How should John 3:13 be understood in view of the OT statements about Enoch and Elijah?

John 3:13 states:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. (John 3:13 NET)

However, the OT accounts of Enoch and Elijah are traditionally interpreted as meaning they ascended to heaven upon death. If that is the case, then how could Jesus state that "no man has ascended to heaven"?

  • Moreover, how has no one ever seen God when, etc. John certainly knows the OT. The question is more what is he doing by making this claim? P.S. lol @ your name :) Lo yodea'! Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 10:30
  • Enoch did indeed ascend into heaven, and the homonymous pseudepigraphal work attributed to him contains a section dedicated to an apocalyptic character called the son of man. The text then goes on to later reveal its identity as being none other than Enoch himself. (There is yet another pseudepigrapha, whose name eludes me at the moment, where the main character has a vision whose main object is later revealed to be the seer himself). So Christ is compared here with Enoch, just as John is elsewhere compared to Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14; 17:12-13; Luke 1:17).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 13:43
  • 1
    Perhaps an ascension vs. assumption distinction is in view: the former being by one's own power, the latter being the action of God upon one taken up? Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 23:26
  • @SolaGratia So far that is the most reasonable explanation I've encountered. Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 1:07
  • 2
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator - There are TWO problems here - not only that two people are recorded as having ascended into heaven (Enoch and Elijah) but also Jesus had NOT yet ascended into heaven.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 9:57

4 Answers 4


Straightforward answer: Jesus is right, and therefore traditional views of Enoch and Elijah, in so far as they say they are in heaven in the same sense meant by Jesus, are wrong. So the only remaining problem is to understand exactly where 'heaven' was for Enoch and Elijah.

"how could Jesus state that"

Note it is possible that John 3:13 is the narrative of John, not Jesus being quoted, and that view makes more sense of certain textual variants. That sort of textual variant is what the KJV relies upon:

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

It doesn't make a lot of sense for Jesus to 1. suddenly start referring to himself in the third person, and more importantly 2. speak as if he's currently in heaven, when he's speaking to Nicodemus. Makes a lot of sense if it's John talking about where Jesus is when John is writing.

Addendum: The article 'Did Elijah go to Heaven?' contains a fairly well laid out alternative for Elijah to the heaven (= God's dwelling place) John's Gospel is speaking of in reference for Jesus.

There are 3 kinds of 'heaven' in the Bible, according to the article. 1. God's dwelling place. 2. The domain of the moon, planets, comets, asteroids, sun, and stars. 3. The envelope of air that surrounds our planet, consisting of oxygen and other gases.

Simply put, Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind into the sky ('heaven'). He then landed somewhere else.

"Many Bible scholars and other readers assume that Elijah at that point was made immortal and taken to the heaven where God resides. This was not the case. The sons of the prophets knew otherwise. They knew the whirlwind had simply removed Elijah to another location on earth. They exclaimed to Elisha: "Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley" (2 Kings 2:16 )."


"Another passage proves conclusively Elijah did not go to heaven. The Bible records that Elijah wrote a letter to Jehoram, the king of Judah, several years after he was removed in the whirlwind."

Similarly, the details around Enoch are vague.

The article 'Was Enoch taken to Heaven?' makes the case that Enoch was simply moved somewhere else and so avoided immediate death, but that he is included in those referenced in Hebrews 11:13.

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13).

The article gives several suggestions for how to understand Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5.

  1. God simply transported Enoch and prevented his immediate martyrdom.

  2. God 'took him' from life prematurely (dying at 365, instead of 850 years), and Enoch did not have to experience the process of dying as his life ended instantly.

  3. God taking Enoch refers to God taking Enoch's body and burying it. He wouldn't see death in the sense that he had been spiritually converted and would not see 'ultimate death'.

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    Love it! You are a breath of fresh air, you really are. Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 10:36

In my opinion, the context of John 3 does not speak to a physical “translation event” such as with Elijah and Enoch. Jesus is speaking spiritually and not physically. We need to understand Jesus’ words in the context of the discussion with Nicodemus.

In John 3, Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that the way to heaven in not by any physical means but only by spiritual means, hence Christ’s reference to “you must be born again.” Nicodemus cannot understand the things of the spirit, that’s why he defaults to asking the question about physically crawling back into the womb to be physically born again.

Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ question, “how can these things be” by saying:

Jesus answered and said unto him, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily I say unto thee, we speak what we know and testify what we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man who is in Heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Jesus' reference to Nicodemus as a “master of Israel” is a reference to Nicodemus’ position as a Pharisee and teacher of the scriptures, in that, if Nicodemus is highly educated in the scriptures and a teacher of the scripture, then why can’t he understand basic things about he Spirit of God?

I believe Jesus then challenges Nicodemus by giving him a bible test. I believe verse 13 is a reference to Deuteronomy 30:11-14

11 “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

This is exactly the context of Romans 10:

4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. 5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law: that “the man who doeth those things shall live by them.” 6 But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh in this manner: “Say not in thine heart, ‘Who shall ascend into Heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) 7 or, “‘Who shall descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). 8 But what saith it? “The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart,” that is, the word of faith which we preach: 9 that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture saith, “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed.”

In these two sections of scripture, the bible tells us how we are to be saved; by faith and not via the works of the law. All Nicodemus understood was holiness via keeping the Law of Moses; he knew nothing of being justified by faith through the gift of grace.

Both Deuteronomy 30 and Romans 10 reference that there is nowhere in heaven or earth that someone may go and retrieve any law where you can bring it back and “do it” in order to get into heaven. Christ is the end of the law to all who believe.

Both Deuteronomy 30 and Romans 10 tell you that you can’t “do’ the law but you can “do’ the WORD. The word is close, even in your heart and in your mouth; it’s the word of faith.

So, we see that Christ’s reference to someone entering heaven is not by physical means but only by spiritual means.

In addition, please look at the actual verse (ie, verse 13):

13 And no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man who is in Heaven

The verse says (in context) that no one has entered heaven but only He who came down, (now please note the next few words), even the Son of Man who is in heaven.

This clearly tells us that there is no one who can enter heaven by His own merit and the only one who could do it is ALREADY in heaven. Jesus is the only one worthy of heaven because He is already in Heaven, ie already divine.

The only way we humans can enter heaven is to be a part of Him who is already there, ie being found “IN CHRIST” by grace through faith.

  • 1
    While I agree with this answer (+1 BYW), the phrase "who is in heaven" is disputed. However, what is not disputed in the similar phrase in Eph 2:6 - we are seated with Christ in heavenly places.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 21:54

How should John 3:13 be understood in view of the OT statements about Enoch and Elijah?

First, Titus 1:2 tells us that 'God...cannot lie' and as God's representative, Jesus did not lie in his words to us.

Now, let's address each individual's case separately. What happened to Enoch? Gen. 5:24 states:

Enoch kept walking with the true God. Then he was no more, for God took him. (NWT)

Did 'take him to heaven'? No. The article "Enoch" in the Insight on the Scriptures helps us to understand this better:

However, God did not permit the opposers to kill Enoch. Instead, Jehovah “took him,” that is, cut short his life at the age of 365, an age far below that of most of his contemporaries. Enoch was “transferred so as not to see death,” which may mean that God put him in a prophetic trance and then terminated Enoch’s life while he was in the trance so that he did not experience the pangs of death. (Ge 5:24; Heb 11:5, 13) However, he was not taken to heaven, in view of Jesus’ clear statement at John 3:13. It appears that, as in the case of Moses’ body, Jehovah disposed of Enoch’s body, for “he was nowhere to be found.”​—De 34:5, 6; Jude 9.

So, Enoch did die but he wasn't taken to heaven.

So, what happened to Elijah? 2 Kings 2:11 states:

As they were walking along, speaking as they walked, suddenly a fiery chariot and fiery horses made a separation between the two of them, and E·liʹjah ascended to the heavens in the windstorm. (NWT)

Did God 'call him to heaven'? No. In fact, Elijah was still alive and still prophesying. The article "Elijah" in the Insight on the Scriptures shows us:

Elijah does not die at this time, nor does he go into the invisible spirit realm, but he is transferred to another prophetic assignment. (Joh 3:13) This is shown by the fact that Elisha does not hold any period of mourning for his master. A number of years after his ascension in the windstorm Elijah is still alive and active as a prophet, this time to the king of Judah. Because of the wicked course taken by King Jehoram of Judah, Elijah writes him a letter expressing Jehovah’s condemnation, which is fulfilled shortly thereafter.—2Ch 21:12-15; see HEAVEN (Ascension to Heaven).

