* Some manuscripts add who lives in heaven. “Son of Man” is a title Jesus used for himself.
* Some manuscripts add who is in heaven
Our Lord Jesus, and he alone, was fit to reveal to us a doctrine thus certain, thus sublime: No man hath ascended up into heaven but he, v. 13.
Secondly, Jesus Christ is able, and fit, and every way qualified, to reveal the will of God to us; for it is he that came down from heaven and is in heaven. He had said (v. 12), How shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? Now here, 1. He gives them an instance of those heavenly things which he could tell them of, when he tells them of one that came down from heaven, and yet is the Son of man; is the Son of man, and yet is in heaven. If the regeneration of the soul of man is such a mystery, what then is the incarnation of the Son of God? These are divine and heavenly things indeed. We have here an intimation of Christ's two distinct natures in one person: his divine nature, in which he came down from heaven; his human nature, in which he is the Son of man; and that union of those two, in that while he is the Son of man yet he is in heaven. 2. He gives them a proof of his ability to speak to them heavenly things, and to lead them into the arcana of the kingdom of heaven, by telling them, (1.) That he came down from heaven. The intercourse settled between God and man began above; the first motion towards it did not arise from this earth, but came down from heaven. We love him, and send to him, because he first loved us, and sent to us. Now this intimates, [1.] Christ's divine nature. He that came down from heaven is certainly more than a mere man; he is the Lord from heaven, 1 Cor. xv. 47. [2.] His intimate acquaintance with the divine counsels; for, coming from the court of heaven, he had been from eternity conversant with them. [3.] The manifestation of God. Under the Old Testament God's favours to his people are expressed by his hearing from heaven (2 Chron. vii. 14), looking from heaven (Ps. lxxx. 14), speaking from heaven (Neh. ix. 13), sending from heaven, Ps. lvii. 3. But the New Testament shows us God coming down from heaven, to teach and save us. That he thus descended is an admirable mystery, for the Godhead cannot change places, nor did he bring his body from heaven; but that he thus condescended for our redemption is a more admirable mercy; herein he commended his love. (2.) That he is the Son of man, that Son of man spoken of by Daniel (vii. 13), by which the Jews always understand to be meant the Messiah. Christ, in calling himself the Son of man, shows that he is the second Adam, for the first Adam was the father of man. And of all the Old-Testament titles of the Messiah he chose to make use of this, because it was most expressive of his humility, and most agreeable to his present state of humiliation. (3.) That he is in heaven. Now at this time, when he is talking with Nicodemus on earth, yet, as God, he is in heaven. The Son of man, as such, was not in heaven till his ascension; but he that was the Son of man was now, by his divine nature, every where present, and particularly in heaven. Thus the Lord of glory, as such, could not be crucified, nor could God, as such, shed his blood; yet that person who was the Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. ii. 8), and God purchased the church with his own blood, Acts xx. 28. So close is the union of the two natures in one person that there is a communication of properties. He doth not say hos esti. God is the ho on to ourano—he that is, and heaven is the habitation of his holiness.
Calvin also emphasizes the divine nature -- there is no other way to heaven but through Christ. He also deals with the question of Christ being in heaven and on earth at the same time, and, apparently, believed that He was in both places (?) at once.
My reaction, based on the commentaries, and the context, is that Jesus wasn't dealing directly with the question of who is in heaven now, but, rather, with His nature as Lord and Redeemer, which were the roles that Nicodemus really needed, whether he knew it or not.
OK. What about Elijah? I did a search for this sequence of words (not a phrase search): "Do we go straight to heaven when we die?" I have looked at the first ten responses from that search, and am using them, and, in some cases, from documents that the first group were linked to, in the following discussion.
Do Believers Go Straight to Heaven?
My first answer is that we don't know this for sure. There is disagreement among believers. However, we don't need all the answers. If we can trust Christ to save us, then we ought to be able to trust Him to take care of us, and our departed loved ones, after death, and put us into God's presence for eternity, and we don't need to know whether this will take place instantaneously, or as the result of a process, or will take place only after the creation, as a whole, is redeemed. We also don't need to know whether we will be conscious or not, if we don't enter God's presence immediately. If I am not conscious after death for, say, 100,000 years, and am then raised, and placed in the presence of God, I suppose that this would be little or no different from entering in to heaven immediately upon death, as far as my experience would be concerned.
There is scripture on the subject. I don't believe that it is conclusive, but it seems most likely that it means that believers won't go straight to heaven upon death. (I doubt that that is the belief of most North Americans, or the belief of most believers!)
Probably the most commonly quoted scripture, on this subject, is the statement of Jesus, to the thief on the cross, that that thief would be with Jesus, in Paradise, today. It is possible, I guess, that Jesus meant something like "you are going to die. When you become conscious again, after a long time, you will be with me in heaven," but didn't have the right circumstances to say all that, in such a way that the thief, who must have been in agony, could understand it. But I take it that what Jesus said was meant to be taken literally, or as literally as is possible for us to understand. The Greek word, here translated "paradise," is only used three times in the New Testament. The other two times are 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7. If you follow the link in the previous sentence, the reference gives five meanings for the word, paradeisos. Here are the most pertinent of these meanings:
Note that paradeisos would probably not have meant "heaven" to the thief on the cross. Note also, however, that not everyone accepts the distinction between the two.
For more on Paradise, see this Wikipedia article (The Wikipedia is not, of course, divinely inspired, but it usually is a good resource for finding out what we think about a topic. Usually, important competing views are given.) My sense of the word, paradise, is that the thief would probably have understood that Jesus was telling him that he would go to a place reserved for those who had found favor with God, and that Jesus would be there, too.
There is another word for heaven in the Greek New Testament. "Heaven" occurs in the King James Version over 200 times. I didn't check them all, but it appears that it is always the English translation of ouranos. Jesus used that word when talking to Nicodemus in John 3:13. He used it three times in that verse.
So, one answer to the original question is simply that no one except Jesus, including Elijah, had really entered into heaven at the time when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus. Elijah, and others, had gone to paradise instead.
What do other thinkers say on this question? N. T. Wright, one of the most important theologians of today, and one who takes the Bible very seriously, believes that there will be a final resurrection, which will make a new heaven, and that Christians will not enter heaven until that event takes place. The article on Wright's belief quotes him using John 3:13 as part of his biblical evidence. (There are other parts.) Wright says, and I checked, that Martin Luther and William Tyndale, among others, did not believe that Christians go immediately to heaven.
If I die, redeemed through the blood of Christ, what will happen to me? I'm not sure. Perhaps I'll go straight to heaven. Perhaps I'll go to an intermediate "place" while heaven is prepared. Perhaps I won't know anything until the final resurrection. These questions, of course are insignificant, beside the question of whether or not I have had the sin in my life paid for by the death and resurrection of Christ.
Thanks for reading. Be ready.