Undoubtedly, most Christians believe that Elijah had ascended into heaven where God's throne is. However, a careful examination of the entire Bible appears not to support this view. To better understand this paper, I recommend that the readers also read my other article “Will Jesus establish his kingdom on the earth or in heaven?” published on Ghanaweb at http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/religion/artikel.php?ID=302451&comment=10237783#com on 5 March 2014. In that article, I concluded that the Bible specifically states that:
• God has given the earth to humans but the heavens belong to him;
• God originally intended to given the Garden of Eden as a permanent home to man but the fall of man caused God to suspend this plan; and
• God is going to complete the original plan as Jesus will establish his kingdom on the earth for 1,000 years and not in heaven.
Further to the above conclusion, I wish to discuss whether Elijah has ascended to heaven despite that God has not given the heaven to humans.
No One has ever been to heaven
• Jesus stated in John 3:13 that no man has ever ascended up to heaven. Proverbs 30:4 also contain a similar statement.
• John 1:18, 6:46 and I John 4:12 state no one has ever seen God except Jesus; and
• Paul stated in 1Timothy 6:16 that God dwells in unapproachable light, and no one has ever seen or can see him.
Without doubt, the above passages directly contradict with the view that Elijah ascended into heaven. If Elijah ascended up into heaven, why did Jesus who came from heaven make such an unqualified statement? Finding the answer to this question is what this paper is about.
Different levels of heavens
Surprisingly, the Bible identifies three different levels of heavens, but many Christians are not aware of that:
The first heaven is considered as any place above the ground including where the birds and the aeroplanes fly. In Gen 1:20, God said, “… let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” In other words, God referred to the sky where the birds fly as heaven. Further, according to 2 Samuel 18:9, when Absalom's head got caught in an oak tree as he was leading a revolt against his father, David; Absalom was said to be “hanging between heaven and earth.” Obviously, the writer was not referring to the heaven where God lives, but the sky. Similarly, in Amos 9:1-3, the terms “heaven” and “the top of Mount Carmel” are used interchangeably, as where people will flee to at the time of judgement. Also, it is this heaven that rain (dew) comes from according to Deuteronomy 33:28, Gen 8:2, 27:28, Daniel 4:15; 5:21, Rev 11:6 and Amos 9:6.
The second heaven is the part of universe, where the stars, comets, moons and planets are. David stated in Psalm 8:3-4, when I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them. Clearly, David used the term 'heavens' and 'the moon and the stars' interchangeably. See also Genesis 15:5; 22:17; Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3; Jeremiah 8:2.
The third heaven, several passages such as Psalms 103:19 state that 'The LORD has established his throne in heaven…', however, it is Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 that clearly differentiate this heaven from the two levels of heaven described above. Paul stated “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven ... paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell”. Sure, Paul refers to God's residence as the third heaven (paradise). This third heaven or paradise is the place where God's throne exists and where Jesus came from.
Despite Jesus' own unqualified statement that no one has [ever] ascended into the [third] heaven, most Christians still believe that Elijah had gone into the 3rd heaven, where God resides. Since this view appears to conflict with what Jesus said it is important to investigate further, what actually occurred with Elijah.
Why Elijah has not gone to the throne of God
According to 2nd Kings 2:3-5, before Elijah's went into heaven, some group (sons) of prophets at Bethel and Jericho on two different occasions asked Elisha, the servant of Elijah whether he knew that Elijah would be taken from him on that day?” He responded that he knew. The point here is that Elijah, Elisha and these prophets all knew in advance that Elijah would be taken to heaven. Yet, these sons of prophets did not believe that Elijah was being taken into heaven but to another location because after Elijah had departed, the sons of prophets requested Elisha to send 50 men to look for Elijah as they feared that the Spirit of God might have dropped him "upon some mountain, or into some valley" (2 Kings 2:16). Despite Elisha believed that God would protect Elijah, he still reluctantly agreed to the request and for three days these people searched the mountains and the valley but did not find Elijah. Why did the sons of prophets know in advance that Elijah would be taken up but did not believe that Elijah was going to heaven but would be dropped upon some mountain or so? The answer to this is given in 1 Kings 18 as discussed below.
