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The Lord and His Ascension Featured

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven (John 3:13).

No particular question was sent with this verse; the reader would like, it appears, a general discussion of the meaning of this passage. Perhaps the difficulty which requires explanation is especially the statement, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven." The Lord is obviously speaking here of Himself. But when He spoke these words to Nicodemus, He had not yet gone into heaven. How then can He speak of His ascension as an accomplished fact - hath ascended? He was still on earth.

Before we look more closely at the text, it is good that we say a few things about Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. I was told in school as a child that Nicodemus came at night because he was afraid of the Jews. That may very well be the accepted interpretation yet today.

It seems to me, however, that that can hardly be true. For one thing, this took place at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry and the opposition to Jesus had not yet manifested itself strongly-even though the Jews were angry with Jesus for cleansing the temple. For another thing, it is strange that Jesus should immediately and without saying anything further, begin to speak to Nicodemus about regeneration (vs. 3). In the third place, Jesus knew Nicodemus was coming to see him in the hollow of the night. This is evident from the fact that Jesus was waiting for him.

It all points, it seems to me, to the fact that Nicodemus had been regenerated, perhaps when he heard Jesus' words of explanation for cleansing the temple (2:19). And, having been regenerated, (although he himself did not know it) he could not sleep. The one burning question in his mind was: Is Jesus the Messiah, the One promised in the Old Testament Scriptures? He had to know. He resolved to find out.

When Jesus immediately begins to talk about regeneration, He says a very strange thing: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Without regeneration, it is impossible even to see the kingdom. Nicodemus did not understand this new birth, this second birth, this being born again.

Thus in connection with regeneration, Jesus was emphasizing heavenly things, the things of the kingdom of God (vs. 12). Without regeneration these things could not be known. And yet, at the same time, Jesus never forgot the original implied question of Nicodemus: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (vs. 2).

It seems to me, therefore, that the interpretation, adopted by many commentators, is correct, that, with the expression, "No man hath ascended up to heaven," Jesus means, "No man is able to rise to an understanding of heavenly things, which things are, after all, the things of God." Only Christ, Who came from heaven and is in heaven can know heavenly things.

This meaning which I have given the clause is suggested by other expressions in Scripture which are similar. In Is. 14:12ff, Satan himself is described as boasting, "I will ascend into heaven." He could not do this. Man cannot either.

But Christ can do this. And Christ can do this because He is "in heaven" even while He is on earth. He is the eternal Son of God Who remains in the bosom of the Father even when here upon earth among men.

Christ can do this because He came down from heaven where He remains. He came down from heaven to make known among men the things of the kingdom of heaven.

But, at the same time, the wicked are unable to receive the things of the kingdom of heaven. It takes regeneration even to "see" the kingdom. And it takes regeneration because this work is an implanting in the spiritually dead sinner of the life of heaven itself.

But that work of regeneration can be accomplished only when the Son of man, who is in heaven, comes down from heaven, and - wonder of wonders, dies on the cross! "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (vss. 14, 15).

On the cross Christ bore the sins and guilt of His people and earned for them heaven. He sends His Spirit Who is like the wind, which "bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth" (vs. 8).

That Spirit of Christ regenerates for "so is every one who is born of the Spirit (vs. 8). A man can then see the kingdom of heaven and know spiritual things. Indeed, he can "ascend up to heaven" itself where God dwells, know God as his God, and dwell in covenant fellowship with Him forever.

Christ is saying to Nicodemus, "Do you want to know whether I am the promised Messiah? Well, as a matter of fact, I am. But I am not the kind of Messiah that you dream of - a Messiah which will establish an earthly kingdom. I will (contrary to everything you think a Messiah ought to be and do) - I will die on the cross - because you are a sinner. But through that cross and the Spirit Who brings to you the power of the cross, you will be born again. Then you will see the kingdom of heaven."

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 11
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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