Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Question of Ascending to Heaven

If we believe that Enoch was taken to heaven (Genesis 5:22-24, Hebrews 11:5), or that Elijah was taken to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-11, Matthew 17:1-9, Luke 9:28-36), or that Moses was resurrected (Jude 9, Matthew 17:1-9, Luke 9:28-36), how do we explain the following verse?

John 3:13, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven."

I have been having an interesting study with my friend "author" from Preaching the Gospel about whether anyone is in heaven, or whether everyone is still sleeping in the grave until the resurrection. This question was one that I have had before, but never dwelt upon. Every time I read John 3:13 I would pause, and wonder. Not to mention the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming."

I was talking to my wife about the discussion being had, and asked what she made of John 3:13, to which she replied something to the effect of, "I think it means that no one has ascended by themselves, Jesus had to help them."

I thought that her answer was just too simple, so I didn't give it much thought until today, when I found a pastor stating the same thing. (Guys, always best to listen to your wife right away!)

The word "ascend" comes from the Greek word "anabaino," which means "arise, ascend, climb up, rise up." Notice that the Bible says Enoch was taken, and Elijah was taken up, not that they "ascended," "climbed up," or "arose" of their own power. God needed to take them, because they could not ascend on their own.

The first use of the word "ascending" in the Bible is found speaking of Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:12, "Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."

The first use of this word by John, the author of the verse we're studying, is found a few verses before the passage we're studying (John 3:13) in John 1:51, "And He (Jesus) said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'"

So we see Jesus saying you will see "angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man," then a few verses later saying "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven."

Friends, Christ is the bridge between heaven and earth. He is the only way any of us will ever get to heaven. So if we look at John 3:13 in this light, then it is true indeed that "no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven."

In regards to Hebrews 11:5, which states Enoch "was taken": The Greek word translated as "was taken" is "metatithemi" which means "carry over, change, translate." This word is found only one other time in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 7:12 says, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." So we could read the previous verse as stating Enoch "was changed."

The alternative is that Enoch "was taken" simply means he died, or was taken somewhere else. And that Elijah was taken to heaven simply means he was taken into the air (another meaning of the word used for "heaven") and placed somewhere else. You can find a more in-depth look at this view at "author's" site, Preaching the Gospel.

So this topic is very interesting to myself and others, what do you think?

Remember, above all, to always seek God earnestly in prayer and through study of His word. And to always keep an open mind and not to become set in your own doctrines. We should always remember and follow the example of the Bereans, of which it is said in Acts 17:11, "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."

I have certainly had to examine a few of my own beliefs because of this topic, and I continue to do so. I invite you, also, to be open to examining all doctrines and beliefs by the Bible, and the Bible only, and to let Him, through the Spirit, lead us into all truth! (John 16:13)

"I wanna love You" by Vocal Union

God bless you and keep you!


  1. You have an advantage over me. I have no wife to save me from my mistakes. I have to depend on bloggers and people who read my book and email me to correct me and challenge me (and help me to be humble).

    I haven't researched the Greek word translated "ascended". I have no knowledge of Greek, and I have only limited knowledge of Bible reference works, but I use Strong's Concordance and the lexicon it contains. A few years ago I purchased a Bible software package called eBible from Thomas Nelson, publishers of the New King James Version. I like the package, and it speeds up my finding of verses much over turning pages in a concordance. So I guess to research this, I can look up that word in the particular verse, see what the Greek word is, and see how it is used. Then I can then see other places where it is used and see if it is ever used in the context of someone rising, but not by their own power. If so, I think it would rule out the interpretation that no man ascended means they needed Christ's help to ascend. I can do this when I get to that verse in the course of my current Bible study.

    But as I write this, something comes to mind about what Peter said about David in Acts 2. First he points out that David is dead and buried to that day (which is after the resurrection of Christ) (Acts 2:29). A little later he makes the point that David did not ascend into heaven (verse 34). I think these verses go together. Being in the grave is contrasted with being in heaven. The context is location, not whether one travels under his own power or the power of Christ. In fact, Peter is trying to persuade his audience that the things David wrote were about Christ, not himself. He is using as evidence that fact that David was not resurrected and and did not ascend into heaven. His proof to the crowds? They knew David's tomb. This was proof to them that He did not ascend into heaven. Contrast this with the empty tomb that held Christ until Christ was resurrected. Peter's argument to the crowd that David could not have been speaking of himself because he was still dead in the tomb and did not ascend into heaven would not work if it were only a matter of how David went to heaven (by his own power or God's). It only works by showing that David's tomb is proof that David is still in it, not in heaven, so the things David wrote in the psalms were about the future Christ, not David himself.

  2. LOL sometimes an advantage, sometimes not so much.

    I have a Bible software package called Quickverse, it's pretty cool but I don't use it often, since I don't use my home computer much (no internet).

    Be sure to let me know what you find about the different uses of the word translated as "ascended".

    I didn't check out the original latin for myself.

    About Acts, I think your interpretation of Peter's argument is right. I don't think that he had in mind to speak of whether anyone has ascended to heaven, though. I think he was specifically talking about David as proof that David was speaking of Christ.

  3. I finally got around to looking up the Greek word translated "ascended." I'm not sure why the pastor was looking at the Latin, maybe he was mistaken. Or using the Vulgate.

    Anyway, the original Greek word translated as "ascended" is:

    anabaino = arise, ascend, climb up, rise up.

    KJV (72) - arise, 2; ascend, 1; ascend up, 8; climb up, 2; come, 2; come up, 10; enter, 2; go up, 37; grow up, 2; misc, 2; rise up, 2; spring up, 2.

    This is actually a really common Greek word in the New Testament. I concentrated on how John used it specifically, since he is the author of this particular verse.

    It's interesting that the first time he uses it is just a few verses earlier than John 3:13, in John 1:51, where Jesus said "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."