John 3:13, 14

13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up (NRSVue)

My real question is whether δεῖ + infinitive always refers to a future event. If the crucifixion of Jesus still lies in the future from the perspective of verse 14, then 3:13 suggests the Son of Man had already ascended from the perspective of the speaker. However, it is widely recognized that the shift to the plural starting in verse 11 indicates these are the words of the evangelist. Thus, perhaps the Son of Man has already ascended from the evangelist's perspective. However, if 3:14 views the crucifixion as a future event, how could this be the evangelist speaking? Does anyone have a Greek grammar citation that could answer this question for me?

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    The text is in the present tense, hence he was in two places at the same time Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 16:32
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    I do not understand the comment. If I say "I must go to the store," that does not mean I am going to the store. The verbal auxiliary "must" projects the action "go" into the future. Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 18:04
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    @nihil I look forward to an answer based on that imaginative beginning.
    – Steve
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 19:36
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    @NihilSineDeo I agree with that conclusion. Which is the interpretation of many. Nor have I seen any other explanation that is agreeable to the text.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 20:27
  • @steve as one who has experienced this first hand being in two places at the same time I don’t see what’s imaginative about it. Paul himself speaks of a man who went to the third heaven potentially without the body, in other words to Paul there was the possibility that the man was in the third heaven without his body, meaning in the body he was on earth, Jesus was in front of Nicodemus, I was praying over the bed and in the spirit he was in the third heaven, Jesus was in heaven, I was in the second heaven. The spirit is not confined as the body by the laws of nature. Elijah used same language Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 21:34

7 Answers 7


Had the Son of Man already ascended in John 3:13?

Yes and no.

No, in the timeline of how John was narrating the life of and events regarding Jesus. Jesus had much to do - like die before he went to the Father. There would be no point ascending until his mission was completed by remaining without sin until his final breath on the cross.

What then is a reasonable and logical explanation that fits with all other scripture without making contradiction or inventing our own theories?

Verse 13 is part of the narration of John when writing several years after the event and indeed, Jesus was in heaven - sitting at the right hand of God!

The Companion Bible by Bullinger has notes that make a good case for the fact that Jesus’ speaking ends at verse 12 and John, the narrator, begins with verse 13. In fact, Bullinger lists seven different reasons for Jesus’ talking ending at verse 13. Verses 14 and 16 agree with this entirely (see the commentaries on John 3:14 and 3:16).

  1. Because the past tense of the Greek verbs that follow verse 12 indicate completed events.
  2. Because the expression “only begotten Son” is not used by the Lord of himself but is used by John describing the Lord (John 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).
  3. Because “in the name of” (John 3:18, using the Greek word en) is not used by the Lord, but by John (John 1:12; 2:23; 1 John 5:13).
  4. Because to “do the truth” occurs elsewhere only in 1 John 1:6.
  5. Because “who is in heaven” (v. 13) points to the fact that the Lord had already ascended at the time John wrote.
  6. Because the word “lifted up” refers both to the sufferings (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) and to “the glory which should follow” (John 8:28; 12:32; Acts 2:33; 5:31).
  7. Because the break at verse 13 accords best with the context, as shown by the structure of the section.

There is no need to add contrived meaning into the text which is not supplied. Spirit took him IN THE VISION, as another answer conjects is an eisegetical approach best avoided. We should stick to the facts provided.

Quote from REV Commentary.

Whenever Jesus speaks, he uses “I.” However, after verse 12, we find the third person “him” in the text. The logical reason for that shift is that from verse 13 on, the Apostle John was writing about “him.” In verse 3, Jesus is speaking and he says, “I say.” In verse 5 he says, “I say.” In verse 7 he says, “I said.” In verse 11 he says, “I say,” and in verse 12 he says, “I told” and “I tell.” In verse 13, there is a sudden shift. We no longer see “I,” we see “him,” and other references to Jesus in the third person. For example, in verse 13, the text refers to “the one” from heaven, and in verse 14, instead of saying “everyone who believes in me” (which Jesus did many times in the Gospel of John, cp. John 6:35; 7:38; 11:25, 26; and John 12:44, 46), the text says, “everyone who believes in him.” When the evidence is weighed, the words from John 3:13 to the end of the chapter were not spoken by Jesus, but penned by the narrator, the Apostle John, long after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

Yes, in that as John was writing, it was a past event. Jesus was risen, exalted, mission accomplished! We might mentally bracket the phrase ‘who is in heaven’ to avoid reading it incorrectly.

