What Happened to Elijah?

A look at the biblical and historical evidence.

Dallas Youngs, Director, Lone Star Bible Correspondence School

I WAS talking to a man not long ago who be­lieved that Elijah was caught up on that memo­rable day into the atmos­phere, but not taken to heaven. The prophet was dropped, he asserted, into some remote valley where he lived his life out, died and was buried the same as any other person. Now he awaits the coming of Christ and the resurrection.

Was that the way of it?

The Bible verifies the fact that he was "caught up" all right. I read that in 2 Kings 2:1 and 11: "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal." "There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."

Our Historic Position

From the dawn of Seventh-day Adventist history we have believed that Elijah was translated and taken to heaven not seeing death. Our pioneers, James White, Uriah Smith, Joseph Bates, and others believed in the translation to heaven of Enoch and Elijah. Ellen G. White believed it. Our leaders, evangelists, and editors today be­lieve it.

My problem is not with our historic posi­tion, but with an article appearing in the Plain Truth magazine, a Seventh-day Church of God publication, written by Her­man L. Hoeh. This article has not dis­turbed our historic position, but it has disturbed some people that I know, and, I suspect, quite a few with whom I am not acquainted.

Mr. Hoeh asserts that neither Enoch, Elijah, nor any other person is now in heaven. Elijah's translation, it is explained, was only into the atmospheric heavens. "Certainly," he says, "the whirlwind used by God could not take him beyond the earth's atmosphere. Neither does the Bible account leave Elijah in the air."—The Plain Truth, January, 1956.

The whirlwind, according to this, did not take Elijah beyond this earth's atmos­phere, but dropped him down at some dis­tant point on a mountaintop, or in a valley. It is said: "Elijah is dead in the dust of the earth awaiting the resurrection of the just. Elijah, some years after being removed in the whirlwind, went into the grave, but will rise again to live forevermore."

Fifty Unbelievers

Unbelievers in the prophet's translation are not confined wholly to this day. When Elisha, Elijah's successor, returned from witnessing the translation, he was met by fifty sons of the prophets, who said: "Be­hold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley" (2 Kings 2:16).

Elisha said: "Ye shall not send."

But they pressed him until he was ashamed, and at last he told them to go. They searched high and low, mountain­top and valley, for three days, but did not find Elijah. At last they gave up, for it is impossible to find a man upon earth, no matter how thoroughly one searches, who is in heaven. When the fifty came to Jeri­cho, where Elisha was, he dryly observed: "Did I not say unto you, Go not?"

The mountain or valley idea must have become quite widespread immediately following the translation. According to Eli­sha's experience with the "mocking chil­dren," it must have been a common topic of conversation in the homes. As the prophet went from Jericho to Bethel "there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them" (2 Kings 2:23, 24).

This is conclusive. It constitutes a mark of God's disapproval upon those who disbe­lieve Elijah's translation. It was a costly but needed lesson. Is not God as displeased with today's disbelief as He was with that of the sons of the prophets and the mock­ing children?

Has No Man Gone to Heaven?

Mr. Hoeh is positive that no man from earth has gone to God's heaven—Paradise. Yet, John, the writer of Revelation, saw re­deemed ones from the earth around God's throne in that very place. In Revelation 5 he tells us what he saw:

God the Father is seated upon His throne with a sealed book in His hand. Search was made in heaven and earth for one worthy to open the book and to read what was written. No one could be found, and John wept. At last the problem was solved. One was found worthy to open the book. One of the elders said to John: "Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals" (verse 5).

Jesus Christ is the "Lion of the tribe of Judah."

The revelator continues:

I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain. having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne (verses 6, 7).

This unmistakably gives the setting. God the Father is upon His throne with a sealed book in His hand. In the midst of the throne is the Lamb (Jesus), and the four beasts and twenty-four elders. This is God's heaven—Paradise--into which we are looking. This is the place where it is said that no redeemed person has ever gone. Let me read further:

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts [living creatures] and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou vast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (verses 8-10).

Here they are: Redeemed men around the throne of God in Paradise. John saw them there, and recorded the inspired fact for our learning.

What of Those "First Fruits?"

