The Expository Files

There and Back Again

John 3:12-15

Jesus said, “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. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:12-15).

Jesus had much to say about life here on earth. Not everyone was willing to listen and hear. Jesus was also interested in instructing us about “heavenly” things beyond this earth and the life we live here. Those things are even more difficult for us to grasp at this time. Those unwilling to hear Jesus concerning earthly things will certainly be unable to grasp the significance of heavenly things, and that is a shame because the heavenly things are eternally important.

There are questions we have about God, heaven, and the realities of the spirit-realm or the "heavenly places". The mysteries of death and what will happen to us are perplexing questions.

We do not have access to everything that we might wish to know, but we do have access to some things. The information we do have, if we go to the right source, is not a guess, a philosophy, an opinion or imagination. Revelation from God, in the Bible, will provide us with more than guesswork. Of all the religions of the world, only Our Lord is one who came from heaven, went back to heaven, and is now in heaven. The hymn says, "heaven came down and glory filled my soul" and expresses the concept that we have an eyewitness who has told us of a realm which He fully knows. Notice some points made by Jesus in His statement quoted at the beginning of this article.

Jesus Has Unique Knowledge About the Spiritual Realm
Jesus asked, "Who has descended from heaven?" (3:13). Can we find such a claim in Mohammed? Buddha? -- no. But that is Jesus' claim.

There are many theories about the spirit-realm, but only Jesus has been there and came here to tell us about it. The Christian's knowledge of heaven comes from One who has been there. His knowledge is first hand (Proverbs 30:3-4) “Neither have I learned wisdom, Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know!”

Through Jesus, we can know God better than in any other way. While we can know some about Him through His creation or through His past actions, we can learn of Him even better through His Son. In fact, the only adequate way to know Him is through Jesus (John 1:17-18; 6:46,47; 13:2,3; 14:8-10; 17:5; Colossians 1:19,20; Hebrews 1:3). To know the Father, we must know Jesus. To know the Father and the Son, we must keep their commandments (1 John 2:2-6).

Jesus Alone Can Bring Spiritual Healing

Jesus uses as an example the Old Testament record of the poison and death among the rebellious Israelites. When they cried out for mercy, Moses was told by God to put a brass serpent in a pole in the middle of the camp. Whoever would look upon the serpent would live (3:14; cf.. Numbers 21:4-9).

This was not meant to be merely a short term fix just for those people. It was also meant to be an illustration of man's problem and God's solutions. When we are poisoned with sin, there is one hope for us as well. We will suffer eternal death unless we depend on the one who has been “lifted up” for us. No brass serpent this time. Instead, our hope is in the Son of God lifted up on the cross!

The Son of God became also the Son of Man as He took upon Himself a body which could be lifted up. We are encouraged to “fix our eyes” upon Him who had been lifted up for us (Hebrews 12:1,2).

Without Jesus We Will Die Forever
The poison of sin is eternally deadly (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Jesus is the only way to avoid this tragic, unending end. (John 3:18; cf. John 14:6). Though man in his arrogance may think so, sin is never a small matter. Think about the flood. Think about the cross. Whether we ask Cain or the people of Sodom or Pharaoh or King Saul or Jezebel or Judas. What one among them would advise us to be as accommodating to sin as they once were? Think about Hell. If God warns us of this awful consequence of sin, then why should we ever compromise with it (Revelation 20:10-15)?

With Jesus We Will Live Forever
Heavenly things are eternal things. The one who has left the heavenly realm and has come to this earth to tell us about it knew it would be difficult for us to accept. For this reason He brought credentials. His proof consists of His miracles, His fulfillment of many prophecies, and His resurrection from the dead. All these things are proof. We all ought to carefully consider their significance.

The hope of eternal life and the peace it brings is a wonderful thing to have! Our confidence in Jesus has not been blindly given to Him. He has earned it, and our confidence in Him brings great benefits to us.
If Jesus was raised, then we will be raised. (1 Corinthians 15) As disturbing as God's description of being lost in eternity is, how wonderful are the descriptions of heaven given to John from our friend who is there! (Revelation 21:3-5).

First, Jesus was there. Then, Jesus was here, and then was caught up to Heaven again. He went there because His work here was done, but His work there is not done. He went to prepare a place for us (John 14:3). He is interceding in our behalf right now as our High Priest. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16). He is our friend, our advocate and our mediator. Our friend can tell us the truth about heavenly things. No guesswork involved at all.

Jesus had quite a bit to say about how life ought to be lived here on earth, and about what exists in the heavenly realm as well. We had best listen carefully to His instructions about earthly living and obey Him. He gives us direction here and now, so that we can be with Him there. What He says must be very important. He came an awfully long way to say it.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 17.2; February 2010