Is Elijah in Heaven?
The Bible says that Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind into heaven. "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 (2 Kings 2:11).
But the Bible also says that no man has ascended into heaven! "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13). Moreover, Peter said in the book of Acts that David has not ascended into heaven. "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). "For David did not ascend into the heavens..." (Acts 2:34). Yet David is called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). Is Elijah in heaven, but David is not in heaven? But if Elijah is in heaven, that would contradict John 3:13 which I just quoted.
Is the Bible contradicting itself?
No. The Bible cannot contradict itself. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, the Bible is true and every part of it is true. The Bible cannot contradict itself.
Is the Bible inspired by God? Yes, and that can be proved to an open mind by fulfilled prophecy, which I have done.
A skeptic might ask, can you prove that God is not lying when He says He cannot lie? No, I cannot prove that the same way I can prove that God inspired the Bible. But faith means believing what God says and there is an element of choice involved in faith. God requires faith of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6, John 5:46-47, Romans 4:3, James 2:23). Jesus called faith one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23), and since sin is the transgression of the law ("Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" - 1 John 3:4, King James Version), this means that it is a sin to choose to disbelieve what God says. This is confirmed by the examples of ancient Israel whom God punished because they did not believe Him (Deuteronomy 9:23, Hebrews 3:18-19).
God requires that we believe what He says.
That is a choice each individual must make. I choose to believe God and to believe that God cannot contradict Himself. Some choose differently.
The Bible says that scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). I believe that. Or in other words, by faith I know that is true.
So I know that the Bible cannot contract itself.
Therefore I know that there is no contradiction between 2 Kings 2:11 and John 3:13. Even if I never researched it or did not know the answer, I know by faith there is no contradiction.
Some things in the Bible seem to be contradictions. I do not claim I know the answer to all of these difficult scriptures. When I see what may seem to me to be a contradiction, I know that there can be a misunderstanding on my part or a mistranslation of some kind. I make mistakes in the way I understand scriptures or put scriptures together, and translators make mistakes in translating the Bible from the original Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic into English. But God who inspired the Bible does not contradict Himself. So when I see what appears to be a contradiction, I know that it is not really a contradiction even before I research it and before I know the answer.
In the case of Elijah going into heaven, there is actually a clear explanation.
Here is a quote from my book Preaching the Gospel. This is from chapter two, section The Day of Trumpets - the Second Coming of Christ:
"Some may refer to Elijah as one who was carried into 'heaven'. But in the Bible, the term 'heaven' can refer to this earth's atmosphere, or outer space with its planets, stars, and galaxies, or the heaven that is God's throne. Notice the phrase 'birds of heaven' in Job 35:11 and Jeremiah 16:4 referring to the heaven that is this earth's atmosphere. These verses refer to birds flying in the atmosphere of the earth.
"2 Kings 2:1 says, 'And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.' Then in 2 Kings 2:11: '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.' But did Elijah go into the heaven that is God's throne, or just into the air to be set down someplace else where it would not be known where he was? It is clear that Elijah's work as the prophet in that area for that time was finished, and it was God's time that Elijah be removed and Elisha take Elijah's office and carry on his work (1 Kings 19:16). But was it time for Elijah to die? Or was Elijah to be taken to the heaven that is God's throne? If so, it would contradict John 3:13 which says that no man has ascended into heaven.
"Those with Elisha after Elijah ascended did not assume that Elijah went up to the heaven of God's throne. 'Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. Then they said to him, "Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley." And he said, "You shall not send anyone." But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, "Send them!" Therefore they sent fifty men, and they searched for three days but did not find him. And when they came back to him, for he had stayed in Jericho, he said to them, "Did I not say to you, 'Do not go'?" ' (2 Kings 2:15-18).
"Some time after this, a letter came from Elijah to the king of Judah, proving that Elijah was still alive and someplace on the earth. Notice that Elisha was already prophet in place of Elijah while Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was still alive. 'But Jehoshaphat said, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?" So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, "Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah." And Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him." So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him' (2 Kings 3:11-12). The fact that the servant said that Elisha 'poured' water on the hands of Elijah, past tense, shows that Elisha was not still serving Elijah. This occurred AFTER Elijah went into the atmosphere by a whirlwind and Elisha received his office. Now, AFTER Jehoshaphat died, his son Jehoram became king of Judah in his place. 'And Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place' (2 Chronicles 21:1). And it was to Jehoram, AFTER Jehoshaphat died and AFTER Elijah was taken into 'heaven' by a whirlwind, that a letter came from Elijah, proving Elijah was still alive and on the earth. 'Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD' (2 Chronicles 21:5-6). 'And 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, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father’s household, who were better than yourself, behold, the LORD will strike your people with a serious affliction—your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day' (2 Chronicles 21:12-15)."
What about the appearance of Elijah and Moses speaking with Jesus that Peter, James, and John saw? It was a vision of the future. It was a vision of the Kingdom of God when the saints would be resurrected, yet in the future. It was a vision just as the prophets of the Old Testament had prophetic visions, just as the apostle John had the vision of future events which he wrote of in the book of Revelation. Notice Matthew 17:9: "Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, 'Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.'" Peter perhaps did not know it was a vision when it was happening, but he must have understood when Jesus told him it was a vision.
Elijah is not in heaven now, nor is any man who has ever lived in heaven now, except Jesus Christ. Elijah, David, and all the faithful men of God in the Bible are asleep in the grave, waiting for the return of Jesus Christ when they will be resurrected to immortality to be with Christ forever.