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First Published 1659
[see original text for extensive footnotes]
He ascended into Heaven.

1. This article hath received no variation, but only in the addition of the name of God, and the attribute Almighty; the ancients using it briefly thus, He ascended into heaven, sitteth on the right hand of the Father.  It containeth two distinct parts: one transient, the other permanent: one as the way, the other as the end.  The first is Christ’s ascension, the second is his session. 

2. In the ascension of Christ these words of the CREED propound to us three considerations, and no more: the first of the person, He; the second of the action, ascended; the third of the termination, into heaven.  Now the person being perfectly the same which we have considered in the precedent articles, he will afford no different speculation but only in conjunction with this particular action.  Wherefore I conceive these three things necessary and sufficient for the illustration of Christ’s ascension: first, to show that the promised Messias was to ascend into heaven; secondly, to prove that our Jesus, whom we believe to be the true Messias, did really and truly ascend thither; thirdly, to declare what that heaven is into which he did ascend. 

3. That the promised Messias should ascend into heaven, hath been represented typically and declared prophetically.  The high priest under the law was an express type of Messias and his priestly office; the atonement which he made was the representation of the propitiation in Christ for the sins of the world: for the making this atonement the high priest was appointed once every year to enter into the holy of holies, and no oftener.  For “the Lord said unto Moses, speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy-seat, which is upon the ark, that he die not.”  [Lev. 16:2] None entered into that holy place but the high]priest alone, and he himself could enter thither but once in the year; and thereby showed that the “high-priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, was to enter into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” [Heb. 9:11, 12]  The Jews did all believe that the tabernacle did signify this world, and the holy of holies the highest heavens; [Josephus, Jud. Antiq. lib. iii. cap. 8]  wherefore as the high-priest did slay the sacrifice, and with the blood thereof did pass through the rest of the tabernacle, and with that blood enter into the holy of holies, so was the Messias here to offer up himself, and being slain, to pass through all the courts of this world below, and with his blood to enter into the highest heavens, the most glorious seat of the majesty of God.  Thus Christ’s ascension was represented typically. 

4. The same ascension was also declared prophetically, as we read in the prophet David, “Thou has ascended up on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men:” [Ps 68:18] which phrase on high in the language of David signifying heaven, could be applied properly to no other conqueror but the Messias; not to Moses, not to David, not to Joshua, not to any but the Christ. who was to conquer sin, and death, and hell, and triumphing over them to ascend unto the highest heaven, and thence to send the precious and glorious gifts of the Spirit unto the sons of men.  The prophecy of Micah did foretell as much, even in the opinion and confession of the Jews themselves, by those words, “The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up and have passed through the gate and are gone out by it; and their king shall pass before them, and the Lord at the head of them.”  And thus Christ’s ascension was declared prophetically as well as typically; which was our first consideration. 

5. Secondly, whatsoever was thus represented and foretold of the promised Messias, was truly and really performed by our Jesus.  That only-begotten and eternal Son of God, who by his divinity was present in the heavens while he was on earth, did by a local translation of his human nature really and truly ascend from this earth below on which he lived, into the heavens above, or rather above all the heavens, in the same body and the soul with which he lived and died and rose again. 

6. The ascent of Christ into heaven was not metaphorical or figurative, as if there were no more to be understood by it but only that he obtained a more heavenly and glorious state or condition after his resurrection.  For whatsoever alteration was made in the body of Christ when he rose, whatsoever glorious qualities it was invested with thereby, that was not his ascension, as appeareth by those words which he spake to Mary, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” [John 20:17]  Although he had said before to Nicodemus, “No man ascended up to heaven, but he that come down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven;” [John 3:13]  which words imply that he had then ascended: yet even those concern not this ascension.  For that was therefore only true, because the Son of man, not yet conceived in the Virgin’s womb, was not in heaven, and after his conception by virtue of the hypostatical union was in heaven; from whence, speaking after the manner of men, he might well say that the had ascended into heaven, because whatsoever was first on earth and then in heaven, we say ascended into heaven.  Wherefore beside that grounded upon the hypostatical union, beside that glorious condition upon his resurrection, there was yet another and that more proper ascension; for after he had both those ways ascended, it was still true that he had not yet ascended to his Father. 

Now this kind of ascension, by which Christ had not yet ascended when he spake to Mary after his resurrection, was not after to be performed; for at the same time he said unto Mary, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father.” [John 20:17]  And when this ascension was performed, it appeared manifestly to be a true local translation of the Son of man as man from these parts of the world below into the heavens above, by which that body which was before locally present here on earth, and was not so then present in heaven, became substantially present in heaven, and no longer locally present in earth.  For “when he had spoken unto the disciples, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them,”  and so was corporally present with them, even “while he blessed them he parted from them, and while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight,” and so he was “carried up into heaven, while they looked stedfastly towards heaven as he went up.” [Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:9, 10]  This was a visible departure, as it is described, a real removing of that body of Christ which was before present with the apostles, and that body living after the resurrection, by virtue of that soul which was united to it; and therefore the Son of God according to his humanity was really and truly translated from these parts below unto the heavens above, which is a proper local ascension. 

