While at least two people didn't die, Jesus spoke of only the Son of man ascending into heaven. Jesus next said the Son of man would need to be lifted up.

John 3:13-14 (KJV) (Jesus said) “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:”

Enoch didn't die. God took him somewhere.

Gen 5:22-24 (KJV) And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

As Elijah was walking with Elisha he "went up by a whirlwind into heaven".

2 Kings 2:11 (KJV) And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

How can what Jesus said in John 3:13-14 be reconciled with what happened to Enoch, Elijah and Jesus?


11 Answers 11


The Idea in Brief

According to the Hebrew Bible, there are at least two people who have ascended into heaven: Enoch and Elijah. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus made the emphatic statement that no one (οὐδεὶς) had ever ascended into heaven with the exception of the one who had descended from heaven: that is, Jesus himself, who was to be "lifted up" like the bronze serpent of old. That is, this reference to the bronze serpent indicated life from the dead, since those stung with the serpent's venom (with reference to sin that causes death) had died with the exception of those who saw the "lifted up" bronze serpent, and were saved.

Jesus therefore was making reference to someone who was "lifted up" from the dead, and who therefore ascended into heaven (unlike Elijah and Enoch, who never died), and upon whom those dead-spiritually would be saved. The Christian New Testament amplifies this meaning to include not only the physical ascension of the body of Jesus into heaven, but also to refer to Jesus as someone whose eternal life (which had first descended from heaven to become flesh) had died, when the body of Jesus was broken (from this eternal life and therefore separated), only to be reunited in the same PERSON in order to return (or ascend back) to heaven.

The bottom line therefore is that only one PERSON had ever descended from heaven, who became flesh and then died, only to ascend back into heaven. The idea therefore is not about who were the first human beings to ascend into heaven (or even about people who were raised from the dead, which were many), but about which human being was the first to enter heaven as the "first born" from the dead. The imagery of coming-down-first-from-heaven forces eternal life into the picture, so the "first born" is not only the resurrection of the body from the dead, but the reuniting of that body with its eternal life (divine nature), in order to ascend back to heaven. Unlike Elijah and Enoch (or even Moses if we compare Jude 1:9 and Mark 9:4-5), Jesus therefore was the first to ascend into heaven from the dead, whose death was not only physical but spiritual as well -- thus He is the "first born" PERSON from the dead to ascend into heaven.


The leading verse appears as follows in the Greek New Testament:

John 3:13 (UBS/NA28)
13 καὶ οὐδεὶς ἀναβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

According to the late Bruce Metzger (2005), there is one variant reading on the end of this verse; that is, some manuscripts add the words, "ἀνθρώπου ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ" at the end of this verse, which occurs in the King James Version (KJV) translation cited by the OP question. Metzger states that...

  On the one hand, a minority of the Committee preferred the reading ἀνθρώπου 
  ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, arguing that (1) if the short reading, supported almost 
  exclusively by Egyptian witnesses, were original, there is no discernible motive 
  that would have prompted copyists to add the words ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, resulting 
  in a most difficult saying (the statement in 1:18, not being parallel, would 
  scarcely have prompted the addition); and (2) the diversity of readings implies 
  that the expression ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, having been found 
  objectionable or superfluous in the context, was modified either by omitting 
  the participial clause, or by altering it so as to avoid suggesting that the 
  Son of Man was at that moment in heaven. On the other hand, the majority of the 
  Committee, impressed by the quality of the eternal attestation supporting the 
  shorter reading, regarded the words ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ as an interpretive gloss, 
  reflecting later Christological development.

In other words, the Committee assigned the rating of {B} to their opinion, which in their view assigned the certitude of their interpretation as "almost certain." Thus the better translation would not be the KJV, but the NASB as follows:

John 3:13 (NASB)
13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

The next verses in this context amplify what Jesus meant by "ascended." That is, "ascended" is reference to rising from the dead.

John 3:14-15 (NASB)
14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Like the bronze serpent, who saved those stung by the venom of serpents and who died, so too will Jesus save those who are stung by the fatal venom of sin, who look upon Him in order to live. That is, people may look to him who is the one who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The difference with the bronze serpent is that the bronze serpent saved from mortal death; Jesus on the other hand --according to the context of this SAME passage-- will save from eternal death ("from perishing"), which is not only physical, but spiritual.

John 3:16 (NASB)
16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

As just noted in the verses, above, this PERSON (Jesus) had first descended from heaven to become the Son of Man. That is, John's Gospel begins in John 1:1-3 equating Jesus with the "word," which first appears in Torah in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, which describes the Word of God that descends from heaven to save man.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it....”