Certainly grammar can be a key to understanding the intended meaning. Context must also be used in concert to eliminate possible misunderstandings. For further reading, especially regarding, 'who is in heaven' see the link below.


  • I agree the narrator is speaking in vv 12ff. So why did you say "No"? If the narrator is speaking, then the Son of Man has already ascended from his perspective. Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 15:17
  • Edited to clarify, thx.
    – Steve
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 20:27

You don't have to take the words literally as they are found. The phrase "no one has ascended to heaven", is from a proverb which asks, 'Who has ever ascended to heaven that he would reveal the heavenly mysteries?', implying the mysteries of heaven cannot be understood, at least by mortal men; or while talking about something impossible or very difficult as used in Deu 30:11-12. Thus, the phrase should be understood as the ability of ascending, rather than actually having ascended. Since, the actual quote of Jesus says that he is pointing to himself, that who else can reveal these secrets, except the Son of Man, himself who came from heaven.

Concerning the "we" in the context, it denotes the party or sects of the righteous in contrast to the sect of the blind religious leaders, the Pharisees. The righteous sects like that of John the Baptist, Essenes, any righteous man.

Henry Alford comments,

13.] The whole verse seems to have intimate connexion with and reference to Pro 30:4; and as spoken to a learned doctor of the law, would recall that verse,—especially as the further question is there asked, ‘Who hath gathered the wind in His fists?’ (מִי אָסַף־רוּחַ בּחָפְנָיו), and ‘What is His name, and what His Son’s name?’ See also Deu 30:12, and the citation, Rom 10:6-8.

Jesus asks "Nobody has ascended to heaven (to bring down the heavenly secrets), but only he who comes from above, the Messiah, himself, can and is revealing them to you!" The statement as an allusion to the complete Proverb 30:4 LXX τίς ἀνέβη εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ κατέβη.

Brenton's English LXX, Prov 30:4

Who has gone up to heaven, and come down? who has gathered the winds in his bosom? who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? who has dominion of all the ends of the earth? what is his name? or what is the name of his children?

The question about οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (so must the Son of Man be lifted) is absurd that you asked whether dei with infinitive is always future. It is always an unfinished act, thus it is naturally a future act. Otherwise, it would have been in past tense, "it was necessary ἔδει for him to go through Samaria" John 4:4.


Short answer

No, the Son of Man had not ascended yet when Jesus was talking with Nicodemus. This 2014 New Testament Studies journal article The Perfect Tense-Form and the Son of Man in John 3.13: Developments in Greek Grammar as a Viable Solution to the Timing of the Ascent and Descent (by Madison Pierce and Benjamin Reynolds) provides a new grammatical interpretation that the word ἀναβέβηκεν in the verse does NOT necessarily indicate a past ascent, removing the apparent problematic chronology and adding support for the interpretation below. John 3:13a may legitimately be translated: "No one ascends to heaven".

Another explanation is not so much in terms of Greek grammar but in terms of the Gospel writer's goal in communicating the good news to 2nd generation Christians primarily in terms of who Jesus is by possibly putting anachronistic words or projection of their current concern in Jesus's mouth, even though the resulting speech is consistent with Jesus's own teaching (therefore, the Gospel writer did NOT subvert Jesus). Although some interpreters propose that the speaker in v. 13 is the Gospel writer, we can still interpret this reconstruction of Jesus's speech in Jesus's own voice to mean

not so much an event in time as a way of describing who Jesus is. Like the angels with whom he is associated (1:51), he is both an "ascending" and a "descending" Son of man (see 6:33, 38, 42, 51, 58, 62), for he knows "heavenly things," and makes them known on earth.

(Source: J. Ramsey Michaels' commentary)

Longer answer

I'm using the ESV translation of the whole Nicodemus pericope John 3:1-21, Greek grammar parsing of John 3 courtesy of Abarim Publications, a 2012 Greek seminary course student paper The Voice of John in John 3:16: A Greek Grammatical Analysis (by Kirk Huizenga), a New Testament Studies 2014 journal article The Perfect Tense-Form and the Son of Man in John 3.13: Developments in Greek Grammar as a Viable Solution to the Timing of the Ascent and Descent (by Madison Pierce and Benjamin Reynolds) and D.A. Carson's Pillar commentary & J. Ramsey Michaels's NICNT commentary of the Gospel of John.

Some Greek analysis

If you click on the word οἴδαμεν from the page we see that the verb is unambiguously 1st person plural.

