In John 3:13 Jesus said, "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." Some have understood these words to mean no one went to heaven before Jesus. Is this true?
What does John 3:13 mean? Did no one go to heaven before Jesus?
A look at the larger discussion of Jesus in this chapter demonstrates this is not true. Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher who had come to Him at night with questions about the kingdom of God. The emphasis was on Jesus having the authority to teach on eternal life because He alone had come down from heaven to earth. The NLT translates the verse, "No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven."
Verse 17 further illustrates this point. Jesus stated, "For God did not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Again, the emphasis is on Jesus coming to earth from heaven.
Other passages also illustrate the fact that some people went to heaven (or paradise) before Jesus came to earth. For example, in His response to the religious leaders in Mark 12:26-27, Jesus answered, "And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."
In addition, two men in the Bible were taken up to heaven without dying. Genesis 5:24 marks the event of Enoch entering directly into heaven (also Hebrews 11:5). Second Kings 2:11 records Elijah being taken to heaven by a whirlwind with chariots of fire separating him from Elisha. In Luke 16:19-30, Jesus shares an account of Lazarus in heaven at Abraham's side. This would indicate Abraham being in heaven before Jesus came to earth.
Hebrews 11 furthers includes a lengthy list of Old Testament saints who followed the Lord by faith. Though not explicitly stated, these individuals were noted as God's people who lived for Him and dwell with Him beyond earthly life.
Further, to make the claim no one went to heaven before Jesus provides many inconsistencies with other biblical passages that speak of God's people in eternity with Him. It is much more consistent with the context of John 3 as well as the rest of Scripture to understand Jesus referring to Himself as the one who came from heaven, giving Him authority to speak to Nicodemus regarding eternal life.
What happened to Old Testament believers after death?
Abraham's bosom – What is it?
Is the account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 a parable or did it actually occur?
Who are the dead in Christ? Who is Paul talking about in 1 Thessalonians 4:16?
What happens after death?
Truth about Eternity