Millions think that Jesus literally flew up into the sky to God, who was working things like a puppet master from a place somewhere up there called heaven. They get the idea from the Gospel of Luke and its second volume, the Book of Acts. Both are actually one single work in two volumes, which isn't often recognized.

The same people who imagine Jesus flying up into the sky also imagine that, one day, God will draw back the curtain, snatch up those who are Christians in what they call "the rapture", then unleash all hell on everyone left behind.

When Copernicus and Galileo recast how we see the universe, the story of Jesus ascending and someday returning made no sense any longer. There simply is no up or down in the universe. It's sort of hard to believe that people can ignore science to the point that they really believe the stories in Luke and Acts literally, instead of realizing what they are symbolically pointing to.

If you were a first century Jew reading Luke’s story, you wouldn’t have a problem with this story in terms of its logic in a scientific era. That’s because you knew it was never meant to be read as if it actually happened.

Sadly, the Christian church very early on became quite antisemitic, so that as these scriptures that were originally written by Jews passed into Gentile hands, people lost all touch with the fact that the scriptures use a Jewish means of storytelling known as midrash.

Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong explains that midrash “is both a collection of the interpretations of sacred Scripture and a method for the continued expansion of the sacred Scripture. It comes in three forms: Halakah, Haggadah, and Pesiqta. Halakah is an interpretation of the law—the sacred Torah. Haggadah is the interpretation of a story or an event by relating it to another story or event in sacred history. Pesiqta is a whole sermon or an exhortation written midrashically to capture themes of the past to enable them to be perceived as operative in the present. The sermons of Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts, as well as the long speech of Stephen, are examples in the New Testament of Pesiqta.”

Spong continues: “Midrash is the Jewish way of saying that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past. It is the ability to rework an ancient theme in a new context. It is the affirmation of a timeless truth found in the faith journey of a people so that this truth can be experienced afresh in every generation. It is the recognition that the truth of God is not bound within the limits of time but that its eternal echoes can be and are heard anew in every generation. It is the means whereby the experience of the present can be affirmed and asserted as true inside the symbols of yesterday.”

The symbols that pack Luke’s story of the ascension and the coming of the spirit were written before anyone launched a rocket into the sky and found out that it wasn’t like a large blue salad bowl, but was porous and led out into the infinite beyond.

In fact, the ancients used to believe that the heavens consisted of water, which is why even today we refer to the sky as "the blue beyond." Above us was a firmament, a sort of glass dome, with the blue sea above it. There were windows in the glass dome, which were opened to cause Noah's Flood in the mythology. God's throne was above all of this, which is why the psalms describe God as "riding upon the waters" and triumphing over them. No one back then had any sense that the universe was mostly a vast empty space.

When you read midrash, you don’t ask if it happened, you ask what the symbols drawn from that era point to in everyday life.

Not just the ascension story, but pretty much all of the gospels are written in midrashic style. They take ancient stories and show us the meaning of the life of Jesus for us by retelling these stories in a new form.

With the gospels, you don’t ask what happened. You ask what the symbolism points to in our lives today. Then you discover that what we are told about Jesus isn't biography, but pictures in words that convey information that leads to consciousness.

Ascension, for instance, is all about living on a higher plane—a higher consciousness than humanity generally experiences.

Similarly, the second coming is about the full revelation of the true nature of our being, which was epitomized in Jesus, in each of us. "I will come to you," Jesus said in the Gospel of John. But he went on to explain that the form in which he would come to us was the holy spirit—divine consciousness.

The reason fantastical language is used in the gospels is to help us realize that living consciously in the way Jesus did was night-and-day different from the unconscious way most of the world lives.

When we don't literalize the miracle stories, but see them as speaking to our lives in a mythical, midrashic way, they become truly transformative.

Author's Bio: 

David Robert Ord is author of Your Forgotten Self Mirrored in Jesus the Christ and the audio book Lessons in Loving--A Journey into the Heart, both from Namaste Publishing, publishers of Eckhart Tolle and other transformational authors. He writes The Compassionate Eye daily, together with his daily author blog Consciousness Rising, at    

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