Elijah ministry occurred predominantly during the reign of King Ahab. When Ahab married Jezebel, Jezebel became the authority behind the throne. And as a result of Jezebel's influence, the Baal worship received a royal support and flourished in Israel. However, Elijah and other prophets condemned the practice and this led to a serious confrontation between the royals and the prophets, with many of the prophets killed. However, God always protected Elijah and in some cases, he had to go into hiding. It was in the course of this situation that Elijah prophesied that it would not rain in Israel for about three years. At the end of this period, God asked Elijah to show himself to Ahab before rain would come again. Elijah met Obadiah the chief administrator of Ahab on his way and Obadiah recognised Elijah. Elijah asked Obadiah to inform Ahab to come and meet him (Elijah). Now, read carefully the response of Obadiah from verses 9 to 12 of 1 Kings 18:
“What have I done wrong,” asked Obadiah, “that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? 10As surely as the LORD your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. 11 But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' 12 I don't know where the Spirit of the LORD may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me…”
Suffice to state that Elijah assured Obadiah that he would surely show himself to Ahab and as a result, Ahab went to meet him. It appears obvious from what Obadiah stated that the Spirit of God had carried Elijah away before. Therefore, it seems that whenever Elijah was in an immediate danger, he was whisked away by the Spirit of God from one place to the other. It appears this was the basis that in 2 Kings 2, the sons of the prophets and Elisha knew in advance that the Spirit of God would take Elijah away and yet, believed that Elijah only would be transported to somewhere else and not to the third heaven. This clearly demonstrates that Elijah might not have been taken into the third heaven as some people assume. In fact, according to Acts 8:26-28, 39-40, Philip was transported physically in the air for about 30 miles from a place near Jerusalem to the city of Azotus. Similarly, the spirit is said to have taken Ezekiel away (Ezekiel 3:12, 8:3, 11:24). However, it appears Elijah might not have been found because he was transported further away than where the fifty men searched for him (2 Kings 2:17). And it was also the will of God to let him disappear from the public eye. It appears therefore clear from the information above that Elijah was only transported within the first heaven and placed somewhere else on this very earth.
Elijah after his disappearance delivered a letter to King Jehoram
Another vital proof that Elijah did not ascend up to the throne of God but was transported from one place of the earth to another relates to a letter that King Jehoram of Judah received from Elijah several years after Elijah had been taken away; the contents of the letter are found in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15, as reproduced below:
Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said:
“This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: 'You have not followed the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah. 13 But you have followed the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your own family, men who were better than you. 14 So now the LORD is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. 15 You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out.”
First, it is generally accepted that Elijah ascension occurred during the reign of King Ahaziah of Israel, the son of Ahab, who ruled about two years between 911 B.C. and 910 B.C. However, the throne of King Jehoram of Judah, who received the letter did not start until 5 years into the next King of Israel after Ahaziah, King Joram, whose reign begun in 910 B.C. (see 2 kings 8:16-17, 2 Kings 3:1). It is clear that King Jehoram of Judah begun his throne sometime in 905 B.C. Therefore, he received the letter from Elijah more than five years after Elijah had been taken away. Clearly, this indicates that Elijah did not ascend into the 3rd heaven or paradise, otherwise, he could not have written the letter. However, as summarised below from the Wikipedia encyclopaedia, some have raised concerns about whether Elijah wrote the letter and the time that he might have written it because:
1. The message begins with "Thus says YHVH, God of your father David..." rather than the more usual "...in the name of YHVH the God of Israel.
2. The letter concerns a king of the southern kingdom, while Elijah concerned himself with the kingdom of Israel.
3. The letter was written before Elijah ascended, but only delivered later.
4. John Lightfoot has suggested that it must have been a different Elijah. Also, Jacob Myers suggests that it may be an example of a better known prophet's name being substituted for that of a lesser known prophet. While John Van Seters, however, rejects the letter as having any connection with the Elijah tradition.
Below are my responses to above as I do not accept any of the suggestions above as strong case to refute the fact that Elijah actually wrote the letter:
1. The description “God of Israel” might have been substituted with the “God of your father David”, because after the division of the original kingdom into the south and north, the kings of the south continued to come from the line of David, while the kings of the north came from a different line all together. Therefore, it makes sense that any letter to a southern king would be associated with David in the prologue.
2. The ministry of Elijah occurred predominantly during the time that Jehoshaphat was king of Judah and Ahab and his son Ahaziah also ruled in the Northern Kingdom. Unlike his contemporary kings in the northern kingdom, Jehoshaphat largely followed the ways of God. Therefore, there was not much for Elijah to denounce Jehoshaphat about, hence the concentration of Elijah's work in the north. It was only when Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat came into power and had followed the ways of the northern kings that Elijah would deem it necessary to also focus on the Southern Kingdom. In this regard, Michael Wilcock, formerly of Trinity College, Bristol, postulates that Elijah's letter addresses a very 'northern' situation in the southern kingdom, and therefore authentic.
