In John 17:1, Jesus looks up toward the sky to address God?:

Joh 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

Is God in the sky? Is God always "up", no matter where on earth you are? Or should those on the opposite side of the earth look down? What about day vs night?

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    cf. Psalm 123
    – Susan
    Apr 25, 2016 at 9:00
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    Heaven and sky are not the same. In Genesis, God created the heavens. The physical heaven is called sky, while God is in the supernatural heaven, often equated with the third heaven that Paul talks about. The second one is believed to be the invisible habitation of the prince of this earth (the enemy) and his cohortes. The much better image for those heavens is dimensions. Apr 25, 2016 at 10:53
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    We are moving in circles here - see my first comment: Jesus honored us and our naive model of the world that placed heaven just above the sky. And since this has been our view since the beginning, it is engrained into our being. Thus, looking up gives us a sense of connecting with God. And since the sky is up no matter where you are on earth, this is universal and true both night and day. Apr 25, 2016 at 10:59
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    @Dan: I agree totally that this is a very lightweight comment, much too narrow for an answer, and I will leave it at this. Looking forward to somebody giving a deeper answer. Apr 25, 2016 at 11:41
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    I can't really post an answer, since it doesn't require hermeneutics. The earth is a sphere. No matter where you are on that sphere, "up" is pointing away from the center. To look up is to look outward. There's no reason Jesus would track a particular point in space to address God. We look up to the One who is greater. If a rocket wants to leave the earth, it goes up. It doesn't go through the earth and out the other side. When Jesus ascended (left this earth) he did the same thing. "Down" is this earth and the things in/on it. "Up" is literally everything else.
    – Solocutor
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:16

4 Answers 4


Although the author of John was unaware of Acts of the Apostles, we can look at Acts 7:55-56 to see what the ancients believed:

Acts 7:55-56: But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

That does not mean I actually believe heaven to be up there, just above us, because we now know that Stephen could not have looked up and seen Jesus standing next to God. Science can tell us this is not where heaven is. In fact, Raymond E. Brown says, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 320, we can never even verify the existence and martyrdom of Stephen. However, Acts 7:55-56 confirms that people of the first century believed that to be the case. Either Jesus looked up because he also believed heaven to be above or, more likely, the author believed this and we should not read John 17:1 as a literal report of what Jesus did.

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    Are you saying that "he...looked steadfastly into heaven" is not intended by the author to be understood as having actually occurred? Or that the gospel is total fiction?
    – user10231
    Oct 16, 2016 at 11:01
  • @WoundedEgo I quoted the distinguished scholar, Father Raymond E. Brown, in saying we can never verify the existence and martyrdom of Stephen. In fact, at least the trial of Stephen is subject to considerable doubt among NT scholars. Smith and Tyson, from the Acts Seminar, cite Perry Kea who says that Stephen's speech in Acts was fashioned on models found in the LXX, which helps to confirm that this was not a historical event. Oct 16, 2016 at 20:16
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    Examples of people looking up to face God abound in the scriptures and are in no way limited to Acts (to which I didn't refer) or John, to which I did refer. So it is not just the question of "an" author but of all of the scriptures. It seems you are saying that if Acts is unhistorical then all of the scriptures are. Is that why you brought in Acts?
    – user10231
    Oct 16, 2016 at 20:21
  • @WoundedEgo - No, I brought in Acts because this passage most clearly demonstrates what the ancients believed - because it provides 'evidence' that God is up there. Just because they sincerely believed heaven to be physically just above the earth does not make the other biblical accounts untrue. You asked two very different questions. In the title, you asked why in Jn 17:1 Jesus looked up, and knowing (via Acts) what they believed explains this.Then you asked for the 'truth' of whether God is (physically) in the sky, etc. I did not answer this because it is self evidently not the case. Oct 17, 2016 at 3:34
  • Ah, I see; you took it as a "truth" question. In this context when I ask "Is God in the sky?" I'm really asking "Is Jesus looking up because the ancients believed God to be in the sky?"
    – user10231
    Oct 17, 2016 at 9:46

I think from long experience of "looking heavenward" for guidance that lifting one's eyes has little to do with where one thinks heaven is. Eye position signifies which part of the brain is being accessed. For example it's been shown that when someone is recounting something that actually happened to them their eyes move to a different position from when they are recounting something they are imagining.

