BOB: Tell me what happened to the body of Jesus.
ED: If you'll tell me what happens to bodies that die, like the millions of "missing corpses" of folks that have died in the ancient Near East since Jesus' day.
Of course all Bible believers know what happened to the body of Jesus, because the Bible tells them so. It says Jesus' body launched itself from the surface of the earth upward into the air, past the clouds -- with some fish in Jesus' stomach (Luke). (I bet that fish was surprised to wind up in orbit.)
GROUND CONTROL TO JESUS CHRIST: "WE HAVE LIFTOFF"
The first chapter of the Book of Acts says that Jesus' ultimate moment of triumph, his big exit, his grand finale, when he bodily rose "into the clouds" to be seated at the right hand of God, was witnessed by only a handful of people, all of them, "disciples."
The ascension story, as Luke tells it in the Book of Acts, assumes that Jesus rises in order to enter heaven's door in the sky to be enthroned at the right hand of God. But in a space age, rising from this earth into the sky does not result in achieving heaven. It might only result in achieving orbit. Luke did not comprehend the vastness of space. No one in his day did. He could not have imagined space travel. If Jesus ascended physically into the sky and rose as rapidly as the speed of light, he would not yet have reached the edges of our own galaxy. [And our galaxy is merely one of over 100 billion. -- ED.]
- John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism
We know that anyone who wants to go to God and the precincts of the Blessed is taking a needless detour if he thinks this means he has to soar into the upper levels of the air. Surely Jesus would not have taken such a superfluous journey, nor would God have made him take it. Thus, one would have to assume something like a divine accommodation to the world-picture people had back then, and say: In order to convince the disciples of Jesus' return to the higher world, even though in fact that world was by no means to be sought in the upper atmosphere, God nevertheless staged the spectacle of Jesus' elevation. But this would be turning God into a sleight-of-hand artist.
- David Friedrich Strauss, Das Leben Jesu, 1837
It was the common belief among the Jews that the Messiah would transcend the greatest of the patriarchs and prophets; and if Enoch was translated, and Elijah went up in a fiery chariot, it was only natural that the Messiah should ascend to heaven.
- G. W. Foote, Bible Romances, No. 14, The Resurrection, 1880
The ascension of Jesus into cloudy concealment seems to have been modeled directly upon Josephus' [first century] telling of the story of the ascension of Moses before the forlorn eyes of his disciples.
- Robert M. Price, "Of Myth and Men: A Closer Look At the Originators of the Major Religions -- What Did They Really Say and Do?" Free Inquiry, Winter 1999/2000
There were ascents into heaven made long before and quite apart from Jesus. The Roman historian Livy, described the ascension of Romulus, the founder of the city of Rome, who came to be venerated as a god: One day Romulus held an assembly of the people before the city walls to review the army. Suddenly a thunderstorm broke out, wrapping the king in a thick cloud. When the cloud lifted, Romulus was no longer on earth. He had gone up into heaven.
Stories of ascensions were told in antiquity about other famous men, for example, Heracles, Empedocles, Alexander the Great, and Apollonius of Tyana. Characteristically the scene is set with spectators and witnesses, before whose eyes the person in question disappears. Often he is borne aloft by a cloud or shrouded in darkness that takes him from the eyes of the people. Not infrequently the whole business takes place on a mountain or hill. (Gerhard Lohfink, Die Himmelfahrt Jesu)
From this standpoint, Jesus' Ascension was nothing out of the ordinary. Jesus too, disembarked from a mountain, the Mount of Olives, for heaven. The point is that from a mountain it's not quite as far to heaven.
- Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things
Millions of Muslims believe Mohammed "ascended into the sky" riding a horse.
Makes me wonder whether Mohammed caught up to Jesus and galloped past? Or, being the gracious prophet that he was, gave Jesus a lift?
The founding of Christianity was not only accompanied by miracles, but even today it cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.
- David Hume