Did Anyone Ascend to Heaven Before Jesus? Gen, 2 Kg, Heb, Jn

Are Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11, Hebrews 11:5, John 3:13 contradictory concerning whether anyone ascended to heaven before Jesus? Learn the solution.
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick answer

The "heaven" that Enoch and Elijah were taken up into is different from the "heaven" that Jesus ascended to. Believers will not experience the fullness of heaven until Jesus returns and they receive a resurrected body.

The argument

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether anyone has ascended into heaven before Jesus. Here are the relevant verses:

Enoch and Elijah ascended to heaven

Genesis 5:24 - Enoch walked with God, and he was not,[a] for God took him.
2 Kings 2:11 - And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
Hebrews 11:5 - By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.

Only Jesus has ascended to heaven

John 3:13 - No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

The answer

The sense in which Enoch and Elijah ascended into heaven is different from the sense in which Jesus ascended into heaven.

Believers right now enter into heaven in a certain sense

Currently, when believers die, and when Enoch and Elijah ascended into heaven, they enter into heaven in a particular sense. The doctrine of soul sleep, or that after death believers exist in a state of unconsciousness until Jesus returns, is unbiblical.

Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). This shows that even now, believers are with God in heaven, in a certain sense.

Enoch and Elijah are simply unique in that they did not need to die to enter into heaven, but they are almost certainly in the exact same place as other believers who have died.

Jesus ascended into the fullness of heaven, which believers will not experience until Jesus returns

The heaven that Jesus descended from and will ascend to is the fullness of heaven, and believers will not experience this kind of heaven until Jesus returns.

In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul says this about what will happen when Jesus returns, or the kind of heaven that believers are waiting for:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

So, we see that although believers enter into heaven in a certain sense even now, there is another sense of heaven that believers will not enter into until Jesus returns. We are "awaiting" for Jesus to return, and when that happens, Jesus will "transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body." When that happens, we will experience the fullness of heaven, as Jesus does.

There is a concept called the already and the not yet. The heaven that believers experience today is what we already have, but there is another sense of heaven that believers can not yet experience.

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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