English translation of several Greek phrases with which both John and Paul describe Jesus (ho ek tou ouranou katabas, John 3:13 ; ho ek tou ouranou erchomenos, John 3:31 ; ho epouranios, epouranios, 1 Cor 15:48-49 ). Although John and Paul each use the phrase for different purposes, the theological meanings they attach to it are strikingly similar.
A major point of debate among those with whom Jesus comes into contact in John's Gospel concerns Jesus' origin. The people of Jerusalem and some Pharisees know that he is from Galilee but are puzzled by his messianic actions and teachings since the Messiah (they believe) will not come from there ( John 7:26 John 7:52 ). Other Pharisees declare that they can trust Moses, but that they "don't even know where he [Jesus] comes from" ( 9:29 ). In response to this debate Jesus says time and again that he is "from above" or "from heaven" ( 3:13 ; John 6:33 John 6:41-42 John 6:50 ; 8:23 ), something John the Baptist confirms ( 3:31 ). When John the evangelist uses the phrase "man from heaven" in 3:12 and 3:31, therefore, he means to set Jesus apart from all other claimants to the privilege of direct communication with God ( 3:13 ), and especially from Moses whom many may have viewed as just such a direct link ( John 6:32 John 6:58 ). The phrase also places Jesus firmly on the side of God rather than on the side of humanity either in its limited, "earthly" capacity ( 3:31 ) or in its sinful rebellion against God ( 8:23 ).
The phrase is not only linked with Jesus, however, but also implies something about those who want to follow him. Jesus tells Nicodemus, for example, not only that he is from heaven but that those who wish to see the "kingdom of God" must be born from above by water and Spirit ( 3:5 ) because "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (v. 6). Those who wish to side with Jesus, therefore, must experience a transformation of their nature so that it is in some measure consistent with Jesus' own heavenly origins.
In one of only seven references to the kingdom of God in Paul's letters, Paul makes the same point. He tells the Corinthians that the resurrection of both Christ and believers is critical to a proper understanding of the gospel ( 1 Cor 15:42-50 ). He explains that eternal existence is qualitatively different from mortal existence and that eternal existence therefore demands a special body that all who are in Christ will obtain at the resurrection. Whereas the first man, Adam, was a man of dust, the last man, Jesus, is "from heaven" (v. 47); whereas believers now inhabit a body inherited from the man of dust, the resurrection will provide them with a heavenly body patterned after that of the resurrected Christ (v. 49). The reason that this is necessary, says Paul, is that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 50). Understanding this important teaching should cause believers to begin to bear the image of the man from heaven now (v. 49, margin) by engaging in behavior that is consistent with their eternal destiny (v. 58).
The phrase "man from heaven, " therefore, tells us something about both Christ and Christians. It reminds us that Jesus' relationship with the Father is unique and that he stands with the Father over against the rebellious world. It also reminds us, however, that those who believe in Jesus have experienced a transformation in their spiritual natures that will one day be matched by a transformation in their physical natures, and which should lead them to "stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord" ( 1 Cor 15:58 ).
Bibliography. G. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians; M. J. Harris, Raised Immortal.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Man from Heaven'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".