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Were early Christians divided on whether only Jesus ascended and saw the Father?

Discussion in 'The Ancient Way - Eastern Orthodox' started by rakovsky, Aug 1, 2020 at 7:10 PM.

  1. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    Robert Hall, in his essay, "The Ascension of Isaiah: Community Situation, Date, and Place in Early Christianity", points to John 3:13, which says, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." He also notes how John 6:46 says, "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father."

    Robert Hall contrasts these verses in John's Gospel with how John's Revelation describes John ascending to heaven, and how the Ascension of Isaiah describes Isaiah's visions of ascending to heaven and apparently seeing God the Father.

    In Chapter 6 of the Ascension of Isaiah, a glorious angel tells Isaiah, "Thou wilt see how a greater also than I am will speak courteously and peaceably with thee. And His Father also who is greater thou wilt see; for this purpose have I been sent from the seventh heaven in order to explain all these things unto thee." Later in Chapter 9 of the Ascension of Isaiah, the angel says, "This is the Most High of the high ones, dwelling in the holy world, and resting in His holy ones, who will be called by the Holy Spirit through the lips of the righteous 'the Father of the Lord.'

    Hall notes that in the Ascension of Isaiah, Satan complains that Isaiah says he saw God (as noted in Isaiah 6), despite Moses' claim that No man can see God and live. Hall proposes that the author of the Ascension is using this debate as a way to defend claims of divine visions by the author's group. He concludes:
    Many scholars think that the Ascension of Isaiah is a Docetic/Gnostic text, albeit with some orthodox Christian editing. If so, one need not reconcile the views of John's Gospel and the Ascension of Isaiah, as differences would be expected. Still, it is worth understanding John's Gospel on the topic.

    There are two basic questions that I want to ask:
    (Question 1) Does John 3:13 contradict believers making divine, heavenly ascents?
    In other words, what do you make of John 3:13 ("No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven..."), since Eljiah's journey, the Book of Revelation, and Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, seem to describe believers making such ascents?
    Elijah rode a chariot up into the sky, and Paul in an epistle wrote that he knew a man who ascended to the Third Heaven. Many scholars connect the author of Revelation, who ascended in his book, with John the Evangelist. Even if they are different Johns, they would seem like part of the same Christian group.

    The Russian theologian explains that the original of John 3:13 ended "the Son of Man, who is in Heaven", based on the manuscripts. And Augustine explains that since Christ ascended into heaven, the verse implies that believers (like John in the Revelation and Paul's acquaintance) ascend with Christ, since they are considered His body: "After taking notice of this lack of knowledge in a person, who, on the strength of his magisterial station, set himself above others, and blaming the unbelief of such men, our Lord says, that if such as these do not believe, others will: No one has ascended into heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven. This may be rendered: The spiritual birth shall be of such sort, as that men from being earthly shall become heavenly: which will not be possible, except they are made members of Me; so that he who ascends, becomes one with Him who descended. Our Lord accounts His body, i.e. His Church, as Himself."(quoted in Aquinas' Golden Chain commentary on John 3:13).

    (Question 2) Does John 6:46 contradict believers having seen God the Father, like in the Ascension of Isaiah?
    It seems that rhetoric about no one seeing God needs to have exceptions, since John 1 said no one but Jesus saw God, but then says later in 1 John 4:12: "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us." And later, in John 14:9-10, Jesus explains that actually someone can see the Father by seeing Jesus: "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? "

    I also considered the possibility that John 6:46 could just mean that no one else saw the Father in his ultimate divine substance. Also, perhaps "seeing" the Father in this case refers to seeing "Him" in the metaphorical sense of "understanding" Him. But this does not seem very likely, because many people have somewhat understood aspects of God, like His love.

    In Genesis, Abraham met God in the form of three angels, apparently referring to the Trinity.

    Like Abraham, perhaps Moses and the elders on Mount Sinai also saw God in a sense, since they saw his feet. The Russian theologian Lopuhin comments on the verse in Exodus about Moses seeing God:
    If one checks the verse in Exodus, it actually says that Moses, being a man, could not see God's "face". It doesn't specify that Moses couldn't see God at all. In fact, Exodus 24:10 talks about the elders visiting and seeing God: "and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself."

