In N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, he explains the significance of the ascension of Jesus in understanding the End Times. He notes that while only Luke records the event (twice!), it’s implicit in much of the rest of the New Testament.
After all, if the resurrected Jesus had not gone to live with God in a bodily form, if he’d died a second time, as happened with Lazarus and others who had their lives restored to them, things would be very different.
(Acts 1:9) After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
(Luke 24:50-51) When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Notice that Jesus went to heaven in bodily form. He didn’t leave his skin and bones behind. For all that appears, Jesus even now exists in heaven in bodily form.
Of course, his resurrected body was different from his pre-crucifixion body in several ways. He was often not recognized. He could walk through locked doors. And he could ascend to heaven! His body was like ours, but different.
The idea of the human Jesus now being in heaven, in his thoroughly embodied risen state, comes as a shock to many people, including many Christians. … [For many, it’s] because our culture is so used to the Platonic idea that heaven is, by definition, a place of “spiritual,” nonmaterial reality so that the idea of a solid body being not only present but also thoroughly at home there seems like a category mistake (p. 111).
Moreover, the Ascension teaches us something about the nature of heaven.
[W]hen the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly … two different kinds of what we call time (p. 115).
This idea is neither strange to our novelists nor to our physicists. Wright points out that C. S. Lewis, in The Chronicles of Narnia, imagines a parallel, physical but different world right next to ours. Our children have no trouble imagining such a thing.
It’s an idea our minds can easily accept — except when we’ve been taught otherwise, that is, when we are too grown up to believe such things.
But our physicists also imagine this possibility with brane theory and other theoretical constructs. It’s just a matter of thinking in more dimensions than four. We’ll consider this further later.