Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is Elijah in Heaven?

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.


Todd G said...

Yes it is indeed an intesting challenge to explain Elijah, Enoch and Moses in heaven in the light of John 3:13. I am interested to see what other readers thoughts are about this question.

As I commented a few posts ago, the only explanation I have found from a quick google of the subject is that Jehoram and Jehosephat may have ruled for a period with a co-regency. But that idea is extra-biblical and has no scriptural proof.

From the studies I've done on this subject, thanks to our dialogue, I feel that it may indeed be possible that Enoch, Elijah and Moses are still sleeping in the grave, and that the mount of transfiguration with Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah may have been a vision and not actually happening.

What about the resurrection of many of the saints around Jerusalem (Matt 27:52,53) who came out of their graves after Christ's resurrection and appeared to many? Do you think those people are in heaven (since this took place after Jesus' statement in John 3:13), or do you think they were simply raised as Lazarus, the 12-year old girl, the Shulamite woman's son, etc. were raised back to mortal life, and later died like everyone else? said...

Hi Todd, and thank you for your comment. You ask good questions.

I think the co-regency explanation between Jehosephat and Jehoram is unlikely or impossible according to the Bible evidence. The letter from Elijah came after Jehoram murdered his brothers, the sons of his father, because the letter rebukes him for that (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). Jehosephat could not have held co-regency with Jehoram when the letter came because I cannot imagine Jehosephat allowing his others sons to be murdered. He had given them great gifts according to 2 Chronicles 21:1-3.

My understanding is that those who were resurrected in Matt 27:52-53 were resurrected back to physical life as a sign, just as Lazarus, the 12-year old girl, the Shulamite woman's son, etc. were raised back to mortal life, and later died like everyone else, just as you said.

Angela said...

Please look at Luke 16:19-31. The story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. My understanding is that there is hell, where non-believers who have dies are now residing and then there is the lake of fire which they will be thrown into at the final judgement.

I have also heard theories on Abraham's bosom which is not heaven but is a place where souls are waiting until the final judgement when they will enter heaven. What are your thoughts?

Todd G said...

Angela, you may want to consider the possibility that the story of "The rich man and lazarus" was a parable of Jesus.

The first indicatin of this is the way Christ started the story. He said "There was a certain man..." This is how He commonly started parables. In the previous chapter He started the parable of the prodigal son with "There was a certain man..." (Lk 15:11)

Also He started the same chapter (16) with a parable about the faithful steward with "There was a certain rich man..."

These are just a few right around the story of the rich man and lazarus, there are many many others if you look.

Also, notice in the story that angels carried lazarus to "Abraham's bosom", we know that the saved people don't go to "Abraham's bosom", that's a funny though.

Notice when the rich man dies and is being tortured, he looks up and sees Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom, this also seems like the language of parables, since it doesn't seem likely that those burning in hell can look up and see everyone in heaven.

Finally, notice in verse 24 that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, since he is tormented in this flame. Now if this were a literal story, would a drip of water on his tongue really comfort someone being tormented in flames?

So when we look at all these things, I think Jesus was using a parable to teach a truth, as He always did.

One last thing, is it a coincidence that He used the name Lazarus in this parable? The rich man asks that Lazarus be raised from the dead to go preach to his family, for they would believe someone raised from the dead. To that, Abraham replied "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead."

Later Christ did raise a real man named Lazarus from the dead, and yet the Pharisees still did not believe, just as Christ said they wouldn't.

So we have this passage about the rich man and lazarus, and we have many many verses that speak of death as a sleep, and describe the condition of the dead, and speak of people being raised on the last day, when Christ comes back for His people. said...

Hi Angela, and thank you for an excellent question.

It is an excellent question because it is a difficult one for me.

Just about everything else I have found in the Bible seems to me to point to the conclusion that when we die we are unconscious, asleep in the grave until a resurrection from the dead, yet future. So as of now, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and everyone else who has lived and died is unconscious. Some of the scriptures that support this are in my book. When Christ returns, those who are His, that is, those who have died in the faith as converted Christians in this life will be resurrected to immortality. They will be raised back to life and will be with Christ on His throne on the earth ruling mankind for 1,000 years. The resurrection of those who will be cast into the lake of fire comes after that, and they will be burnt up, destroyed forever, put out of their misery so they will no longer exist. Again, I have supporting scriptures for this in my book.

You can see why the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is difficult for me.

Yet, I am encouraged by the fact that we often learn the most from those things that are difficult, and my mind is still open to learn new things or to be corrected.

I try to follow the principle that clear scriptures should interpret unclear ones. In this case, this passage about Lazarus and the rich man seems to be a parable designed to show lessons. One lesson is that we should not strive for happiness in this life, especially at the expense of others, but seek God and show kindness to others. The rich man had no compassion on Lazarus who was suffering. And though Lazarus suffered in this life, he was comforted in the next.