    Here is the passage in Ascension of Isaiah, when Isaiah is being wrongly accused to the king about his visions:
    In Isaiah's case, perhaps the same distinction existed between ways to see God as in the Mount Sinai experience? ie. Isaiah was only seeing God like the elders did, but not His face in particular?

    More specifically while there are OT visions of God, John 6:46 specifically limits those who saw God the Father. The Ascension of Isaiah apparently portrays Isaiah seeing God, because In Asc. Isaiah Chp. 7, an angel tells Isaiah that he will see the Lord's Father:
    In the account, in Chp. 9-10, Isaiah sees two glorious ones, whom I think are the Son (called here the "Lord) and Holy Spirit, in the 7th Heaven. Next, Isaiah glimpses the Father's glory but then is temporarily unable to see, although the righteous see His glory:
    In Chapter 11, Isaiah recounts a vision that he has of Christ meeting the Father:
    So whereas in Chapter 7 the guiding angel tells Isaiah that he will see the Father, the account only narrates him seeing the Father's glory for a moment and the righteous beholding His glory.

    So the Ascension of Isaiah might not be talking about seeing the Father in the way that John 6:46 means.

    I raised this question about John 3 & 6 on the Monachos Forum before that forum closed.

    Phoebe K. replied:
    Kosta wrote:
    I don't agree with Kosta's implication that Elijah didn't ascend to heaven. There are a lot of reasons why I think that the Hebrew story implies that he went to heaven, like how Elisha cried that Elijah left him and that people looked for Elijah but couldn't find him. So I don't read the story of Elijah's ascent to mean that he just took a trip through the air "as if" he had ascended to heaven.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020 at 11:31 AM
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  2. Carl Emerson

    Carl Emerson Well-Known Member

    New Zealand
    I think we get our 'heavens' mixed up.

    There is an eternal heaven that has always been, and there are created heavens that will be made new.

    So one must be sure about which heaven the narrative is referring to when considering ascensions.
  3. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

    United States
    Eastern Orthodox
    no one has seen the Father. we only see God in His Incarnate Son.
  4. Neostarwcc

    Neostarwcc We are saved purely by the work and grace of God. Supporter

    United States
    Christian's have been divided since the beginning. That's what Satan does in his attempt to thwart God's plan of salvation.
  5. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    For Question 1 (Does John 3:13 contradict believers making divine, heavenly ascents?) David Reagan on LearntheBible apparently takes the view that it does, and tries to distinguish Enoch's disappearance and Elijah being taken up from it:
    On Catholic Answers, Thistle gave a similar answer regarding Elijah, Moses, and Enoch:
    John 3:13
    This is making me wonder if one should best address John's visit to heaven in Revelation by saying that he was taken up as opposed to ascended, or that it happened after Jesus made His statement in John 3 that no one HAD ascended.
    This seems not a bad answer about Elijah vs Jesus ascending, but it seems conceivably that a person who is carried up in a sense does ascend. If you are an airplane passenger, don't you ascend or descend with the airplane?

    John Partain wrote what must be a mistaken explanation on Quora:
    However, a reading of John 3 doesn't show this to be the case. Jesus doesn't specify that no one ascended to heaven, except for Him, in order to return and preach.

    Another person on Quora gave that same kind of answer. Their idea is that what Jesus was trying to say to Nicodemus was that when it comes to the heavenly things that he was telling Nicodemus about, Jesus was the only one who could tell him, because no one (generally speaking) had gone to heaven but Him. In other words, they interpret Jesus as speaking broadly, as making a general statement to answer Nicodemus, not as aimed at making a precise statement that literally no one but Jesus had gone there.

    Gary De Vries on Quora tries to reinterpret John 3 by inserting the phrase "there is":
    Here you can find the Greek to see that this is wrong:
    John 3:13 Greek Text Analysis

    Emanuel Paleos on Quora tries to distinguish the heaven where the righteous go from the heaven where God is and suggests that only God goes to the latter:
    A problem with that idea is that John seemed to go to a heaven where he saw God iirc in Revelation. Daniel had a heavenly vision so I guess you could theorize that John was only having a vision of ascending. But Revelation narrates it as if he did visit heaven.

