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Go to Bible: 2 Kings 2
“into the heavens.” Elijah was not taken “into heaven” where God lives, but “into the heavens,,” that is, into the air. He was moved from one place to another on the earth, and taken from the oversight of the other prophets, making way for the ministry of Elisha. If Elijah could “go to heaven” before Christ died and paid for his sin, then any person could go to heaven without the death of Christ, and Jesus Christ would not have needed to come and die for the sins of humankind (see commentary on 2 Kings 2:11).(top)
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“a hard thing.” The “hard thing” does not refer to it being hard for God to give a double portion of spirit to Elisha. God can give as much holy spirit to a person as He wants, and it was not hard for Him to give Elisha a double portion of the spirit that was upon Elijah.
The “hard thing” Elijah referred to was how “hard” it is to carry the responsibility of walking by the spirit. Having the gift of holy spirit comes with responsibility. A person who has the spirit is responsible before God to walk by the spirit—walk by revelation—and manifest the power of God. Often what God told His prophets to say or do was difficult or heart-wrenching. That is why the word of God to a prophet was often called a “burden” (see commentary on Malachi 1:1).
Many of the prophets were persecuted, and the tasks very challenging. For example, it could not have been easy for Elijah to tell the king of Israel that there would be no rain or dew (1 Kings 17:1), because that was very hard on the people of Israel, and Elijah loved the people, but was obeying God. By telling Elisha that he was asking for a hard thing, Elijah was warning Elisha that he was asking for something that would be mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically difficult. It had been difficult for Elijah to walk as a prophet and obey God, and if Elisha had a double portion of the spirit on Elijah, then it would be even harder for him.
We should also reflect upon the fact that Jesus was given the spirit “without measure” (John 3:34). Jesus had a huge responsibility upon his shoulders to walk by the spirit and obey God, and in doing so set the standard for all mankind to follow.(top)
“and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into the heavens.” Elijah and Elisha were walking together and were separated from each other by a chariot of fire, then Elijah was taken into the heavens by a whirlwind. There are numerous paintings that show Elijah riding to heaven in a chariot of fire, but that is not what the Bible says. He was taken up from the ground by a whirlwind.
It is often taught that because the Bible says that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven,” that he did not die but was taken bodily to heaven to be with God. However, that is not correct. That Elijah went “into heaven” in no way indicates that Elijah was taken up to where God lives, which we generally refer to as “heaven.”
The word “heaven” has several usages in Scripture and often simply means “the sky,” or the air above the earth. Phrases such as “the dew of heaven” (Gen. 27:39; Deut. 33:13), and “the birds of heaven” (Gen. 7:3; 2 Sam. 21:10) show “heaven” being used for the air immediately above the earth (the birds of heaven” is often translated as the “birds of the air” or the “birds of the sky” even though the Hebrew word is “heaven”). The phrase “the stars of heaven” show “heaven” being used for what we today would call “space,” but to the ancients the stars were just in the sky above the earth. The ancients did not think the stars were up with God.
God’s moving Elijah was an act of great love and mercy. God (and Elijah) knew it was time for Elijah to step down as the head prophet and let Elisha take over that position. The work and pressure was getting to be too much for Elijah. Not long before He asked God to let him die (1 Kings 19:4). But culture and respect would never allow Elisha to take over as long as Elijah was around, so God removed him from where Elisha and the prophets were and moved him to another place on earth where he could live out his days.
Elijah was taken from the earth into “heaven,” i.e., into the sky, by a whirlwind and set down somewhere else. The other prophets understood this, and wanted to go look for Elijah (2 Kings 2:16-17). Elisha, however, knowing that God would have hidden Elijah, did not want them to look for him. 2 Kings 2:11 simply means that God supernaturally moved Elijah from one place to another, similar to what He did many years later when He moved Philip (Acts 8:39-40). Elijah was mortal, and so we know that at some point after he was moved by a whirlwind, he passed away.
Elijah could not have gone up to heaven to be with God before Jesus Christ paid for the sins of mankind by dying on the cross. Like every person, Elijah sinned, and if Elijah could go to heaven without having his sins paid for by Jesus Christ, then any person could go to heaven without Jesus having to die, and Jesus’ death would have been unnecessary. Elijah is now dead and buried, waiting the resurrection from the dead.
Even though Jesus has been raised from the dead and it would be possible now for God to take believers into heaven because their sins have been paid for, the resurrection and Day of Judgment have not come, so no human is in heaven except Jesus. The Bible says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13 ESV). [For more on the resurrection of the dead, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].(top)
“my father.” Here used as “mentor” and “guide.” [For more information on the uses of “father” in the Bible, see commentary on Genesis 4:20. For information on the disciples of a Rabbi being called his “sons,” see commentary on Matthew 12:27. For information on the disciples of a Rabbi being called “orphans” if the Rabbi died or left the area, see commentary on John 14:18, “orphans”].(top)
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“some youths.” These were not young children, but young men who were undisciplined, ungodly, and dangerous. They started with mocking, but it would soon have been a very dangerous and even potentially lethal situation for Elisha. They knew who he was and in mocking him were knowingly mocking his God as well. Prophets are persecuted all the time, so this was no mere verbal persecution. Given the revelation God gave Elisha and his curse, Elisha would have almost certainly been killed.(top)
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