After Jesus was laid in the grave following His crucifixion, He appeared at least seven times on earth before His final ascension into heaven. The assumption that Jesus ascended but one time into heaven after His death is only a theory. He ascended at least twice after His death and may have traversed heaven and earth between all seven recorded appearances prior to his final ascension into heaven.
The proof is not readily evident by a casual reading of the seven accounts where Jesus appears before his disciples. A concerted effort comparing the occurrences with the chronology of time is required. J. W. McGarvey and Philip Pendleton’s literary work, The Fourfold Gospel, combined the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) into one harmonious reading by paying attention to the chronology of events. We benefit from their study by seeing the seven recorded occurrences when Jesus appeared on earth after His death and before His final ascension into heaven.
The Lord’s first appearance occurred three days after His death. Mary Magdalene was at Jesus’ tomb inquiring about the Lord’s body (Jn. 20:11-17). After Jesus makes his presence known to Mary, “Jesus saith unto her, touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Jesus is telling Mary that He has not yet ascended, but He is going to ascend as though He will do so while Mary is away telling the disciples. Later that evening, Jesus invites the disciples to touch Him (Lk. 24:39). It seems obvious that Jesus ascended into heaven by then since He was no longer concerned if anyone touched Him.
This would not be the first time Jesus ascended to heaven. He told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Upon Jesus’ death, His soul ascended to Paradise for those three days (Matt. 12:40). We know through prophecy concerning the Messiah that He would not remain in Paradise (Psm. 16:10). Peter quotes the prophecy “that His soul was not left in Hades” (Acts 2:31). Rather, Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
The ascension that Jesus tells Mary about would not have likely occurred 40 days later. Luke reported “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days…” (Acts 1:3). Luke doesn’t mention where Jesus was at or what He was doing; only that Jesus was seen by the Apostles throughout 40 days. Did Jesus leave the earth after His resurrection but before His public ascension?
The theory that Jesus roamed the earth for those 40 days is difficult to prove. On the third of the seven recorded occasions, Jesus appears “in another form” (Mk. 16:12). Assumably, He was in the form of another man. This shows He was not restricted to the laws of nature but conducted Himself in a supernatural way. Luke’s account of the same occurrence says He later “vanished” (Lk. 24:31). Humans do not vanish into thin air. Our risen Savior was operating in the manner of a divine being. Jesus was no longer subject to natural laws. This fact alone suggests He was free to operate with all the authority that was given to Him (Matt. 28:18).
Additional evidence of the Lord’s activities before the day of Pentecost is provided in the Book of Revelation. While John was talking about the 144,000 he says, “These were redeemed from among men, being first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4). The first group of souls to be redeemed were the 144,000. That means their redemption occurred before the 3000 were baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41).
Christians are redeemed and sealed upon baptism (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:13-14, 4:30; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). The 144,000 were not redeemed or sealed while they lived on earth. Yet, they were redeemed and sealed before earth time would end (Rev. 7:3). The Hebrew writer informed us that the Old Testament faithful would be redeemed by the means of Christ’s death. “And for this reason, He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). The most logical conclusion would hold the 144,000 as faithful servants of the Old Testament rather than Christians under the New Testament.
The 144,000 were redeemed after Christ’s death but before the day of Pentecost! That means Jesus was in heaven during that time as He was the one directing the sealing and the redemption of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:3, 14:1). Previous to this occasion, the Lamb opened the seven seals in heaven, and He stayed the four angels at the four corners of the earth according to the Book of Revelation (Rev. 5:1-7:8). All the while, the Lord makes multiple appearances before His disciples on earth. It is highly unlikely Jesus roamed the earth during those 40 days or that His final public ascension was the first time He ascended to heaven after His death.