    Joseph on Hermeneutics Stackexchange noted that the Biblical manuscripts, except for a rare minority like an Alexandrian Egyptian one, do not have the ending phrase that the KJV does. So the NASB just takes Jn 3:13

    "King David" writes on Stackexchange that
    How can John 3:13-14 be reconciled with what happened to Enoch, Elijah and Jesus?

    I am very skeptical about his explanation about Elijah. Elijah was taken upward to "the heavens", which is the meaning of the Hebrew "shamayim". Sheol or Hades is a different term than "the heavens" and seems associated with the "heart of the earth", which is at least metaphorically downward.

    I am not sure what to make of his attempt to distinguish the heavens, ie where Elijah went, from heaven, ie what Jesus says that He alone ascended to in Jn. 3:13. The Greek word in Jn 3:13 is Ouranos, which basically means "heaven", from the idea of a "covering", as in heaven covers earth from above.
    Strong's Greek: 3772. οὐρανός (ouranos) -- heaven
    The Biblehub entry says that the Greek ouranos is meant to correspond to the Hebrew word shamayim used in the OT.

    The Biblehub entry distinguishes heaven, in the sense of the place of the stars, from heaven, in the sense of the place where God dwells. It sees references to the latter sense in John's vision in Revelation of the new Jerusalem coming down from "heaven."

    But I am not sure if this distinction works here. For instance, when Elijah was taken up, it seems like he wasn't just taken up to the physical starry sky, like to another planet, but to some supernatural abode. I guess that you could try to say that "heaven" in the singular can also be used to refer to different blessed supernatural realms, but it is not clear to me that the Bible does this.

    Johannes on Stackexchange tries to make the same explanation, except that he suggests that it's a Catholic teaching, and he points to John 1's reference to the Bosom of the Father, which seems analogous to the Bosom of Abraham. That is, Christ was in the Bosom of the Father, in heaven, whereas the Bible also speaks of the Bosom of Abraham, where the OT righteous went after death. Johannes writes:
    How can John 3:13-14 be reconciled with what happened to Enoch, Elijah and Jesus?

    The Stackexchange page also quotes Proverbs, which asks rhetorically who knows the name of the one who has ascended to heaven or established the earth. The implication is that God is the one who did this, and it matches the issue in John 3, where Jesus tries to show Nicodemus that he is dealing with heavenly issues particularly known to God. Enoch and Elijah aren't mentioned in the conversation, but theoretically, even if they did go there, they didn't come back to tell Nicodemus or the Jews at large about it, although at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus.

    The Stackexchange page also quotes Deuteronomy where it discusses whether someone can Ascend to heaven to get the word, concluding that the word is already among people. The basic idea seems to be that heaven is a place for the Word, but that it is also among people.

    Watchman Alexander on Stackexchange gives a reasonable theory about how Christ could have been said to have ascended to heaven previously, noting
    Aquinas, in his Golden Chain commentary, cited how St. Augustine took the idea that only the Son of Man went to heaven to mean that the only way for people to go to heaven is for them to become part of Christ's body:
    St. Augustine also explained it by saying that the saints become one "Christ" by joining to Him and ascend as such:
    In the Golden Chain Commentary, St. Augustine took the view that the disciples and Paul were also in heaven like Jesus was, writing:
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2020 at 5:41 PM
  6. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    Deacon Peter Mikhalev writes in his article "Did Enoch and Elijah Ascend to Heaven?" (Восходили ли Енох и Илия на Небо?) that Enoch was moved somewhere, but he notes that it does not specify heaven and he could have been moved elsewhere. He cites St. Gregory Palamas as saying that Enoch didn't go to heaven because it would contradict John 3:13. He also cites Theofilakt the Bulgarian as saying that Enoch was moved but we don't know where to. Deacon Peter notes that in John 3, Christ refers to Himself as an active participant in the ascension, whereas it was God who moved Enoch someplace.

