Bible Commentary: 2 Kings 2

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2 Kings 2

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Elijah's Ascension to "Heaven"

The incident in which Elijah was "taken up into heaven by a whirlwind" (verse 1) has many people convinced that we will go to heaven when we die. But John 3:13 John 3:13And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
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clearly says that "no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven," referring to Jesus Christ. Therefore, Elijah could not have gone to heaven. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

The answer lies in the fact that the Bible speaks of more than one heaven—indeed, of three. Scripture refers to the atmosphere of this earth, the sky, as "heaven" (Genesis 27:28 Genesis 27:28Therefore God give you of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:
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). It speaks of the physical universe beyond as "heaven" (Psalms 8:3 Psalms 8:3When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained;
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). And it speaks of God's dwelling place in the spirit realm as "heaven" (Revelation 4:1-3 Revelation 4:1-3 [1] After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter. [2] And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. [3] And he that sat was to look on like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like to an emerald.
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). It is from this "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2 2 Corinthians 12:2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
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), the heaven of God's throne, that Christ came—and to which no other human being has ascended (John 3:13 John 3:13And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
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Thus, Elijah did not go to the third heaven. So what happened to him? Where did he go? To help us understand, we need to know of other events that happened in Israel and Judah in the years following. Right at the time of Elijah's ascension, Jehoram became the new king of Israel—in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat of Judah and the second year of Jehoshaphat's son, whose name was also Jehoram (2 Kings 1:17 2 Kings 1:17So he died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken. And Jehoram reigned in his stead in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah; because he had no son.
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; 2 Kings 3:1 2 Kings 3:1Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years.
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)—meaning there was an overlapping father-son reign over Judah at this time. In the fifth year of the reign of Israel's Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram became king over Judah (2 Kings 8:16 2 Kings 8:16And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Je hoshaphat king of Judah began to reign.
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)—that is, sole king following the death of Jehoshaphat. It was following the death of Jehoshaphat and becoming sole ruler that Jehoram of Judah, a wicked ruler, killed all his brothers (2 Chronicles 21:1-4 2 Chronicles 21:1-4 [1] Now Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. And Jehoram his son reigned in his stead. [2] And he had brothers the sons of Jehoshaphat, Azariah, and Jehiel, and Zechariah, and Azariah, and Michael, and Shephatiah: all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. [3] And their father gave them great gifts of silver, and of gold, and of precious things, with fenced cities in Judah: but the kingdom gave he to Jehoram; because he was the firstborn. [4] Now when Jehoram was risen up to the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself, and slew all his brothers with the sword, and divers also of the princes of Israel.
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). Afterward, Jehoram of Judah received a letter from Elijah (2 Chronicles 21:12 2 Chronicles 21:12And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus said the LORD God of David your father, Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah,
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). The letter makes reference to the king's murder of his brothers (verse 13), showing that it was written after that event. And, putting the chronology together, this was more than four years after Elijah's ascension. Thus, Elijah was still alive more than four years after he was taken up by the fiery chariot in the whirlwind, living somewhere here on earth. His ascension, then, must have only been into the first heaven—the sky. And it should be clear that he did not die when he ascended. Rather, God transported him to another place on the earth where he lived out the rest of his days. The Bible doesn't say why God decided to make such a change at this point.

Elisha Succeeds Elijah

Elisha became Elijah's successor, symbolized by the passing of the mantle (2 Kings 2:13-14 2 Kings 2:13-14 [13] He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; [14] And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted here and thither: and Elisha went over.
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) and confirmed by the "double portion" of the power that God gave him through His Spirit, enabling him to perform mighty miracles, such as healing poisonous waters (verses 19-22.) It should be noted that the concept of a "double portion" in Scripture normally denoted a birthright inheritance of the firstborn son in a family. In that usage, it did not mean twice as much as the father had but, rather, twice as much as the other sons received from the father. It appears that Elisha's request was similar. If this is the case, then Elisha, understanding that the portion of spiritual power that Elijah had from God would be divided out to the sons of the prophets, was asking for twice as much as what they would receive rather than twice as much as what Elijah had. In any case, this was not a selfish request. Elisha had already been anointed to succeed Elijah—and he knew that he would need more of God's help than anyone if he were to remotely fill Elijah's shoes.

The account ends with Elisha departing and being mocked by a sizable group of young people. The Hebrew here can mean children, teenagers or young adults in their early 20s. Judging by Elisha's response they were certainly old enough to know better and to be held accountable for their actions, implying they likely were teens or young adults. Their taunt, in modern parlance, would essentially be, "Go up in the air, baldy!" Thus, they mocked his report of Elijah's ascension, and they made fun of him for his baldness. Elisha cursed them for their disbelief and flagrant disrespect for God's prophet—actually disrespect for God—and God backed up Elisha by sending the bears. Note that it does not say the youths who suffered attack were killed—just that they were "mauled" by the bears (verse 24), the Hebrew here allowing for a wide range of injury.

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