Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot of Fire, Giuseppe Angeli (1712-1798) | Source: Biblical Art on the WWW
Dispensationalism appropriates the catching away of Elijah in support of the ‘rapture of the Church’ theory. This teaching assumes Elijah did not physically die, having been taken directly into God’s presence in Heaven. There he waits patiently to physically return prior to the second coming of Christ. In my opinion, Dispensationalism is a doctrine built upon speculation.
A Quote from gracethrufaith.com
‘Enoch and Elijah are two Old Testament examples of men taken live into heaven. Neither of them died first. In Enoch’s case he is specifically described as “walking with God.” Elijah of course went in a chariot of fire that swooped down and picked him up in a whirlwind. The Bible doesn’t describe their destination specifically, but some scholars have speculated that they were raptured just as the church will be. If that’s the case, they were pushed forward in time and given perfected bodies allowing them to survive in the presence of God. Enoch has no further mission that we know of as far as Earth is concerned, but Elijah continues to be involved with mankind being anticipated at every Passover and present in spirit at circumcisions. He also appeared on the Mt. of transfiguration with Moses and will serve with him as one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11.’
‘The Bible doesn’t describe their destination specifically, but some scholars have speculated that they were raptured just as the church will be.’ Surely, doctrine cannot be built upon speculation. Let’s speak when the Scriptures speak and be silent when the Scriptures are silent.
‘they were pushed forward in time and given perfected bodies allowing them to survive in the presence of God.’ This statement is not only unscriptural, it contradicts the discussion Christ had with Nicodemus.
Joh 3:13 KJV And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
Only Christ who is fully God and fully man can ascend to and descend from heaven.
There is an interesting paradox in the Scriptures concerning Elijah’s location when he sent his ‘writing’ to Jehoram, king of Judah, after his ‘rapture to heaven’! Many scholars have pondered this problem without producing a convincing explanation. I am persuaded the most obvious answer is the most likely, although it might incite an adverse response, nevertheless, it is sufficient to eliminate the Elijah endorsement of the ‘rapture theory’.
Elijah’s ‘Writing’ to Jehoram King of Judah
Elijah prophesied the death of Ahaziah the King of Israel who reigned from 853-852 BC, therefore, he was still on the scene… 2 Kings1:1-18
2Ki 3:11 KJV But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD, that we may enquire of the LORD by him? And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah.
Jehoram, king of Israel, reigned after Ahaziah from 852-841 BC. He called on Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, to do battle with the Moabites around 852-851 BC. Elijah was no longer around and Elisha prophesied the Word of the Lord to the kings in his place.
The timeline proves Elijah was taken by the Lord prior to the Moabite rebellion in 852-851 BC, before Jehoram, king of Judah, the son of Jehoshaphat, came to the throne in 848 BC. Elijah could not have sent a letter to Jehoram if physically taken up into heaven in 852-851 BC.
2Ch 21:12-15 KJV And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, 13 But hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: 14 Behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: 15 And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.
Elijah wrote to Jehoram King of Judah who reigned from 848-841 BC, declaring a terrible death awaited him for his evil ways. How did Elijah send this writing? Apparently, the Lord had taken him up in a whirlwind into heaven approximately 4 years earlier.
There are scholars who use this paradox to dispute the inspiration of the Scriptures. Others say it was a misunderstanding and Elisha sent the writing, or perhaps there was another prophet by the name of Elijah. Some claim Jehoram was co-regent with his father Jehoshaphat about 853 BC, there are no Scriptures to support this, but it is plausible. The conclusion drawn is Elijah may have been around during the early days of Jehoram’s co-regency.
2Ch 20:31-32 KJV And Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah: he was thirty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. 32 And he walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD.
‘doing that which was right in the sight of the LORD‘ It is unlikely Jehoshaphat would have allowed his son to act wickedly during a co-regency, since he was a good king.
2Ch 21:4 KJV Now when Jehoram was risen up to the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself, and slew all his brethren with the sword, and divers also of the princes of Israel.
Jehoram’s evil deeds occurred after he became king in his own right in 848 BC. Elijah’s writing contained a summary of the evil Jehoram had already done, not what he would do in the future. For example, it was after Jehoram became king he murdered his brothers.