If you click on the word ἀναβέβηκεν from the page we read that the tense is present perfect:

The word αναβεβηκεν is the 3rd person single form of the verb marked similar below. Its tense is perfect (which indicates a present-tense report of an action that has been completed but has effects in the now; like: "he has done"), its voice is active (which indicates that the subject performs the action, instead of receives it), and its mood is indicative (which describes a situation that actually is — as opposed to a situation that might be, is wished for, or is commanded to be).

Reynolds and Pierce's 2014 journal article also acknowledges the usual interpretation of the verb ἀναβέβηκεν as a "past action with present results" but proposes a new grammatical solution to resolve "the apparent problematic chronology in that Son of Man ascends before descending" based on recent developments in Greek grammar. About application of recent research in verbal aspect theory to John 3:13:

Considering this evidence, the assumption that the perfect verb form ἀναβέβηκεν in John 3.13 describes a past action is less likely. In fact, as noted above, a present time value is as reasonable for most perfect tense-form verbs, and even more so for translating John 3.13. Thus, from the perspective of grammar, this verse may legitimately be translated: ‘No one ascends to heaven’, expressing what earlier grammars have called a ‘timeless perfect’,30 and therefore, the verse describes a unique quality of the Son of Man. To this point, interpreters have seemed hesitant in assigning the label ‘gnomic’ or ‘timeless’ because of the deep-rooted sense of the perfect’s time value as ‘past action with present results’. If this past time value is not the primary meaning of the perfect, as we contend, all possible time values must be assessed in light of the immediate and broader contexts. In the case of John 3.13, present is the most plausible time value to associate with ἀναβέβηκεν.31

From the Conclusion:

When the verbal aspect of ἀναβέβηκεν is considered primary (and not the time value), the ‘problem’ of the perfect is removed. The grammatical arguments of verbal aspect and the relative time value of the participle καταβάς make it reasonable to translate ἀναβέβηκεν with a present time value and thus conclude that Jesus, the Son of Man, did not ascend prior to his descent nor must ἀναβέβηκεν indicate a past ascent.

About "lifted up" in v. 14

In his paper, Kirk Huizenga makes the case that John 3:10b-15 is the voice of Jesus while John 3:16-21 is in the voice of the Apostle. This is how Kirk Huizenga explained the pericope's broader context (which he thinks is critical to understand the Nicodemus pericope correctly) and his interpretation of "lifted up" in John 3:14 which follows traditional interpretation of referring to Jesus's being lifted up to be crucified (emphasis mine):

... The placement and grammatical/syntactical structure of John 3:16 within the Nicodemus pericope (John 3:1-21) is critical to our ability to rightly understand it. In the broad context, the Apostle John is writing his gospel account for the stated purpose “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (ESV, John 20:31). The Nicodemus pericope is a direct example of John writing toward this purpose. In chapters one and two, he has already declared the coming of the divine Word from the Father and his taking on flesh (John 1:1-18), the descent of the Spirit on Jesus and start of his ministry (John 1:19-34), the calling of the first disciples (John 1:35-51), his first miracle at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), his zeal for the right worship of God as he clears the temple, and his first prophetic proclamation of his death and resurrection (“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” John 2:13-22). As a result, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing, but Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (italics mine, John 2:23-25).

In this context of knowing what was in man, John records Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus. Man needs rescuing from the poison of sin and the spiritual death that accompanies it. Man must be born again!—rescued from death to life. And how is the rebirth possible?—by believing in the “Son of Man” who will be “lifted up” (John 3:1-15). Here Jesus uses a typological reference to Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that all who looked up at it would be saved from the bite of the “fiery serpent” (see Num 21:4-9). Whoever looks up to Jesus — who will be lifted up on the cross, lifted from the grave, and lifted to the right hand of God—to be saved will be reborn and receive life eternal. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus himself says (John 3:14-15).

I believe that the rest of the section (vv.16-21) is not a record of what Jesus said, but is John’s comment and explanation of Christ’s words to Nicodemus. This goes against many English translations (ESV, NASB, NIV1984, NKJV, HCSB), but is recognized in the NET and the more recent NIV. Morris, in NICNT, also supports this break from Jesus to John (Morris 1995, 203). ...

About the plural "we" in v. 11

Verse 13 is within Jesus's answer to Nicodemus's question in v. 10, encompassing vv. 11-15. Although v. 11 uses the plural "we" both D.A. Carson's and Ramsey Michaels's commentaries gave plausible explanations why Jesus temporarily switched to plural.

