“Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.”
Ephesians 4:9-10 NLT
At first sight, these two verses might seem a bit difficult to understand. They describe something that seems at odds with our understanding and experience. In the previous verse, verse 8, we read that Christ ascended somewhere. We know that happened because we read in Acts 1:9 that Jesus, “was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.” Jesus ascended into Heaven, as witnessed by His disciples. And, as an aside, in Acts 1:11 we read that this is the way He will return. One day soon? We don’t of course know when this will be but happen it will.
Another question we have is, “Where did Jesus go to when He ascended?” The disciples saw Him reach the clouds but after that they lost sight of Him. So is He floating around somewhere above us, sitting on clouds, as some artists have portrayed? Perhaps a lot of the confusion we have is because we try and mix the physical and the spiritual. We know and believe, from other Scriptures, that Jesus is in Heaven. We read in 1 Peter 3:22, “Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honour next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.”
Paul, in these verses in Ephesians, sets out a picture of Christ being able to move where He wishes throughout the entire physical and spiritual environment in which we live. More than that, Paul said He did this, “so that he might fill the entire universe with himself”. The Bible seems to provide a little glimpse that this “entire universe” consists of three heavens. There is the physical “heaven” that we can see in part, and which many of our scientists spend their lives in exploring with all the technology at their disposal; the physical universe we can see with its myriads of galaxies and stars. Then there is the “Heaven” where Jesus lives, as described by Peter in the verse quoted above. Where He is sitting on the right hand of God the Father.
But we also read that the devil and his rebellious angels were cast out of Heaven down to earth (Ezekiel 28:17). Now satan is a spiritual being, so that is why we can’t see him wandering around our planet complete with a red suit, tail and horns holding a pitchfork and accompanied by similarly red-suited demons. But he and his cohorts are here spiritually, as we read in 1 Peter 5:8. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” But as a spiritual being, our enemy will be living somewhere. Some say in hell, but hell doesn’t exist yet – it doesn’t appear in God’s plan until He needs it at the time of the last judgement (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20). So some theologians say that there is a “second heaven” where the devil lives with his minions. The third Heaven is where God lives; the place where Paul was taken up to – we can read his account in 2 Corinthians 12. He called it “Paradise”, as did Jesus to the repentant thief on the adjacent cross.
So back to our verses in Ephesians 4. Paul laid out for his readers a word picture of our almighty God and His omnipresence, throughout the entire, limitless and eternal physical and spiritual universe that he created. We will never get our human minds around its extent, but we can rest assured that because God is everywhere, He can be with each one of us right now. We are not alone. Jesus was right when He said in Matthew 28:20, “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” On our pilgrimage through life, we can feel His love and grace around us, lifting our spirits whatever the circumstances. Reminded that one day we too will ascend into Paradise, to join Jesus there. And able at any time to reach out to Him in prayer. Let’s finish today with the first three verses of Psalm 46. A great comfort and reassurance for wobbly pilgrims, as we are sometimes.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging
Psalm 46:1-3 NIV