Entering heaven alive
Entering heaven alive (called by various religions "ascension", "assumption", or "translation") is a belief held by multiple religions and traditions. Since death is generally considered the normal end to an individual's life on Earth and the beginning of the afterlife, entering Heaven without dying first is considered exceptional and usually a sign of God's special recognition of the individual's piety.
- 1 Christianity
- 2 Hellenistic religion
- 3 Hinduism
- 4 Islam
- 5 Judaism
- 6 Zoroastrianism
- 7 Ascended Master Teachings
- 8 Fictional portrayals
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
Since the adoption of the Nicene Creed in 325, the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, as related in the New Testament, has been officially taught by all orthodox Christian churches and is celebrated on Ascension Thursday. In Anglican Church and Roman Catholic Church the Ascension of the Lord is a Holy Day of Obligation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the Ascension is one of twelve Great Feasts. Unlike the other entries in this article, most Christians believe Jesus did initially die, but was then resurrected from the dead by God, before being raised bodily to heaven to sit at the Right Hand of God with a promise to someday return to earth. The minority views that Jesus didn't die are known as the Swoon hypothesis and Docetism.
In the Reformed churches' tradition of Calvinism, belief in the ascension of Christ is included in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Second Helvetic Confession."
Catholicism and Anglicanism
The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion distinguish between "The Ascension", in which Christ rose to heaven by his own power, and "The Assumption" in which Mary, mother of Jesus, was raised to heaven by God's power. (Enoch and Elijah are said in scripture to have been "assumed" [experienced assumption] into heaven.) However, in the Anglican Communion, the matter of Mary's assumption is considered pious, and is an optional feast day.
- By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
The doctrine is based on Sacred Tradition that Mary, mother of Jesus, was bodily assumed into heaven. For centuries before that, the assumption was celebrated in art. The proclamation leaves open whether or not Mary died before assumption into heaven.
The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that three other persons were taken bodily into heaven: Enoch, Elijah (Elias) and the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). Similar to the Western "Assumption" of Mary, the Orthodox celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos on August 15. Unlike Western uncertainty about Mary's physical death, the Orthodox teach that Mary died a natural death like any other human being, that she was buried by the Apostles (except for Thomas, who was late), and three days later (after Thomas had arrived) was found to be missing from her tomb. The church teaches that the Apostles received a revelation during which the Theotokos appeared to them and told them she had been resurrected by Jesus and taken body and soul into heaven. The Orthodox teach that Mary already enjoys the fullness of heavenly bliss that the other saints will experience only after the Last Judgment.
There is a teaching among the Orthodox that the "Two Witnesses" referred to in the Book of Revelation 11:3-13 are Enoch and Elijah, who will be sent back to earth to preach the Gospel in the time of apostasy, and will be the last Christian martyrs before the Second Coming. According to Revelation, they will be resurrected and ascend again to heaven.
Simon Magus, a first-century Gnostic who claimed to be an incarnation of God (as conceived by the Gnostics) reportedly had the ability to levitate, along with many other magical powers. As a dissenter from the Proto-orthodox Christianity of the time, this was branded by Christians as evil magic and attributed to demonic powers. He is said to have attempted to levitate to the heavens from the Roman Forum, but fell back to earth and injured himself.
- Hercules it was believed, following the completion of his twelve labors, was raised into Olympus.
- Apollonius of Tyana was said to have been assumed into Elysium by Philostratus.
Sant Tukaram was taken to Vaikunta on Garuda Vahan which was witnessed by all the village people.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu disappeared after entering the temple deity room of Lord Jagannath.
Ramalinga Swamigal (Swami Ramalinga), a great Sage revered by his teaching. Ramalinga supposedly attained the Supreme Body of the Godhead when Divinity itself merged with him. He was reported to have disappeared after deciding to de-materialize his immortal body by his own free will, his body was never found.
The Mother (Mirra Alafassa), the foremost disciple of the Hindu philosopher and guru Sri Aurobindo, attempted the physical transformation of her body in order to become what she felt was the first of a new type of human individual by opening to the Supramental Truth Consciousness, a new power of spirit that Sri Aurobindo had allegedly discovered. She believed that she could create for herself a new kind of “light body”. However, she died and was cremated.
Islamic teaching states that Muhammad ascended into heaven alive at the site of the Dome of the Rock. However, this ascent was temporary and he came back to Earth. It is ascribed to the exact descriptions presented in both the Quran and the Hadith.
Most Muslims believe that Jesus is alive in heaven, but that view is not universal. Tariq Hashmi writes in the Islamic journal, Renaissance: "[W]e see that the Holy Qur’an clearly negates that Jesus (sws) was raised to heavens alive (3:55)." Yet Dr. Ahmad Shafaat writes elsewhere that the Qur'an in fact states that "God raised him to himself".
Some Islamic scholars have identified the prophet Idris to be the same person as Enoch from the Bible. This is because the Qu'ran states that God "raised him to a lofty station", and that has been taken to be a term for ascending, upon which it is concluded that 'Idris' was 'Enoch'.
In the Hebrew bible the word for "heavens" is shamayim. This is plural - it means "heavens", not "heaven" - but seems nevertheless to have a singular meaning (i.e., the older parts of the bible speak of "heavens" in the plural but evidence for a belief in more than one heaven from the bible is lacking. Shamayim also meant "sky", the atmosphere, as it does in modern English. The blue dome of the sky was called the raqia, and was believed to be a solid shield between the atmosphere and the true heaven where God lived. Heaven was the realm of God, earth of mankind, and the underworld was for the dead, and travel between them was generally impossible, although God and his messengers frequently appear on earth and the dead can be summoned up from the underworld as the Witch of Endor summons the shade of Samuel.