D.A. Carson's Pillar commentary:

The simplest explanation for the plurals in this verse is that Jesus is sardonically aping the plural that Nicodemus affected when he first approached Jesus (v. 2). ‘Rabbi’, Nicodemus said, ‘we know you are a teacher who has come from God.…’ ‘I tell you the truth’, responds Jesus, ‘we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen’—as if to say, We know one or two things too, we do!’

J. Ramsey Michaels's NICNT commentary:

Why is it plural here? One possible answer is that Jesus includes his disciples with himself in the pronouncement. Just as Nicodemus is part of a larger group, so too is Jesus. Yet Jesus’ disciples have not been mentioned since 2:17 and 22. They play no explicit part in his encounter with Nicodemus, even though their presence with Jesus in Jerusalem is presupposed (see below, v. 22). Another suggestion is that Jesus aligns himself with the biblical prophets, or perhaps specifically with John, who was earlier said to “have seen” and “testified that this is the Son of God” (1:34). Another is that Jesus and the Father speak with one voice.68 Still another is that the plurals refer not only to Jesus and his disciples within the narrative, but to his continuing testimony in and through the Johannine community in its mission to, and its conflict with, the Jewish synagogue at the time the Gospel was written.69 Or perhaps Jesus is simply mocking Nicodemus, as he did with the phrase “the teacher of Israel,” by echoing the self-assured “we know” of verse 2. A solemn “Amen, amen” pronouncement, however, is an unlikely vehicle for satire. Jesus is deadly serious in assuring Nicodemus of the validity of the revelation he brings to the world. The fact is that there is no way to tell who, if anyone, is included with Jesus in the “we” and the “our.” Plural or not, the accent is on Jesus’ activity, and his alone.

About "has ascended into heaven" in v. 13

As the short answer shows, a plausible interpretation can be made that:

  1. This is Jesus's own voice, not the Gospel writer
  2. Jesus is not referring to his future ascension after resurrection
  3. The next v. 14 is about crucifixion which is still in the future
  4. In v. 13 Jesus was asserting to Nicodemus "why he, and he alone, has the right to speak of the 'heavenly things' (ta epourania)." (Ramsey). From Carson's comment on v. 13:

    But Jesus can speak of heavenly things, not because he ascended to heaven from a home on earth and then descended to tell others of his experiences, but because heaven was his home in the first place, and therefore he has ‘inherently the fulness of heavenly knowledge’ (Westcott, 1. 53). He is the one who came from heaven; he is the revelatory Son of Man (cf. notes on 1:51).

Complete quote from J. Ramsey Michaels's commentary on John 3:13:

Jesus now explains why he, and he alone, has the right to speak of the “heavenly things” (ta epourania). This second “Son of man” pronouncement, like the first (1:51), uses the imagery of ascent and descent to make a statement about his unique relationship to God. Now it is no longer angels “going up and coming down,” but the Son of man himself. Yet here, as in the first pronouncement, the actual title “Son of man” is introduced only at the end. With these words, Jesus reinforces the note of impossibility and human limitation which has dominated his conversation with Nicodemus from the start, while at the same time transcending it with a mighty and decisive exception: “no one has gone up to heaven except he who came down from heaven, the Son of man” (italics added). Jesus’ words now reaffirm what the Gospel writer claimed from the start, that “No one has seen God, ever. It was God the One and Only, the one who is right beside the Father, who told about him” (1:18). Others in Jewish tradition (especially certain apocalyptic traditions) were said to have seen God or ascended into heaven, but Jesus here denies that any of them actually did so. Only he has been to heaven. Only he can tell of “heavenly things,” and his revelation alone can be trusted (compare v. 11). Through him all the impossibilities become possible, and through him the way to rebirth and eternal life is opened for those who believe.

Taken literally, the pronouncement implies that Jesus has already “gone up to heaven,” which is hard to visualize if, as we have been told, he was “with God in the beginning” (1:1–2), or “right beside the Father” (1:18). One suggestion often made is that ei mē (‘except’) functions here as a simple adversative (“but,” or “but only”) yielding the paraphrase, “No one has ascended, but one has descended, the Son of man.” Yet none of the New Testament passages commonly cited as parallels (for example, Mt 12:4; Lk 4:27; Rev 21:27) are true parallels. In each instance, the “exception” is not a real exception because it does not belong to the class specified (that is, “the priests” in Mt 12:4 were not included among “David and his companions,” “Naaman the Syrian” in Lk 4:27 was not included among “lepers in Israel,” and “those written in the book of life” in Rev 21:27 are not included among “things common or unclean”). Here, on the other hand, “the Son of man” obviously does belong to the class ostensibly excluded by the sweeping term “no one,” and does thereby qualify as a genuine exception. “Except” (ei mē) should therefore be translated in the usual way, not as a simple adversative.

