Where are the Dead –
According to the Bible?
Some point to the so-called “rapture” of Elijah as proof of the ancients going to heaven. It is only fair that we examine the account and see in what direction it points.
2 Kings 2:11-12 records, “And it came about that as they were walking along, speaking as they walked, why, look! a fiery war chariot and fiery horses, and they proceeded to make a separation between them both; and E·li'jah went ascending in the windstorm to the heavens. All the while E·li'sha was seeing it, and he was crying out: "My father, my father, the war chariot of Israel and his horsemen!" And he did not see him anymore.”
When the accounts mentions “heavens” does it mean the after-life, that is, the heaven of God’s residence? Or, something else? How can we know? First, it is a given that this account must agree with the Nazarene’s own teachings as well as those of his inspired disciples. Note these:
Jesus taught: “No one has ascended to heaven.” (John 3:13) If there is a reasonable explanation regarding Elijah, then we can be absolutely sure that Jesus’ straightforward statement is to be taken as it reads. Surely Jesus was aware of the wording in 2 Kings 2:11, “E·li'jah went ascending in the windstorm to the heavens.”
Peter taught, “David did not ascend to the heavens.” (Acts 2:34) It would seem fair to conclude that if David did not go to heaven, neither did Elijah.
Paul taught, “In faith all these died, although they did not get the [fulfillment of the] promises.” (Hebrews 11:13) If the ancient patriarchs “did not get the promises” then it would seem Elijah did not either.
Thus, it seems reasonable to look for another explanation or another “heavens” to which Elijah ascended. The mention of the “windstorm” might give us a clue for it is in the atmosphere that such a phenomenon occurs. In the Bible the word “heavens” is used in a variety of ways, including those “heavens” where the birds fly. (Genesis 1:26, 28) Indeed, the word “heavens” occurs 16 times in 2 Kings with several of them referring to the sky or atmosphere. (2 Kings 1:10, 12, 14; 7:2, 19; 14:27) Though the word is used in a religious context for the stars, the word “heavens” in 2 Kings would allow for the meaning of “sky.” Therefore, the phrase could read: “E·li'jah went ascending in the windstorm to the Sky.”
That this likely the explanation is shown that two years later Elijah, still alive on earth somewhere else, wrote a letter to the king of Judah at 2 Chronicles 21:12, “Eventually there came a writing to him from E·li'jah the prophet, saying…” This would seem to confirm that Elijah was separated from Elisha by being lifted up into the skies and transported to another location, even as were later prophets. (Ezekiel 8:3; Revelation 17:3; 21:10)
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved