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To Heaven’

The words of Jesus are sadly misunderstood by the majority. Ironically, they are often misconstrued by Christians. The little text in John 3:13 is one example.

There, Jesus makes the seemingly contradictory statement that:

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man.

It seems to contradict two Old Testament accounts:

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

2. ...suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire... and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

So, what did Jesus mean? If Enoch and Elijah were taken up to heaven, His statement conflicts with those accounts. Or does it? For, Scripture cannot be broken (Jn 10:35). It is reliable, not contradictory!

The Sabbatarians’ Concept

In the Sabbatarian churches (by ‘Sabbatarian’ I mean those who observe the seventh-day Sabbath according to the injunction of Scripture in Ex 20:8) the prevalent view is that Jesus meant that no one other than Jesus has gone to heaven. In fact, this teaching has become more than just a view or opinion. For most, it is unassailable dogma!

I used to believe it myself, some 25 years ago, until God revealed more understanding.

But so entrenched is this belief in the ‘Churches of God’ that it is well nigh impossible to convince these Sabbatarian Christians otherwise. They are adamant that nobody has gone to heaven after death, except Jesus.

They believe that our consciousness ceases when we die, and that the body goes to the grave and awaits a resurrection. While the latter part is true, the former is not.

The spirit which God has put in man gives him consciousness, memory, emotions, will, and other spiritual faculties. Those do not cease when the body does. They continue after death because your spirit lives on – not for eternity, but for a while, until the Final Judgement. Hence Jesus’ illustration in Luke 16:19-31 of a scenario in which the departed human spirit is very conscious.

But those who have been taught the lie that when you die you don’t go anywhere other than the grave, are believing a purely physical explanation. It is a ritualists’ viewpoint, because the perception of the Spirit is lacking. This erroneous belief is one outcome of Spirit-dead teaching. It does not grasp the things of the Spirit.

The Churches of God fail to see there could be another explanation. They have so much pride in their heritage that they can’t bring themselves to conceive they could have got something so basic so very wrong!

What Jesus Meant

To properly understand any biblical text, you must read it in context, not isolated from it.

John 3:13 follows on from Jesus’ statement that unless humans are born again – regenerated by the Spirit of God – they cannot see the kingdom of God.

You and I were born into an evil world, totally contaminated by satanic spirits and sin. They have filled us with wrong aspirations, wrong desires, and fuelled sinful tendencies in us. That fallen nature is abhorrent to God. So, unless your spirit is purified and changed you cannot enter God’s spiritual kingdom. God is so holy, so pure, that you and He cannot coexist while that evil exists.

So, you need to be born again. Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was driving at, and nor do many Christians today! But the truth is very simple.

Because you and I have sinned, we need God’s cleansing. Jesus paid the price by dying in place of us to redeem us from sin’s penalty, which is death. Accepting, by faith, what He did, you and I can inherit the kingdom of God if we pursue righteousness.

In this process, we are cleansed by the water of God’s Word and by His Spirit, as Jesus said to Nicodemus:

...one is born of water and the Spirit... (Jn 3:5).

And as Paul wrote to Titus:

He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)

You cannot ascend to God without that change that Jesus has made possible for us. You MUST be born again, your spirit regenerated.

But for Jesus it was different. He didn’t need to be born again, because He never sinned. He didn’t need regeneration. He could ascend directly to the Father because He was pure, sinless, undefiled. He was the only human who ‘ascended’ to heaven without needing to repent, to die – to ‘descend’ first.

We know that Jesus physically ascended to heaven. We have the historical account in the Bible (Acts 1:9). That was a physical type of His spiritual ascent. Jesus never sinned (Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 1:19). His motives were so pure, and His aspirations so heavenly, that He could ascend right up into the holy of holies to be with His heavenly Father.

What Jesus meant in John 3:13 was a spiritual meaning, not physical. When reading Jesus’ statements, always consider that any spiritual sense will be far more relevant than the obvious physical one.

Remember Jesus’ emphasis: “It’s the Spirit that gives life [and meaning], the flesh profits nothing” (Jn 6:63, not an exact quote). Look beyond the physical. Perceive the spiritual, and you will be closer to heaven.

Other Evidence That We Go To Heaven

Besides Jesus, Enoch, and Elijah, we have the testimony of one other biblical character who was taken to heaven, into God’s glory: the apostle Paul.

He astounded some by saying:

I know a man in Christ [he expressed it this way because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, but rather to Christ, even though Paul was the one to whom he was referring] who, 14 years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know – such a one was caught up to the third heaven [the spirit realm where God resides – far beyond our atmosphere and outer space that we can see].

And I know such a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor 12:2-4).

I don’t know what the ritualists, who don’t believe that humans have ever entered heaven other than Jesus, say about Paul’s claim. Do they reject it? Or perhaps they say it was merely a vision. But it was not. Paul says himself that it was so real that he was there in person, although he couldn’t tell whether he was in his body or out of his body.

Physically minded people will probably find difficulty with that also. But thousands of people in our day, who died, testify to having been taken into the spirit realm. Their spirit left their body and travelled through a sort of tunnel at the end of which they encountered a bright light, a being of immense power and love, and before returning into their body.

These NDEs (Near Death Experiences) are so numerous it is obvious they are not making up stories.[1]

Many of these people report meeting dead relatives, and are encouraged to live moral and upright lives motivated by love. Their experiences leave a profound effect upon them – for the better.

For us as saints we have further testimony of what lies beyond death, in heavenly realms:

You have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly [festal gathering – margin] and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, [and] to Jesus... (Heb 12:22,23).

This text describes the heavenly environment. It mentions God, angels and a festal gathering. It is not talking about things on earth, but things in heaven.

Have “just men” been made perfect on earth? No. They are made perfect in heaven. The process of sanctification is begun on earth, but completed in the spirit realm.

So, while some will argue, to my mind Paul was describing some of what he saw in his trip to heaven. The spirits of the saints are there, fully conscious – because spirit does not lose that faculty until God obliterates it at the Final Judgement (which He only does to the wicked).


“Psychiatrist George Ritchie has reported one of the most detailed Christ encounters... primarily a near death experience (NDE) – perhaps the most famous NDE on record...

“While Ritchie was ill with pneumonia, he was administered a drug to which he reacted so severely that he was considered clinically dead for several minutes prior to his resuscitation. During this interval, Ritchie experienced an encounter with Jesus, and, presumably, a detailed escorted view of the afterlife...

“This Person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I’d ever met.

“Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me... and accepted and loved me just the same.” (I Am With You Always, G Scott Sparrow, p 14: True Stories of Encounters With Jesus.)


It is unspiritual and physically-minded folly to think that we, as a spirit housed in a human body, cease consciousness when our spirit leaves the body. What is more important? The body? Or the spirit that God is fashioning in His image?! Is your body going to live with Him forever or your spirit? I trust you know.

When facing death, Jesus turned to his disciples to encourage them as they faced this hurdle. They feared death. But He said:

Let not your heart be troubled.... In My Father’s house are many mansions [dwellings]... I go to prepare a place for you (Jn 14:1,2).

That heavenly dwelling awaits you after death. It is out of this world – in manifold ways! (Ps 16:11.)

From that heavenly home, Jesus will muster His saints when He returns. They will come with Him (1 Thes 4:14; Rev 19:14) to rule the earth and bring it peace, restoring all things (Acts 3:21).

The Kingdom of God is in heaven now, but it will then rule the earth. That time is very soon! Get ready, so that you can be in that heavenly number.

Malcolm B Heap

[1]   This phenomenon is explained in much more detail in the article The Near Death Experience.

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