Did Elijah Go to Heaven?

Did Elijah Go to Heaven?

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Elijah was a prophet of God in the ninth century B.C. The Bible states that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11 2 Kings 2:11And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
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). But does this contradict the testimony of John’s Gospel, which stated some 900 years after Elijah’s time that “no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man”? (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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).

How can we explain this seeming biblical discrepancy? A closer look shows that the two passages can be reconciled easily enough.

Careful study shows that three “heavens” are actually discussed in the Bible. One is God’s dwelling place—the place of His throne—and the heaven where the resurrected Jesus is today. Speaking of Christ, who is our High Priest, the Bible says, “We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1 Hebrews 8:1Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;
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). Heaven is specifically called God’s dwelling place (Deuteronomy 26:15 Deuteronomy 26:15Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel, and the land which you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land that flows with milk and honey.
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). The apostle Paul calls this heaven the “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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)—showing, as noted, that there are two others. It’s described as the “third” because, being in the spirit realm, it is beyond the other two, which are in the physical realm.

Another heaven discussed in the Bible, second in proximity to us, is what we call outer space. It is the domain of the moon, planets, comets, asteroids, sun and stars. David spoke of this when he reflected on the awesomeness of God’s creative handiwork, which he described as “Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained” (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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). Many scriptures mention “the stars of heaven” (Genesis 26:4 Genesis 26:4And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
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; Deuteronomy 1:10 Deuteronomy 1:10The LORD your God has multiplied you, and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.
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; Deuteronomy 28:62; Isaiah 13:10 Isaiah 13:10For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
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).

Yet another heaven, closest to us in proximity, is the envelope of air that surrounds our planet, consisting of oxygen and other gases. This heaven—earth’s atmosphere—is mentioned in such passages as Genesis 7:11-12 Genesis 7:11-12 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. 12 And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.
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, which describes the great flood of Noah’s day: “The windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.” The Bible also speaks of “the birds of heaven,” those that fly overhead (Job 35:11 Job 35:11Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the fowls of heaven?
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; Jeremiah 16:4 Jeremiah 16:4They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung on the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcasses shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.
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).

To determine which heaven is meant in a Bible passage, we must carefully consider the context. It was into the lower reaches of this first, closest heaven—the earth’s atmosphere—that Elijah was taken. Let’s notice the proof.

God had earlier told Elijah he was to anoint a man named Elisha as a prophet to succeed him (1 Kings 19:16 1 Kings 19:16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your room.
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). Later, as the two men walked together, Elijah said to Elisha, “What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” (2 Kings 2:9 2 Kings 2:9And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you, before I be taken away from you. And Elisha said, I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be on me.
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). This led to a discussion of God’s gifts to Elisha that would allow him to fill Elijah’s role.

“Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11 2 Kings 2:11And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
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). Elijah was now gone. The former followers and students of Elijah were now to look to Elisha as their new leader. “Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha’ ” (2 Kings 2:15 2 Kings 2:15And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah does rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
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).

Many readers assume that Elijah at that point was made immortal and taken to the heaven where God resides. This was not the case. The sons of the prophets knew otherwise. They knew the whirlwind had simply removed Elijah to another location on earth. They exclaimed to Elisha: “Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley” (2 Kings 2:16 2 Kings 2:16And they said to him, Behold now, there be with your servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray you, and seek your master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up, and cast him on some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, You shall not send.
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).

The disciples were concerned for Elijah’s safety, so they sent out a party of 50 men to search for him. The 50 searched for three days but did not find him (2 Kings 2:17 2 Kings 2:17And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not.
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).

Another passage proves conclusively that Elijah was not taken up to live in heaven. The Bible records that Elijah wrote a letter to Jehoram, the king of Judah, several years after he was removed in the whirlwind.

Notice the sequence of events recorded for us in the Bible. Elijah’s last recorded and dated act occurred during the reign of the Israelite king Ahaziah when Elijah told the king he would die for his sins (2 Kings 1:3-17 2 Kings 1:3-17 3 But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that you go to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? 4 Now therefore thus said the LORD, You shall not come down from that bed on which you are gone up, but shall surely die. And Elijah departed. 5 And when the messengers turned back to him, he said to them, Why are you now turned back? 6 And they said to him, There came a man up to meet us, and said to us, Go, turn again to the king that sent you, and say to him, Thus said the LORD, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that you send to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? therefore you shall not come down from that bed on which you are gone up, but shall surely die. 7 And he said to them, What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words? 8 And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite. 9 Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spoke to him, You man of God, the king has said, Come down. 10 And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. 11 Again also he sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, O man of God, thus has the king said, Come down quickly. 12 And Elijah answered and said to them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. 13 And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and sought him, and said to him, O man of God, I pray you, let my life, and the life of these fifty your servants, be precious in your sight. 14 Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in your sight. 15 And the angel of the LORD said to Elijah, Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him to the king. 16 And he said to him, Thus said the LORD, For as much as you have sent messengers to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word? therefore you shall not come down off that bed on which you are gone up, but shall surely die. 17 So 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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). Ahaziah’s reign lasted only about a year, ca. 850 B.C.

Elijah’s removal and replacement by Elisha is then recorded in the next chapter, 2 Kings 2. The story continues with incidents from Elisha’s life, including an encounter with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (2 Kings 3:11-14 2 Kings 3:11-14 11 But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD, that we may inquire of the LORD by him? And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. 12 And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the LORD is with him. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. 13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, What have I to do with you? get you to the prophets of your father, and to the prophets of your mother. And the king of Israel said to him, No: for the LORD has called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab. 14 And Elisha said, As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward you, nor see you.
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). Several years later Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, succeeded his father as king of Judah, ca. 845 B.C. (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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).

Jehoram proved to be a wicked king, leading the nation of Judah in rebellion against God’s commandments. A few years into Jehoram’s reign, and several years after Elijah’s removal, Jehoram received a letter from Elijah warning the king of dire consequences because of his sins. This letter is recorded in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 12 And 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, 13 But have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the prostitutions of the house of Ahab, and also have slain your brothers of your father’s house, which were better than yourself: 14 Behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite your people, and your children, and your wives, and all your goods: 15 And you shall have great sickness by disease of your bowels, until your bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.
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.

This letter proves that the prophet was still alive and on earth some years after he was removed by the whirlwind and replaced by Elisha. God had chosen Elisha to succeed Elijah as His prophet, so He bodily removed Elijah to another place, where he continued to live for at least several more years—as his letter to Jehoram demonstrates.

The Bible tells us nothing more about Elijah’s life following his writing of the letter. But he eventually died, just like the other prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament, who all died in faith, not yet receiving the eternal life God had promised (Hebrews 11:39 Hebrews 11:39And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
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).

Again, a careful reading of the Scriptures shows that Elijah’s miraculous removal by a fiery chariot involved transporting him to another location on earth, not to eternal life in heaven.

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