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Consider these two incidents:

— Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven [the sky]. (2 Kings 2:11)
— [A few years later] And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, … (2 Chronicles 21:12)
— [Nearly 900 years later] No one has ascended to heaven [God's spiritual home] but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. (John 3:13)

and:

— Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so 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 Caesarea. (Acts 8:39,40)

In both cases the person is taken away by God only to appear again later.

How do those denominations that claim that Elijah went to God's heaven (the "third heaven") explain why they interpret the incident with Philip as exactly what it says, but not the incident with Elijah?


Timeline

Kings of Israel:

  • 852 Ahab (I7) dies.
  • 852 son Ahaziah (I8) becomes King of Israel.
  • 849 Ahaziah dies.
  • 850 Brother Johoram (I9) becomes king.
  • 840 Johoram dies.
  • 841 Jehu (I10), son of Jehoshaphat (not J4), becomes king.

Kings of Judah:

  • 911 - Asa becomes (J3) king of Judah.
  • 870 - Asa dies. Son Jehoshaphat (J4) becomes king.
  • 853 - Son Jehoram (J5) becomes co-regent of Judah.
  • 849 - Jehoshaphat dies, Jehoram becomes king (and kills his brothers).
  • 842 - Jehoram dies. Son Ahaziah (J6 - AKA Jehoahaz) becomes king.
  • 841 - Ahaziah dies.

Events:

  • 2 Kings 1 - Ahaziah (I8) is injured and dies in 849 B.C. as foretold by Elijah.
  • 2 Kings 2 - Elijah visits Jericho, crosses the Jordan, and is taken by a whirlwind.
  • 2 Kings 3 - Jehoshaphat (J4) meets with Jehoram (I9), and then visits Elijah.
  • 2 Chronicles 21 - After Jehoshaphat (J4) dies, Jehoram (J5) becomes king and later receives a letter from Elijah.
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    Aside from the obvious fact that one says he was taken to heaven and the other says that he was found a medium distance away on earth??
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 28, 2022 at 23:45
  • @curiousdannii, "heaven" has three different meanings. Given that a whirlwind is involved, this usage obviously refers to the first heaven, the Earth's atmosphere. John, on the other hand, is obviously referring to the third heaven, God's home. Nov 29, 2022 at 0:08
  • You're the only one talking about the "third heaven" in this context. It's super clear that what happened to Elijah and Philip is very different.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 29, 2022 at 0:11
  • @curiousdannii, I think you mean "first" not "third". I don't think anyone believes that John was talking about the atmosphere, he meant God's home. Nov 29, 2022 at 0:46
  • The exception that proves the rule? ;-)
    – kutschkem
    Nov 30, 2022 at 8:32

1 Answer 1

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This question seems to hinge on the claim that it was a few years after the whirlwind had caught Elijah up that Elijah then wrote a letter to king Jehoram. This would indicate that Elijah had never gone to heaven, but had merely 'disappeared' for a few years, only to send a letter to Jehoram later on.

Interestingly, the account in 2 Kings 2 states that the group of prophets from Jericho (who had witnessed the event from a distance) asked Elisha to send them into the wilderness to search for Elijah. They reasoned, "Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some valley." (2:16 N.L.T.) Elisha told them not to go looking, but they kept insisting. Off they went, 50 men searching in vain for three days. Wherever Elijah had been caught up to, he had not been deposited back on terra firma for that is the last mention of anybody ever seeing Elijah.

You then mention this letter Elijah wrote, "a few years later". But where, in the Bible does it say that? We can work out from the biblical chronology given what dates must have been involved.

Elijah operated from 874 to 853 B.C. This period started two years before king Jehoshaphat of Judah reigned and included the start of king Jehoram's reign (which ended 841).

Elisha operated alongside Elijah for an unspecified time, before (literally) taking up his mantle. There would need to be exact dates given if the claim that Elijah continued living on Earth for a few years after the whirlwind event be taken as proof that he never went to heaven at that time. That exactitude is lacking.

The claim that Elijah lived on for a few years after the whirlwind event could be based on a theological stance that nobody went to heaven prior to Jesus' ascension, and assuming that "the heaven" involved could only mean God's presence. However, Young's Literal Translation has "heavens" in 2:1 & 11. Then the ball can be batted back by asking how come both the long-deceased Moses and Elijah appeared alongside the transfigured Jesus on the mountain. And the likely response to that would be "It was merely a vision - neither Moses nor Elijah were alive at that time." And so this will go round in circles.

The issue is not that Philip was taken up by the Spirit to be removed to another geographic location, to continue his apostleship on Earth. That actually has no bearing on what happened to Elijah with a chariot of fire and fiery horses separating him from Elisha so that the whirlwind would take just Elijah up and away. The issue is one of interpretation.

It may also have something to do with the similarities between Elijah and Moses' death on Mount Nebo. But the time of Elijah's writing that letter to king Jehoram only becomes a factor to consider if it can be proven from Bible chronology that the whirlwind event happened a few years before Jehovah got Elijah's letter.

As for my opening paragraph about the idea that Elijah never went to heaven but merely disappeared for a few years - that is demolished by what 2 Kings 2:12 says:

"And Elisha is seeing, and he is crying, 'My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and its horsemen.' And he hath not seen him again; and he taketh hold of his garments, and rendeth them into two pieces." Young's Literal Translation (bold emphasis mine)

If that supernatural event had not been a divine taking of Elijah away, once and for all, why would the two prophets and the school of prophets all have known in advance that that was the very day when Jehovah would take Elijah away? They were all expecting a miraculous event and they saw it. But why would God perform such a miracle if Elijah only had to be removed to another part of Judah for a few years and continue a very quiet ministry elsewhere, with an unreported death then? Why did what happened to Philip not happen to Elijah? Philip also had an encounter with a chariot and horses, but totally physical and natural ones! The Spirit saw to him getting back to where he'd been, supernaturally fast, but there was no flaming chariot with horses of fire, followed by a whirlwind catching anybody up to the heavens. Those are two distinct events. Their differences are clear and do not need to be 'explained', as if one contradicted the other. They do not.

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  • "writing that letter to king Jehoram only becomes a factor to consider if it can be proven from Bible chronology that the whirlwind event happened a few years before Jehovah got Elijah's letter." — See the timeline I just added. Feb 3, 2023 at 19:32
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    @RayButterworth I think a single comment would have been sufficient to make your various points. Three seems a bit much to me. Please see Acceptable Comments Policy - dated 04/feb/2023 - on Meta. . . . . . answer up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 4, 2023 at 9:25
  • @NigelJ, I like to keep distinct ideas in separate comments. No offence was intended. ¶ One real advantage to this is that when a response points out why one of my comments is wrong, both of them can be deleted without losing the others. Feb 4, 2023 at 15:14
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    @Ray Butterworth The link provided by Nigel is valid here, especially the Moderator's last section, which is why I am not responding to all or any of your points. Further, "differences of interpretation of theology do not qualify as true factual errors" so I have no need to respond to how you interpret those points. I have read your comments but Comments are not for getting into debates.
    – Anne
    Feb 4, 2023 at 15:35
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    @Anne, at the risk of making this longer, I'll just say that "Comments are not for point-by-point rebuttals" is most appropriate. Thanks for pointing it out. ¶ I've deleted the first two comments, but left the third, as that one was for something that effectively invites a response. Feb 4, 2023 at 18:52

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