It was a stroke of genius for the risen Jesus to ascend into Heaven and vanish from the face of the earth.
Brief glimpses of glory
It is a good thing that Jesus disappeared.
If He had stayed in one place, it would cause horrible logistical problems.
Jesus' location would be holiest place on earth. Those who could travel there to see Him could claim bragging rights over those who could not make the trip; those who lived there and managed the crowds would form a still higher inner circle--they would have a lot more access to Jesus than anyone else.
A little math may help to make the point.
|time period||total seconds|
|60 seconds per minute||60|
|60 minutes per hour||3,600|
|24 hours per day||86,400|
|365.24 days per year||31,556,736|
What this shows is that if each pilgrim were to be allowed to see Jesus for one second a year, only 31,556,736 pilgrims per year could receive that blessing.
But there are more than a billion Christians. How long would it take for each of them to spend one second with Jesus?
The ushers at the pilgrimage site would have to move 86,400 people in and out of the Throne Room every second of every day for 31.7 years to let 1 billion Christians spend 1 second in Jesus' presence. If the whole world were converted, that would increase to a 221.9-year-cycle.
When Peter, James, and John witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36), he suggested that they should pitch tents (tabernacles) for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah; he clearly wanted Jesus to stay put and let the crowds climb the mountain to see Him. Jesus had a better idea: let the apostles carry Him to the ends of the earth.
The Kingdom of Israel is Dead; Long Live the Kingdom of God
In the Old Testament (the Old Covenant), God promised that there would always be a descendant of David seated on the throne of Israel (2 Sam 7:16, Ps 2, Ps 89). The Scriptures defined the boundaries of that promised land; it was, like all human kingdoms, a definite geographic location such that people could tell whether they were in the Kingdom or outside of it.
That Kingdom of David fell apart after the death of his son, Solomon. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) disappeared in 722 BC; the Southern Kingdom (Judah) has not had a King since the Babylonian Captivity (586 BC). The promised King and Kingdom have not existed since then.
King Jesus revealed that the old Kingship and Kingdom were merely prototypes of what God had in mind. In the New Testament (New Covenant), "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20). This is a complete abolition of the old idea of a Kingdom as a geographic region. Instead of being a "place" that we can be physically inside or outside of, the Kingdom led by King Jesus is defined by our personal relationship to the King. "Wherever two or three of you are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of you" (Mt 18:20).
Jesus has set us free from bondage to any piece of property. There is no spot on the face of the earth that gives us more access to Jesus than other pilgrims. There are no insiders who get to spend more time with the King than other, second-class citizens. We become members of the Kingdom when we are born again by water and the Spirit in Baptism; God pitches his tent (tabernacle) in our heart and dwells within us. God is with us (the meaning of the Hebrew name, Emmanuel--"Imannu," with us, "El" God).
Where we are, God is. The Kingdom of Jesus has no earthly boundaries. The Pope in Rome or the pilgrims to Jerusalem get no nearer to Him than any believer who, moved by the Spirit, acknowledges that Jesus is Lord (1 Jn 4:2-3).
We are not geographically in the Kingdom; the Kingdom is in us.
The Church would still be necessary
Back to the "what if" question with which we began: What if Jesus had stayed physically present in one location?
Jesus' presence on the face of the earth wouldn't obviate the need for the testimony of the Church. Subsequent generations would have to take the word of the first generation that the man in Jerusalem was the same man crucified under Pontius Pilate by the Romans, that he was truly dead and truly risen from the dead.
The ongoing presence of Jesus could only be authenticated by the testimony of His inner circle that no tricks were being played on the pilgrims. Only those who watched Him all of their short lives could say, "It is He. What you see for one second is the same Man who suffered and died under Pontius Pilate." Of course, the only way they could believe and teach this was by accepting the testimony of the first--and long deceased!--generation of apostles who knew Jesus in the flesh, who knew that He truly died, and who testified to the Resurrection.
Technology wouldn't help
Ever since cameras were invented, they have been used to create hoaxes. We are now well aware that "movie magic" can make people look dead and can make them appear to rise from the dead. To take a film as "proof" of an event, we have to take the word of the photographer that what is portrayed onscreen is what really happened.
Before photography, there was stagecraft. The first play I saw as a boy was Caligula (what were my parents thinking?). I thought I saw a woman murdered onstage. I could not believe my eyes when the actress appeared at the end of the play, alive and well, and I asked my parents how that happened!
One second in Jesus' presence would not be enough time for people to verify for themselves that it was He--the same, the very same Person who had suffered and died under Pontius Pilate.
On a cruise ship once upon a time, I got to be one of the stooges called up to examine a box to be used in the next trick. I had lots of time to look at it and did not detect the means by which the magician and his beautiful assistant changed places--and clothing!--in the blink of an eye.
Skeptics would have a field day with the "act" put on in the Jesus Temple. The only way to know for sure that this is Jesus of Nazareth would be to accept the testimony of the Church.
Why not supply a Resurrection lab?
Our thirst for proof is insatiable. For those who want to see everything with their own eyes, the only remedy would be to make Jesus available to skeptical inquirers. They would be allowed to kill Him, verify that He was truly dead, and then see Him rise from the dead days later. Of course, this experiment would have to be run for every person who wanted such proof; everybody else would have to take the word of the scientists that the experiment was a success--and we're back to the structure of the Church based on the testimony of those who were allowed to spend that much time in the physical presence of Jesus. You can do the math yourself to see how much time it would take for each person in the world to visit the Jesus Lab and personally witness Jesus' death and Resurrection. It's a rather large number.
Thank God for the Ascension and disappearance of Jesus. It was, if I may say so, a stroke of genius!