You have been told that Elijah went to heaven. Yet over 900 years after Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind Jesus Himself said: ”No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man” (John 3:13)!
Is this a Bible contradiction? Did Elijah really ascend to the heaven where God’s throne is even though Jesus said he didn’t? If Elijah is not in heaven today, then where did Elijah go?
There are three heavens mentioned in the Bible, not just one! And if, as Jesus said, no man, which included Elijah, had ever ascended to the heaven where He came from, then the heaven into which Elijah was taken was a different heaven! Which one was it?
The third heaven 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. Notice why!
Hebrews 8:1-5 explains that the original earthly tabernacle under the Old Covenant, with its most holy place or compartment, was 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 second heaven represents 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 “heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon, and the stars, which Thou hast ordained” (Ps. 8:3; Gen. 1:15-17).
Besides the heaven of the stars, we 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 wrote that the “heavens shall drop down dew” (see Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:28).
This first heaven, from which dew comes, means the atmosphere, where the clouds and the wind roam. Every one of us is right now breathing the air of 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? “ (II Kings 2:1, 11). The answer ought to already be quite obvious! Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” not to the heaven of God’s throne -- but into this earth’s atmosphere, the first heaven. There could be no whirlwind in any other place but in the atmosphere surrounding this earth, in the first heaven, in which the birds fly. You certainly have seen the great lifting power of a whirlwind, haven’t you?
What was the reason for this unusual act of God? Why did He take Elijah up into the atmosphere? Was it to make him immortal? No! This Scripture says no word about that! The ancient prophets, including Elijah did not receive any promise of immortality prior to or apart from us. Notice it in Hebrews 11:32 and 39: “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise!” And we shall not receive it until Jesus Christ returns (Heb. 11:40).
So Elijah was not to be made immortal for that would give him pre-eminence above Jesus. But what does the Bible reveal as the reason for his removal? II Kings 2:3, 5 has the answer.
Notice now what the sons of the prophets said to Elisha: “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. God had sent Elijah as His prophet to wicked king Ahab and to his son Ahaziah. Now God wanted Elijah to direct His work, as Ahaziah the king had died (II Kings 1:18) and a new king was ruling. So what did God 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 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 fulfill the office.
This God did do. When he was taken up, Elijah’s mantle dropped from him and Elisha picked it up, (II Kings 2:12-15). And what did the “mantle” mean?
In Clarke’s Commentary we note that it was “worn by prophets and priests as the simple insignia of their office” (Vol. 2, p. 484).
The purpose of God in removing Elijah was to replace him with another man who would occupy Elijah’s office in Israel for another 50 years. This work has 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 mantel which signified the office of Elijah to drop into the hands of Elisha. Thus God preserved the name and office of His prophets.
Having crossed Jordan near Jericho, Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind in what appeared to be a chariot and horses of fire. 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 Elijah taken up (II Kings 2:9).All this meant that Elisha was to be the leader, the new head of the sons of the prophets.
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! Yet 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 (II Kings 13:14).
The sons of the prophets who knew that their master was to be removed also knew that 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” (II 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!
Let us notice the next few years and see what further events the Bible records. The new king of Israel was another son of Ahab, Jehoram, or Joram as he is sometime called. The beginning of his reign marked the year of the removal of Elijah (II Kings 1:18 & 3:1).During this king’s reign Elisha was the recognized prophet of God (II 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 (II Kings 8:16) His name also was Jehoram. The first thing he did to establish his kingdom rule was to put his relatives to the sword lest they should claim the throne from him (II Chron. 21:4).For nearly six years he followed the ways of the nations about him and did evil in God’s sight.
Almost ten years had now expired since Elijah was taken from the people. But what do you think was about to happen? 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 II Chron. 21:12-15. In part it reads: “Because thou has not walked in the ways of thy father, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel and also has 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, it is clear that Elijah wrote it after these events had occurred, for he speaks of them as past events, and of the disease as future. Two years after the king became diseased the king died having reigned only eight short years (II Chron. 21:18-20). This proves that the letter was written about ten years after Elijah has been taken to another location by the whirlwind.
God used Elijah to convey the message because he was the prophet of God in the day of the present king’s father and the son was not going in the ways of his obedient father, Jehoshaphat.
The letter he had others deliver was recognized as his proving that he was known to be alive someplace. Just how much longer he lived, the Bible does not reveal. But in that “it is appointed unto men once to die” Elijah must have died somewhat later. See Hebrews 9:27. All human beings born of Adam, and that includes Elijah, must die for we read: “in Adam all die” (I Cor. 15:22). Elijah was a man “subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17) subject to human nature and death! 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 for nearly three thousand years 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 life at some little known location on the earth, living as every human being, before he naturally died.
The Elijah to come in our day is not the prophet Elijah who died over 2800 years ago, but one who comes “in the power and spirit of Elijah” as did John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).
The only remaining verses that puzzle people are those relative to the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus Christ. 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 this vision to no man (Matt. 17:9). A vision is not a material reality but a supernatural picture observed by the eyes.
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.
How plain the Bible is! Elijah is dead in the dust of the earth awaiting the resurrection of the just. Elijah, some years after being removed in the whirlwind, went to the grave, but will rise against to live forevermore!