Who ascended to heaven with Jesus?
Did anyone go to heaven before Jesus?
And no one ascended to heaven except him who came down from heaven, namely the Son of Man.
2 Kings 2:11
And as they were walking together and talking, behold, a fiery chariot with fiery horses came, and they separated the two from one another. And Elijah went to heaven in the weather.
This apparent contradiction arises primarily from a misconception about the circumstances surrounding the death of the prophet Elijah. By the way, theologians and other people often also bring Enoch and sometimes even Moses into play, who allegedly also ascended to heaven. In the following, the points for a correct understanding and for solving this problem are briefly pointed out; each reader can then check for himself how the matter is based on the statements of the scriptures.
The first thing to note is that the term "heaven" is used in more than one sense in the Bible. "Heaven" designates on the one hand the place of God's presence, on the other hand also the space below the firmament, i.e. the area above the ground, the air or the atmosphere. There are different uses of the word "heaven" in the scriptures mentioned above: In Jn 3:13 "heaven" denotes the presence of God, to whom Jesus Christ ascended and on whose right side he is now sitting after his acceptance into heaven. In 2Ki 2,11, on the other hand, "heaven" only refers to the area of air, the space above the ground; Elijah was thrown into the air by "some weather" (a strong storm) and Elisa was no longer seen.
It is actually clear that Elijah could not have ascended to heaven (i.e. came into God's presence), since otherwise all of the other clear teaching of the Bible does not make any sense. Elijah was a sinful person like any other person after Adam, so he, like all other people, needed a Savior and Redeemer. If Elijah was able to get into God's presence without dying, then Jesus Christ shouldn't have given his life. Elijah lived a few centuries before Christ (the same truth applies to Enoch and Moses), and why would Jesus Christ have to give his life if it was possible for man to come into God's presence after death even without Jesus' atoning sacrifice? If you want to argue that only a few special people enjoyed this privilege, then you are actually blaming God for acting unjustly because He would have preferred some people.
A close study of the account of the prophet Elijah and the circumstances surrounding his death reveals that he died then and that he was thrown into the air by the weather and then no longer seen. Elisha, like the disciples of the prophet, knew that Elijah had died; Nowhere do they express the opinion that Elijah is alive and now lives "in heaven" in God's presence.
Some refer to the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus, where Elijah appeared on the mountain with Moses, and want to prove that Elijah was not dead but alive in heaven. But this is a mistake, because as John 3:13 confirms, at the time the Gospel of John was written down only Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead to eternal life. Jesus himself called what the disciples and he had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration, an "apparition", i.e. a vision. They did not see this scene with their natural eyes, Elijah and Moses were not there in person; all saw this scene in a vision revealed to them by God.
Jesus Christ was taken up from the dead 40 days after his resurrection and is now sitting there at the right hand of God. After proving himself to be the living one for 40 days, he went to heaven. Before Jesus, however, no person (neither Enoch, nor Moses, nor Elijah) was taken into heaven.
Copyright © 11/27/2019 by Wolfgang Schneider
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