it was the abode of the holy angels, the spiritual principalities and powers and dominions; perhaps, with Satan as their chief, not, of course, as Satan, but as the most glorious and powerful of the heavenly spirits. But a break occurred in the heavenly world. The chief ruler of the heavenly principalities, together with a large number of his fellow angels, stumbled in his pride, rebelled against the Most High, and became irrevocably the enemy and opponent of God. God’s election and reprobation made separation between the heavenly spirits, and the matter was at once decided.

After Satan had directed his attention to man, the king of the earthly creation, and seduced him to violate God’s covenant; and God had maintained His covenant in the line of the elect among men, putting enmity between the woman and the serpent and their respective seed, heaven is also made the abode of the “spirits of just men made perfect,” of the Church triumphant. In the old dispensation, before the coming of Christ, this glorified Church in heavenly places, though ever increasing in numbers, was saved in hope. It appears that Satan still had access to heaven, and acted as the accuser of the brethren. The promise was not yet realized, and with the saints on earth they looked forward in hope to its fulfillment. However, in the fullness of time, Christ came, brought the sacrifice of reconciliation, realized the justification of all the saints, was raised from the dead, and; ascended up on high, leading captivity captive. For heaven and its inhabitants this ascension of Christ was of great significance. It was the end of the war in heaven, the devil was permanently cast out, and the great voice is heard in heaven: “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them, before God day and; night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death. Therefore rejoice ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them.” Rev. 12:10-12.

However, even thus the history of the heaven of glory is not finished. When God shall create new heavens and a new earth, also the heaven of heavens shall be changed. For it is the good pleasure of God to unite all things in heaven and on earth into one glorious creation with Christ as the head over all, the glorious kingdom of heaven that is to be realized in the day of Christ.

Into that heaven Christ ascended forty days after His resurrection from the dead.

It was the Son of God, but in His human nature, who thus ascended. The Catechism reminds us of this in answer to the question, whether Christ is no more with us, and will be with us even unto the end of the world as He promised: “Christ is very man and very God; with respect to His human nature, he is no more on earth.”

All the changes that took place in Christ, and which we denote by the various “degrees” in His states of humiliation and exaltation, have reference only to His human nature, and yet always so that it is the person of the Son of God, inseparably united with the human nature, that is the Subject of all these changes and experiences. It is the Person of the Son of God that humbles Himself when He assumes the form of a servant in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet so that in the divine nature He remains unchanged. It is the Person of the Son of God that suffers the agony of Gethsemane, that is delivered into the hands of sinners, that is nailed to the accursed tree, that lays down His life, descending even into the depth of hell, to offer the perfect sacrifice of atonement; yet, He suffers all this in His human nature. It is the Person of the Son of God that is buried as to the body, while His spirit is in paradise; for even in death this Person was never separated from the human nature. It is the same Person of the Son of God that is raised from the dead, and that ascended up on high into the heaven of glory; but again, this glorification has reference only to His human nature.

The ascension, therefore, does not mean a change in His divine nature. The Godhead is immutable. Moreover, time and place do not exist for God. He is the eternal and infinite One. As the Catechism reminds us in the forty eighth answer: “the Godhead is illimitable and omnipresent.” To speak of a change of place with regard to Christ’s divine nature would be absurd. God is immanent in all things, yet, as the transcendent One. He fills all things, yet He is far above the world. He can neither descend nor ascend.

Nor does the confession that Christ locally ascended into heaven, and that, therefore, he is not ubiquitous according to His human nature, imply that the human nature is separated from the divine. With an argument that is not free from scholastic ingenuity, the Catechism answers this possible objection in the words: “Not at all, for since the Godhead is illimitable and omnipresent, it must necessarily follow that the same is beyond the limits of the human nature he assumed, and yet is nevertheless in his human nature, and remains personally united to it.” The form of this answer is, no doubt, occasioned by the nature of the objection: “if his human nature is not present, wherever his Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?” The objection suggested by this question is foolish. And the Catechism answers accordingly: since the divine nature is omnipresent, the human nature of Christ can never be separated from it, no matter where it goes or whither it moves. The real point of the answer, however, is in the last part: remains personally united to it.” The union of the two natures in Christ is not such that they merge into each other, so that the human nature partakes of the attributes of the divine: it is a personal union. In the Person of the Son of God the two natures in Christ are inseparably united. Surely, this personal union cannot be affected or destroyed by any change in the human nature. The human nature was not separated from the divine, when the Lord sojourned among us in the form of a servant. Nor did His ascension into heaven, though it implied a definite change of place, cause such a separation.

Nor does the ascension of our Lord into heaven imply that, in no sense of the world, He is present with us, who are on the earth.

According to His human nature he is no longer on the earth.

That is, as far as the nature, the attributes, and the limits of His humanity are concerned, He is not with us.

He is not omnipresent.

He was with us once, when He was like us. Then we could meet Him, see Him in His earthly appearance, touch Him, speak to Him, have earthly fellowship with Him. It was this earthly association which the Magdalene, perhaps intended to continue, when she met her Lord and recognized Him in the garden of Joseph, and the Lord warned her: “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended!”

But now He is with us no more. In the flesh we know Him no more. With our earthly eye we see Him no more, nor dare we imagine that we see His bodily presence in the signs of the broken bread and the wine that is poured out at His table. All earthly associations are severed. As far as His human nature as such is concerned, He is definitely departed from us. In the sight of His disciples He was taken up!

However, this does not mean that He is not with us even unto the end of the world, as He promised us.

Although earthly connections of space and time are broken, and although earthly associations with Jesus exist no more, He is still with us. In fact, He is with us in a far higher and intimate sense than; He ever was with His disciples during His earthly sojourn. We must not utter the desire that Jesus might still be on the earth. To His disciples He said: It is profitable for you that I go away.

This new presence of the ascended Lord the catechism describes in the words: “with respect to Godhead, majesty, grace and spirit, he is at no time absent from us.”