Problem: Did anyone ascend into heaven before Jesus or not? Several biblical passages mention people who were caught up into heaven. Yet, Jesus argues in John three that no one had ascended into heaven. So which is it? Did anyone ascend into heaven before Jesus?
Solution: Yes, people ascended into heaven.
Genesis 5:24, “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”
2 Kings 2:11, “Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.”
Hebrews 11:5, “By faith, Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.”
No, people did not ascend to heaven
.John 3:13, “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.”
What it means to have ascended into heaven
The answer is simple when you understand the Jewish concept of the universe. They believed in three heavens. The first was the atmosphere where the trees, clouds, and birds are. The second is the realm of the stars, planets, sun, and moon. And the third heaven was the very dwelling place of God. In the Old Testament in Genesis 5 and 2 Kings 2 above, they were not taken into the very dwelling place of God but into the heavens; that is, they were taken up into the sky. Exactly where is in the debate, but it need not conflict with Jesus’ words. They ascended into heaven, in a true sense of that word, but it was not the same “heaven” to which Jesus was referring. It isn’t until after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ were those who had died before, in faith, taken into the highest heaven. Ephesians 4:8 is often referred to as a supporting scripture for this belief. It says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” Furthermore, when Paul said he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), he was referring to the very dwelling place of God.
Biblical demonstration of the three heavens
First heaven – Earth Atmosphere Deuteronomy 11:17, “Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce…”
Deuteronomy 28:12, “The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.”
Second Heaven – Outer Space Psalm 19:4,6, “In the heavens, he has pitched a tent for the sun… It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other…”
Jeremiah 8:2, “They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens which they have loved and served…”
Third Heaven – Where God dwells 1 Kings 8:27, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.”
Psalm 2:4, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; The LORD scoffs at them.”