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.
It is on this last point that I wish to concentrate, although there are many great insights to be gained from studying this amazing text. To see 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 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 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 a great light an 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 descent [will descent, I say] into the world in the last days the Lord, who will be called Christ. Nevertheless they see and know whose will be 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,” 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 worshipped and all the angels praised (9:39-42).
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 Love of God is seen as a distinct angelic figure, “the angel of the Holy Spirit.” Isaiah witnesses both the Son and the Spirit worshipping the Father–being obviously subordinate to Him. This document is a gem and very exciting for LDS readers. I will be sure to discuss more on the Ascension of Isaiah in future posts.