It is one thing to claim that your dead friend appeared to you, or even appeared to you and a group of friends. It is quite another to claim that your dead friend appeared to you and a group of friends and then levitated/ascended into a cloud! Yet this is the claim that Christians make regarding Jesus. After coming back from the dead, walking out of a sealed tomb, in a heavenly/supernatural body, Christians allege that Jesus rose from the earth, in front of multiple witnesses, and disappeared behind a cloud. Here is the source of this story:
Gospel of Luke:
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Book of Acts:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 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.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
Even most skeptics believe that these two books were written by the same (anonymous) author. For simplicity, we will call him “Luke”. Luke admits in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke that he was not an eyewitness to any of these events. However, he assures his readers that he obtained his information from reliable sources. The question is: Were his sources reliable? Well, we don’t know because he never tells us who is sources are! But let’s compare these two accounts of the same event, written by the same author.
First, one passage says they went all the way to Bethany. The other says they only went to the Mount of Olivet, which is between Jerusalem and Bethany.
Second, why no mention of angels in the Gospel of Luke’s account of this event? It isn’t as if angels appear to people every day! If angels appeared after Jesus had lifted off, wouldn’t that be something you would record? Well, maybe “Luke” didn’t find it important to his “theme” or maybe he had run out of scroll…
But that is not all that is strange about this supernatural story. And this is the whopper: No other Gospel author mentions this story! In fact, no other author of any book in the New Testament mentions this story!
The first Gospel written, Mark, says nothing about an ascension or even post-resurrection appearances…in the original. But remember, the author of Mark never claims to have been a witness to any of these events.
What about the Gospel of Matthew? If this gospel were written by the Apostle Matthew, he would have been an eyewitness to this fantastic supernatural event. So what does Matthew say about the Ascension? Answer: Not one word! The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus giving the disciples the Great Commission…on a mountain in Galilee!
What about the Gospel of John? If this gospel were written by the Apostle John, he would have been an eyewitness to this fantastic supernatural event. So what does John say about the Ascension? Answer: Not one word! The Gospel of John ends with Jesus appearing to his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, where he cooks them a fish breakfast.
So we are asked to believe that a resurrected dead body ascended/levitated into the clouds…but none of the eyewitnesses bothered to record it. Amazing! But the bizarreness of this story doesn’t end there. The majority of scholars doubt that the longer ending of the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark is original. Most scholars believe it was a later addition to the text. And what do we find in this added, longer version to the original Gospel of Mark? Answer: a truncated version of an Ascension! But in this Ascension story, the disciples are not on a mountain outside of Jerusalem or a mountain in Bethany, they are reclining at a table! In the longer addition to Mark, Jesus appears to the Eleven, gives them the Great Commission, tells them that true believers can drink poison/handle poisonous snakes and not be harmed, and then after he had spoken, was taken into heaven.
Huh? The Ascension occurred while the Eleven were reclining at a table? What happened to the mountain top Ascension??
Some Christians will try to shoehorn the “mountain top” Ascension into this story, like this:
Jesus appears to the reclining Eleven, gives the Great Commission and immunity to poison, and then, “After he had spoken (and had taken them out to a mountain top, a couple of hours later,) he ascended into heaven.”
Wow! If that isn’t spin, I don’t know what is!
So what do we have, folks? We have a claim of a group of people seeing Jesus and Jesus doing a miraculous act: ascending into the sky. Yet, only one author records this event, and he was not an eyewitness! And the two versions of the story written by this one non-eyewitness occur in two different locations! One version, the later version, has angels added to the story! We also have evidence that the Church tacked a version of this story onto the original Gospel of Mark, but forgot that the Lukan versions have Jesus lifting off from a mountain…unless you want to believe that there were recliners on the top of the mountain…
This story is clearly an embellishment. Yet conservative Christians today believe it to be an absolute historical fact.
But what does this story say about other claims made in the Gospels and in First Corinthians regarding “appearances” by a dead person? If you are honest, it should make you very skeptical, especially about claims made by only one author, who was not an eyewitness to the event in question, such as the claim by Paul that five hundred people saw Jesus at once.
These stories are not reliable, and they are highly improbable.
This story is just one of the many holes in the Christian supernatural-based belief system. If we can’t trust this “appearance” claim, why should we trust any of the others?
Open your eyes, folks. It is a tall tale.