Another proposed solution is that the speaker is no longer Jesus but the Gospel writer, looking back on Jesus’ ministry from a postresurrection perspective. On such a reading, the pronouncement becomes one of the writer’s “narrative asides,” interrupting Jesus’ speech to remind the Johannine church that no one has ascended to heaven except Jesus because he came down from heaven in the first place (compare 6:62; 20:17). The impression that Jesus has already ascended is reinforced by a variant reading explicitly identifying the Son of man as “he who is in heaven.” The difficulty with this interpretation is that the text gives no signal of a change of speakers. The conjunction “and,” both in this verse and the next, links each pronouncement closely to what precedes it, suggesting that Jesus is still the speaker, even though his audience within the narrative now seems to have vanished along with Nicodemus. The term “Son of man” (both here and in the following verse) confirms this, for in John’s Gospel (as in the Gospel tradition generally) “Son of man” is Jesus’ title for himself, not a title given him by others.

How then do we make sense of the pronouncement with the earthly Jesus as the speaker? The issue, of course, is not whether the historical Jesus would have spoken in this way, but whether the Johannine Jesus might have been represented as doing so. This is the Gospel, after all, in which Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (10:30), and even within the present chapter we are told that “He who comes from above is above all” (v. 31). To be “above all” is, on the face of it, not so different from being “in heaven.” Yet to ask at what point in the narrative between chapters 1 and 3 did Jesus go up to heaven is to ask the wrong question. The “ascension” in view here is not so much an event in time as a way of describing who Jesus is. Like the angels with whom he is associated (1:51), he is both an “ascending” and a “descending” Son of man (see 6:33, 38, 42, 51, 58, 62), for he knows “heavenly things,” and makes them known on earth.

Complete quote from Carson's commentary on John 3:13:

This verse, connected to the preceding verse by kai (‘and’), provides the explanation for the fact that Jesus is able to speak authoritatively of ‘heavenly things’. It is often misunderstood, primarily because it can be translated more than one way. The NIV is misleading: No-one has ever gone into heaven except (ei mē) the one who came from heaven—which sounds as if Jesus, the ‘one who came from heaven’, had previously ascended into heaven as an exception to the rule. This is then taken by many scholars to be a further indication that parts of this chapter are anachronistic. The Evangelist, it is claimed, is writing from the perspective of the church at the end of the first century, looking back on the ascension of Christ decades earlier (e.g. Bauer, p. 56; Brown, 1. 145; esp. Nicholson, pp. 91–98, and Borgen, Logos, pp. 133–148). But is it very likely that the Evangelist would create so clumsy an anachronism when he is frequently so careful to distinguish between events during Jesus’ ministry and understanding that took place only after the resurrection/exaltation? Even in the immediate context, he goes on to treat the resurrection of Jesus as future to the stance at which he has placed Jesus. Moreover this appeal to anachronism does not explain why the Evangelist has so tightly tied this verse to the preceding one.

Resolution is found in the fact that ei mē, often translated ‘except’, can introduce an exception to the general idea that has been introduced, without providing an exception to what is explicitly stated in the immediately preceding clause. English usage in such cases often demands ‘but’, ‘but rather’ or ‘but only’ rather than ‘except’. Compare Revelation 21:27: ‘Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only (ei mē) those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.’ Clearly those written in the Lamb’s book of life are not thought to be impure, shameful or deceitful; the translation would be highly misleading in this context if ei mē were rendered by ‘except’ (cf. also Mt. 12:4; Lk. 4:27; Acts 27:22; probably Gal. 1:19). True, in all these instances the member in the ei mē clause proves to be the only one that does the action described in the first clause: in the example from Revelation 21:27, only those whose names are written in the book of life actually enter the holy city. Applied to John 3:13, that might be taken to mean that the only one who has ascended is the one who has descended. But the flow of the argument and the peculiar perfect anabebēken (‘has ascended’) conspire to focus the ‘exception’ rather differently. Jesus can speak of heavenly things (v. 12), and (kai) no-one [else] has ascended into heaven and remained there [so as to be able to speak authoritatively about heavenly things] but only the one who has come down from heaven [is equipped to do so] (cf. Lagrange, pp. 80–81; Westcott, 1. 53; Moloney, pp. 53–59).11

