The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah and the Destruction of the Powers of This Cosmos

After reading the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah I was left with a nagging question that I can not answer. So, I’m hoping that there is someone out there who has spent more time with apocalyptic literature or (more specifically) ascension narratives that might be able to provide an answer for me.

In the Ascension of Isaiah, the Most High commissions Jesus to descend through the seven heavens into the firmament, where the evil powers of the firmament rule and envy each other (7.9). As he travels through each heaven and into the firmament, Jesus’ form will transform to match the angels that exist in each level. So when Jesus arrives in the firmament, he is unrecognizable as the one who is the Lord of the seventh heaven (10.11). Once in the firmament, his furtive mission is to carry out the process of being born of a virgin (11.2–15), to act like a baby––so as not to draw attention to himself as if he is something greater (11.17)––to perform signs and wonders in Israel (11.18), to provoke the adversary and the children of Israel to kill him (11.19–21), to raise from the dead, send out the twelve apostles, to ascend back through the heavens, and to take his seat on his throne (11.21–22). At this point in the narrative, we learn that the purpose of this mission is be able to pronounce judgment on Satan and his forces in the firmament and to destroy them (7.10; 10.12).

Another key purpose of Jesus’ mission is that it marks a transitional point in time when those who have already ascended into the seventh heaven and have already received their supernal garments (e.g., Enoch) will then receive their crown and be aloud to sit on their throne (9.9–13). For those who had died but not yet ascended, they will ascend with Jesus and receive their supernal garments in the seventh heaven (9.17–18). So it appears that Jesus mission serves two purposes: (1) to judge and destroy the powers of the firmament and (2) to complete the transformation of the righteous, who are awaiting their supernal garments, their crowns, and their thrones.

That Jesus must appear in human form in order to complete the transformation of the righteous into their immortal state is clear to me: Jesus serves as the firstfruits of human apotheosis. What is less clear, though, is why Jesus had to descend into the firmament and carry out the mission in order to judge and destroy the rulers of the firmament. It is also curious to me that when Jesus does ascend, he does not pronounce judgment on the powers and he does not destroy anyone.

So here are my question: According to the Ascension of Isaiah (or other narratives which might invoke a similar theme), how and when is this judgment and destruction supposed to take place and why was it necessary for Jesus to carry out this mission in order to judge and destroy the powers of the firmament?

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About adrmckinney

Previously a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I am currently a student at Duke Divinity School working toward my second (yes, second) ThM. Hopefully, I will be working on my PhD next year. I am married to Christy and we have three wonderful children. My academic interests are Gospel studies (canonical and non-canonical), Historical Jesus, Paul, Second Temple Judaism, and reconstructing the early Christ-following communities. Contact Info: adrmckinney@gmail.com

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