    On the topic of Elijah, Deacon Peter asks rhetorically if Jesus and John the Evangelist didn't know the story of Elijah, and why Nicodemus didn't correct Jesus' statement. Deacon Peter implies that this means that they saw no contradiction.

    He cites St John Chrysostom, St Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Photius as emphasizing that Elijah went up as if to heaven, as it says in the Greek LXX. He quotes St. Photius as saying:
    He quotes St. Gregory Dvoeslov as saying that Elijah was taken to the airy "heaven", but not to the "ethereal" heaven, which is different. He was taken to a cryptic/inner earthly region where he remains alive in his body until the end of the world, when he will die. I am pretty skeptical of this idea, because in the Transfiguration when Jesus was next to Moses and Elijah, I don't imagine that they were in different bodily forms. And it seems pointless to move Elijah to another earthly place for millenia where he dies anyway.

    St. Gregory Dvoeslov also says that Elijah was taken up on a chariot to show that he couldn't go up by himself. He says: "The angels made this benefit for him, when he ascended to the airy heaven... (Это пособие сделали ему ангелы, когда он восходил на воздушное небо...)" However, in using the phrase that "he ascended..." for Elijah's movement, St. Gregory Dvoeslov seems to strongly undermine the argument that only Jesus "ascended" because the term "ascend" supposedly must only refer to a person moving up by their own power.

    Deacon Peter writes that Christ, taking on flesh, ascends it to the "Bosom of the Father."

    In Dcn Peter's Pravoslavie.ru article comments section, there is a comment by Nikolai that Wisdom of Joshua son of Sirach 44 says that Enoch pleased God and was taken to heaven. Nikolai thought that this verse from this text doesn't have a double minded idea about heaven here. ("по моему здесь не двусмысленно говорится куда взят Енох...")

    Also there, Nina notes that there is a hymn we have for Elijah saying : "и чтим еже на Небеса...преславное восхождение твое", meaning that we venerate your glorious ascension on the Heavens...

    Denis notes in the comments section for that article that St Maximus the Confessor relates the New Testament anthropology about Man to Melchizedek in the Old Testament. Denis asks rhetorically why the same wouldn't apply to other OT figures like Elijah. Denis notes that people who join to His divine nature ascend to heaven. He says that based on St. Maximus, the OT righteous also joined to Christ's divine nature. He thus implies that as a result of Christ's ascension, Elijah also ascended.

    Nikita asked rhetorically in the Comments how Enoch and Elijah could hear Orthodox prayers to them if they just stayed in earth, ie on the earthly plane, implying that they must have gone to heaven to hear the prayers.

    Gennady Gumilevsky in "About the Disappearances of Enoch and Elijah" takes the view that they didn't go to heaven, in part because the LXX says that Elijah went as if to the heavens. He asks rhetorically, "Yes, God took them to Himself, but isn't it said with these words that God takes all believers also to Himself in heaven?! (Да, Бог их взял к себе, но не говорится ли этими словами, что и всех верующих Бог берёт к себе на небо?!)" In fact, it seems to me that if we say that God took those two to Himself, then since God is in heaven, it tends to suggest that those two also went to heaven.

    The Russian article "The Conversation of the Lord with Nicodemus" gives a contextual explanation of John 3. (Беседа Господа с Никодимом (Ин. 3:13-17)) There, Jesus tells Nicodemus about the necessity of being born again of water and of Spirit to enter the Kingdom of God, and about how people born of Spirit are like the wind that blows where it will, but you can't tell where it came from. Nicodemus asks how this rebirth is possible and Jesus replies:
    The article says: "What happens with a person and in a person can partly be known by that person. But who among people can enter heaven and penetrate the mystical region of Divine life? None besides the Son of Man, Who descending to the earthdid not leave heaven... (Что совершается с человеком ив человеке, об этом может отчасти знать сам человек. Но кто из людей может взойти на небо и проникнуть в таинственную область Божественной жизни? Никто, кроме Сына Человеческого, Который и сошедши на землю, не оставил небес")

    In this context, heaven refers to the realm of the "heavenly things" that Jesus just talked about, ie. being reborn of water and spirit to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom here appears analogous to heaven, as both are blessed realms of heavenly things.