The Judaism of Jesus’ day circulated many stories of bygone saints who had ascended into heaven and received special insight into God’s ways and plans. Many of these stories focused on Moses (cf. Meeks, pp. 110–111, 192–195, 235–236; Odeberg, pp. 72–94). Jesus insists that no-one has ascended to heaven in such a way as to return to talk about heavenly things. Only in heaven can true wisdom be found (cf. Pr. 30:4). But Jesus can speak of heavenly things, not because he ascended to heaven from a home on earth and then descended to tell others of his experiences, but because heaven was his home in the first place, and therefore he has ‘inherently the fulness of heavenly knowledge’ (Westcott, 1. 53). He is the one who came from heaven; he is the revelatory Son of Man (cf. notes on 1:51). (Cf. Additional Note.)

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    This God the Son is an imaginary term not found in all the Bible. If imaginary terms/premises are used what is the point of BH?
    – Steve
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 3:11
  • @steveowen That Trinitarian bullet point is an extra comment, not essential to the exegesis. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 3:20
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    Yet the whole answer is based on this premise. For eg. he (Jesus ) was “with God in the beginning” (1:1–2) no he wasn't - the logos was. The arbitrary inserting of own theology/terms/persons is bizarre. The Gospels state when Jesus originated. We are supposed to use the Bible as the basis here - or the title BH is meaningless.
    – Steve
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 3:30
  • @steveowen Per your objection, I removed that bullet point and added Carson's note. Although both Carson and Ramsey are evangelicals, in writing their commentaries they follow strict evangelical methodology of letting the whole book speaks for itself, trying to discern the theology of the gospel writer instead of anachronistically injecting later Christian doctrine into the interpretation. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 12:15
  • @steveowen I found a very relevant technical article on Greek grammar about the Son of Man's ascent and descent in v. 13 (which I incorporated into my answer, see my latest edit). This is definitely safe from the feared Trinitarian bias 😀. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:16

I will approach this question from a different angel to others.


Johns Gospel was written well after Jesus ascended – so on that basis it simply cannot be taken as a prophecy for future events.
There are a lot of issues with John (see link 1 below) and in general numerous discrepancies in the bible. In particular, there were no authors to the original writings.

For example ; the ‘Jesus Seminar’ involving 200 biblical scholars from around the world came to the conclusion that 82% of the words attributed to Jesus are not his

Virtually all of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John were voted down by scholars meeting in Sonoma, including a pulpit favourite; 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . .”

How many times did Jesus ascend / descend

Same day - Luke 23.43 - He said to the thief who defended him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Two days - John 20:17 - He said to Mary Magdelene two days later, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

Luke 24:50 - 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.

The nest day - Mark 16:9-20 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

Acts 1:3 - 3After His suffering, He presented Himself to them with many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a span of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.


Genesis 5:22-24 - 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

2 Kings 2:11: "And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."

Jeremiah 1:5 – Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 esv - 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

another problem

Jesus did not come down from heaven he came from Mary's womb.

If its suggested that he came down from heaven in Marys womb;

i) there is no evidence ii) Adam had no mother or father, where did he come from if not heaven (arguably God son) iii) Melchizedek - where did he appear from, no mother, father, genealogy, no beginning or end.


Based on the above this appears to be another evented statement made after Jesus was taken up. At best it would still contradict Elijah being taken to Heaven.

Link Gospel of John: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/63568/33268

  • @steveowen not sure I understand your point. Luke 23.43 doesn't say Only Jesus - it says this other person will also be with him. Elijah clear-so at best contradiction. Happy for you to provide passages so show where I have gone wrong, always learning. Bible has grave issues, hence the problems of identifying Jesus true message. That's why Apocalypse of Peter, Gospel of Barnabas, Gospel of Thomas etc... have been rejected because they contradict the crucifixion/resurrection - but include people like Paul & Luke etc... who were not know to Jesus, not apostles, followers etc... Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 10:12

It’s hard to answer your question when you have already kind of decided what you think it means based on your cognitive biases, and we are all guilty of doing the same at one point or another. I’d like to present an alternative view using Scripture that will put back into its proper place the spiritual side which has in the past systematically been diluted, removed or attempted to. I’m not going to go into the received text, textus receptus or the Alexandrian text discussion you have already accepted that these words are important and I agree with you that they are.

