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

Apostle’s Creed Sermon Series John 17:1-5

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.

Like Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, Mary was ready to set up a permanent worship facility right there in the Garden, with her occupying the front row seat.

But 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.’ ”

There appears to be an amazing truth casually revealed by Jesus in this comment, and it seems contradictory to His words on the cross.

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 and shared with us His itinerary. On the cross Jesus would pay the penalty for sin. Jesus would suffer punishment from the Father that would save us from Hell. At the end of the experience, with great dignity and peace, Jesus 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. That was His itinerary. Jesus went back to the Father.

Yet this is not the same as His Ascent. This is mysterious.

There were three days between His death and the resurrection. There is a sermon out in the foyer called “Did Jesus Descend into Hell?” which answers where Jesus was while His body was in the tomb.

He made lots of appearances during the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.

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.

During all of these occurrences Jesus appeared normal. He was supernatural. He was heavenly, but not much different than the average ascended saint. Jesus ate food. Jesus asked Thomas to touch His wounds.

Jesus was still identifying Himself as the resurrected Son of Man.

But the “Ascension” transforms His appearance and His glory to the next level. The next time Jesus is seen it blinds the onlooker.

Who saw Jesus first after the ascension? Saul of Tarsus.

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.

Paul’s experience was after the ascension of Jesus. Therefore, it was completely different than the earlier ascent of Jesus off the cross into heaven.

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 bodies.

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.

After we die we wait for 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.

That happened for Jesus on Easter Morning. No other saint has been reunited with their resurrected body.

Lazarus got his old body back. 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 the tithe of the resurrection. His resurrection is the first fruits. 1 Corinthians 15:20.

But this is not the same event for Jesus as the Ascension. The appearance of Jesus is completely different now and when Saul of Tarsus saw this glorified Jesus it blinded him.

It is 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 and I don’t stop until I am home.

Jesus took a journey out of heaven. Jesus descended out of His glory.

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. And this ascent doesn’t all happen at once. The descent was in stages and the ascent will be 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. These are part of His stages back to glory.

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. There’s all these other people in heaven that you know. Friends, family and worship acquaintances. Everyone’s family now.

You are part of the saints Triumphant in Heaven. And because your death happened before the New testament you get to watch the descent of Jesus from the throne to the Earth. You get to see how people treat Him. You watch His suffering. You see His trial, crucifixion and death.

And the most amazing thing happens after Jesus death. That family of saints in Heaven has someone greater than Abraham join the saints triumphant in Heaven. Someone greater than Moses, greater than Melchizedek. The Son of God, who became the Son of Man has now joined the Saints in Heaven waiting to be rejoined with His body.

And Jesus tells you to just call Him the Elder Brother. The Kinsman Redeemer and your Friend. And Jesus hangs out with the saints, as a normal departed saint, for three days.

And all the saints in heaven are waiting with a bursting enthusiasm to watch on Easter morning as the human and divine person of Jesus is reunited with His resurrected body.

Now these saints know what awaits them.

But His resurrected body is not the full return home. Jesus started His journey in the full form of God.

For the ascension to be complete Jesus had to ascend all the way back to the full glory He had before He left.

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.”

Jesus was not ready to receive the worship of the whole creation until He was in the place where the whole Creation could see Him and worship Him as Lord.

So He told Mary not to cling to Him and keep Him from getting all the way back into the place the Father purposed to bring Him.

Revelation 5:13-14 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

And now the Father has glorified Jesus with the same glory He had before the world existed. Hallelujah!


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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