When the resurrected body of Jesus “ascends” into “the heavens,” its locus is shifted from this present evil age to the age to come. “The heavens” are more literally “the sky.” Yet the sky was not for the 1st century peasants of Galilee and Judea a space later to be mapped by astronomers with powerful telescopes. The sky for them was an unreachable beyond, a height that so exceeds the grasp even of the tallest mountains, that we may turn to it—but only with great awe before a greater mystery. The heavens were, the sky was, for them where God freely dwells, an outside from which God may come, but only will come by God’s good pleasure. As apocalyptic literature, Ephesians thinks of the heavens as a realm of holiness in stark contrast to the violent Godlessness that squeezes this world in its fist. It is from “the heavenly places” that the redemption of the world is to come—and has come already in the resurrection from the dead of the mutilated, crucified body of Jesus. The heavenly places constitute that mystery that is the hope of the faithful, the mystery that on a day after all days will gather all of God’s creatures, all of God’s children, into God’s reign of peace, joy, and love. The heavenly places are the wellspring of the future, they are the future. To think “heaven”—with hope in the crucified one—is to think the future of this world.
What makes this particularly remarkable is that God “seated” the glorified body of Jesus—still mutilated!—at God’s “right hand.” This means that the hope of the world, the hope of all time, all history, is in the God who is now inseparable from the redeemed Jesus, the glorified Jesus. The utter humiliation of Jesus must be thought first or the utter exaltation of Jesus will not tell us good news. It is not accidental that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2). Had he such desirability then his glorification would be only a small surprise, relevant only to desirable people. What is startling is that God would glorify one who is so abhorrently abased that we could only turn from him in revulsion. That he ascends into the heavenly places means that we too have hope—we who certainly are far gone from righteousness, but not as far gone as Jesus as he hung limp from that cross and his corpse was thrown into that tomb. It is this one who is exalted “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
To turn to the Jesus exalted to heavenly places and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty is not to look up—but to look ahead . . . to what is to come, to the reach of the God of mercy, the God of grace, the God who would not leave a faithful peasant’s mangled corpse to rot in the ground, the God who in loving the humiliated Jesus loves all of us humiliated ones, whether we are conscious of our humiliation or not. “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”