Let’s dive into Scripture

“And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen went up from me.” ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭11‬:‭24‬ ‭

The Spirit took him IN THE VISION, meaning not in the body, his body remained in place, but he was now geographically in another location

“The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.” ‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭3‬:‭14‬-‭15‬ ‭

Seven days he was “in the heat of the spirit”

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭1‬:‭10‬ ‭

John was in the spirit, meaning he was both in his body and in the spirit elsewhere, the events occurring in the spirit were unknown to those who were next to John’s body for they were NOT in the spirit

“For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?” ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭23‬:‭18‬ ‭

Jeremiah is making the point that a true prophet stands in the council of God which is in the second heaven, above the clouds Psalm 82:1, Psalm 89:6,7 and either hears, sees or both what is happening there, the question is, where is the prophet’s body and what purpose would the body serve in a supernatural meeting?

“But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.” ‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭5‬:‭16‬ ‭

Was not Elisha standing in front of Naaman? How then was He also standing (present tense) before the Lord simultaneously?

One could chalk it up as a manner of speech but Elisha was actually just describing what was happening in real time and this was a reoccurring theme with Elijah also.

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12‬:‭2‬ ‭

The mere fact that Paul allows the possibility of being in the third heaven without the body, points to the fact that it was a possibility that said person could have potentially been in the third heaven without his body.

We know that Jesus received the Spirit without measure

“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” ‭‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭34‬-‭35‬ ‭

If Elijah was able to simultaneously be before the Lord and before men, it sets a precedent in Scripture. If prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah could be taken up in the spirit to see things that were in the second heaven or elsewhere on the earth ONLY in the spirit and not also with the body for minutes, hours even days, how difficult is it to understand when Jesus is telling Nicodemus, I stand before you Nicodemus but I’m also in heaven? He was given the spirit without measure, He was able to handle both the earthly realm and the spiritual realm simultaneously and interact with them interchangeably

“Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” ‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭6‬:‭17‬ ‭

Elisha had the ability to see both realms, he might not at that time been in two places but in a sense he was both in the natural world and the supernatural world.

If one strips the Bible of all its supernatural truths, and in a reductionist fashion limits everything to what can be explained in the material realm, this these “extra words” do not belong in the canon, but if we allow a supernatural God who in the space of six days created both the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, in all their complexities, then, virgin births, speaking donkeys, multiplication of bread, raising the dead, growing limbs, cleansed lepers and being both in the both and in the spirit at the same time makes complete sense and is in complete harmony with the rest of Scripture. We don’t need to do mental gymnastics and try to reinterpret what the word is clearly saying, we must. Only accept and believe it. Be blessed

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    My question was about Greek grammar, not theology. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:09
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    Please see my comment on auxiliary verbs. The tense of an auxiliary verb is not an indication of the time of the main verb. Further, tense in Greek is not always a reliable guide to time. See "Greek verbal aspect." I did not intend this thread to be a primer on Greek grammar. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:58
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    There is no need to impose, nor imply, bias on the part of the questioner. The question is sincere, and merely addresses the facts as known to the questioner, without attempting to bias the answer, merely clarify the specifics of what is asked. Furthermore, saying the body remained in place but that he was now geographically in another place makes zero sense, and is not Biblical.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 14:49
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    @NihilSineDeo The Bible's use of "spirit" is not as you appear to characterize it; it is not teaching spiritualism, which, by definition, is the doctrine that the spirit exists as distinct from matter. If I should say to you "my thoughts are with you," does that mean that I am having an out-of-body experience which divides me into two places/existences? Of course not. But that is essentially what is meant by the Biblical use of "spirit" in the context of passages like 2 Kings 5:26, 2 Corinthians 5:3-5, etc. When your "spirit" is with others, they have your moral support/understanding.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 22:30
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    @NihilSineDeo No, you would not know what was happening with the other person unless you were God, or God reveals this to you, as is common with prophets and apostles (consider Peter with Ananias and Sapphira, for one example). Even then, for us humans, this knowledge may not come in "real time"--it may be revealed after the fact.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 11:33

The "Son of Man", ontologically speaking, is a spiritual being who, according to the book of Enoch was with God even before the creation of the universe (1 Enoch 48:2-10), and as such He must also be God, for only God can exist before the world started its world-ing, because there is nothing in between God and creation, and if this Son of Man was before creation, then this Son of Man is also co-God with God (cf. 1:1-3 of the Gospel of John who clearly follows and elaborates upon the Enochian tradition).