Further clarification can be seen in the words written in Hebrews 10:19, 20:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 which he opened up for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh, (NWT)

Therefore, it wasn't until Jesus' sacrifice that entry into heaven was available. Those who died prior to Jesus, as Jesus' words in John 3:13 state, could not have 'ascended into heaven'.

  • 1
    Perfect! You are a man after my own heart. Over a thousand points in just 9 months for a fellow non-trinitarian is not to be sneezed at, this being a predominately trinitarian site. Beats my 12 months, although I have been silent for months at a time, basically because of the trinitarian bias, but now am back once again, for now at least..... Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 11:05

Hard to be brief on this one, so please bear with me.

John 3:13 only becomes confusing because of our perspective when reading the Bible. We do not place the recorded events in their proper time in history. So many people today are ignoring the time markers and time texts in the scriptures. The events recorded of Christ's ministry on earth, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His judgment upon Jerusalem all occurred in that generation of the first century A.D.

That very special generation when Christ walked on this earth was the "fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4) in which God had determined that His plan of salvation would be fulfilled in Christ (Acts 3:18; 6:14; Rom. 13:8). That His plan of salvation was fulfilled in Christ is proved by the resurrection of Christ which happened in the first century A.D.

His death on the cross changed many things (Heb 7:12), including the way in which God dealt with our bodily death and with the prison of Hades.

"And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." (Gen. 5:24, KJV)

"By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." (Heb. 11:15, KJV)

Enoch walked with God; and Enoch pleased God. The English word "translated" is from the Greek "μετετέθη" (metetethē) from Strong's Gr. 3346 "μετατίθημι" (metaththemi) and simply means "I transfer, desert, change." (1) The idea in Heb. 11:5 is that God moved Enoch from one place to another. In order to "translate" or transfer him, God also had to change Enoch's form in the process.

2 Kings 2:1,

"And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal." (KJV)

2 Kings 2:11,

"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." (KJV)

The word "heaven" is translated differently in Young's as "heavens" and is from the Hebrew "haš šā ma yim." It stems from Strong's Heb. 8064, "הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם." or "shamayim," which is "heaven." (2)

But, which heaven is meant: the heaven of God's abode, or the heavens of the skies where the clouds move and birds fly?

There are 236 occurrences of "haš šā ma yim" and most of them are used for the "heavens" where the stars and the sun and the moon were fixed. (3)

Gen. 1:1, in the INT - "...God created the heavens and the earth..."

Gen. 1:14, in the INT - "...Let there be lights the expanse of the heavens to separate among..."

Gen. 1:30, INT "...every bird of the sky ..."

Gen. 2:4, INT "This is the account of the heavens and earth..."

Gen. 6:7, INT "...and to the birds of the sky..."

Gen. 7:11, INT "... and the floodgates of the sky..."

Ex. 9:22, INT "...your hand toward the sky may fall hail..."

E. 32:13 INT "... your descendants as the stars of the heavens..."

Deu. 4:36, INT "Out of the heavens hear his voice..."

Josh. 10:13, INT "...the sun the middle of the sky..."

There are many more examples, and each are determined from the context of the scriptures. But most of the meanings are the expanse of the air, the sky, and the heavens which God created for the sun, the moon, and the stars.

The sense then of the taking up of Elijah was a movement up from the earth into the sky, which is what Elisha witnessed. Young's Literal Translation is the better sense of the taking up into the heavens of the air and sky.

Then, are we just assuming that Enoch and Elijah were taken into the heaven of God's abode? Yes, I think we have made assumptions that contradict other scriptures.

"No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten [h]Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." (John 1:18, NKJV).

"Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father." (John 6:46, NKJV)

"But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." (1 Cor. 15:23, KJV)

These verses testify that no one but Christ had seen the Father at that time when Christ was manifested on earth. Christ was the first fruits. Elijah's taking up was a type that foreshadowed Christ's ascension. Being a "type" means similar to; it does not follow that it was exactly the same as the anti-type.

