Did Elijah go to heaven?

The story of Elijah going to heaven is found in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 2:11. Here Elijah and Elisha were walking together:

And it came to pass, as they went still on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

Now we know that Jesus said, in John 3:13, that no one had ascended to heaven:

 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the son of man which is in heaven.

So was Jesus wrong when He said no one had gone to heaven? Or was the account in 2 Kings wrong? Or is there something we don’t understand?

Well, Jesus wasn’t wrong; Elijah did not go to heaven. The problem is this: we usually think of heaven as the place where God’s throne is. However, in the Bible the word “heaven” can mean anywhere above the ground. Depending on the context, it can mean in the air or the clouds, or out among the planets and stars, or in the “place” where we like to think God lives. Here are a few examples where “heaven” (King James Version) refers to the air, clouds or sky:

the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened, And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11,12)

Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night; Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven? (Job 35:10, 11)

They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcasses shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.  (Jeremiah 16:4)

And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses…  (Revelation 19:17, 18)

In the above verses it is clear that “heaven” means in the air or clouds or sky… not the place of God’s throne. Is it possible, then, that Elijah was only taken up into the air by the chariot and whirlwind and then put down somewhere else on earth? Was he miraculously transported to a different place, perhaps in the same area? There is evidence for this, and evidence that Elijah had previously been transported in this way. Before he was separated from Elijah by the chariot and horses of fire (v. 11), Elisha had three times (see 2 Kings 2:1-6) insisted on not leaving Elijah’s side; it seems he and the people of Bethel, Jericho and Jordan all knew by experience that Elijah could be moved “by a whirlwind” (v. 1) and Elisha did not want Elijah to go. After Elijah was taken up, a search party even went out looking for him. “…They sent therefore fifty men and sought him three days, but found him not" (2 Kings 2:17).

 Years later a letter was delivered to king Jehoram of Judah, who had succeeded  his father Jehoshaphat, who was king when Elijah was separated from Elisha. The letter was from Elijah, warning Jehoram to repent:

And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, But hast walked in the ways of the kings of Israel…  (2 Chronicles 21:12,13)

So it appears that several years after he was taken by the chariot and whirlwind, Elijah was still alive and in the area… not in heaven at the throne of God. Since Jesus stated that no man had ascended to heaven, and since there is evidence that Elijah was alive on earth years after he was taken up by the whirlwind, the correct understanding of  “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” is that he was transported through the air to another place on earth.

This is not the only Biblical account of a man being moved miraculously from one place to another. In Acts 8:39-40 we read this account, just after Philip had baptized the eunuch:

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesaria.

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