In both the Masoretic Text and in the LXX, these verses in Deuteronomy are parallel in content and meaning. So the Word of God (from God) comes down from heaven in order to save man. The Word of God in the Christian New Testament now becomes flesh. That is, the Word descends from heaven and is now robed in human flesh.

John 1:1-3, 14 (NASB)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.... 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word of God caused everything to come into existence, because the Word was God's actual command that existence come into being. That is, the Word is the PERSON of the Son who is "the express image of the Father": this Word becomes flesh. As the text in Deuteronomy indicates, this Word is the source of life, which descends to earth to save man. Like John, the Apostle Paul also picks up this imagery in Deuteronomy in the following verses.

Romans 10:5-9 (NASB)
5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

Paul is making reference again to our passage in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, and, like John, is stating that the Word of God is the one who descends from heaven by whom we are saved. Unlike John, Paul expands the passage in Deuteronomy to indicate that the abyss is located "on the other side" of the sea. That is, where Deuteronomy in the Hebrew indicates the opposite pole from heaven "is the other side" of the sea, the Apostle Paul indicates that the extent beyond is in reference to what is under the sea: in the Masoretic Text the adverb is עֵבֶר and in the LXX the word is πέραν (please click here to compare), and so Paul takes grammatical and literary license to tell the reader what is "beyond" the sea (or under the sea), or better, what is the abode or underworld of the dead.

Paul goes even a step farther, and draws a complete parallel with the descent of Jesus into the underworld to redeem those elect who were in Sheol, but were now released.

Ephesians 4:8-10 (NASB)
8 Therefore it says,
“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

The lower parts of the earth is reference to the pit of Sheol, and the chronological parallels are to Moses in the Exodus. (That is, Jesus plunders the powers of death in the process of setting the captives of spiritual death in Sheol free.) In the Hebrew Bible, the pit of Sheol therefore was the confining space for both the elect and non-elect, and Jonah provides the illustration.

Notwithstanding that he was in the belly of the great fish at sea, Jonah had described this place as the pit of Sheol, which was not in the sea, but under the sea; another mention in the Hebrew Bible (LXX) identifies the location of this pit as in the lower parts of the earth.

Ezekiel 26:20 (New English Translation of the Septuagint)
20 and I will force you down to those who descend into a hole, to a people of long ago, and I will make you live in the depths of the earth as an everlasting wilderness with those who descend into a hole so that you shall not be inhabited nor rise upon a land of life.

So the PERSON of Jesus had died, and his body was broken from his eternal life (in keeping with the parallel of Passover where both the bread is broken and the Lamb is slaughtered). That is, his human nature descended into Sheol (Acts 2:37 and Acts 2:31), and his Spirit or eternal life remained in the hands of the Father (Luke 23:46). That is, Jesus had compared his time in the belly of the earth ("buried in earth") to the time of Jonah in the belly of the fish ("buried at sea"), and yet they were both in Sheol for three days and three nights.

So when Jesus rose from the underworld of the dead in Sheol ("the sign of Jonah"), the body of the PERSON was reunited with his eternal life. This reunification was to be born from the dead, since not only was life to the body restored (which happened many many times in the Bible) but for the first time eternal life was restored to spiritually dead man (which never happened until the resurrection of Jesus). Thus, no PERSON had ever risen from both physical and spiritual death, and then went ahead and ascended into heaven; thus the PERSON of Jesus is described as the "first born from the dead."

Revelation 1:5 (NASB)
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—


Jesus was not the first mortal man to enter heaven, since Elijah and Enoch (and perhaps Moses as well) had entered heaven before Jesus. However, Jesus was the first immortal man to enter heaven, because his immortality stemmed from his eternal life, which had become flesh when He descended from heaven to earth. The PERSON subsequently died on the cross in both the spiritual and physical sense, and so He descended to the lower parts of the earth and then was "raised up" like the bronze serpent to be the savior of man. That is, He was the first, "firstborn from the dead" to ever ascend into heaven and take His seat at the right hand of the Almighty, and in this sense, ...no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

Metzger, Bruce M. (2005). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd Edition). Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 174-175.

  • is there any indication that the way of getting to heaven was different for Jesus than the others? I noted that in english the phrase for Jesus was 'ascended to heaven' and for the others they were taken. Does the original text hold some meaning that there is a difference is the source of how they got to heaven? IE Jesus got himself to heaven (earned it, or otherwise was worthy of it), the others were taken by God (not by their own power/goodness)?
    – Adam Heeg
    May 4, 2017 at 1:04
  • 1
    If the'spiritual' 'Person' 'died' than what was it that descended into the lower parts of the earth ? When a body dies, the soul descends.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 7, 2019 at 11:17
  • 1
    His humanity, which was “broken” from his divinity. Thus he died in the most ultimate sense.
    – Joseph
    Oct 7, 2019 at 11:19
  • 1
    Hus human soul descended, yes. A 'Person' does not die. That would be annihilation.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 7, 2019 at 11:20
  • @nigel How do you mean. "A person does not die" Oct 24, 2021 at 22:45

There is no problem here. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. Jesus knows that Nicodemus has great knowledge of the scriptures. Jesus pulls from Proverbs 30:4 to speak of the lack of understanding Nicodemus is having.

