I enjoyed reading your article on Elijah. One thing, though …in the Scriptures heaven is also used as the air we breathe. That is, it is used to represent the air in our immediate vicinity, such as where the birds fly. Why couldn’t Elijah have been taken away to another place where he was not found? I think he could have been. It would not prevent his return if God desired it.
You raise an interesting point. We would surely like to know more than the Bible tells us.
You say “Heaven is also used as the air we breathe, where the birds fly.” Yes, heaven, as used in the Scriptures, sometimes does refer to the atmosphere surrounding our earth. Genesis 7:23 and Psalms 79:2, for example, mention “fowls of the heaven.” In Genesis 8:2 is mentioned “rain from heaven.” But this is only one of several “heavens” mentioned in the Scriptures. Solomon recognized many heavens when he spoke of “the heaven” and “the heaven of heavens.” He said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6). Paul said that he knew a man who was “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2). These passages seem to indicate there are different realms or levels of heavens.
In this sense, heaven refers to any region above the earth. Elijah was not necessarily taken to the heaven where Christ is now. Isn’t it possible that he may have been taken to another planet that is perhaps in a stage of development similar to our own?
We read that Elijah was taken to another place where he could not be found. Is it possible that God could have taken Elijah up into the air and transported him to another place on earth where he could not be found? According to the Scriptures this was not the case. Let us look at the event closely.
The Lord commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha to take his place. So Elijah found Elisha plowing with a yoke of oxen. He went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha’s decision was final; he killed his yoke of oxen and used the plowing equipment to cook the oxen, which he gave to the people and left to follow Elijah (1 Kings 19:16, 19, 21).
Then the Bible author, telling what is going to happen, says that the time came “when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind…” (2 Kings 2:1 ). Several recent translations, including the NIV, NRSV and NLT, read that he was to be taken “up to heaven.” There is no indication that Elijah was transported to some other place on earth.
When Elijah and Elisha came to Bethel, a company of the prophets came out and asked Elisha, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it” (2 Kings 2:3 NIV). They went on to Jericho where Elisha was told the same thing again. The two prophets then left for Jordan while fifty of the prophets followed them to the Jordan to watch. Elijah smote the water with his cloak, the waters parted and they went across on dry land (2 Kings 2:5-8). “And 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” (2 Kings 2:11).
What was the “chariot of fire” that appeared? The Psalmist informs us that “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels” (Ps. 68:17).
There is still no evidence that Elijah was taken any other place than “into heaven.”
Elisha then took the mantel that Elijah had dropped and smote the waters of Jordan. The waters divided and he crossed back over. Then we read that the prophets which went to watch at Jordan approached Elisha and asked that fifty strong men go and search for Elijah lest the Spirit of the Lord had taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley. Elisha denied them permission to go. “But they persisted until he was too ashamed to refuse any longer. So he said, ‘Send them.’ And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, Didn’t I tell you not to go?” (2 Kings 2:17-18, NIV). It seems very evident that Elisha knew that Elijah had. been taken to heaven, not transported to another place on earth: “Didn’t I tell you not to go,” he said?
If we say that Elijah was not taken into heaven, then we must recognize that either Elisha was misinformed as to where Elijah was taken or that he was deceiving the other prophets. Such a position would contradict Scripture, therefore we believe Elijah was taken up into heaven, to some other world in God’s great realm, where God has sustained his life to the present time.
Yes, Elijah could have gone to some remote place in a valley or mountain if God so desired, and returned. He could go into hiding easily enough, and with God’s help, remain alive and well even during the severest of times (1 Kings 17, 18–19). But why contradict Scripture?
Another point to consider is the letter from Elijah which we read about in 2 Chron. 21:12-15. Some feel that the location of this passage in Scripture proves that Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind and deposited in some other place. The idea is put forth that the letter, or writing, to king Jehoram must have been written about 8 to l0 years after Elijah went up in a whirlwind. It is claimed that the letter was recognized as his and therefore he must have been alive on earth at that time.
