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Elijah's Ascension to "Heaven"; Elisha Succeeds Him (2 Kings 2) January 29

The incident in which Elijah was "taken up into heaven by a whirlwind" (verse 1) has many people convinced that we will go to heaven when we die. But John 3:13 clearly says that "no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven," referring to Jesus Christ. Therefore, Elijah could not have gone to heaven. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

The answer lies in the fact that the Bible speaks of more than one heaven—indeed, of three. Scripture refers to the atmosphere of this earth, the sky, as "heaven" (Genesis 27:28). It speaks of the physical universe beyond as "heaven" (Psalm 8:3). And it speaks of God's dwelling place in the spirit realm as "heaven" (Revelation 4:1-3). It is from this "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2), the heaven of God's throne, that Christ came—and to which no other human being has ascended (John 3:13).

Thus, Elijah did not go to the third heaven. So what happened to him? Where did he go? To help us understand, we need to know of other events that happened in Israel and Judah in the years following. Right at the time of Elijah's ascension, Jehoram became the new king of Israel—in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat of Judah and the second year of Jehoshaphat's son, whose name was also Jehoram (2 Kings 1:17; 3:1)—meaning there was an overlapping father-son reign over Judah at this time. In the fifth year of the reign of Israel's Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram became king over Judah (8:16)—that is, sole king following the death of Jehoshaphat. It was following the death of Jehoshaphat and becoming sole ruler that Jehoram of Judah, a wicked ruler, killed all his brothers (2 Chronicles 21:1-4). Afterward, Jehoram of Judah received a letter from Elijah (verse 12). The letter makes reference to the king's murder of his brothers (verse 13), showing that it was written after that event. And, putting the chronology together, this was more than four years after Elijah's ascension. Thus, Elijah was still alive more than four years after he was taken up by the fiery chariot in the whirlwind, living somewhere here on earth. His ascension, then, must have only been into the first heaven—the sky. And it should be clear that he did not die when he ascended. Rather, God transported him to another place on the earth where he lived out the rest of his days. The Bible doesn't say why God decided to make such a change at this point.

Elisha became Elijah's successor, symbolized by the passing of the mantle (2 Kings 2:13-14) and confirmed by the "double portion" of the power that God gave him through His Spirit, enabling him to perform mighty miracles, such as healing poisonous waters (verses 19-22.) It should be noted that the concept of a "double portion" in Scripture normally denoted a birthright inheritance of the firstborn son in a family. In that usage, it did not mean twice as much as the father had but, rather, twice as much as the other sons received from the father. It appears that Elisha's request was similar. If this is the case, then Elisha, understanding that the portion of spiritual power that Elijah had from God would be divided out to the sons of the prophets, was asking for twice as much as what they would receive rather than twice as much as what Elijah had. In any case, this was not a selfish request. Elisha had already been anointed to succeed Elijah—and he knew that he would need more of God's help than anyone if he were to remotely fill Elijah's shoes.

The account ends with Elisha departing and being mocked by a sizable group of young people. The Hebrew here can mean children, teenagers or young adults in their early 20s. Judging by Elisha's response they were certainly old enough to know better and to be held accountable for their actions, implying they likely were teens or young adults. Their taunt, in modern parlance, would essentially be, "Go up in the air, baldy!" Thus, they mocked his report of Elijah's ascension, and they made fun of him for his baldness. Elisha cursed them for their disbelief and flagrant disrespect for God's prophet—actually disrespect for God—and God backed up Elisha by sending the bears. Note that it does not say the youths who suffered attack were killed—just that they were "mauled" by the bears (verse 24), the Hebrew here allowing for a wide range of injury.

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