    This raises a related question for whether any OT righteous people ever entered the Kingdom of God, at least before Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus. At one point, Jesus says that John the Baptist was the greatest of the righteous before Him, but that the smallest in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater yet. The implication seems to be that John the Baptist, not being part of Christ's NT era Church spiritual community (not necessarily contiguous with His institutional earthly Church though), was not in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    But then, what about the OT righteous like Melchisedek who seem presented as special, mystical Christlike figures? The OT righteous weren't baptized in water, but for that matter nor were catechumen martyrs, so it doesn't seem like the requirement if being born of water should be seen as a literal absolute ritual requirement to enter the Kingdom of God. One interpretation, which Gennady Gumilevsky had in his article, was that one could only enter the heaven if John 3 in either transformed or disembodied Spirit form. In that case, conceivably Enoch and Elijah could have been transformed for their entry to heaven.

    Euphemius Zigaben says that the verse said that Christ descended from heaven because the Old Testament describes God ascending or descending numerous times, like after His visit to Abraham in Genesis ( Толкования Священного Писания. Толкования на Ин. 3:13).

    In his commentary on Jn 3:13 where Jesus says that "no one" else ascended to heaven before, Lopuhin writes that angels are not included in who Jesus is talking about, because Matthew 18 says that they "always see the face of the heavenly Father". One could add to this Jacob's vision of the angels "ascending" and descending on a ladder. However, if the fact that angels aren't meant because they must be in heaven, as they see God's face, then conceivably the verse might not be talking about Enoch and Elijah who went someplace blessed in God's care. As a result, when the verse says "no one" else ascended, it may be giving a broad rule where there could be exceptions, ie. It doesn't mean angels or possibly select OT era individuals).
  7. Nathaniel Red

    Nathaniel Red New Member

    United States
    Eastern Orthodox
    Or couldn't it instead imply an emphasis in the change made within us when we go to heaven? Even the greatest saintly person on earth is less righteous than the smallest in heaven, because we cannot completely overcome the fallen nature of the earthly world, but in heaven it is not only taken away but we are restored much beyond that. John on earth was not "as the angels are" like those in heaven.

    AFAIK isn't a Mikvah/Mikveh what was used? And even if it wasn't historically used and is more modern, aren't the parting of the sea and flood of the earth both baptisms?
  8. buzuxi02

    buzuxi02 Veteran

    Eastern Orthodox
    Visions of heaven are different than actually entering into the fullness heaven. Infact Orthodoxy does not believe anyone has fully entered into it except for the thetokos, everyone experiences a foretaste of what is to come, the partial judgement.
    As far as certain men seeing God in the early books of the OT I wouldn't take them too literal. Orthodoxy teaches they are all manifestations of the second person of the Trinity. Also these early books of the pentateuch didn't have a refined vocabulary to decipher between angels (messengers), demons (called a serpent) and God . Satan itself was a generic word meaning advocate, angels are called men while also being recognized as God. Not only in Genesis 18 but also in Genesis 32:22-30 where Jacob wrestles an angel clearly identified as a man whom Jacob viewed as God himself.

    Wherever Elijah is the Church has always seen it as a foreshadowing of Christ's ascension, a mock trial of the actual one involving Christ. Here is an article :
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2020 at 11:09 PM
  9. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    I mentioned that in the Pravoslavie.ru comments, Denis pointed to Maximus the Confessor's "Speculation about Melchizedek" for the suggestion that Melchizedek went to heaven. There, St. Maximus wrote that he thought that the OT righteous figure Melchizedek became worthy of becoming above time and essence and to become like the Son of God by Grace:
    St. Maximus goes on to write more along these lines.

    The basic idea seems to be that in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy and Proverbs, there is a discussion that God is the one who ascends and descends to heaven. And the OT writers ask rhetorically who can ascend to heaven, implying that no one but God can do that. When the OT writers made those rhetorical questions, they weren't aiming to get into the issue of whether God could have taken Enoch to heaven. Their point was that basically this ascension was a special property of God and that people weren't able to go to heaven in order to bring back the Word to humanity. If you were living in 990 BC and tried to argue back to the ancient writer that Enoch went to heaven, you would be missing the point of the rhetorical question. The ancient writers were saying that basically people weren't going to go to heaven and come back with the Word, as it would require divine power or status. Plus, anyway, the Word was already here on Earth, the Torah writer added in Deuteronomy.