4 Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know! (ESV)

Jesus is basically pointing back to scripture to lead Nicodemus to belief. Where else would he find it? The Proverb given is in an area that speaks of lack of understanding and not leaning on God's holy wisdom.

1 The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.
The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. 2 Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. 3 I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. (30:1–3)

He is, in a sense, telling Nicodemus not to lean on his own understanding, but pray that it might be given, for who else has it but The Lord our God?


The problem verse is not John 3:13-14. At the time this conversation was supposed to have taken place the OT saints were still supposedly waiting in sheol to be saved because Jesus had not yet died and released them. Thus, the problem verse is actually 2 Kings 2:11 which specifically says the whirlwind took Elijah into "heaven" (shamayim). Jesus also speaks of the "bosom of Abraham" in one of his parables.

It seems to me that the proper way to resolve the conflict is to posit that shamayim is a pleasant part of sheol, or perhaps a separate place also called the "bosom of Abraham"; it is not the eternal heaven where God's throne is and the saints now experience the beatific vision and more importantly for this question was Jesus original home with the Father before His incarnation. This is consistent with the belief expressed by Paul that there are multiple "heavens" in 2 Corinthians 12:2:

"I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven (ouranos)."

  • 1
    Is it is speaking of the pleasant part of shoel then wouldn't he have went under the earth instead of up ? Isn't shoel under the earth?
    – diego b
    Jan 31, 2018 at 21:19

John 3:14 says:

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

What happened to Enoch, Elijah and Jesus?

Jesus is easy. He is the exception given in that verse. Jesus, and no one but Jesus, has ascended to heaven.

Elijah isn't much harder. Both 2Kings 2:1 and 2:11 refer to Elijah going up to heaven in a whirlwind.

Note that the Bible speaks of three different heavens:

  • the first heaven -- the Earth's atmosphere (birds, clouds).
  • the second heaven -- the rest of the universe (stars, planets, space).
  • the third heaven -- God's spiritual abode (2 Corinthians 12:2).

Whirlwinds are a meteorological phenomenon, restricted to Earth's lower atmosphere. They don't go into space, much less into spiritual realms. Elijah was simply lifted by the wind and transported somewhere else. He wasn't taken up to God's third heaven; he didn't even die at that time.

If that isn't obvious, there is blatant proof elsewhere. 2Chronicles 21:12 says: "And there came a writing to him [Jehoram] from Elijah the prophet, saying, …". This happened to King Jehoram at least a few years after the whirlwind incident. Elijah was still alive here on Earth.

Enoch is also easy. Genesis 5:24 says "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.". There's nothing there to even hint that Enoch was taken to heaven.

He is mentioned again in Hebrews 11:5: "By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.".

Again, this simply says that he was taken away. It does not mean he went to God's heaven. It doesn't even mean that he never died, simply that he didn't die at this time. God transported him somewhere else, presumably to avoid immediate death, but eventually he died, though no one knows where or when (he "was not found").

If you have any doubt about this, if you feel that Elijah or Enoch were somehow taken to God's third heaven, then what you are feeling is in direct contradiction to what Jesus said.

  • Again, well answered +1 The simplest answer is often the best - especially where the bible is concerned! Saved me answering this one :)
    – steveowen
    Oct 30, 2020 at 11:39

In Scripture, "heaven" (shamayim / ouranos) has three possible meanings:

    1. The Beatific Vision, i.e. the state of seing the divine essence with an intuitive vision and face to face. This is the meaning in John 3:13. Paul calls it "the third heaven" in 2 Cor 12:2.
    1. The firmament (Gen 1:8).
    1. The sky or atmosphere. This is the meaning in 2 Kings 2:11.

Moving now to Enoch and Elijah, I will answer according to Catholic doctrine.

It is de fide that no human soul, much less a whole human person, enjoyed the Beatific Vision before Jesus died on the cross (with the exception of Jesus Himself, Who enjoyed it in his soul from the moment of his conception).

Therefore, at the time when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, no whole human person or disembodied human soul had ascended to heaven (1), either by being taken up into heaven by God or by their own power or volition. Only "the only begotten God, the One Who Is in the bosom of the Father" (Jn 1:18) from all eternity, "Who descended from heaven" (Jn 3:13) when He assumed a human nature, was in heaven, both as God and, in his soul enjoying the Beatific Vision, as man.


