The account of Elijah being taken up into heaven is here:

11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. (2 Kings 2: 11-12 ESV)

Jesus – the first from the dead

The question here is usually asked in the context of other Bible teaching which clearly teaches that the dead sleep in the dust till the return of Christ to the earth and the resurrection and judgement of the dead. In particular the idea that Elijah is alive in heaven contradicts Jesus’ own statement to Nicodemus that “no man has ascended to heaven” (John 3:13), and the final two verses of the roll-call 0f the faithful in Hebrews 11:39-40, which (although it does not mention Elijah, by name, as it includes Enoch by name) mentions “David and Samuel and the prophets” in verse 33, including the prophets in the final statement:

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40). 

This then is the final word on Enoch and Elijah. But even without this, Jesus could not be “the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:3), the “firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29), or “first born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18 & Revelation 1:5)

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

Does the Hebrew text really say into actual heaven?

It is well known that Hebrew uses the same words for sky and heaven, as many languages do. An additional point (well made in a Russian Orthodox church article against Enoch and Elijah having ascended in heaven, 1) is that in the Jewish Greek translation of the Old Testament which was used by the original recipients of the Greek New Testament, the text in 2 Kings 2:11 clearly says “as if into heaven”, which is a valid reading of the Hebrew text. This underlines that Jews at Christ’s time did not read the Hebrew as meaning that Elijah was in heaven. Nor did the early Greek church fathers (again see the Russian Orthodox church article in footnotes).

So where exactly did God take Elijah?

So if Elijah did not go to heaven, where did he go. The Bible of course does not say, other than Elisha’s disciples searched the local area to see if he had been put down somewhere, and did not find him. There are two schools of thought on this. The first is that it is a case like Moses where angels took Moses and buried him, in an unknown grave. The second is the solution commonly suggested by both Jewish and Christian commentators for Enoch – that he was transported to a place, elsewhere on earth, for safe retirement. The second suggestion is preferable. Elijah, though ready to retire, was still apparently a healthy man, not worn out and near death like Moses. It does not make much sense for God to shorten his life for no reason.

Elijah’s posthumous letter to King Jehoram

A related question to what happened to Elijah concerns the jarring appearance of a letter from Elijah to king Jehoram after his ascent in the chariot. The sequence is fairly clear to follow and if sequential, makes it evident that letter came long after Elijah’s disappearance.

1. Jehoram is anointed king of Judah (2 Kings 1:17), ruling together with his father Jehoshaphat for the final 5 years of his father’s reign.

2. Elijah ascends to heaven in a chariot (2 Kings 2)

3. Jehoshaphat, following the advice of Elisha, allies with the king of Israel in battle against Moab (2 Kings 3).

4. Jehoshaphat dies, leaving Jehoram to rule Judah alone (2 Chronicles 21:1).

5. Jehoram murders his brothers (2 Chronicles 21:4) and builds pagan high places in Judah (21:11).

6. Jehoram receives a letter from Elijah that details his judgment (2 Chronicles 21:12–15).

It seems that account is in sequence, since there is nothing except the appearance of the letter to suggest otherwise. However the fact that it came as a letter, also shows that Elijah was not physically active or his whereabouts known. There is also the possibility is that Elijah wrote the letter to Jehoram before his departure to heaven and entrusted it Elisha knowing that Jehoram would turn bad after the death of his father. So in itself this letter does not provide strong proof that Elijah was elsewhere in retirement but keeping an eye on Judah.

1. Russian Orthodox answer: DID ENOCH AND ELIJAH (ELIAS) ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?  by Rev, Peter Mikhalev, translated J. Dominick 2017

Tagged with →  
Share →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *