Questions From Readers
● What did Jesus mean when he said, as recorded at John 3:13, that “no man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man”? Since he was at that time still on earth, is he referring to occasions in his prehuman existence when as the Word of God he may have appeared as God’s angelic spokesman and then ascended to heaven?—F. B., United States.
No, the scripture at John 3:13 is not referring to his prehuman activity as the Word of God. We must take into consideration the context of the statement. At the time Jesus spoke these words he had descended from heaven, being born as a human, but he had not yet ascended, and this did not occur until forty days after his resurrection from the dead.
Observe, please, that John 3:13 begins with the word “and” in the King James Version and “moreover” in the New World Translation, so tying this statement in with the one that precedes it. Jesus is here speaking to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who came to him by night, and he has just explained the requirements for entering the kingdom of God. Although Nicodemus was a teacher of the people, he found it difficult to grasp how one could be born again to enter the heavenly kingdom. So Jesus answered him: “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things? Most truly I say to you, What we know we speak and what we have seen we bear witness of, but you people do not receive the witness we give. If I have told you earthly things and yet you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Moreover, no man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.” (John 3:10-13) In other words, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he, whose dwelling had been in heaven with his Father from the beginning of creation, had descended from heaven and was in position to instruct him about heavenly matters; but if Nicodemus was not going to accept his instruction, then there was no other way he could gain the knowledge he wanted, because no man had at any time ascended to heaven in order to get such knowledge and come back down here with it. Jesus was not discussing any previous ascension on his own part.
The King James Version adds at the end of the verse the words “which is in heaven.” But Jesus was not in heaven when he made this statement; he was on earth conversing with Nicodemus. In harmony with this, in a footnote in his translation Ferrar Fenton points out that these words “are omitted by the best and oldest authorities.” For that reason they are omitted from such translations as the New World Translation, The Emphatic Diaglott, An American Translation, The Twentieth Century New Testament, and the translation by J. B. Rotherham.