    John 3 probably alludes to those OT passages when it says that only the Son if Man ascended to heaven, and thus only He can tell people of heavenly things. Plus, the Son is in heaven, John 3 notes. This is like Deuteronomy, where the Word is considered to be in heaven but the writer notes that it's simultaneously on earth too among people.

    Jesus is saying in John 3 that being born of Spirit is needed to enter God's Kingdom, and that this is information about heaven. "Heaven" in this context is God's Kingdom where the Spirit-born saints go, and only the Son of Man had been there previously.

    So one follow up question becomes whether any OT saints had been reborn of Spirit before Nicodemus' conversation and thus made able to enter heaven based on John 3's criteria. And the answer seems ambiguous because of St. Maximus' writing on Melchizedek on one hand. And on the other hand, Christ seemed to distinguish between the OT prophets before Christ and those in the Kingdom of Heaven, implying that the OT saints lived before the saints began to enter heaven due to Christian (ie Spirit) Baptism. I guess that one might suppose that Heaven is outside time and that therefore to say whether Enoch and Elijah entered heaven right away or had to wait becomes a non-issue. In other words, there might not be any real chronological contradiction here:
    Circa 950-750 BC: Elijah enters heaven, another realm
    C. 30 AD The Church starts baptising in water and Spirit
    C. 30-33 AD: Jesus says you must be baptized in water and Spirit to enter heaven and that no one has previously ascended to heaven
    C. 33 AD: Jesus preaches to the OT saints in Hades and redeems them from Hades, bringing them to heaven.

    In other words, heaven is a realm outside time, so to hold Jesus' statement to an absolute chronological standard would not necessarily make sense.

    A quick search online shows that there were Jewish stories like the Enoch literature wherein Enoch went to heaven and saw angels, and there were Jewish traditions and stories about Enoch and Elijah being taken to heaven or to paradise, which could be heaven. But this didn't sound like a doctrinal consensus in Jewish traditions either.

    The disciples knew about the Enoch literature and Jude references it, although that doesn't mean that they considered it canon. In the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus, so conceivably Elijah could have gotten heavenly information.

    So my best guess to answer my own question is that in John 3, Jesus was reiterating the rhetorical questions in Deuteronomy and Proverbs about Who has ascended to heaven and descended? The rhetorical questions were showing that Ascension was special to God. Responses that Enoch might have gone to God's Kingdom would be irrelevant.

    Besides that answer, the research above came up with several possible others:

    1. Jesus was laying out a general principle that there could be exceptions to. He sometimes did this. For instance, in one Gospel, he banned remarriage divorce after divorce, but in another Gospel he gave an exception, ie if the other spouse adulterized. So in general, no one had ascended to heaven before, but some might have. This goes along with the answer in bold above and makes sense based on the style of literature with such declarations.

    2. Christ alone ascended, but the saints are united to Christ as part of His body, so they ascend in Him. Thus, it can be said in a sense that only He ascends, even though they are ascending in Him. ie. No one apart from Christ ascends, so those who are in Him can ascend. This is Augustine's answer. So theoretically, the OT righteous like Enoch could have ascended by being in Him. It makes sense and matches theologically but I am not sure if that is what Jesus or the Biblical author had in mind. This answer reminds me of how in Question 2, Jesus says in John 6 that no one has seen the Father except for Christ, and elsewhere Christ says that if you saw Christ, you have seen the Father. Augustine's answer seems more likely in this light.

    3. Christ is the only one who ascended to heaven in the sense of rising by his own accord and power. In the case of Enoch, Elijah, and the Ascension of Isaiah, God's power or Elijah's chariot brought them to heaven. Enoch was moved and Elijah was taken up. This makes sense in that the point of the passages in Deuteronomy and Proverbs was about God's unique power to ascend. The Biblical image is of a being rising up of its own accord.

