In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn 3:13). Yet this assertion seems to contradict earlier biblical accounts of certain people going to the heavenly realm. For instance, Elijah is said to have been whisked from our world and ancient Jewish tradition held that God snatched Enoch from the earth. Did Yeshua forget his history? Not at all. But to make sense of his statement, readers must know the original Greek of both the Septuagint and the Gospel.

According to the book of Second Kings, the prophet Elijah does not taste death; instead, the Lord sends heavenly vehicles to lift him to the heavens. The Greek translation of this event states, “Behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire [appeared]… and Elijah was taken up (ἀνελήμφθη; anelémphthe) as in a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kgs 2:11 LXX). In this case, God sends the divine chariot to gather Elijah from the earth—the prophet himself is a passive passenger with the benefit of theophanic transportation.

Likewise, the Septuagint says that Enoch lived a life walking with God and then “was not found, because God transferred him (μετέθηκεν αὐτὸν; metétheken autòn)” (Gen 5:24 LXX). Commenting on this verse, the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria says of Enoch, “He was ‘transferred,’ that is, he changed his abode and journeyed as an immigrant from the mortal life to the immortal” (Names 38). The Greek term for “transferred” is μετατίθημι (metatíthemi), literally meaning to be “transposed” or “transported” from one place to another. Genesis is clear that it is God who does the transferring; Enoch does not ascend to heaven on his own.

Returning to the statement in John, Jesus says of himself that “no one has ascended (ἀναβέβηκεν; anabébeken) into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn 3:13). The word for “ascend” (ἀναβαίνω) comes from two Greek terms: ἀνά (aná), meaning “up,” and βαίνω (baíno), which means “to walk.” Literally, then, Jesus claims that no one apart from him has ever “walked up” to heaven. Elijah and Enoch were taken to heaven, but the Son of Man ascends and descends on his own accord. In this assertion, Jesus alludes to his identity as the heavenly “Word” (λόγος; logos) made flesh (Jn 1:14). Long before Jesus’ arrival on earth, the ancient Israelites knew that God “sends out his command to earth [and] his word (λόγος; logos) runs swiftly” (Psalm 147:4 LXX [147:15 in English translations]). Unlike the prophets and patriarchs, the incarnate Word of God can descend from heaven and walk back up again. The Johannine statement does not conflict with previous passages that describe people going to heaven; rather, as the divine Word in flesh, Jesus distinguishes himself as the only human being in history with the unique power to come down from the Father and return to God’s realm.



  1. Interesting. May I ask, please? If the biblical idea of "no one who ascended to heaven" doesn't contradict the Old Testament stories, does it also have something to do with the biblical ideas about heavenly realms having different levels, like the "third heaven", according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4?
    • Thanks for your question. Paul says that he was "caught up" (harpazo) to the third heaven, which is the tier of the heavens in which God was said to reside. Paul gets this idea from texts like Deuteronomy 10:14, which refers to both "the heavens" and the "heavens of the heavens" -- i.e., a heavenly realm beyond the visible skies. Paul suggests that this transference was likely not done in his physical body, but rather in a deep prayer or mystical trance -- something also attested in the Judaism of Paul's day and later in the rabbinic literature.

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  2. Thank you. It helps to be able to clarify when others try to make the Word into a contradiction. Your, and the other professor's, works are truly a God-send!
  3. Thanks so much, Dr Schaser. Your explanation is spot on; it clears up the apparent contradiction between texts that state that Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven and Jesus' statement that no man has ascended to heaven except He, the Son of Man, who descended from heaven.
  4. Ah! I recognize this as a subject that came up during the Book of Enoch discussion. I made the comment about Elijah also being taken up to heaven when someone mentioned this verse to dispute Enoch being "transferred" to heaven. Since both Elijah and Enoch were "taken up" to heaven, then we must be missing something or not understanding the Gospel of John. Thank you Dr. Schaser for clarifying the subject! The Enoch discussion was my first time here and it made me question everything I was taught. The next subject I am learning about is "The Powers of the Divine Realm" and my world has been rocked to the very core. I am enthralled and what to know everything. Read everything. Absorb everything. Thank you for this post and I can't wait to read more.
    • Thanks for reading, Carolyn. Yes, this article was influenced directly by our Enoch discussion. We're glad that you were a part of that. It's also great to hear that you're enjoying the Divine Realm material -- sounds like you're as excited about studying Scripture as we are, so you've come to the right place.
  5. I am thinking about Enoch. He is spoken of in Hebrews 11:5 where we are told he was translated that he should not see death. Could this mean he was removed so that he did not suffer the grief of losing loved ones? I say this because Hebrews11 concludes by saying all the people listed in the chapter have not yet received the promise because they without us have not been made perfect. That will come at resurrection when our Lord Jesus Christ has returned.
    • Thanks for your question, Elizabeth. The Bible doesn't offer the underlying reason that God took Enoch. The "promise" of Heb 11:39 likely refers to Jesus' sacrifice for the "once for all" elimination of sins (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). The reception of this promise is what makes "perfect" (Heb 11:40) a state of salvation from sin that comes through Jesus' suffering and atonement (cf. Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:11; 10:14; 12:2).
  6. Recently discovering what Yeshua stated in John 3:13 the Book of Revelation no longer confuses me about Yeshua's second coming and judgement day.
  7. Question: If we read a bible , we see that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Virgin Mary, but the child was born was the Word? I mean, the Holy Spirit is the third person, but the Word is the second person? How did the Holy Spirit descend on Mary, but the word came out of Mary???
    • Thanks for your question, Hakim. The Gospel writers would not have had difficulty with the notion of the Spirit working through Mary to produce the Word made flesh (I am not seeing the cognitive issue with this idea either, but perhaps more explanation is needed). The Gospel writers do not have as strict a "trinitarian" understanding of "persons" of the Godhead that would develop in later Christianity. The Spirit overshadows Mary according to Luke, but the "Word" language comes from John (which doesn't offer the image of the Spirit overshadowing Mary). It's better not to conflate the Gospel narratives, but rather to assess their respective data for the purposes of their particular presentations.


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