John 3:13 does seem problematic at first glance, but let's remember that at the time Y'shua was speaking to Nicodemus, he had not yet been resurrected and had not yet ascended to the right hand of the Father. Why then is he speaking in past tense about going into heaven?

The pre-incarnate Messiah came down to the earth multiple times as the Angel of YHVH. Each time, he ascended back to the heavens by his own power. Enoch et al. neither traveled up to heaven of their own accord nor in their earthly bodies. They were translated into spirit and taken into the third heaven. Y'shua is speaking to Nicodemus about a man who has the authority to go into heaven at will and the authority to come down again at will, and to therefore testify about heavenly things (Jhn. 3:12). That could not be said of Enoch or the other prophets, but only of the Son of Man.


John 3:13 is a very simple word from Jesus talking about the heavenly things, Jesus know that man were created in heaven male and female, (Gen. 1:26) Originally Man is from heaven. and the man he created (Gen. 1:26) become a living soul having in (Gen.2:7) and put it in Eden (Gen 2:15)

Therefore, in conclusion the original point of man is form heaven before the foundation, Man came from heaven down from heaven to dominion the earth, and when a man will die he will ascend up to heaven because all soul shall be of God again, the spirit beling to the world of spirit as God is Spirit in heaven. even Jesus which is from heaven and be ascended up to heaven.


Enoch and Elijah translated into heaven not as men of flesh and blood, but as spiritual beings in acknowledged and/or spiritual bodies which are not of flesh. John, 3:6-8; 4:24; 1st Corinthians, 15:44, 50. I was circumcised with the oracle of circumcision not made with hands, and I am hermeneutical of the Breath of God in Christ THE WORD and Holy Spirit.

  • That is not what the scripture records of Enoch and Elijah.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 19, 2020 at 9:46

In John 3:13, the Lord Jesus was giving more explanation to Nicodemus in response to his question of how a man can be born again. He had told him in the earlier verses of John 3 of a man's inability to enter into the kingdom of God without being born again I.e. by water and Spirit.

Elijah and Enoch did not ascend to God as men, only Jesus ascended to heaven as a man. They (Elijah and Enoch) were transformed into spiritual beings without dying else they will not be able to ascend. The only way we can be born again now or be transformed is by believing in Jesus Christ so that he can send his Spirit to us and then we can ascend after death or as a result of the rapture.

Jesus had not died during the time of Elijah and Enoch so they were automatically transformed as God pleased. If you can remember, at the mount of transfiguration, Elijah appeared in his transformed state. Abraham, Elisha or David did not appear, I believe, because they were not yet born again ( transformed). However, those of them had believed before they died and were raised when Jesus was raised. Matthew 27: 52-54

Jesus told Mary not to touch him because he was yet to ascend into heaven before the Father John 20: 16-17. No one/Man ever ascended in that state without being transformed. Remember, that shortly afterwards, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked Thomas to put his hand through the hole in his hand. He also ate with them. No spirit can eat with you in their form.

In conclusion, no Man ever ascended without being transformed. Once transformed you are no longer men, but spirits as was the case of Enoch and Elijah.

I believe I am speaking by God's revelation

  • Welcome to the S.E. Q&A forum. Thank you for contributing.
    – Steve11235
    Apr 17, 2020 at 17:55

God is not partial. To allow flesh into heaven wld be against the word spoken. Hebrews says all these died. Enoch and Elijah and Moses were included. Jesus first into heaven. No man is above Him.

  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Apr 1 at 12:57
  • Hi Leslie, welcome to the site. Could you expand on how this answers the original question? Apr 1 at 15:29
  • I commented earlier with this. Apr 2 at 14:18
  • V13. No one has ascended into heaven but He qho has descended from heaven, the Son of Man, Christ. Apr 2 at 14:19
  • Moses lifting up the serpant was a type of Christ being lifted on the cross for salvation. Apr 2 at 14:20

It isn't a problem when the scriptures are interpreted correctly. Eliyah sent a letter to a king in 1 Chronicle decades after his him being taken into the sky (heaven) by a whirlwind and the Hebrew phrase "walked with God and wasn't found because he was not" simply means that Enoch was taken so as not to see the death around him on the Earth and was given a peaceful death. There is plenty of videos on youtube that discusses and explains this better than I. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATqoCW29m84 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsNNquZAmEs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA0JIQogw60

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for taking the time to answer. Please include an answer to the question rather than simply a pointer to something you agree with.
    – user25930
    Jan 15, 2019 at 6:51

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