You HAVE been told that Elijah went to heaven.
What, then, did Jesus mean when He said in John 3:13: "And no man bath ascended up to Heaven, but he that came down from heaven"? Is this a Bible contradiction, or did Elijah really ascend to the heaven where God's throne is?
From Jesus' own statement we have the absolute proof that no man has ascended to the heaven of the Father's throne, except Jesus who came down from heaven (John 6:38) and who is at the right hand of the Father in heaven now (Hebrews 8:1).
Then where did Elijah go?
The Meanings of Heaven There are several heavens mentioned in the Bible, not just one! And if, as Jesus said, no man, which included Elijah, had ever ascended to heaven, then the heaven into which Elijah was taken was a different heaven! Which one was it?
There is the heaven of God's throne, where Jesus is today. Jesus, being the High Priest of God, is the only One who has the right to be in that heaven with the Father. Hebrews 8:1-5 explains the original earthly tabernacle under the Old Covenant with its most holy place, or compartment — the type of the throne of God in heaven. Only the high priest — type of Christ as High Priest now, was allowed to enter.
The word "heaven" also means the expanse of this great universe — the space where we find the sun, moon, stars, comets and planets. How often do we find the Psalmist admiring the the work of thy fingers, the moon, and the stars, which thou hast ordained." Psalms 8:3; Genesis 1:15-17.
Besides the heaven of the stars, we also find that the atmosphere, the air that surrounds this world, is also called heaven. Birds fly in the midst of heaven — certainly not God's throne in heaven — for we read in Genesis 1:20 of "fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." In blessing Jacob, Isaac said: "God give thee of the dew of heaven" and Moses joyed that the heavens shall drop down dew." See Gen. 27:28, Deut. 33:28.
Here heaven can mean only the atmosphere where the clouds and the wind roam. Everyone of us is right now breathing the air of heaven!
Which Heaven? Since Elijah could not have gone to the heaven of God's throne, then to which heaven did he go? For the Scripture reads "and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:1, 11).
The answer ought already be quite obvious; for he "went up by a whirlwind into heaven." There could be no whirlwind in any other place but in the atmosphere surrounding this earth — in the heavens in which the birds fly. You certainly have all seen the great lifting power of a whirlwind, haven't you? If great timbers can be flung into the air, it would not be any great feat for the Ever-Living who planned to take Elijah up by such means!
Why Taken Up? There was a reason for this unusual act of God. Why did he take Elijah up into the atmosphere? Was it to make him immortal? No, the Scripture says no word about that. The ancient prophets did not receive any promise of immortality prior to or apart from us. And we shall receive it when Christ returns (Heb. 11:39, 40).
If Elijah were not made immortal — for that would give him pre-eminence above Jesus — what does the Bible say? What men presume matters nothing.
In 2 Kings 2:3 and 5 the answer is plainly recorded. "Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?" Or, as the Smith and Goodspeed translation has it, "Do you know that today the Lord is about to take away your master from being your leader?"
Christ is the head of the church today as Elijah was the head or leader of the sons or disciples of the prophets in that day. But God wanted Elisha to direct his work as Ahaziah the King had died (2 Kings 1:18).
So what did He do?
He could not allow Elijah to be among the people with Elisha directing the work now. That would have been the same as disqualifying him! Since Elijah was not to die just yet, and since God never takes an office from a man when that man has been performing his duty well, the only thing God could do would have been to remove Elijah so that another would have to fulfill the office as prophet of the Eternal.
This God did do. When taken up, Elijah's mantle dropped from him and Elisha picked it up. See the twelfth to the fifteenth verses of 2 Kings 2.
And what did the "mantle" mean?
In Clark's Commentary we note that it was "worn by prophets and priests as the simple insignia of their office." Vol. 2, page 484.
The purpose of God in removing Elijah was to replace him with another man who would carry on the work of Israel for another fifty years. This work had to start under a new king for Ahaziah had just died. And Elijah was already aging. So as not to disqualify Elijah in the sight of the people, God took him away from the sons of the prophets and the people, allowing the mantle which signified the office of Elijah to drop into the hands of Elisha. Thus God preserved the name and office of His prophet from the possible slurs of the king.
How Taken Up? Having crossed Jordan near Jericho, Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind in what appeared to be a chariot and horses of fire — signifying the ever — present power of God and angels in action. The violent motion of the wind pulled the mantle off the prophet as he was seen to ascend into the sky. You probably remember reading the promise of Elijah that Elisha would have a double portion of the Spirit of God if he would be allowed by God to see him taken up. All this meant that Elisha was to be the leader, the new head of the sons of the prophets, just as a double portion was the right of the first born (2 Kings 2:9).
Having ascended into the air, Elijah was borne away out of the sight of the new leader — beyond the horizon. But —
Where Did Elijah Go? This has been the perplexing problem to so many!
He did not ascend to the throne of God. Jesus said so! He couldn't remain in the air forever.
And God did not say that Elijah was to die at that time. If he were, Elisha could have assumed his new office without the removal of Elijah, for we know that Elisha died in office after fulfilling his duty. (2 Kings 13:14.)
The sons of the prophets who knew that their master was to be removed also knew Elijah was not to die then. That is why they were fearful that the Spirit of God might have allowed him to drop "upon some mountain, or into some valley" (2 Kings 2:16). Elisha knew that God would preserve Elijah from falling, but at their insistence he permitted men to go in search for him — to no avail.
Elijah was gone!
And where to? Certainly the whirlwind used by God could not take him beyond the earth's atmosphere. Neither does the Bible account leave Elijah in the air!
The Answer Unfolds Let us skip over a few years and see what further events the Scripture records. The son of Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram, or Joram as he is variously called, began to reign about 896 B.C. This was the year of the removal of Elijah (2 Kings 1:18 and 3:1). During this king's reign Elisha was the recognized prophet of God (2 Kings 3:11). In the fifth year of Joram, king of Israel, the son of the king of Judah began to reign along with his father in Judah (2 Kings 8:16). His name also was Jehoram. This first act he did to establish his kingdom rule was to put his relatives to the sword lest they should claim the throne from him (2 Chronicles 21:4). After that he followed the human ways of the nations about him and did evil in God's sight. Then Edomites bolted his rule.
Ten years had now expired since Elijah war taken from the people. But what do you think was about to happen?
A Letter Comes from Elijah! Yes, after this wicked rule by the Jewish king, God chose Elijah to write a letter and have it sent to the king!
The contents of the letter are found in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15. In part it read: "Because thou hart not walked in the ways of... thy father... but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel ... and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father's house, which were better than thyself... thou shalt have great sickness by disease."
From the wording of the letter, Elijah wrote it after these events had occurred, for he speaks of them as past events, and of the disease as future.
And this was ten years after Elijah had been taken to another location by the whirlwind.
That God should have used him to convey the message is very reasonable, for he was the prophet of Cod in the days of the present king's father — and the son was not going in the ways of his obedient parent Jehosophat.
What All This Means Folding up human ideas and laying them forever aside, we can see from these events recorded in Scripture that God allowed Elijah the prophet to live about ten more years on this earth after his removal as head of the prophets. The Scripture implies that almost no one knew where he was during this time. To be living these years, God must have placed him again upon the earth where few if any others knew of his presence, or at least they did not reveal it. Elijah was still a human being the same as always, but removed from his own people.
The letter he had others deliver was known to be his — implying that he was considered to be alive some place. Just how much longer he lived, the Bible does not mention. But in that it is appointed unto men once to die — Elijah must have died somewhat later. See Hebrews 9:27. The prophet, being mortal flesh as we are, could not have lived much beyond his seventy years.
To suppose that God gave him the power of an endless life of nearly three thousand years already is to read into the Bible what is not there! He was mortal, subject to death, and after being lifted into the atmospheric heavens, spent the remaining years of his separate life at some other location on the earth, living as every human being, before he naturally died.
Elijah on the Mount The only remaining texts that puzzle people are those relative to the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. The record of the event is found in Matthew 17:1-9: Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36. Leaving the mountain, Jesus told his disciples: "Tell the vision to no man" (Mt. 17:9).
A vision is not a reality but a picture in the mind put there supernaturally, in this case, by God. Moses died, and was buried (Deut. 34:5-6). Both he and Elijah were still dead in their graves, but in vision both they and Jesus were seen in the glory of the resurrection — an event to which Moses and Elijah have not yet attained (Heb. 11:39). The vision was granted the disciples after Jesus had spoken of the glory of immortality in the coming kingdom.
After all these Scriptures have been studied, what is the conclusion? That Elijah is dead in the dust of the earth awaiting, as are all the holy men of old, the resurrection of the just. Elijah, some years after being removed in the whirlwind, went to the grave, but he will rise again, this time to live forevermore.
Coming next issue — "Where Is Enoch?"