Question: Jesus says that no one has entered into heaven, yet in the Old Testament both Enoch and Elijah are said to have gone into heaven. Has anyone besides Jesus ascended into heaven, or not?
Here are the three references for the above question:
John 3:13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.
Gen. 5:24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
2Kings 2:11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
“Heaven” is a very broad term. Depending on the context, it can mean, “sky” (Gen. 7:11); “universe” (Ps. 33:6); the “spiritual realm” where we interact with God, angels and engage in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12); and our eternal residence as followers of Jesus Christ in God’s presence (Jn. 14:2).
In addition, the apostle Paul talks of being caught up into the “third heaven”:
2Cor. 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.
The third heaven was a familiar concept in Jewish literature in NT times that referred to Paradise (2Cor. 12:4), also known as “Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). This was the realm of the righteous dead prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It would be here, the third heaven or Paradise that Jesus referred to when he said to the dying thief on the cross:
Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.
For the sake of an earthly comparison, we could call the third heaven the anteroom or waiting room of heaven proper. All those who died as faithful believers in the one true God prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ would enter into Paradise. They entered heaven proper upon Jesus’ ascension (Rev. 4:4) awaiting the day when they would receive their resurrection bodies (1Thess. 4:14-17).
Paradise is the “heaven” where Enoch and Elijah, along with all the Old Testament saints such as Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets waited until the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God. So they are in heaven awaiting the Second Coming of Christ for the resurrection of the body. And for those of us who are “in Christ” now, death takes us immediately into the presence of the Lord in heaven where we too will await the resurrection of the body at His glorious appearing:
2Cor. 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
So Jesus, our sole authority on heaven, is absolutely correct when He said that no one had gone into heaven (prior to His resurrection) other than Himself. His resurrection and ascension “parted the curtain,” so to speak, giving access to the very presence of God. Until then, God’s faithful people from the Old Testament era awaited their entrance into heaven in Paradise.