My understanding of this parable has been that the carrying of Lazarus into Abraham's bosom and the rich man finding himself in torment does not happen immediately after their respective deaths. From their point of view, it does, because they are unconscious in the meantime. So Lazarus is asleep right now, unconscious, as is the rich man. But both will be brought back to life in a future resurrection, Lazarus to immortality to be with Christ (and Abraham and all the saints) forever in a state of happiness and family fellowship in the kingdom of God, and the rich man will wake up from his grave, still mortal and physical as he was in this life, at a time when the surface of the earth is being destroyed in fire in preparation for a new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1). The rich man is in pain and is about to be destroyed forever. But he doesn't realize that time has gone by. This could be thousands of years after he died, but to his mind it is the next second after he dies because he has been unconscious in the grave up until now. It is just like when I fall asleep. Assuming I don't dream, the next second of my consciousness, the alarm is waking me up. I have no awareness of the passage of time while I am asleep. So the rich man thinks his brothers are still alive, and he wants them to be warned.

Why doesn't Abraham tell the rich man, "your brothers died a long time ago"? The only thing I can think of is that Jesus is telling the parable to teach certain lessons, and one of the lessons is that someone coming from the dead and giving a warning to people will not convince them if they are not willing to believe the Bible, that is, what Moses wrote. People like to make excuses for themselves and say, well, if I see one more miracle, that will convince me. No it won't. Ancient Israel saw miracles, but they lacked faith to believe. Those in Jesus's day saw miracles, but most of them lacked faith to believe what Jesus taught them. Abraham is telling the rich man, no, someone being resurrected from the dead will not convince your brothers if they do not have the faith to believe God. That was one of the lessons of the parable that Jesus wanted to get across, so that is the reason the parable was told the way it was. And that is true. The proof is that the priests and Pharisees did not believe either Moses or Christ even after Christ was resurrected (and they knew He was resurrected because they bribed those who guarded the tomb to say that Jesus's disciples stole the body while they slept!).

Was the rich man able to understand the truth and believe God in his physical life? Evidently he was, but rejected the opportunity. He was among those who heard the truth of God, could have believed and obeyed it, but refused. He was not among those who never had a chance. He had his chance in this life, but refused to believe and obey the Bible, and rather chose to live in pleasure rather than to love his neighbor as himself. So he had his one chance and rejected it.

Right now, this is the only way I know how to reconcile this parable with other scriptures that seem to indicate the dead are asleep in the grave until they are resurrected.

Heidi said...

Thank you for commenting my blog. Your posts are really interesting and informative. I learned a couple of things that I was unclear on from this post about Elijah. I'm looking forward to reading more. Hope your Sabbath went well today! =D

Matt said...

You probably have already covered these things, but what about the souls of those who slain crying out for justice in Revelation 6:9-11? What about the thief on the cross being with Jesus "today" in "paradise"? What about Samuel appearing before Saul and the witch at Endor? Could these things be semi-conscious sleep-like state rather than total unconsciousness? "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:8 said...

Good questions, Matt.

Revelation 6:9-11 seems to be using figurative language, as is common in Revelation. Notice also they are told to "rest", which seems to signify the sleep of those who are unconscious in the grave.

There are two possibilities with Luke 23:43. Most likely, there is a misplacement of the comma. It is my understanding that the original Greek manuscripts did not have commas, so the translators have to put the punctuation where they think it goes, and they can make mistakes according to their own personal beliefs and traditions. If the comma is placed after the word "today", it would read as follows: "Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise." However, it is possible Jesus was speaking in relation to the man's time frame and sense of consciousness. The man would die that day and would be with Christ in the next moment of his consciousness, which would be in a resurrection yet in the future. He would have no awareness of his time in the grave which could be thousands of years.

I do not believe the account in 1 Samuel 28 is talking about the "ghost" or "soul" of Samuel coming up out of the grave to talk to Saul. God prohibited the use of mediums and spiritists and those who engage in occult practices. Satan and his demons are deceivers of this world, and they can sometimes use supernatural signs and wonders to deceive men, especially people who disobey God's instructions to avoid occult practices (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22, Acts 8:9-11, Revelation 13:11-15). I have no doubt that this was a demon appearing to Saul as Samuel. He is called "Samuel" simply because this is how he appeared to the woman who was conducting the seance and reporting what she saw and heard to Saul (1 Samuel 28:14).

2 Corinthians 5:8: "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." When we die, our flesh is buried and decays and our human spirit goes to God (1 Corinthians 2:11, Ecclesiastes 12:6-7). This human spirit combined with the physical brain imparts the power of intellect to the human mind, but it is not a soul or a conscious entity of itself. When Paul died, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60, 1 Corinthians 11:30). In the next moment of His consciousness, he will be with Christ in the resurrection. So when he refers to being present with the Lord, he could simply be referring to the fact that for him, in his consciousness, the next moment after death he will be with Christ.