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Jesus told Mary, “I am Not Yet Ascended” — Didn’t He Already Go to Heaven?

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by Reverend Anthony R. Locke

John 17:1-5
English Standard Version

1   When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

2   since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

3   And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

4   I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

5   And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.[1]


Jesus met Mary in the Garden on resurrection morning. She didn’t recognize Him. She was seeking Jesus and thought He was the Gardener. Her eyes of faith were opened when ( John 20:16-17) Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

Mary then falls down at Jesus’ feet and wraps her arms around Jesus. She was clinging to Jesus. This is a parallel experience to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were ready to set up a permanent worship facility with them occupying the front row seat.

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Jesus reminds us that His experience will be ours for we have the same God & Father. But the words of Jesus also appear contradictory to His words on the cross. Jesus tells Mary that He hasn’t ascended yet. But didn’t Jesus tell the thief on the cross three days earlier that they were ascending to heaven together that same day?

Listen to Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Jesus clearly understood that He would progress from the cross to heaven. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. He suffered our hell on the cross. Jesus then dismissed His Spirit.

His person, His soul left His body on the cross and Jesus, like any saint, traveled into the presence of God the Father. Jesus and the thief both went to heaven. Jesus ascended.

Yet this is not the same as His Ascent. You might say that there were three stages.

Jesus ascended into heaven from the cross. Where was Jesus for the three days that His body was in the tomb? Jesus was in heaven with the rest of the saints. Jesus was there as a saint.

Jesus was then reunited with His body. For the next 40 days Jesus made lots of appearances between heaven and the earth. He ascended back and forth.

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to Peter, to the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, to the Ten Disciples locked in a room, to the Disciples and Thomas, to the Seven Disciples while fishing, to the Eleven Disciples on the Mountain when He gives the Great Commission, to a crowd of about 500, to his brother James according to 1 Corinthians 15:7 and to those who watched Jesus ascend to heaven recorded in Luke 24:44-49 and Acts 1.3-8.

Jesus ate food. Jesus asked Thomas to touch His wounds. Jesus was still acting like a normal man who was resurrected into an eternal resurrected body. Jesus was identifying Himself as the resurrected Son of Man. His experience will be ours.

But the “Ascension” transforms His appearance and His glory to the next level. Jesus isn’t just ascended. He is now glorified.

Who saw Jesus first ascended and glorified? Saul of Tarsus. What was that like?

Acts 9:1-8 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

Jesus is no longer appearing as just the Son of Man. Jesus is now appearing as the Son of God glorified. Paul’s experience was after the ascension of Jesus. It was completely different than the earlier ascent of Jesus off the cross into heaven. The “Ascension” takes the appearance of Jesus to a whole new level.

Let’s rewind and make sure we are all following the sermon.

Jesus makes two ascents. Take a moment to think this through. There’s two events.

First, after His death on the Cross Jesus immediately ascends into the congregation of the saints in heaven. Jesus told the thief hanging next to Him that they were both going to heaven. That’s where Jesus was during the three days His body was in the grave.

The second ascent is what we call the Ascension. The Bible records this event Acts 1:3-11.

Jesus, verse 3, presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Then verse 9-11 And . . . as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

When Jesus left the cross and traveled with the thief to heaven, Jesus was identifying with the normal progression of a saint who is separated from their body.

2 Corinthians 5:8 To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. When we die we go to be with the Lord. We await the resurrection of our bodies. I am not sure what that looks like, but we exist in some form without a glorified body.

Every departed saint waits for the same experience that Jesus had on resurrection morning.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

At that time our souls will be united with our resurrected bodies. On Easter Morning the soul of Jesus was reunited with His resurrected body. He experienced this as the Son of Man. He was acting as the Second Adam. His path will be our path. He was lighting the way forward.

At this time, no other saint has been reunited with their resurrected body. Not Enoch. Not Elijah. Lazarus got his old body back. He was healed, but he would die again. Jesus got His eternal body on Easter Morning.

We can look at the resurrected body of Jesus and know what our body will be like. Jesus is the tithe of the resurrection. His resurrection is the first fruits. 1 Corinthians 15:20.

Let me illustrate that idea. On Easter my wife made a pitcher of lemonade.  I poured myself a small cup and tasted it. Every one else’s experience would be the same as mine. If it was bitter or sweet, the taste I had was going to be shared.

The resurrection and new body has been tasted by Jesus. It appears very sweet!

But Jesus also tastes glorification. The appearance of Jesus is completely different now than during the 40 days after his resurrection. When Saul of Tarsus saw this glorified Jesus it blinded him.

It was not enough that Jesus ascends back into heaven like all the other saints. Jesus has to go further.

When I go for a bike ride I like to go in one direction. I ride until I get tired. Then I turn my bike around and force myself to go all the way back. I don’t stop until I am home.

Jesus took a journey out of heaven. Jesus descended out of His glory. He pressed hard in one direction. Down.

Jesus stopped using His divine attributes. He didn’t want to be known as a Deity. He wanted to be known as a man. So Jesus put on the flesh and soul of humanity in the incarnation that the Divine nature might be hidden.

Philippians 2:6-11 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

At this point in the descent Jesus turns the bike around. Now He starts to make His way back home. Just as the descent was in stages, so the ascent is in stages.

But the goal is the next verse of Philippians Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Again, being in heaven after the resurrection is not the same for Jesus as being ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus in heaven, with the saints after the resurrection, is just the first stage of His ascension back to glory.

King David knew the ultimate destination of Jesus after the grave. Psalm 24:7-11 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!

I want you to imagine something. Imagine being one of the Old Testament saints in heaven awaiting the resurrection of your body. Everyone there is part of the family of God.

And with the other Old Testament saints you watch Jesus leave the throne and descend to Earth. You get to see how people treat Him. You watch His suffering. You see His trial, crucifixion and death.

And after Jesus dies He joins the saints triumphant. He joins the family of God. He waits with you for the resurrection of His body.

And Jesus tells you to just call Him the Elder Brother. The Kinsman Redeemer and your Friend. But Jesus only has to wait for three days. On Easter morning Jesus shows the saints what they will also one day experience.

But you know that the ascent of Jesus is not done. He started fully glorified and must make it back to the right hand of the throne of God. And 40 days later the Father answers His prayer.

And for this Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

Mary could not cling to Jesus and keep Him from getting all the way back into the place the Father purposed to bring Him. Peter, James and John could not enjoy a private eternal worship experience on the mount of transfiguration.

The glorification of Jesus puts Jesus so high that all the creation can now worship Him. He is seated at the right hand of the Father.

And someday our Lord Jesus will glorify us and ask us to reign with Him. Thanks be to God.

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