O Jesus Indeed I will cause thee to die and exalt thee to Myself, and will clear thee of the charges of those who disbelieve, and will place those who follow thee above those who deny thee, until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me shall be your return, and I will judge between you concerning that wherein you differ (3:56) more translations
This is an important verse in this debate, quoted by both sides of the debate. Tawaffi has already been discussed in Proof 1. It clearly means death. The other word of significance here is rafa, which literally means ‘to raise’. Rafioka illayya, means ‘raise thee to Myself’. The beginning of this verse mention two acts of God, one in which He shall cause Jesus to die (mutawaffika), and the other where he shall raise Jesus to Himself (rafioka illayya). Whatever may be the meaning of rafioka illayya, one thing is certain that it comes after mutawaffika. Jesus will die before he is raised.
Could this mean that Jesus has been physically raised to the heaven? Remember that this verse only talks of Jesus being raised towards God, which is quite contrary to being raised to the heaven. Let us explore a little bit as to what could ‘raising towards God’ may mean. For one, it cannot mean a physical ascension, such that the body of Jesus actually makes a movement in a certain direction. For Jesus to physically move in the direction of God, from point A to point B, requires a physical existence of God. Not only that, for point B to be distinct from point A, it requires that God be not present at point A, because only then does a move towards point B makes any sense. If God is present at all points in the Universe then it is impossible for Jesus to physically move in His direction. At best Jesus can be allowed to remain physically stationary.
The alternative and more meaningful reading is that rafioka means elevation of spiritual rank. Moreover, since Jesus is alleged to have died on the cross, which according to the Old Testament is an accursed death (Deut 18:20; 21:22-23), Allah absolves him of that ignominy and adjudges his fate to have been exactly the opposite, a noble death and elevation of spiritual rank.