When Did Jesus Christ Ascend Into Heaven?


The ascension of Jesus Christ doesn’t often receive as much attention in churches as his birth, death, and resurrection, but it’s critically important. It’s not merely the ending of one story, the earthly ministry of Jesus, but the beginning of another one — the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the start of the Church. One question many people want to know is when Jesus ascended from the earth.

The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven occurred 40 days after his resurrection, according to Luke. Bible scholars who think there is sufficient evidence to estimate an exact date and believe the number 40 is literal, not an approximation, suggest that he ascended on May 19, 30 A.D.

Where does the Bible mention the 40-day period? Does the Bible mention the day or month that Jesus ascended? Did Jesus foretell his ascension into heaven? Did Paul mention Jesus’ ascension into heaven? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also see Who Helped Jesus Carry the Cross? to learn more.

Jesus Christ ascension
Is the number 40 literal? See below

Where does the Bible mention the 40-day period?

Though Luke briefly mentions Jesus’ ascension at the end of his gospel (more below), Acts 1:3 is the only verse that specifies a 40-day period between the resurrection and ascension. 40 isn’t a direct reference to the number of days between events but the length of time that Jesus appeared to people.

TranslationActs 1:3
ESVHe presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
KJVTo whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
NASBTo these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
NIVAfter his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
NLTDuring the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

The Greek phrase translated “forty days” comes from the words tesserakonta (τεσσεράκοντα) and hemeron (ἡμερῶν). The words are common and have straightforward definitions. The same word for forty is found in passages that describe the length of Jesus’ temptation (Matt. 4:2) and Moses and Israel’s time in the wilderness (Acts 7:36).

Is the number 40 approximate? While most Bible scholars think the number 40 is exact, others are open to the possibility that it’s a round figure. One writes, “This may be simply a round number, but it fits in with the fact that there were 50 days between Easter and Pentecost.” [1] If 40 days is approximate, it can’t be more than 50 days because Jesus ascended before Pentecost, a date which Luke specifies (Acts 2:1).

Does the Bible mention the day or month that Jesus ascended? No. However, the Bible reveals the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Based on details from the Gospels, some scholars estimate that Jesus died on (or about) April 7, 30 A.D., and rose from the dead three days later on April 9. [2]. Adding 40 days to April 9 is May 19, 30 A.D.

Also see Why Was Lucifer Cast Out of Heaven? to learn more.

Christian cross
What did Jesus say about his ascension? See below

The ascension of Jesus according to Luke

Luke is the only Gospel writer to narrate the ascension of Jesus, which he does twice. He mentions it once in each of the books he wrote. He mentions it briefly at the end of the Gospel that bears his name and again at the beginning of the sequel he wrote, the book of Acts. The reference in Luke contains less information than the one in Acts; nevertheless, the descriptions are harmonious.

Luke 24:51Acts 1:9
While he blessed themAnd when he had said these things
(no parallel)as they were looking on
he parted from themhe was lifted up
and was carried uphe was lifted up
into heavenand a cloud took him out of their sight

Luke alludes to Jesus’ ascension to the Father again when he records Stephen’s death. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, sees the resurrected Jesus, not on earth, but in heaven.

“[Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).

Did Jesus foretell his ascension into heaven?

Even though John doesn’t narrate the ascension, he mentions it when he records certain teachings of Jesus. Jesus spoke of his forthcoming ascension into heaven on three occasions, though he never refers to a 40-day period.

  • John 3:13, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”
  • John 6:62, “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”
  • John 20:17, “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.”

“And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.” – Saint Augustine

Also see Where Is Heaven in the Bible? to learn more.

Ascension of Jesus Christ
How does Paul describe the results of Jesus’ ascension? See below

Did Paul mention Jesus’ ascension into heaven?

Though Paul didn’t use the word “ascension,” he implied the event several times in his letters. He also doesn’t mention a period of 40 days in his descriptions of Jesus, who is already in heaven.

  • Ephesians 1:20, “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places”
  • Ephesians 4:10, “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
  • 1 Timothy 3:16, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
  • 1 Peter 3:21b-22, “Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
  • Colossians 3:1, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

“When Christ returned to heaven, He withdrew His physical presence from our sight. He didn’t stop being with the disciples but by the ascension fulfilled His promise to be with us to the end of the world. As His body was raised to heaven, so His power and reign have spread to the uttermost parts.” – John Calvin

Also see What Is the Third Heaven? to learn more.

References:
[1] Acts by I. Howard Marshall. p. 62.
[2] Jesus and the Gospels by Craig L Blomberg. p. 193.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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