"9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up,..." (Acts 1:9-10, NKJV)

The motion of the taking up was viewed from those standing on earth and looking up into the sky, or "heavens". We know that Christ ascended to the throne of God (Dan. 7:13; Rev. 5:5-7). But, does that meant the Enoch and Elijah were ascended to God's abode when they were taken up?

No. The rest of those who had passed from this life - either by bodily death, or by "translation" - into the next realm had still to wait for Christ to be the first fruits of the resurrection. They had not yet seen the Father. Therefore, those who had passed from this life before His death on the cross were waiting for Christ's "coming" to be taken on into heaven to be with God forever more.

So, then where were they before Christ returned?

And, this is where confusion reigns. Many people today are having trouble recognizing that Christ did return just as He promised those in that same generation in which He was crucified, so today's readers cannot yet understand that those saved who had been waiting in that prison of Hades have already been separated out and taken home to heaven (Matt. 22:1-13; Matt. 25:31-46).

Enoch and Elijah were waiting along with Moses and Joshua and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham for Christ's promised return. Elijah and Moses had appeared to Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-4). Moses had experienced bodily death, but he and Elijah were waiting in the same place. That place was Paradise in the realm of the dead (Hades).

We get the picture of the realm of Hades in Luke 16 in the case of the rich man who was being tortured in Tartarus which was separated from Paradise (Abrahams' bosom) by a wide chasm, or gulf which no one could cross (Luke 16: 19-31).

Christ went to that prison after His death on the cross (Luke 23:43) to preach to those waiting (1 Pet. 3:19) to tell them the same things He had told his disciples ... that the kingdom was "at hand" (Matt. 4:17). Their time to be released from that prison of Hades was coming soon in that generation, and He wanted those souls to know it.

Enoch and Elijah were still waiting with the rest of those who had died for Christ's return in judgment against Jerusalem and those who had crucified Him in the first century A D. The destruction of that city which had rejected the promised Messiah and had persecuted His saints had been prophesied from old (Ezek. 22:19-22ff; Lev. 26:28-33) and was prophesied again during His ministry on earth (Matt. 22:1-14; 23:13-39; all of Matt. c.24; Matt. 26:64; Luke 21:20-36; Rev. 1:1, 3, Rev. 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20).

The apostles preached it continually (Rom 13:11-12; 16:20; Phil. 4:5; 2 Thess. 2:2; 1 Pet. 4:7; 2 Pet. 3:10-16; Heb 9:28; 10:25 among many others). Christ held the keys to the gates of Hades (1:18) and the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church (Matt. 16:18).

His assembly, called-out ones, or "church" has been in existence since the first century A.D. and its establishment on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:40-42). Therefore, Hades has not prevailed, and no longer exists. It was destroyed after Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and that is when Christ separated out those sheep in Paradise from the goats in Tartarus, and then threw it into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12-14).

All the saved who had died or been translated before Christ ascended to our Father were taken home to heaven in A.D. 70. They are now in heaven. All of the those who had died since the cross of Christ, or now die in the Lord are transformed / changed in the twinkling of an eye at our bodily death. That is when we hear our last trump, and are taken home to be with the saved in heaven forever more (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-55; Rev. 14:13).

Now, with everything in its proper time, John 3:13 makes sense, and it does not contradict OT scripture. Putting everything in its proper time and place in the record of the scriptures allows us to see the entire picture more clearly.

This also makes it very clear that the so-called Book of Enoch contradicts scripture and is therefore a product of the imagination of men.

There are many more evidences and discussions of the time of Christ's "second" coming and soon return in that same generation of the first century A.D. at my blog ShreddingTheVeil. See The Resurrection in Three Parts here, The Gathering of The Elect here, all ten parts of the series It's Not The End of The World, and many others.


(1) translate - Biblehub

(2) heaven - Biblehub

(3) heavens - Biblehub

  • Respectfully, I think you missed the context that's why i down voted, sorry.
    – alb
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 23:15
  • My point was that John 3:13 affirmed that no one had seen the Father except Christ at the time He spoke those words during His ministry on earth. Therefore, neither Enoch nor Elijah had ascended into the heaven where God sits on His throne. Therefore there is no contradiction with OT scripture.
    – Gina
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 0:37
  • +1 for tying this into a fulfilled eschatology view. Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 19:39

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