Rare Air

by Pastor Kevin Sadler

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“And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
“And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more…” (2 Kings 2:11-12).

Elijah and his protégé, Elisha, had just crossed the Jordan River in dramatic fashion: “Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground” (v. 8). From there, these two godly men walked and talked on the east side of the Jordan.

Then, in one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible, the spiritual realm suddenly opened, and a fiery chariot with fiery horses appeared. This chariot and horses immediately separated Elijah from Elisha. The chariot of fire was a literal chariot, and the horses of fire were literal horses from God’s heavenly army in the spiritual realm (6:17). Speaking of fire and God’s angelic host, Psalm 104:4 reads, “Who maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flaming fire.”

The chariot and horses are military images. They are ancient symbols of battle, and further, are symbols of God’s supreme power in battle. Horses and chariots were the mightiest means and weapons of warfare in that day. But fiery horses and fiery chariots demonstrate that God’s power is far greater than any earthly, military might.

The text does not tell us that Elijah got onto the chariot of fire and rode off into heaven. Rather we read that the fiery chariot and horses appeared, separating Elijah from Elisha, and then “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” By a mighty, whirling, rushing wind, the prophet of God was swept off the earth up into heaven, never to be seen by Elisha again.

In this verse, “heaven” refers to the first heaven of the upper atmosphere, where the birds fly (Gen. 1:20). The whirlwind caught Elijah high up into the sky and then he disappeared and Elisha “saw him no more” (2 Kings 2:12).

When Abraham died, he “was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8). Likewise, all believers in the Old Testament were gathered to the people of God in paradise in the center of the earth when they died. They were not gathered in the third heaven above. Our Lord made it very clear at the time of His earthly ministry that “no man hath ascended up to heaven” (John 3:13), meaning the third heaven of God’s throne and domain. Thus, we know that Elijah did not go to the third heaven when he disappeared from this world, but rather he went to the paradise section of hades called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22).

However, now that the price for sin has been paid, believers today in the Church, the Body of Christ, are welcome in God’s presence in the third heaven. And according to the hope afforded us by the gospel of the grace of God, that is where our spirits go when we depart from this world in death (2 Cor. 5:8; Col. 1:5). The third heaven is our eternal home.

The Lord’s presence is associated with a whirlwind in Scripture. For example, in Job 38:1, we read, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind….” The whirlwind tells that the Lord was present at Elijah’s departure, lifting Elijah from this earth and catching him away to paradise.

In response to seeing Elijah’s translation, Elisha “cried, My father, my father.” Elijah had been Elisha’s spiritual father and mentor, and this title expressed Elisha’s respect and admiration for Elijah. Elisha also called Elijah, “the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” This title describes what Elijah had been to the nation as a prophet of God: a spiritual warrior, a powerful instrument in God’s hand, a oneman army whom God had used to wage war against idolatry in Israel. Therefore, it was fitting that a fiery chariot and fiery horses from God’s heavenly host should appear at his departure.

Missing death puts Elijah in a very rare category in Scripture. Only two people in recorded history have exited earth without dying: Enoch and Elijah. However, we who are alive at the time of Christ’s return at the Rapture of the Church will enjoy this same hope. Every day is a possible day that the Lord could return and catch us up to be with Him in the air.

“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:16-17).

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