2Ki 2:11 YLT And it cometh to pass, they are going, going on and speaking, and lo, a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and they separate between them both, and Elijah goeth up in a whirlwind, to the heavens.
The word ‘heavens’ is the Hebrew word ‘shamayim’ or ‘shameh’ meaning the sky, the area of the clouds, also the higher area of the stars and the planets.
The same word is used:
‘If I shut up heaven that there be no rain’… 2 Chronicles 7:13
‘And God called the firmament Heaven’… Genesis 1:8
Personally, I believe the ‘rapture’ of Elijah involved his removal to another location, not into God’s presence in Heaven.
Paul ‘Caught Up’ to Paradise
Why is it assumed that Elijah was taken alive in his physical body into God’s presence? God is Spirit and the Kingdom of God is a spiritual Kingdom, why would any saints be translated in their physical body into such a realm?
2Co 12:2-5 KJV I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
Paul was spiritually translated temporarily into God’s holy presence in ‘third heaven’.
Philip’s ‘Harpazo’ Caught Away to Azotus
Act 8:39-40 KJV And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
In my opinion, Philip had a similar physical experience to Elijah when ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ translated him to Azotus.
Dispensationalism also holds the view that Enoch was ‘raptured’ to heaven, thereby giving credence to the dubious ‘rapture’ theory.
Gen 5:24 YLT And Enoch walketh habitually with God, and he is not, for God hath taken him.
‘translated–not to see death’ The Scriptures do not confirm Enoch was translated alive to Heaven.
Heb 11:5 YLT By faith Enoch was translated–not to see death, and was not found, because God did translate him; for before his translation he had been testified to–that he had pleased God well.
Heb 11:13 YLT In faith died all these, not having received the promises, but from afar having seen them, and having been persuaded, and having saluted them, and having confessed that strangers and sojourners they are upon the earth.
‘In faith died all these’ Enoch was included with the faithful who died, not having received the promises… Hebrews 11:5
I believe Elijah was translated physically to another place where he remained until his death and sent his writing from there.
In my opinion, Dispensationalism has subtly tapped into the imagination of many believers through intriguing speculative theories that cannot be supported by Scripture.
What do you think?
Elijah Fed by the Ravens, Il Guercino, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, (1591-1666) | Source: Art and the Bible
Due to the influence of Dispensationalism, with its strictly literal interpretation of the Scriptures, many Christians may feel it compromises their beliefs to consider a spiritual interpretation, even when appropriate.
For instance, Jesus’ discourse with His disciples in Matthew 17:10-13 is typical of the Scriptures being misunderstood by those who insist on a literal return of Elijah.
Mat 17:10-13 KJV And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? 11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. 12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. 13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
The disciples believed Elijah would physically return; the Jewish people still set a place for him at the Passover table. Nevertheless, Jesus taught the disciples the spiritual significance of John the Baptist’s ministry and the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy.
Let’s examine the misconstrued literal interpretation of ‘Elijah’s return’.
The Prophet Malachi
The disciples missed ‘the second coming of Elijah’ and it is not difficult to understand why, since they interpreted Malachi 4:5 literally.
Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets to call Israel to repentance. There was a gap of 400 years between Malachi and John the Baptist.
Mal 3:1-2 KJV Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
Mal 4:5 KJV Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
Malachi proclaimed Elijah would prepare the way of the Messiah, prior to ‘the great and dreadful day of the LORD’.
A Quote from John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes
Malachi 4:5 ‘The great and dreadful day of the Lord – This literally refers to the times of vengeance upon the Jews, from the death of Christ to the final desolation of the city and temple, and by accommodation, to the end of the world.’
Of all the commentaries at my disposal, John Wesley most clearly defined Malachi 4:5. Far be it from me to criticise such a wonderful man of God, but in my opinion, it is a great pity he felt it necessary to add ‘and by accommodation, to the end of the world’. There is in no mention of the end of the world in the Scriptures.
The Timeline of Elijah the Prophet’s Return
It is important to identify the timeline of Elijah’s coming; Malachi prophesied Elijah would prepare the way for two major events:
1) ‘I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me’ To prepare the way prior to Christ’s advent.
