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?

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 1
    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, 2016 at 4:58

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.

  • 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, 2016 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, 2016 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, 2016 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, 2016 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, 2016 at 14:44

What is meant in John 3:13 by the son of man who's in Heaven yet He still says 'He came down from Heaven'?

John 3:13 NET

13 No one[a] has ascended[b] into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.[c]

Some translators have added the words “which [or, who] is in heaven.” Those additional words suggest that Jesus was in heaven and on earth at the same time​. That added phrase appears in a few manuscripts from the fifth and tenth centuries C.E. However, its omission in the earlier Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts has led many modern translators to remove the phrase. This clears up confusion about the identity of Christ and harmonizes with the rest of the Scriptures. Rather than being in two places at the same time, Jesus had come from the heavens and would soon return to the heavens, "ascending to" his Father.​

John 20:17 NET

17 Jesus replied,[a] “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

John 16:28 NET

28 I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn,[a] I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”[b]

John 14:28 NET

28 You heard me say to you,[a] ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad[b] that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.[c]

Footnotes [C] John 3:13 NET You may read full details on the merits of adding or not the expression "who is in heaven" to the verse.


The reading “who is in heaven” thus seems to be too hard. All things considered, as intriguing as the longer reading is, it seems almost surely to have been a marginal gloss added inadvertently to the text in the process of transmission. For an argument in favor of the longer reading, see David Alan Black, “The Text of John 3:13, ” GTJ 6 (1985): 49-66.sn See the note on the title Son of Man in 1:51.


In considering the dialogue of Jesus with Nicodemus, which means "conqueror of people", it at first appeared disjointed to me. Nicodemus makes a statement, Jesus seems to go off on a tangent. But on further reflection, the thread is indeed on topic. I will outline it in brief in my own interpretive style.

  • N: You must come from God since you can do all these miraculous signs. God must be with you.
  • J: Nick, you are right, no one could do this unless connected to God. But you must know the requirement for being connected to God: a new birth.
  • N: You mean a new natural birth?
  • J: No, since God is Spirit to be connected to the heavenly kingdom you need a spiritual rebirth. The spirit you got from your human dad is dead, separated from God. God, the speaker, must take his words and bring them by his breath to have any miraculous kingdom effect in the world. God speaks what He wishes when He wishes but the Spirit must bring it. But God only does this through purified spirits that have a human body, hence the necessity of re-birth of the spirit. Know also that you must be born physically also if you want to operate in the heavenly kingdom here on earth. You don't know where it begins or how it goes on, but it happens in everyone who has a new birth.
  • N: How does it work?
  • J: You are a teacher and you don't know! Look, you can't understand the heavenly words (explanation) without the spiritual birth (breath).
  • J: No one can enter in and operate in the heavenlies here on earth except the son of man who has been born of water and spirit. That happened in my 'virgin' birth. The Spirit came on my mother and placed the Word, Me, that my Father speaks, into her womb. I was given a brand new human spirit like Adam, (I'm the second Adam), in a perfect human body with sin addictions removed.
    (Note: this is verse 13. "No human has gone into, and can operate in, the heavenly realm here on earth except me who came from the heavenly realm but also has an earthly body." My understanding of 'having already ascended into heaven' is not a physical ascent (that came later) but an entering into the heavenly kingdom and bringing it onto the earth. That is the only way I can make sense of the perfect tense here and also the ministry of Jesus and the purpose of his coming.)
  • What follows, containing the most famous verse John 3:16, is what is necessary for us to be born again. Jesus has to make a way that we can have a perfected spirit in a human body. That is what the cross is all about. The Word is breathed by God into a person, the result is that they believe and testify to that word, ultimately living it out here on earth in a miraculous way in a flawed body by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God had to identify Jesus with us and us with Him in bringing an end to the old and bringing the new birth. It begins with our spirit being one with His spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17) and is completed with a new resurrection body.

I could go into detail about Greek words like anabaino, about the 700 times it appears in the Bible, how it occurred in Genesis 28:12 with Jacob's ladder, and also John 1:51 with angels ascending and descending from heaven on the son of man. Note in all three passages the ascending is first then the descending. Messages go up then messages come down. Requests go up, results come down. In my view, it is the bringing the heaven to the earth. And it is done using breath, spirit communication. But I am hoping the outline above will give you a sense of the conversation flow so that your word study in this passage will be more fruitful. Take it for what it is worth.

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    – agarza
    Nov 26, 2023 at 14:54
  1. Jesus was a man 'heaven' sent by his Father - who IS heavenly. Heaven/heavenly can describe the state of being 'holy and righteous' as well as a 'place'.

  2. 'who is in heaven'? We can safely understand that it is not Jesus speaking from v13, but John as narrator. John is speaking of what has already transpired - at this stage, Jesus WAS in heaven at the Father's right hand.

  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 - having 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 the Baptist was sent, the spirit is sent Gal 4:6 etc. God sends 'heavenly' gifts

James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Mal 3:10 I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour down a blessing

Jesus was sent - 'came down' or 'descended' is simply expressing WHO he came from, sent by God who is not in a place, but a realm of heavenly qualities - this is where Jesus came from when he was conceived in Mary by God the Father.

The point is centred on who Jesus is as the son of God, but also as there have been many sons of God previously, Jesus is the only one without sin - not of this world, but the heavens and able to be the perfect Lamb, the sacrifice for the world.

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