Now, this divine, supra-temporal, eternal existence is called "heaven" in John, and it is said that only the one who has been in Heaven, that is to say, the Son of Man, can ascend to the same Heaven already in a different mode, in the mode of possessing the human nature after His incarnation. This ascent though is possible only after His mission on earth is accomplished, that is to say only after His crucifixion and resurrection. Of the same ascent of God speaks Psalm 47:5: “God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets", for how could God ascend unless He had first descended? And what is God’s descent if not His incarnation?

Therefore here we see both past, or better to say, previousness (for "past" entails time, while the Son of Man in Heavens with the Father is supra-time) and subsequence/posteriority: a) previousness of the Son of the Man's eternal being with God the Father (which is never broken and always continues, so that the John can assert boldly that the Son of Man remains in Heaven while being on earth /John 3:13/) and b) subsequence and proleptic account of the same Son of Man rising His adopted human nature to heaven, thus Him acquiring this novel condition of being in heaven with Father not only as naked God, but already as God-man - the resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ.

Thus, to conclude: in His divine nature the Lord Jesus Christ has always been with and has never departed, moreover could not have departed from God the Father ontologically, for They have one and the same uncreated existence, and "Heaven" is a symbolic name standing for that transcendent level of the Uncreated Existence. However, in His human nature His ascent to Heavens is preconditioned by the accomplishment of His earthly mission, i.e. manifesting the fulfillment of human perfection in the death on the cross, for without this death there is no resurrection, while without the resurrection there is no ascension. Thus, those two events - the death on the cross and ascent according to the human nature both refer to future events during the moment of their utterance in John 3:13-14.

Furthermore, the “has ascended” perhaps can be viewed in the lips of the Lord as a necessity of the future event, that is to say, He tells what is to happen, to wit, that the human nature will rise to the level of heavens as a fait accompli, for the future for Him is necessary, not contingent. Like in Isaiah 53:3-9 and Psalm 22:16 the definitely future prophesy of the event of the Messiah’s suffering is accounted for as grammatical past, as a fait accompli.


In view of John 20:17 (" ... I have not yet ascended to the Father ... "), Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father on the resurrection Sunday. Therefore, from the perspective of John 3, Jesus' ascension was still future.

However, the OP asks about the verb in John 3:14 δεῖ ("it behooves") = present indicative active, following another verb, ὑψωθῆναι ("lifted up") = aorist infinitive passive, which clearly alludes to Christ's (still future) crucifixion.

Now, to understand the entrenched Byzantine text gloss in John 3:13 saying: "who is in heaven" requires one of several alternatives:

  1. John 3:14 about Christ being lifted up does NOT refer to Christ's crucifixion but about His ascension to heaven which had not occurred at that point in time. This conclusion is untenable because, "lifted up" always refers to Christ's crucifixion as per John 8:28, 12:32, 34.

  2. The text "who is in heaven" is a gloss that should not be part of the text as per UBS5, NA28, and is consistent with other references such as:

  • John 6:62 - Then what will happen if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?
  1. Several expositors develop rather "imaginative" theories to accommodate the troublesome "who is in heaven" gloss, including that Jesus' human nature was on earth and His divine nature was in heaven. But such a theory is self-defeating precisely because the divine nature, by definition" is omnipresent and so cannot be confined.

Therefore, the simplest solution is that proposed by UBS5 - the phrase "who is in heaven" is a scribal gloss to be ignored.

  • You say it "clearly alludes to Christ's (still future) resurrection." That is just the question though. Does the construction δεῖ + infinitive always refer to an event that has not yet occurred from the perspective of the speaker? Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:11
  • Also I take for granted ὁ ὢν τῷ οὐρανῷ is a scribal gloss. That was not part of my question. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:18
  • @K.J.Eastvold - It is, as noted above, in the present tense but could refer to anything past present or future - each case must be decided on its merits, as I have attempted to do here.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 17:42
  • Dottard, I still don't know your reasons for the assertion that in the ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ the lifting up occurs in the future from the perspective of the speaker. If the speaker is Jesus as he speaks to Nicodemus, I would agree, since in the narrative the crucifixion still lies in the future from Jesus' perspective. But if the speaker is the narrator, the crucifixion was in the past. But I would expect the narrator to use ἔδει (e.g. Luke 22:7; 24:26; Acts 1:16; Heb 9:26) rather than δεῖ if that was the case. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 18:12
  • @K.J.Eastvold - that is a good case for saying that it is Jesus speaking.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 18:15

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