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John 3:13 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 is the meaning of this verse?

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This is indeed a puzzling passage. First of all, although "who is in heaven" is found in the great majority of early manuscripts, it is omitted in five Alexandrian manuscripts. Because they are so widely attested, these words are generally accepted as authentic, although a minority of scholars dispute them. Some modern Bibles omit or italicise these words, while the New English Bible (NEB) interprets them, saying "home is in heaven".

The UBS versions 3 accepted uncertainty by giving this a C-decision, "there is a considerable degree of doubt. This vote is altered to a B-decision in the UBS fourth edition, which means the short version was considered "almost certain". David Alan Black ('The Text of John 3:13') supports the long version, including "who is in heaven", and says (page 65):

Although much can be said for certain arguments in favor of the shorter reading" in my judgment the inclusion of the disputed words is the best solution since it is supported by significant external and internal evidence and retains a great deal of John's original use of the term "Son of Man." Given the strength and diversity of the external attestation, the improbability of an accidental omission, and the intrinsic probability favoring the inclusion of the phrase, I suggest that the longer text which includes [these words] deserves to be taken more seriously by the editors of the UBS Greek NT.

One answer to the current question can therefore be that the fourth Gospel did not originally include these words, and that they were subsequently added to emphasise the divinity of Jesus, unaware of the impact of these words on the longer passage.


Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges provides a good summary of several views (reformatted for clarity):

which is in heaven]
- These words are omitted in the best MSS.
- If they are retained, the meaning is ‘Whose proper home is heaven.’
- Or the Greek participle may be the imperfect tense (comp. John 6:62, John 9:25, John 17:5), which was in heaven before the Incarnation.
- It is doubtful whether in this verse we have any direct allusion to the Ascension, though this is sometimes assumed.

Others say that John 3:13 demonstrates the omnipresence of Jesus.

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  • Given the strength and diversity of the external attestation, the improbability of an accidental omission, and the intrinsic probability favoring the inclusion of the phrase, I suggest that the longer text which includes [these words] deserves to be taken more seriously... I totally agree. As to the demonstration of the omnipresence of Jesus yet He was in still in flesh w'd be a bit of a stretch. My observation is that this enigma has to do with His being the 'Branch of the LORD' who simply grows out of His place but doesn't quite 'leave it'. – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 4:58
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This verse is connected to what Jesus had been telling Nicodemus, although the connection is not immediately obvious. The verse is cited in the Ante-Nicene commentaries of Tertullian, Hippolytus, Novatian, Archelaus, and is also included in the ancient Syriac Diatessaron of Tatian.

Nicodemus understood Christ to be a great teacher and perhaps a prophet because of the miracles he had performed (John 3:2). In verse 13, Jesus is extending his dialog with Nicodemus to reveal that He is much more than a prophet. No mere man, he says, hath ever ascended up to heaven as he will.

Theophylact (11th century Byzantine commentator) summarizes the Patristic interpretation of this verse as follows:

Because Nicodemus thought Jesus was a teacher and prophet, the Lord now says to him, "Do not imagine that I am an earthly prophet sent by God. I came down from heaven as Son of God, and I am not from the earth. No prophet hath ascended up to heaven.* I alone shall ascent, as I descended."

When you hear that the Son of man came down from heaven, do not imagine that flesh came down from heaven. (Apollinarius taught this heresy: Christ came down from heaven in the body and entered the world through the Virgin as through a channel.) Since Christ has two natures united in one hypostasis, or person, the names that refer to His human nature may also be addressed to God the Word; conversely, the names that refer to the divine Word may be addressed to Christ as man. Thus, in this verse, Christ calls Himself the Son of man, Who came down from heaven.

The Lord adds the words Who is in heaven for a specific reason: "When you hear Me say that I came down to earth, do not imagine that I am no longer in heaven. I am here in the body on earth, and at the same time co-enthroned there with the Father in my divine nature.

- Explanation of the Gospel of John; Chrystopher Stade, trans. (Chrysostom Press, 2007), p. 51

It also may be worth pointing out that Christ is no longer speaking to Nicodemus only, but to all Jews. When He begins his discourse, he addresses Nicodemus only - in the singular:

Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι
Verily, verily, I say unto thee

In the same sentence, though, he shifts to the plural:

οὐ λαμβάνετε
and ye receive not our witness.

The archaic King James English preserves the distinction between the singular and plural forms of "you" ("thee" and "ye", respectively). The distinction is lost in modern translations.



* The editors of the English translation of Theophylact's commentary point out that although Elijah was taken up by God in his chariot, Christ will ascend through His own will and power.

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  • thanks for your effort. The editors of the English translation of Theophylact's commentary point out that although Elijah was taken up by God in his chariot, Christ will ascend through His own will and power, much of what you have given about Him is true, does this section answer what the verse means then? – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 5:07
  • I'm not sure I exactly understand your question. The meaning of the verse is an explanation that Christ is more than a mere man, and even more than a prophet. Maybe I should edit to make this explicit. – user15733 Sep 12 '16 at 13:05
  • @Non-theologian, Messiah is not a mere man, granted, and for which the many elements about Him and His works, and as to how He was born, could suffice as an explanation. However, He says what He said here while that one fact is already common knowledge. My question is what did He mean by it? Your answer addressed the fact that He isnt as men are in many aspects, but not quite about that particular verse. – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 13:48
  • Ok. I re-read my answer and I can't think of what else to add. What he meant by the verse was that Nicodemus should not think of him as only a teacher or even a prophet, at least according to a Patristic interpretation. – user15733 Sep 12 '16 at 14:32
  • The meaning must be seen along those lines I accept. It's just that its hard to agree upon. What closest explanation there's is, its in what Paul says of us to be 'seated with Him in Heavenly places' as His 'branches', while in flesh, and if so for us much more Him who was the "Branch of the LORD:. The book of Job alludes to this idea of a branch of man very often, that is, what happens to it in the context of that man being sinful or righteous. To me this is the strongest case I could make for what Messiah meant in the verse. – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 14:44
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Jesus is expressing who and what he is.

  1. he was a man 'heaven' sent by his Father - who IS heavenly. Heaven/heavenly is describing 'holy and righteous' more than a 'place'.

  2. 'who is in heaven' depicts Jesus' holiness - being without sin etc. Being the son of God has nothing to do with it. Jesus was mortal - could be tempted, sin and die.

  3. He speaks of being born again in John 3 - flesh cannot enter the 'kingdom' - another euphemism for holiness. Believers are born again at their resurrection, giving them a bodily spirit life. Then, they may enter the kingdom and be with God - having been cleansed completely. With the change to sprit life, we are reborn to our Father God. (previously, we were of the 'father' of the world - in nature, unholy)

  4. Clearly, also no man has gone to heaven - been made righteous as Jesus was the epitome of, under the Father. All men are dead, awaiting their resurrection at their appointed time. Jesus was also dead until the Father raised him. Acts 2:32,Rom 10:9

  5. The act of being 'sent' is a heavenly decree from God - He sent Moses just as much as He sent Jesus John 8:42, 17:3. John-tB was sent, the spirit is sent Gal 4:6 etc. God sends 'heavenly' gifts James 1:17, Mal 3:10 the 'windows of heaven'

Jesus was sent - 'came down' or 'descended' is simply expressing WHO he came from, sent by - not a place that he was initially.

As is the way of the biblical word, there are often multiple meanings that extend from an initial comment. Jesus had not yet 'ascended' after his resurrection (into the clouds etc) But he was alluding to this future event once his mission was completed.

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