Those who pray regularly may have experienced that praying with one's eyes cast down (like the publican) is quite different from praying with one's eyes looking up.

Having come late to this discussion, I was amused by the comment that "Stephen's speech in Acts was fashioned on models found in the LXX." What else would Stephen have based his speech on? Buddhist sutras?

  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our Tour. (See below left). That will point out that re: questions and answers, we'd like to see Biblical text to analyze. Thanks. Sep 3, 2019 at 19:25
  • A fine answer (+1) that highlights a brain pattern that only few know. Feb 7, 2022 at 22:48

The OP asks why did Jesus lift up His eyes to the sky to address God?

The OP also suggests some possible answers:

Is God in the sky? Is God always "up", no matter where on earth you are? Or should those on the opposite side of the earth look down? What about day vs night?

Since Jesus was Jewish, the answer should be considered in the light of Jewish practices.

In Solomon’s prayer dedicating the Temple he specifically asked that prayers directed toward the Temple be heard and answered:

that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. (1 Kings 8:29) 1

Solomon enumerates seven situations where prayer toward or in the Temple should be made and heard (vv 30, 33, 35, 38, 42, 44, and 48).

Scripture gives examples this was the practice. It is how Jonah prayed:

...Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ (Jonah 2:4)
“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. (Jonah 2:7)

It is how Daniel prayed:

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. (Daniel 6:10)

Following Solomon's prayer dedicating the Temple, the custom was to direct prayer toward the Temple. The Babylonian Talmud Tractate Berakoth [Berakoth Folio 30a] records the teaching of how where one should look to direct their prayers:

  • The blind who cannot tell direction should pray toward His Father in heaven
  • If outside the land, face Israel
  • If in Israel but away from Jerusalem, face Jerusalem
  • If in Jerusalem, face the santuary
  • If in the Sanctuary, face the Holy of Holies
  • If in the Holy of Holies, face the mercy-seat

Jesus is in Jerusalem; the Temple is still standing. He should be making His prayer toward the location of the Sanctuary.

By looking toward heaven He is indicating the correct location of the Temple:

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. (Hebrews 9:11)

And the future location of the Temple:

But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:21-22)

Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, (Hebrews 8:1)

His body is now the True Temple.

Finally, when considering this question in the light of what Jesus taught, there is additional significance. Jesus said He would give the sing of Jonah. In essence Jesus is modeling the content of what Jonah prayed:

Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ (2:4)

“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” (2:7-9)

1. All Scripture from the New King James Version

  • (-1) I don't think you understood the question. The question is, if (as people falsely imagine) God is "everywhere and nowhere" instead of in the sky as the scriptures claim, then why look up? And if so, then is Jesus literally addressing God where he happens to be during that time of earth's rotation?
    – user10231
    Dec 18, 2016 at 10:04
  • @WoundedEgo I understand how you would answer your question. My initial answer was not clear. I have edited and hopefully have clarified for you. I think the answer must be grounded in Jewish prayer practice. I do not disagree with where you locate God, but I see your question is about where prayer should be directed. Dec 18, 2016 at 16:27
  • One could expand the question to, "and why do prayers ascend to God if he is everywhere and nowhere?"
    – user10231
    Dec 18, 2016 at 16:40

The idea that Jesus looks up because the Father is 'in the sky' doesn't make sense, as can be seen by comparing this idea with Matthew 6:6.

"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen." (NIV)

He doesn't tell people to look up at the sky because they can then see the Father there - instead Jesus tells people to go into their room and close the door, and that God is unseen.

There's no obvious answer to the question of why Jesus is recorded as lifting his eyes up to the sky. The most obvious reason AFAICT would be that it is symbolic and evocative.