13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
In verses 13-15 Jesus answered Nicodemus’ perplexity and doubt (Jn 3:9). This section develops the Christocentric nature of the gospel.
Verse 13 explains why Jesus could speak authoritatively about heavenly things. Because of His preexistence in heaven, Christ could now speak authoritatively about the eternal state. No one else could do this. No human teacher had ever ascended to heaven and returned to tell about it. However, Christ was both eternally and personally present in both heaven and earth at the same time.
13 [and] No one has ascended to heaven
The Greek has an “and” at the beginning of this verse. Thus, this verse is an explanation for Jesus’ authoritative right to speak about “heavenly things” (3:12). No person (except one) from earth has ever been in the eternal state as a permanent possession (perfect tense). Jesus could speak as One who actually had been in heaven already.
“No one,” that is, no human being (a sweeping term), has ever gone to heaven and come back to report on what he learned up there. Heaven is a place where God dwells. There is one exception to this concept; the Son of God became the Son of Man on earth. He came down from heaven and gave us an understanding of what is there.
Jesus did not need to ascend in His humanity to know what was in heaven because He was the Son of God. He had already been there and is there as God Himself. The Son was on earth and in heaven at the same time because, as the Son of God, He has always existed. By virtue of His deity the Son is eternally in heaven with omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. At the same time, He was on earth speaking to Nicodemus in the humanity of Jesus. Augustine said, “He was born of a mother but did not quit His Father at the same time.”
If ordinary people were to become direct witnesses of things in the eternal state, this would require them to have been there already. They would have previously ascended there to witness those things and come back again. However, no one could do that without living in the eternal state before living on earth.
This passage does not refer to the idea that Jesus would ascend at some point in the future. It is true that He would ascend in the future, after His resurrection, but that is not the point in this verse. Christ was both in heaven and on earth while He spoke this to Nicodemus. When He became incarnate, He did not leave His status of being God Almighty. The person of the Son resided simultaneously in eternity and time.
but [except] He who came down from heaven,
The “but” here makes a qualification to the idea of someone coming from heaven. The Son of God becoming the Son of Man is the one grand exception to anyone having the experience of being in the eternal state. Without Him, we are left without direct testimony about eternity. The preexistent Son of God came down to earth as the Son of Man in the incarnation. Descent preceded ascent. Christ’s origin in the eternal state marks Him off from all others.
Christ is the one exception who came from eternity. He descended from heaven to step foot on earth. Because Jesus lived in eternity past, His testimony was from the omniscience of the eternal God. Eternity was Christ’s proper habitation before He became a man (Jn 6:33, 38; 13:3; 16:28; 17:5; 1 Co 15:17). By His becoming a man, He was able to communicate eternal things. He had spent eternity in heaven, so He could tell what it was about.
The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of men might become the sons of God.
Jesus had unique qualification to speak about heavenly things because He had already been in heaven in His eternal preexistent state. No ordinary human being has been a direct witness to the eternal state. Jesus was both from above and below; He was from eternity and in time. He was and is a mediator between both (1 Ti 2:5).