3. The suggestion that the letter was written before Elijah's ascension but only delivered later cannot be true, because the contents of the letter indicate that Elijah spoke against past events. For instance, the letter condemns Jehoram for killing his brothers, and 2 Chronicles 21:4 indicates that the killing occurred only after Jehoram had consolidated his position to the throne. Thus, it was only the punishments that would come upon the king that were expressed as future events.
4. In relation to suggestion 4 above, I do not accept that the author of the letter was a different Elijah, as the Bible does not suggest anything like that. Also, if it was believed at the time that Elijah had ascended into the throne of God, I do not believe that his name would have been used to substitute the name of a lesser known prophet, since that would have been useless as King Jehoram and others would be aware that Elijah had ascended into heaven and the authenticity of the letter would have been in doubt. In other words, someone would only impersonate Elijah if it was believed that he had not gone to heaven. In any case, any genuine prophet would not have impersonated another person.
In summary, it is seems obvious that Elijah could not have been taken to the third heaven because:
• Jesus emphatically stated that no one has ever ascended into the (3rd) heaven. Jesus would definitely not make this statement if in deed, Elijah had ascended into heaven, as the two views are contradictory and irreconcilable.
• The group of prophets though knew in advance that Elijah would be taken away but did not believe that he was going to the 3rd heaven.
• It is explicit from Obadiah's discussion with Elijah that Elijah had been taken away in a similar manner before to an unknown location.
• The letter that Elijah delivered to King Jehoram indicates that he was still alive somewhere on the earth.
• The Bible states explicitly clear that upon the return of Jesus, he will establish his kingdom right on this earth and that the heaven is for God and the earth has been given to mankind. Therefore, Elijah has no business to perform in heaven as there are angels who minister to God in heaven.
Further according to:
• Hebrews 9:27, it is appointed for [all] men once to die, and after that the judgment;
• Romans 5:12, therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned;
• Psalm 89:48, what man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
• Hebrews 2:14, forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
• Acts 17:31, He [God] has fixed (set) a day on which He will have the world judged in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed,
It is obvious from the above passages that all men without exception (whether righteous or not) have to go through death and that Jesus himself as a man went through that. As a result, all the prophets and apostles died and are still waiting for their reward when Jesus returns. It is for this reason that Peter stated in Acts 2: 29-3 that David was still in his tomb (in other words, David is still waiting for the second coming of Christ in order to receive his reward). On the basis of the above facts, I can also confidently state that Elijah has not yet ascended into heaven.
Before I finish writing, I want to quickly touch on Enoch. Just like Elijah most Christians believe that Enoch was taken into heaven by God. The two main passages used to support that view are Gen. 5:24 and Hebrews 5:11. First, there is nothing specific in the first passage to indicate that Enoch did not die and went to heaven. The phrase “he was not” used in Gen 5:24 can actually mean he died. Psalms 37:36 uses the same phrase interchangeably with passing away (death). Further, Moses does not tell us where God took Enoch to, so one cannot conclude that he was taken to heaven. The other passage about God taking Enoch was made by Paul. Paul stated in Hebrews 5:11 that “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.” Admittedly, one can easily conclude from this passage that Enoch did not die, after all the passage says so. But is this consistent with what we have learnt above that every human being is subject to death. Firstly, many people interpret the word “translate “to mean that Enoch became immortal, but the Greek word for "translate" is “metatithemi” which the VINE'S Dictionary of New Testament translates it as "to transfer to another place." Therefore, does Heb.11:5 actually mean that Enoch never experienced physical? Not really, as after Paul had spoken about a number of faithful servants of God (Enoch one of them), Paul continued to state in verse 13 that "These all died in faith – not having received the promises..." Later in this same chapter, after talking about many more faithful people, Paul stressed again that “and these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise verse 39). Titis 1:2 describes the promise as the "...hope of eternal life , which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.”
In concussion, while it appears on the surface that Elijah and Enoch went to heaven, the examination of the whole Bible indicate the view is not consistent with the Bible, particularly, Jesus' own statement that no one has ever gone to heaven. Thus, the logical conclusion is that Elijah and Enoch were transported by the Spirit of God to locations on this earth where no one saw them again. It appears similar to Moses who died but no one saw his corpse until today. However, Jude 1:9 makes it clear that the angel of God fought Satan over the corpse of Moses. That is all that we know about Moses but perhaps, his corpse was buried in the mountains or in the valley by the angel.
Reference: Roger, D. M. The Promised Inheritance: What is the Believer's Reward? http://www.bibletruth.cc/ThePromisedInheritance.htm