7. Thus was Christ’s ascension visibly performed in the presence and sight of the apostles, for the confirmation of the reality and the certainty thereof.  They did not see him when he rose, but they saw him when he ascended; because an eye-witness was not necessary unto the act of his resurrection, but it was necessary unto the act of his ascension. [Chrysostom Hom. 2 in Act. Apost.]  It was sufficient that Christ showed himself to the apostles “alive after his passion;” [Acts 1:3] for being they knew him before to be dead, and now saw him alive, they were thereby assured that he rose again: for whatsoever was a proof of his life after death, was a demonstration of his resurrection.  But being the apostles were not to see our Saviour in heaven, being the session was not to be visible to them on earth, therefore it was necessary they should be eye-witnesses of the act who were not with the same eyes to behold the effect. 

8. Beside the eye-witness of the apostles, there was added the testimony of the angels; those blessed spirits which ministered before, and saw the face of God in heaven, and came down from thence, did know that Christ ascended up from hence unto that place from whence they came: and because the eyes of the apostles could not follow him so far, the inhabitants of that place did come to testify of his reception; [Acts 1:3] for “behold two men stood by them in white apparel, which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:10, 11]  We must, therefore, acknowledge and confess against all the wild heresies of old, that the eternal Son of God who died and rose again, did with the same body and soul with which he died and rose ascend up to heaven; which was the second particular considerable in this article. 

9. Thirdly, being the name of heaven admitteth divers acceptions in the sacred scriptures, it will be necessary to inquire what is the true notion of it in this article, and what was the proper termination of Christ’s ascension.  In some sense it might be truly said Christ was in heaven before the cloud took him out of the apostles’ sight, for the clouds themselves are called the clouds of heaven: [Dan. 7:13] but that heaven is the first; and our Saviour certainly ascended at least as far as St. Paul was caught up, that is, into the third heaven; [2 Cor. 12:2] for “we have a great High-priest that is passed through the heavens.” [Heb. 4:14]  And needs must he pass through the heavens, because he was “made higher than the heavens:” [Heb. 7:26] for “he that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.” [Eph 4:10]  When, therefore, Christ is said to have ascended into heaven, we must take that word as signifying as much as the heaven of heavens, and so Christ is ascended through and above the heavens, and yet is still in heaven: for he is “entered into that within the veil,” [Heb. 6:19] there is his passage through the heavens; “into the holy place, even into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God,” [Heb. 9:12, 24] this is the heaven of heavens.  For “thus said the Lord, the heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool;” [Isa. 66:1] and as Christ descended unto the footstool of his Father in his humiliation, so he ascended unto the throne of his Father in his exaltation.  This was the place of which our Saviour spake to his disciples, “What and if you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” [John 6:62]  Had he been there before in body, it had been no such wonder that he should have ascended thither again: but that his body should ascend unto that place where the majesty of God was most resplendent; that the flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, should be seated far above all angels and archangels, all principalities and powers, even at the right hand of God; this was that which Christ propounded as worthy of their greatest admiration.  Whatsoever heaven then is higher than all the rest which are called heavens; whatsoever sanctuary is holier than all which are called holies; whatsoever place is of greatest dignity in all those courts above; into that place did he ascend, where in the splendour of his deity he was before he took upon him our humanity. 

10. As therefore, when we say Christ ascended, we understand a literal and local ascent, not of his divinity (which possesseth all places, and therefore being everywhere is not subject to the imperfection of removing any whither), but of his humanity, which was so in one place that it was not in another; so when we say the place into which he ascended was heaven, and from the expositions of the apostles must understand thereby the heaven of heavens or the highest heaven, it followeth that we believe the body with the soul of Christ to have passed far above all those celestial bodies which we see, and to look upon that opinion as a low conceit which left his body in the sun. 

11. It was necessary to profess this article of Christ’s ascension, first for the confirmation and augmentation of our faith.  Our faith is thereby confirmed, in that we believe in him who is received unto the Father, and therefore certainly came form the Father; his Father sent him and we have received the message from him, and are assured that it is the same message which he was sent to deliver, because he is so highly rewarded by him that sent him for delivering it.  Our faith is thereby exalted and augmented, as being the “evidence of things not seen.” [Heb. 11:1]  The further the object is removed from us, the more of faith hath that act which embraceth it: [Leo and Augustine] Christ said unto Thomas, “because thou hast seen me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed:” [John 20:29] and that blessedness by his ascension he hath left to the whole church.  Thus Christ ascended is the ground and glory of our faith; and by virtue of his being in heaven our belief is both encouraged and commended; for his ascent is the cause, and his absence the crown of our faith; because he ascended we the more believe, and because we believe in him who hath ascended, our faith is the more accepted. 

12. Secondly, it is necessary to believe the ascension of Christ for the corroboration of our hope.  We could never expect our dust and ashes should ascend the heavens; but being our nature hath gone before in him, we can now hope to follow after him.  He is our head, and where that is the members may expect admission; for in so great and intimate an union there is no fear of separation or exclusion.  “There are many mansions in [his] Father’s house.” [John 14:2]  And when he spake of ascending thither, he said expressly to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you, and will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” [14:3]  The first-fruits of our nature are ascended, and the rest is sanctified. [Chrysostom]  “This is the new and living way which he consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” [Heb. 10:20]  And hence we “have our hope as an anchor of the soul both sure and stedfast, which entereth into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered.” [Heb. 6:19, 20]  For if Christ in his ascension be the forerunner, then are there some to follow after; and not only so, but they which follow are to go in the same way, and to attain unto the same place: and if this forerunner be entered for us, then we are they which are to follow and to overtake him there; as being of the same nature, members of the same body, branches of the same vine, and therefore he went thither before us as the first-fruits before those that follow, and we hope to follow him as coming late to the same perfection.  As, therefore “God hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together” by virtue of his resurrection, so hath he also “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” by virtue of his ascension. [Eph. 2:5, 6]  We are already seated there in him, and hereafter shall be seated by him; in him already as in our head, which is the ground of our hope; by him hereafter, as by the cause conferring, when hope shall be swallowed up into fruition. 

13. Thirdly, the profession of faith in Christ ascended, is necessary for the exaltation of our affection.  “For where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.” [Matt. 6:21]  “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me” saith our Saviour; [John 12:32] and if those words were true of his crucifixion, how powerful ought they to be in reference to his ascension?  “When the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven, Elisha said unto him, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee;” [2 Kings 2:1, 2] when Christ is ascended up on high, we must follow him with the wings of our meditations and with the chariots of our affections.  “If we be risen with Christ, we must seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” If we be dead, and our “Life hid in Christ with God, we must set our affection on things above, not on things on earth.” [Col. 3:1-3]  Christ is ascended into heaven to teach us that we are strangers and pilgrims here, as all our fathers were, and that another country belongs unto us: from whence we, as strangers and pilgrims, should learn to “abstain from fleshly lusts,” [1 Pet. 2:11] and not “mind earthly things;” as knowing that we are “citizens of heaven from whence we look for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus;” [Phil. 3:19, 20] yea, “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” [Eph 2:19]  We should trample upon our sins, and subdue the lusts of the flesh, that our conversation may be correspondent to our Saviour’s condition; that where the eyes of the apostles were forced to leave him, thither our thoughts may follow him. 

14. Fourthly, the ascension of Christ is a necessary article of the CREED in respect of those great effects which immediately were to follow it, and did absolutely depend upon it.  The blessed apostles had never preached the gospel, had they not been indued with power from above; but none of that power had they received if the Holy Ghost in a miraculous manner had not descended: and the Holy Ghost had not come down, except our Saviour had ascended first.  For he himself, when he was to depart from his disciples, grounded the necessity of his departure upon the certainty of this truth, saying, “If I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you, but if I depart I will send him unto you.” [John 16:7]  Now if all depend upon the certain information which the apostles had, and those apostles appear to be no way infallible till the cloven tongues had sat upon them, it was first absolutely necessary that the Holy Ghost should so descend.  Again being it was impossible that the Spirit of God in that manner should come down, until the Son of God had ascended into heaven; being it was not fit that the second advocate should officiate on earth, till the first advocate had entered upon his office in heaven; therefore in respect of this great work the Son of God must necessarily ascend, and in reference to that necessity we may well be obliged to confess that ascension. 

15. Upon these considerations we may easily conclude what every Christian is obliged to confess in those words of our CREED, “He ascended into heaven:” for thereby he is understood to express thus much, I am fully persuaded that the only-begotten and eternal Son of God, after he rose from the dead, did with the same soul and body with which he rose, by a true and local translation, convey himself from the earth on which he lived, through all the regions of the air, through all the celestial orbs, until he came unto the heaven of heavens, the most glorious presence of the majesty of God.  And thus I believe in “Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven.” 

[For the next chapter, "And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty"

 click here.]