II Kings 2:1 “And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.” II 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.”
This verse clearly says Elijah went to “heaven”, or does it? We learned in our study CSCOG7 Staff Heaven there are three heavens mentioned in the Bible. Since Jesus says “no man has ascended to heaven” (John 3:13) and Peter says that even King David has not gone to heaven (Acts 2:34) we need to study to see which “heaven” Elijah went to in the whirlwind on the fiery chariot.
First the word used for “heaven” in the Bible has three meanings. The Greek word used is always “ouranos” meaning 1) sky, air, firmament, any area above the earth, 2) heaven(s) the place of sun, moon, and stars; and 3) heaven, in which God dwells” (Strong’s #3772). The Hebrew word used for “heaven” is “samayim” meaning 1) “region above the earth: 2) the heavens: place of the stars, sky, air; 3) heaven: the invisible realm of God” (Strong’s #8064). Both the Hebrew and Greek terms for heaven agree, our 1) atmosphere (Psalm 147:7-8; Job 35:5; Jere. 34:20), 2) the place of the stars (Psalm 8:3; Gen. 26:4; Isa. 13:10) and 3) God’s throne is the third heaven (II Cor. 12:2-4; I Kings 8:49; II Chron. 6:30, 39; Rev. 19:14; 14:17) are the three heavens used in Biblical terms. So, which “heaven” did Elijah go to in the whirlwind and did he stay in that particular heaven? Answer is the first heaven (our atmosphere) and no he did not stay there.
Reading the entire text of II Kings 2:1-11 puts the entire episode into historical and cultural context. Elijah had been God’s prophet for many years and God was retiring him and replacing him with his young protégé Elisha. Culturally the young men (prophets in training) who followed needed to see the change of authority and God chose to show them the change of leadership using a miracle. In II Kings 2: 13-14 we see Elijah’s mantle (cloak, coat, covering) fell from the fiery chariot to Elisha. This was God’s way of proving the transfer of authority to Elisha from Elijah. At this point, Elijah rides off into heaven on the fiery chariot in a whirlwind. However, Elijah is heard from again on earth about 8-10 years later.
Now the rest of the story. II Kings 8:21-24 we see recorded the end of the evil King of Judah Jehoram (also called Joram). He had killed his siblings and family to become king and he followed in the ways of paganism. II Chron. 21 finishes the story of evil king Johoram and reintroduces the prophet Elijah. II Chron. 21:8 begins the repeat of what we read in II Kings 8: 21-24 thus giving us a nice timeline of events. Starting in II Chron. 21: 12-15 we see the reappearance of the prophet Elijah- well after his trip on the fiery chariot in the whirlwind up to heaven. Elijah had prophesied under King Jehoshaphat the father of King Jehoram. Now that King Jehoram had done evil in the site of the LORD, God had Elijah take care of some unfinished business.
Elijah writes a letter of prophetic doom to King Jehoram and we can read the letter in II Chron. 21:12-15. 12And 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, 13But hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: 14Behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: 15And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day. One can read the fulfillment of this prophecy of Elijah in II Chron. 21:16-20.
Elijah was still alive on earth after he supposedly went to heaven as he wrote his letter to King Jehoram 8-10 years after he was taken by the whirlwind to “heaven”. Therefore which “heaven” did Elijah go to? Since “no man has ascended to heaven” (third heaven), they did not have space vehicles at that time (2nd heaven) the only heaven Elijah could have ascended to was the “first heaven” of our atmosphere. No, Elijah did not go to the heaven where God lives and exists today.