    4. The Ascension of Isaiah does not actually describe Isaiah being bodily taken to heaven. Rather in this context what is called an "Ascension" is Isaiah having a mental "vision" where his mind is "taken up" to heaven:
    This reminds me of how several other OT prophets like Daniel had visions of God being in heaven that I can find without much difficulty. Jesus certainly wasn't trying to rule out the Biblical stories of ancient prophets having heavenly visions of heavenly things. But still, those prophets did not themselves ascend in their full persons, it was just their minds getting images of ascending. This answer certainly gets to the matter that I was trying to get to in Question 1 of the OP, since I especially had in mind the Ascension of Isaiah.

    5. It's not clear where Enoch and Elijah were taken, so it's not clear that they went to heaven. The TaNaKh doesn't say where Enoch went, but according to Wikipedia, the Wisdom of Joshua Ben Sirach (part of the EO Biblical canon) says that he was taken to paradise:
    It seems to me that paradise here probably refers to heaven, not to a pleasant part of Hades. However, the RSV version of this Book of Ben Sirach, Chapter 44, that I checked online didn't have the reference to paradise.
    Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
    The OT says that Elijah was taken up to the heavens (shamayim in Hebrew)/heaven(ouranos in Greek). I agree that the obvious meaning is the sky or starry heavens, not necessarily the supernatural Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible does have two different concepts of heaven, but it also seems to often closely associate the two concepts, like describing them both with clouds. It seems like the implication is that Elijah went to the Kingdom of heaven, as a reward, not just to another part of the starry universe, which would be much more mundane. I mean, how would he have lived to meet Jesus in 33 AD if he was just in another part of the Universe? But conceivably he was taken into the starry universe and then transported to some "non-heavenly" blessed paradise, if such a place existed, with Enoch
    So answer #5 (that those OT saints didn't actually go to heaven) doesn't seem like a very good one to me, even though it can be found in patristics and by other EOs today. I agree that the Bible stories about them aren't clear where those OT saints went, but I am inclined to think that it was heaven, ie. that God walked with Enoch and took Enoch to Himself in heaven.

    6. Whether the two OT saints couldn't go to heaven because Jesus said that no one had been there, ie in the past, is a moot point because heaven is outside time. I mentioned this argument earlier in this post. This doesn't seem to me a good argument on reflection, because in that case Jesus' statement about "has ascended" would be too confusing or misleading. You would have to ask why Jesus said that no one "has ascended" if Enoch and Elijah did so in c. 5000-700 BC. The obvious implication of the phrase "has ascended" is that he means the time period before he made His statement, in other words, from the beginning of Time to 33 AD.

    Answers 1 to 4 above are those that seem decent to me.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020 at 12:55 AM
  10. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    Thanks for people's replies.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020 at 12:51 AM
  11. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    John 3:13 is talking about "heaven" in the normal religious sense, the place where God abides and Christian saints go. This is because He precedes this reference to "heaven" by talking about the saints reborn of Spirit entering the "Kingdom of God" and refers to this talk as about "heavenly things".
  12. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    When I asked the question about whether early Christians were divided, I thought that John 3 could be at odds with the Ascension of Isaiah. But now I see that the latter is just talking about a mental image of ascending, whereas others like Daniel had similar visions.

    So sometimes Christian writings have ideas that seem in conflict with each other but actually are not.
  13. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    Let me clarify.
    In John 3, Jesus says that you need to be born of water and Spirit to enter the Kingdom of God (heaven). In the classic Christian idea, this means that the person gets baptized with water and the Holy Spirit comes to live in the person, although the water ritual isn't totally always needed, like in the case of martyrs dying before baptism. As a result, the believers could enter the "Kingdom of Heaven", which might happen during one's life like Paul's friend who went to the Third Heaven, or after death. So my question was whether any OT saints like Melchizedek, Enoch, or Elijah became born of Spirit and entered the Kingdom.

    Jesus said that the OT-style prophet John the Baptist, who was not part of Jesus' Christian Church followers, was the greatest of those born of women. This could imply that being outside the Church, albeit in the line of the OT saints, he was not yet born of Spirit, and as a result, John was not in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    You asked about being "born of Spirit":
    Or couldn't it instead imply an emphasis in the change made within us when we go to heaven?
    In the classic Christian idea, like I said, the believer is reborn of Spirit and transformed that way and can go to Heaven that way, because Heaven is a Spirit world. Paul has a discourse about this when he writes to the Corinthians. People can be born of Spirit while they are on earth, like when people's bodies change at the Resurrection,, so being "born of Spirit" does not always mean the same thing as people changing form while they go to Heaven.

    Next, you wrote that the greatest saint ON EARTH is less than the smallest person IN HEAVEN. You seem to be contrasting holy people on our physical earth (eg. John alive in 30 AD) with people who died and went to heaven. But I think that this is not really what Jesus means, in part because apparently in ancient Christianity and in Orthodoxy there is a teaching that a person can get reborn of Spirit and join the Kingdom of Heaven while they are still alive walking on earth. See Luke 17: "nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Another reason why Jesus probably did not mean what you said is that John the Baptist was inspired like the OT saints, and while there were OT saints on whom the Spirit "rested", Christ sees being "reborn of Spirit" as a requirement for entering heaven. The Church has the idea that after Christian baptism you get reborn of Spirit. But John was not presented as among Jesus' followers or said to be "reborn". This is probably why Jesus says that John is in the category of people "born of women".

    So the issue that Jesus is talking about isn't one of contrasting the greatest of all holy people alive on earth with how people in the Afterlife who go to heaven will be greater than those alive on earth. That isn't what Jesus means, although that is probably how very many people interpret it at first glance. One more reason that Jesus probably didn't mean this is that Jesus and His best apostles were literally born of women and would be considered greater than John due to their miracle abilities and preaching of the gospel. An explanation could be that Jesus called John the Greatest born of women because Jesus and His apostles were also born, or reborn, of Spirit.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020 at 2:08 AM
  14. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    Thanks for writing.
    Some of the OT saints had Jewish "Mikveh" rituals, and the water crossings were in a sense prefigurements of baptism. But first of all, those things came after the time of Abel and Enoch. And secondly, those didn't count as the Christian baptism ritual. If those things all counted as just as good as Christian baptism, the apostles wouldn't have emphasized baptizing other Jews in their mission work.
  15. rakovsky

    rakovsky Newbie

    Eastern Orthodox
    You are getting into a helpful area for Question 2 (Does John 6:46 contradict believers having seen God the Father, like in the Ascension of Isaiah?). Your reply raises the issue of whether they saw God the Father or God in the Person of Christ. John 6 says that no one but Christ directly saw the Father, just people saw the Father in Christ. The Ascension of Isaiah narrates a debate over whether Isaiah could have seen God as he claimed, but I need to review closer whether it suggests that he saw the Father.
    The reason why I originally brought up Question 2 was because Hall sees the Ascension as in conflict with Johanine Christianity, as John's Gospel says: "Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father" (John 6:46). But now I question if the text describes Isaiah seeing the Father, because although he clearly narrates seeing the Logos and the Holy Spirit, he says there is some glory that he didn't behold.
    Here is the text:
    The Ascension of Isaiah (english translation)
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020 at 2:57 AM
  16. Carl Emerson

    Carl Emerson Well-Known Member

    New Zealand
    Forgive me but I find this a little too simplistic..

    God dwelled in a timeless heaven before anything was made.

    We have a fallen heaven in which deceptive spirits operate.

    We have a new heaven to come with the new creation.

    We have Paul being transported into a heaven.

    We have a corrupted physical heaven consisting of the expanse of the universe.

    There may be more...

    Personally I don't believe Christian Saints go to God's eternal heaven but rather a New Heaven created for us.

    They also through obedience experience the heavenly blessings of the new kingdom here on earth.

    This is a quick summary based in some cases on scant information.
  17. ArmyMatt

    ArmyMatt Regular Member Supporter

    United States
    Eastern Orthodox
    Isaiah saw the pre-Incarnate God the Son. whenever an OT Prophet would see God, that's Who he would see.