But is this the case? Elijah was a prophet in Israel while Jehoram was a king in Judah. The fact that the writing mentioned the wicked deeds of the kings of Israel and predicted the death of Jehoram of Israel is not positive proof that Elijah wrote it at a certain time. Further, we cannot be absolutely sure that these events occurred in the chronological order that is generally assumed. Many people tend to think of the Bible as being written in chronological order, but all parts are not chronological. In any event the Bible states that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” It does not say that he was taken to another location on this earth. That is only human interpretation and does not alter the facts. If we cannot trust God to give us the facts of the case, how do we know that anything in the Bible is true?
While the exact timing of the reigns of the kings of both Israel and Judah is difficult to determine, as well as the time of Elijah’s ascension and the writing of the letter, please note the following:
According to 1 Kings 22:51, “Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel.” According to A Reconstruction of the Chronology of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah by Edwin R. Thiele, Ahaziah reigned 853-852 B.C. At the same time or slightly before, during the latter part of 854 B.C., Jehoram (son of Jehoshaphat) began to reign as co-regent with his father in Judah. He reigned for 5 years as co-regent and 8 years as sole ruler, or until 841 B.C.
Now we know from 2 Kings 1 that Elijah, after destroying the two captains and the one hundred soldiers that King Ahaziah of Israel sent to arrest him, eventually went to the king and told him that he would surely die. This, according to the above chronology, would have been in 825 B.C.
At this time Jehoram was reigning as co-regent with his father, Jehoshaphat, in Judah. Five years later his father died and Jehoram assumed the throne on his own. His reign ended in 841 B.C.
According to this timeline, Elijah would have been on earth and active during the reign of Ahaziah in 852.
We have no way of knowing exactly when Jehoram of Judah received the writing from Elijah. We also have no exact date for the ascension of Elijah to heaven.
Albert Barnes in his notes on 2 Kings 2, has this to say, “The events of this chapter are related out of their chronological order. Elijah’s translation did not take place till after the accession of Jehoram in Judah, which was not till the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel. The writer of Kings having concluded his notices of the ministry of Elijah in chapter one and being about to pass in chapter three to the ministry of Elisha, thought it best to insert at this point the final scene of Elijah’s life, though it did not occur till several years later.”
If this is correct, it would seem that Elijah was on earth long enough to observe the wickedness of Jehoram of Judah before he was taken to heaven. And king Jehoram could have received the writing either before Elijah’s ascension or after. (Remember that there was no air mail service in those days.) In any event, it is a mistake to discredit the Biblical account when we are not told the exact dates of these occurrences. To say that Elijah was taken over the next mountain or deposited in some out-of-the-way place there to live out his remaining life and die is entirely human conjecture. We prefer to believe the Biblical account, that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into the heaven,” a phenomenon witnessed by Elisha and possibly 50 of the sons of the prophets.
But suppose Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind prior to the reign of Jehoram. It would be no stretch of God’s power to inform one of His prophets what a king would do ten or more years before he did it, to have the prophet write it, and have the writing kept, perhaps in the school of the prophets or left in the hands of Elisha, and relayed to King Jehoram at the appropriate time.
Another thought: if Elijah had stayed on the earth and died as other men, what need for the spectacular intervention of the Lord to take him to another place on earth? Elijah was quite able to go to another place on his own power. Also, it was common knowledge among the sons of the prophets and Elisha that the Lord was going to take Elijah away. In fact, Elijah’s ascension seems to have been more widely known and witnessed than that of Christ’s.
One last thought: notice the distinction between Elijah (Greek Elias) and the other prophets in Luke. “Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life” (Luke 9:7-8 NIV). Elijah was said to have “appeared,” a term indicating that he was not thought of as being dead, while John may have been raised from the dead or one of the prophets from long ago may have risen again.