Q. Is Jesus the only man to have ascended into heaven?
A. It depends on what you mean by “heaven”.
The verses cited as contradicting the Bible’s claims on the first man ascending into heaven are the following:
“As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses and of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” (NASB)
– 2 Kings 2:11
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” (NASB)
– John 3:13
In the verse from 2 Kings, Elijah is described in Hebrew from the viewer’s perspective as having ascended into the shamayim or shameh meaning “sky” as in “visible arch in which the clouds move.”
But in the verse from John 3, Jesus’s statement is recorded in Greek as ascending into ouranos meaning “the abode of God, happiness, power, eternity, Heaven.”
If one keeps in mind that the discussion taking place in John chapter 3 is the famous dialogue between Jesus Christ and Nicodemus, the distinction becomes more clear. The Pharisee Nicodemus has just asked Jesus what a person has to do in order to enter the kingdom of God. In the course of explanation, Jesus uses earthly analogies to convey spiritual concepts. When Nicodemus is still stumped, Jesus responds:
“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” (NASB)
– John 3:12-13
Jesus was, of course, referring to Himself. At the time He was speaking, He alone had been in the abode of God – the throne room of Heaven – because He was without sin.
Now, those who had ascended into heaven before Jesus made that statement – namely, Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah – likely went to heaven, but not directly to the abode of Yahweh. This is because they were sinners, and the unblemished sacrifice of the Messiah had not yet been made.
After the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ took place, the Apostle Paul explained that all believers in the Savior now have access to God the Father in Heaven and “are of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:18-22).