Was Elijah taken bodily to heaven without dying? (2 Kings 2:11)

“As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” 2 Kings 2:11 

This passage is used by some in attempts to demonstrate that Elijah is now in a heavenly abode with God. However, there are certainly other ways to interpret this passage. Let’s have a look:

If the noun ‘heaven’ only had one meaning to its definition, referring to the domain of God, then their assertion would be true: Elijah really was in heaven. The problem is, ‘heaven’ can also refer to the sky. Note the following examples:

  • “heavens are as clouds” -Job 35:5
  • “birds of the heavens” -1 Kings 16:4 (see also Ecc. 10:20; Ezek 31:6; 32:4)
  • “rain from the sky/heavens” -Gen. 8:22.

If the people thought that Elijah was in heaven with God, why then did they set out to look for him afterwards?

“They said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched three days but did not find him.” (2 Kings 2:16-17)

A few years later, Elijah sent a letter to King Jehoram. How could Elijah send a letter if he was up in heaven with God?

“Then a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet saying, “Thus says the LORD God of your father David, ‘Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father and the ways of Asa king of Judah…” (2 Chron 21:12)

Hebrews 11:39 states that Elijah died and has not received the promises. We will be rewarded with Elijah, at the resurrection when Christ returns.

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So what does the passage mean when it says that “Elijah was taken away in the whirlwind”? Perhaps this is similar to the episode of Philip in Acts 8:39, whom God took up from where he was and was taken to somewhere else where he was needed. Elijah was simply lifted up in the sky and most likely transported somewhere else.   

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