Isaiah’s Heavenly Ascent to See the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Insights from the Ascension of Isaiah[1]

The Ascension of Isaiah is an early Christian document that is thought to have been written some time in the second century A.D., and is considered a Christian re-working of an older Jewish tradition. It resembles, in some ways, Isaiah 6, but details a much more elaborate vision, in which Isaiah is taken, in spirit, through the various levels of Heaven until he reaches the highest heaven, where he is privileged to behold a vision of the Father, Beloved Son, and Holy Spirit.

For further background info on Ascension of Isaiah, and to read the text (translated from the Greek version), please see http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ascension.html.

Starting in Chapter 6 of the text, Isaiah recounts the vision that he saw in which a glorious angel comes to him, takes him by the hand, and leads him upwards into the heavens. The angel declares the purpose of this celestial journey:

When I have raised thee on high through the various degrees…You will see one who is greater than I…and his Father also who is greater you will see (vv. 7:4, 7-8).

The interpreting angel then takes Isaiah one degree at a time through the first six heavens. Each heaven has its own angels and guardian who sits on a throne. At each level, Isaiah notices that the angels and guardian are much more bright and glorious than those in the previous heaven. They soon become so glorious that Isaiah is tempted to bow down and worship them. His angel prohibits this, however, telling him:

Worship neither angel nor throne which belongs to the six heavens–for this reason was I sent to conduct you–till I tell you in the seventh heaven.  For above all the heavens and their angels is your throne set, and your garments and your crown which you shall see (7:21-22).

Isaiah learned that he was destined for a far higher glory than all that he had seen in the lower heavens. He soon began to notice that he, himself, was becoming more glorious as he ascended. He comments, “[F]or the glory of my countenance was being transformed as I ascended from heaven to heaven” (7:25).

In the sixth heaven Isaiah beholds an immense number of angels who “all had one appearance” praising “the primal Father and his Beloved, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” As the angel leads him up to the seventh and highest Heaven, the guardian of the sixth tries to impede him in a manner that frightens Isaiah, but another voice overrules and permits his entry into God’s presence, reasoning that “his garment is here.” Isaiah questions the angel about what has just happened, and the angel responds:

He who forbade you is he who is placed over the praise of the sixth heaven, and he who gave permission is your Lord, God, the Lord Christ, who will be called Jesus on earth, but his name you cannot hear till you have ascended out of your body (9:4-5).

Upon entering the seventh Heaven, Isaiah sees in a great light innumerable angels. He sees “all the righteous from Adam” including Abel, Enoch, and all those who were with him. They were stripped of their garments of flesh and Isaiah “saw them in their garments of the upper world, and they were like angels, standing there in great glory.” He notices that they have their glorious garments, but not their thrones and crowns. He asks his guide why this is, and is told:

“Crowns and thrones of glory they do not receive, till the Beloved will descent in the form in which you will see Him descend [will descend, I say] into the world in the last days the Lord, who will be called Christ. Nevertheless they see and know whose will be the thrones, and whose the crowns when He has descended and been made in your form, and they will think that He is flesh and is a man (9:12-13).

Isaiah is then told of the earthly mission of Christ and how all who believe in him will also inherit thrones and crowns in the highest Heaven. He then sees a glorious One whom Adam, Abel, Enoch and all the righteous begin to worship. Isaiah also begins to worship Him and is transformed into a glorious angelic being like the others. His angelic guide tells him that this is Christ, “the Lord of all the praise-givings which thou hast seen.”

Interestingly, Isaiah then sees another “Glorious One who was like Him,” standing to the left of Christ. The text says:

And I asked: “Who is this?” and he said unto me: “Worship Him, for He is the angel of the Holy Spirit, who speaketh in thee and the rest of the righteous”(9:36).

Then the spiritual eyes of Isaiah are opened and his is able to see “the Great Glory,” presumably God the Father, who he had not previously been able to see due to the greatness of His glory.

And my Lord drew nigh to me and the angel of the Spirit and He said: “See how it is given to thee to see God, and on thy account power is given to the angel who is with thee.” And I saw how my Lord and the angel of the Spirit worshipped, and they both together praised God. And thereupon all the righteous drew near and worshipped. And the angels drew near and worshiped and all the angels praised (9:39-42).

Isaiah is privileged to behold many other things, including witnessing the Father call Christ to descend to Earth to perform his sacred mission.

This document is simply amazing. It is an authentic early Christian writing that details a heavenly ascent in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are seen as three separate and distinct individuals. Even the Holy Spirit, who is often relegated to being some type of “power” or “influence” or the “Love of God” is seen as a distinct angelic figure, “the angel of the Holy Spirit.” Isaiah witnesses both the Son and the Spirit worshiping the Father — being obviously subordinate to Him.  This text gives us some great insight into what at least some of the early Christians believed in contrast to what became the more mainstream perspective.

