Elijah – What Happened To Him?

2 Kings 2:11 - "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."

It has been said that based upon this passage of Scripture that Elijah ascended to heaven and is there waiting the day when he will return to earth with the Lord Jesus. This view has been held over the years by many prominent speakers and authors and is a current belief among some Christadelphians worldwide. Meanwhile others hold to the belief that Elijah was transported to another area of the Middle East to live out the rest of his life there.

The purpose of this article is to examine the Bible’s evidence on the topic and draw our conclusions from there.

Which heaven?

Some would point out that the passage quoted above says “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”, and so they insist that Elijah is in Heaven with God, Jesus and the angels. On a surface reading of the English text, it would make some sense to say this, but what does heaven in this passage mean?

Let’s look at how the word is used elsewhere:

Sky

Genesis 1:8 - "And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Genesis 1:9 - "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so."

Genesis 1:20 - "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven."

God’s Dwelling Place

Genesis 22:11 - "And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. "

Genesis 24:3 - "And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: "

Genesis 28:12 - "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it."

Space

Genesis 1:14 - "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:"

Genesis 1:15 - "And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so."

Genesis 26:4 - "And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;"

The logical question to ask at this point is, “Are there different words used in the Hebrew text to define which heaven is being spoken of?” I’m glad you asked. They are all the same word in Hebrew, the word shamayim.

So how can we tell which heaven was being referred to in association to Elijah? We can eliminate the middle one since Jesus said “no man hath ascended up to heaven” (John 3:13) referring to God's dwelling place, so we have two choices.

Space does not make any logical sense, so we are left with the sky. Elijah either:

  1. Is floating around in the sky as an immortal, OR
  2. Went up into the sky out of the sight of Elisha and was placed back down elsewhere.

Since we know from Scripture immortality is a gift given after resurrection and judgment, the only choice left is that Elijah went up into the sky out of the sight of Elisha and was placed back down elsewhere.

Is Elijah Heard From After the Whirlwind?

The record of Elijah does not end at this point. A letter was received by Jehoram, King of Judah, from Elijah, after Elijah was taken to heaven. Either the letter was written before he caught away by the whirlwind and was delivered by a messenger on earth several years later (this idea lacks Scripture support and precedent), or Elijah was “caught away” as was Philip from the Gaza Road to Azotas, (about 17 miles, Acts 8:39, 40) for an unspecified purpose and returned to the earth in an unspecified location. Consider the evidence:

  • Elijah had been taken in a whirlwind. (2 Kings 2:11 – about 852 BC).
  • Elisha had taken over the duties of Elijah in the reign of Jehoshaphat. (2 Kings 3:10, 11 – reigned 870-848 BC).
  • Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet approximately 3 years before his death. (2 Chron. 21:1, 9-12 – died about 841 BC).

It is clear then that Elijah was alive somewhere on earth seven years later.

Did Elijah Die?

There is no specific passage that says "and Elijah died", but we have all the corroborating evidence of Bible teaching about death.

Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”

Romans 5:12 – “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”

Hebrews 11:13, 32 – “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets...”

These are but three of a good number of passages in the Bible that remind us that there is no exception to the rule. The logic of these first principle passages is that Elijah is dead, waiting for the resurrection and his new commission to re-gather the remaining Jews outside the land of Israel before Armageddon (Malachi 4:5-6).

Written by Matthew Smith