First fruits were a common thing to Is­rael. The Israelites gave to God the first fruits of the wheat, rye, and barley harvests, of the grape and olive harvests, and of the oil and the wine. Thus we have at the resurrection of Jesus a raising from the dead of the first fruits, a small number, of the great general resurrection that will take place at the end of the world. This is how the first Gospel writer recorded it:

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. . . . And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and ap­peared unto many" (Matt. 27:50-53).

The question may now well be asked: What became of these resurrected saints? First, they went into Jerusalem and testi­fied to the fact of their resurrection. Then what? Did they die again and go back to their graves? I think not. Ephesians 4:8 gives the answer: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Jesus took them to heaven as trophies of His vic­tory over the grave.

Was the Mount of Transfiguration Just a Vision?

Mr. Hoeh says it was. Moses and Elijah, he assures us, were not actually present. Peter, James, and John saw them in pano­ramic vision. Actually, he believes, these worthies of old are in their graves awaiting the resurrection. But are they in their graves? No, I am positive that they are not. According to God's Word they are in heaven. However, it is true that Matthew quotes Jesus as saying: "Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead" (Matt. 17:9). Yet, this does not necessarily mean that the three disciples had been in a trance. Jesus simply told them not to tell what they had seen until after His resurrection.

Another Gospel writer, Mark, tells us plainly: "And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead" (Mark 9:9).

Berkeley's Version says this: "He forbade them to divulge to anyone what they had seen." William's New Testament: "He cau­tioned them not to tell anyone what they had seen."* Twentieth Century New Tes­tament: "Jesus cautioned them not to re­late what they had seen to a single person." The weight of evidence is in favor of a literal, on-the-scene transfiguration. Jesus was really there. The disciples were bodily present, and so were Moses and Elijah. They were seen.

However, notwithstanding the weight of the above evidence, I think Luke 9:32 is the strongest of all texts in dealing with the "trance" theory: "But Peter and they that were with him, were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake [no trance], they saw his glory, and the two men [Moses and Elijah] that stood with him."

The Word of God Is Not Contradictory

Perhaps the strongest text used to try to show the nontranslation of Elijah is John 3:13, Jesus' words to Nicodemus: "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven."

In order to understand this apparent contradiction we must understand the con­text. Nicodemus had come to Jesus by night with some questions in mind. Jesus launched immediately into the Pharisee's first great need. He must be born again spiritually. Nicodemus seemed to have dif­ficulty in applying that great fundamental to himself. "How can these things be?" he queried.

Jesus answered: "Art thou a master of Is­rael, and knowest not these things? . . . If I have told you earthly things, and ye be­lieve not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" (verses 10-12). Then Jesus set forth the tremendous proposi­tion of verse 13: "No man hath ascended up to heaven." That is, no man has gone to heaven to learn and bring down the imperative facts which I have just set forth to you. But, Nicodemus, continued the Lord, "He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven," He has brought to you these es­sential truths.

I give below a quotation from a well-known commentary:

The sense manifestly is this: "The perfect knowl­edge of God is not obtained by any man's going up from earth to heaven to receive it—no man hath so ascended—but He whose proper habita­tion, in His essential and eternal nature, is heaven, hath, by taking human flesh, descended as the Son of man to disclose the Father, whom He knows by immediate gaze alike in the flesh as before He as­sumed it, being essentially and unchangeably in the bosom of the Father."—A Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown. Comment on John 3:13.

Jesus continued on from verse 14 trying to enlighten His visitor on the essential doctrines of the cross and the atonement: "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wil­derness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Nicodemus could understand this. He had known from childhood the story of the brazen serpent in the wilderness. Jesus com­pared Himself to that.

Then Jesus gave the "little gospel" in verse 16, which blessed not only Nicodemus but every sinner from that time to the present: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso­ever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

There are no contradictions in the Bi­ble. There are certainly none concerning Elijah's translation to heaven. Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, together with many others, are now in heaven. Enoch and Eli­jah became the type of the great host that shall be translated, not seeing death, at the coming of Jesus Christ. Moses became the type of the resurrected righteous at our Lord's return. Too, the "first fruits" of the general resurrection at Christ's advent are now enjoying heaven and awaiting that glad day of reunion with their resurrected brethren.


*The New Testament, A Translation in the Language of the People, by Charles B. Williams. Used by permission of Moody Press.

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Dallas Youngs, Director, Lone Star Bible Correspondence School

February 1967

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