 

9 thoughts on “Isaiah’s Heavenly Ascent to See the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

  1. David L, these type of documents raise a lot of questions for me (good questions). Who do we suppose wrote them? How was the revelation of Isaiah passed to people in the 2nd c AD? We know from Josephus that there were all kinds of Jewish documents around in the 1st century AD (Josephus referred to some of them). Is it possible that the Ascension of Isaiah is one of them? As Book of Mormon readers, we know that ancient people had great repositories of ancient documents. Think of Laban and the brass plates. Mormon and Moroni say they had a lot of documents. Nephi refers to two sets of documents. The story of Herod consulting with his scribes infers there were a lot of ancient documents and traditions (including references to Christ) around 1 AD, so we can imagine, for example, the Ascension of Isaiah being one of these ancient documents. Does that sound right to you?

    This whole idea of the Ascension sounds right to me. There are similar references in Revelation and Daniel and Lehi and Nephi. I especially like the presentation of the Holy Ghost as a separate personage — that is really cool.

  2. Is there anything interesting in the description of the mission that the Father is calling Christ to fulfill? Such as the nature of the atonement, etc.

    While this may have been an ancient document at the time of Christ, I think there is also a chance it was an account restored by revelation at the time of Christ, much as we have ancient accounts restored by revelation today.

  3. Do you think that you could ever, through all eternity, find out the generation where Gods began to be.

  4. David, as you know, I’ve written about the Ascension of Isaiah on my blog before, esp while writing on the Gospel Doctrine lesson on Isaiah 1-6. I’ve noted major similarities between the vision of Isaiah and those of Lehi: Both have a guide. Both see God’s throne. Both receive a book, read from it and prophesy. Both see Jesus descend to Earth, etc. (see 1 Nephi 1, 8-11). These are parts of a pattern in many theophanies, and parts can be found in John’s Revelation, in Ezekiel, etc., as well.

    For more, see my Isaiah article here:
    Isaiah 6

    Ezekiel

    Matthew 6-7 on garments

  5. Oh! BTW, great article.

    I also would note that the descending of Jesus shows that he empties himself of glory as he descends from one heaven to the next, so that those inside the heaven can bear to be in his presence. It gives us an insight on how God can descend to earth and not destroy us with his glory, or how heavenly beings can descend to lower kingdoms to minister (D&C 76).

    Of course, all of this is in keeping with LDS belief. I know you’ve had others question you lately about parallel-o-mania, but with so many markers that “coincide”, it seems statistically improbable to have so many things Joseph Smith could have guessed right on.

  6. True. That is why many things must be restored, when they are temporarily lost.

    However, in a Galaxy far, far away, we may find some things are new…. :)

  7. Excellent post. This account rings true to me to what is taught in the New Testament, especially John, Hebrews, and Revelation.

    What is now known as “classical theism” (an unembodied atemporal God etc) didn’t really take hold in Christianity until two or three centuries later – even though it had been around a long time. This is excellent evidence of that fact.

  8. Sorry to let so many comments go by with no answer. I’ll try to get to them all.

    Geoff — It is always very difficult to determine the precise origins of these documents. Scholarly judgments are necessarily based on the earliest attestation of the text that is available to us, and then the rest is pretty much speculation. The general consensus is that this document, in the form that we have it, was likely written in the 2nd Century AD, however, it is generally assumed that this work is a Christian expansion on earlier Jewish traditions. In fact, the first half of the text, which deals with Isaiah’s martyrdom, is thought to be an older Jewish text already in circulation which was picked up by the Christians due to their interest in Isaiah. The ascension account could also feasibly be based on older traditions, but there are many details (such as mention of the apostles, Mary and Joseph, the crucifixion, etc.) that lead scholars to believe that the current text must have been heavily edited by Christian hands. But as far as there being many religious texts around that didn’t end up in our Bible — that is indeed true.

    DavidC — The account of the mission of Christ does have some interesting details. A couple of the points I found interesting:
    1. It calls Satan “the god of that world”
    2. After Jesus dies and has “plundered the angel of death”, the righteous spirits ascend with him to heaven and then receive their heavenly garments, thrones, and crowns of glory.
    3. When Christ descends into the world, he diminishes his glory at each of the lower heavens until he has the appearance of a mortal man. At the lower heavens he has to give a password in order to pass through the gates — this is because he is hiding his true identity, otherwise they would not require him to give the password.
    4. On his way back up to the highest heaven, after his resurrection, Christ is recognized and worshiped and allowed to pass through all the gates unhindered.
    There isn’t much about the Atonement per se, that I noticed, but the text does focus on the conquest of the Angel of Death/Sheol, and the freeing of the captive righteous spirits. There is much more focus on the descent and then victorious ascent of Christ.

    Chris — I love that hymn, too! :)

    Rameumptum — Thanks for your comments. I remember your posts on this topic and I recall enjoying them greatly. Good point regarding the insight that the descent narration can give us.

    JohnC. — I agree with Ram that there are a lot of points here for Joseph Smith to have gotten right by happenstance. While I agree that there is, generally speaking, “nothing new under the sun,” in my opinion, seeing the similarities with Joseph Smith’s teachings as being inspired by divine revelation is more believable than seeing him as serendipitously placing the right puzzle-pieces together. You may see the Ascension of Isaiah as a creative weaving together of traditions onto the framework provided by Isa. 6, but these traditions had long since gone out of use in Christian circles by the time Joseph Smith came around.

    Mark D. — I agree with both points. Thanks for your comment.

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