There are two possible exceptions to this general rule that humans could not go to heaven, Enoch and Elijah, but neither is clear. The Book of Genesis mentions Enoch as one who "was no more" because "God took him", but it does not explicitly say whether he was alive or dead, and it does not say where God took him. The Book of Kings describes the prophet Elijah being taken towards "shamayim" in a whirlwind, but the word can mean both heaven as the abode of God, or the sky (as the word "heavens" does in modern English), and so again the text is ambiguous.
- Elijah (Kings II Chapter 2, Verse 11)
- Serach, the daughter of Asher - one of the sons of Jacob (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni (Yechezkel 367))
- Enoch (Genesis 5:22-24)
- Eliezer, the servant of Abraham
- Hiram, king of Tyre
- Ebed Melech, the Ethiopian
- Jaabez, the son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi
- Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh
Ascended Master Teachings
Francis Bacon is believed to have undergone a physical Ascension without experiencing death (he then became the deity St. Germain) by members of various Ascended Master Teachings, a group of New Age religions based on Theosophy. They also believe numerous others have undergone Ascension; they are called the Ascended Masters and are worshipped in this group of religions. The leaders of these religions claim to be able to receive channeled messages from the Ascended Masters, which they then relay to their followers.
- In C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, those who ascended to heaven alive included Melchizedek, Frederick Barbarossa, King Arthur and Elwin Ransom.
- In C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep the Mouse is permitted to travel into Aslan's Country while alive. He is next seen in The Last Battle where he is the first to greet the protagonists when they arrive at Aslan's Country.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium, Elves who grow weary of life in Middle-earth may sail west to the Undying Lands. A few mortals also follow this route, including Eärendil, the Ring-bearers Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, and Sam Gamgee, and the Dwarf Gimli.
- In the fictional universe of the Stargate franchise, the Ancients, have learned how to ascend and have moved on to a higher plane of existence.
- In Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Remedios the Beauty, said to be the most beautiful woman ever seen in Macondo, who unintentionally causes the deaths of several men who love or lust over her. She appears to most of the town as naively innocent, and some come to think that she is mentally retarded. However, Colonel Aureliano Buendía believes she has inherited great lucidity: "It is as if she's come back from twenty years of war", he said. She rejects clothing and beauty. Too beautiful and, arguably, too wise for the world, Remedios ascends into the sky one afternoon in the 4pm sun, while folding Fernanda's white sheet.
- Quotations as cited by Redman, Gary, article/Web page titled "A Comparison of the Biblical and Islamic Views of the States of Christ/ Part 2: The State of Exaltation", at "The Muslim-Christian Debate Website". Retrieved March 29, 2007.
- 1 Thess 4:16-4:17 "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."
-  Brumley, Mark, "Mary's Assumption: Irrelevant or Irreverent?", article at Catholic.net Web site. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
-  Web page titled "Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII / Munificentissimus Deus / Defining the Dogma of the Assumption" at the official Web site of the Vatican. Retrieved March 30, 2007.
-  Brumley, Mark, "Mary's Assumption: Irrelevant or Irreverent?", article at Catholic.net Web site, accessed March 29, 2007: "Some theologians have argued (rightly or wrongly) that Mary didn't die, but the dogma itself doesn't say this."
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Simon Magus: "As proof of the truth of his doctrines Simon offered to ascend into the heavens before the eyes of Nero and the Roman populace; by magic he did rise in the air in the Roman Forum, but the prayers of the Apostles Peter and Paul caused him to fall, so that he was severely injured and shortly afterwards died miserably."
- Lendering, Jona. Apollonius of Tyana. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
- This statement, taken from the Wikipedia article Islamic view of Jesus ("Second Coming" section) is only part of a paragraph which ends with the following citations, and without going back to the sources, it is impossible to say whether they are citations for this particular statement. These are the sources cited: Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Quran, p.121, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-85168-094-2; Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Qur'anic Verse regarding Second Coming of Jesus
- Hashmi, Tariq, "The second coming of Jesus" Renaissance: A Monthly Islamic Journal (published in Pakistan) September 2004 issue, Vol. 14 No. 9. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
- Shafaat, Dr. Ahmad, Islamic View of the Coming/Return of Jesus" article dated May 2003, at the Islamic Perspectives Web site: "In 4:159, after denying that the Jews killed or crucified Jesus and after stating that God raised him to Himself, the Qur`an says ...". Retrieved March 29, 2007.
- Derekh Erez Zuta (post-Talmudic tractate) cited in Encyclopedia Judaica New York 1972
- JewishEncyclopedia.com - ENOCH
- JewishEncyclopedia.com - BITHIAH
- I AM Ascended Master Dictation List Saint Germain Press Inc., 1995, Listing of those who are claimed to be Ascended Masters by The I AM Activity
- Schroeder, Werner Ascended Masters and Their Retreats Ascended Master Teaching Foundation 2004, Listing of those who are believed to be Ascended Masters by The I AM Activity and The Bridge to Freedom
- Luk, A.D.K.. Law of Life - Book II. Pueblo, Colorado: A.D.K. Luk Publications 1989, Listing of those who are claimed to be Ascended Masters by The I AM Activity and The Bridge to Freedom
- Booth, Annice The Masters and Their Retreats Summit Lighthouse Library June 2003, Listing of those who are believed to be Ascended Masters by The I AM Activity, The Bridge to Freedom, and The Summit Lighthouse
- Shearer, Monroe & Carolyn I AM Adorations, Affirmations & Rhythmic Decrees Acropolis Sophia Books and Works 1998, Listing of those who are claimed to be Ascended Masters by The I AM Activity, The Bridge to Freedom, The Summit Lighthouse, and The Temple of The Presence
- Encyclopedia of Religion s.v. Ascension; Eliade, Mircea, ed. in chief. New York, Macmillan 1987