I was taught in Sunday School class that when Elijah was taken up into heaven from Elisha, that Elijah actually went into Heaven at that time. That is, I was taught that Elijah was “Raptured” and went to Heaven where people float around playing harps and singing hallelujahs for eternity.
I no longer hold that view for three reasons.
1. Elijah had a habit of disappearing via the Spirit of the Lord.
The Scriptures do not tell us when and where Elijah would be “taken” or would “disappear” and then placed somewhere else. That story is untold in the Scriptures but seems to be imbedded into the lower layers of the text and the tradition behind them. For example, Obadiah was in charge of the palace of King Ahab. Elijah met with Obadiah and told him to go and get Ahab. Obadiah’s response is telling:
“You tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you.” – 1 Kings 18:12
If Obadiah’s fear is legit, it seems apparent that the Spirit of the Lord had a habit of taking Elijah up and carrying him to another place. Do you doubt Obadiah’s testimony here? How about the testimony of dozens of legitimate prophets? After Elijah was taken from Elisha a large group of prophets where insistent that they were going to find Elijah somewhere else:
Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley. – 2 Kings 2:16
These prophets, like Obadiah back in 1 Kings, take it for granted that the Spirit of the Lord would take Elijah up and place him somewhere else (similar to Philip in the New Testament – Acts 8:39-40).
2. “Heaven” usually means “Sky”.
I’m not going to spend much time here since it’s practically a given. The Scriptures make a distinction between “heaven” (i.e. sky and/or outer space) and the “highest heavens” (i.e. the throne room of God) as in, for example 1 Kings 8:27. Genesis 1:20 says the birds fly in the “heavens” (ESV), and in 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul speaks of going to the “third heaven”.
The point is that “heaven” does not necessarily always refer to that place God’s people go to when they die; and in the case of Elijah, I’m suggest that when he was taken “up to heaven in a whirlwind” that he simply was taken up into the sky and placed somewhere else.
3. Elijah sends a letter after he is taken.
Finally, there is an interesting account written in the parallel telling of 2 Chronicles 21. Now pay attention to this: Elijah was “taken up into heaven” in 2 Kings 2, yet he sent a letter of judgment to the son of King Jehoshaphat (Jehoram) six chapters later, during the story of 2 Kings 8:16-23 (cf. see the account in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15).
Now since Elijah had already been “taken up into heaven” for some time before Jehoram’s reception of the letter we must conclude either a) that Elijah sent it postdated fifteen years or so, or b) Elijah was still on earth somewhere else.
Given the evidence, it seems more likely that Elijah was not Raptured into Heaven, but rather he was taken into heaven (i.e. the sky) and placed down somewhere out of the way – somewhere he could not be found (2 Kings 2:16) – so that Elisha’s ministry could flourish.
The only rapture “mystery” we have left then, is the mysterious Enoch. 😛