2) ‘before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ To proclaim the great and terrible day of the Lord at the passing of Old Covenant Israel, which involved the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews.
John the Baptist warned of these events, and both were fulfilled during the lifetime of his generation.
Mat 17:12-13 KJV But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. 13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
According to Dispensationalism, John did not demonstrate the miracles of Elijah, and the great and terrible Day of the Lord has not occurred. Therefore, Malachi’s prophecy remains unfulfilled until a future appearance of Elijah. This assumption is despite the words of Jesus that Elijah had already come! There is neither any suggestion in the Scriptures of a 2000 years gap between the two events, nor the slightest hint of double fulfilment of prophecy as some scholars suggest. If the great and terrible day of the Lord is a future event in the 21st century, then why did Jesus emphatically state ‘Elijah’ returned in the 1st century AD?
The great and terrible day of the Lord is not an ‘end of the world’ event in the far and distant future. On the contrary, Malachi’s prophecy was written specifically to Old Covenant Israel, whose relationship with the Lord was about to end in judgement. The disciples missed ‘the second coming of Elijah’ because they interpreted Malachi 4:5 literally.
John the Baptist
According to the Scribes and their literal interpretation of Malachi 4:5, Elijah would return as a forerunner to the Messiah.
Jewish scholars anticipated the physical return of Elijah, descending from heaven in the chariot that had previously caught him away. Therefore, in their estimation, John the Baptist was not Elijah. Consequently, Jesus could not have been the long awaited Messiah.
Luk 1:15-17 KJV For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
John came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’, having been ‘filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb’. It was the same ‘spirit and power’ Elijah had been endued with 800 years earlier, but John was not Elijah in person.
Luk 7:27-28 KJV This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
A Quote from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
Luke 7:28 ‘He was, upon this account, so great, that really there was not a greater prophet than he. Prophets were the greatest that were born of women, more honourable than kings and princes, and John was the greatest of all the prophets. The country was not sensible what a valuable, what an invaluable, man it had in it, when John Baptist went about preaching and baptizing. And yet he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’
Acts 13:25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.
Some scholars insist John failed in his ministry. Such a suggestion contradicts the words of Jesus when He spoke of John being the greatest of the prophets. Not only by his character, preaching, faithfulness and martyrdom, John’s ministry was of the greatest importance in that he prepared the way for the Messiah and warned of impending judgement. John successfully completed his mission.
A Quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible
Acts 13:25 ‘As John fulfilled his course – As John was fulfilling his race, he said, etc. It has been supposed that the word δρομον, course, or race, is used here to point out the short duration of the Baptist’s ministry, and the fervent zeal with which he performed it. It signifies properly his ministry, or life. A man’s work, employment, function, etc., is his race, course, or way of life. John had a ministry from God; and he discharged the duties of it with zeal and diligence; bore the fatigues of it with patience and resignation; and was gloriously successful in it, because the hand of the Lord was with him.’
Joh 1:20-21 KJV And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
‘Art thou Elias?’ John the Baptist made it clear, he was not Elijah in person!
‘Art thou that prophet?’ Meaning the prophet to whom Moses referred in Deuteronomy 18:15.
‘The Prophet’ Promised by Moses, was none other than the Messiah. Peter, while preaching Christ to the men of Israel on the day of Pentecost, referred to the prophecy of Moses, thus confirming its fulfilment in their generation… Acts 3:22
‘I am a voice’ John called the people to repentance, because the Jews to whom he preached were at that time in a spiritual wilderness and unfit to receive the King… Isaiah 40:3
Joh 1:23 YLT He said, `I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet.’
Although John the Baptist was not Elijah in person, he was the fulfilment of prophecy.
‘If Ye Will Receive It’
Mat 11:14-15 KJV And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. 15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
‘if ye will receive it’ Jesus accentuated the importance of His statement, He was teaching a doctrine different to the prevalent view at the time. His proclamation varied from the current expectations of the Jews, and the disciples might be disposed to question it.
Matthew 11:15 ‘He that hath ears to hear …’ – This expression is frequently used by Christ. It is a proverbial expression, implying that the highest attention should be given to what was spoken. The doctrine about John he regarded as of the greatest importance. He among you, says he, that has the faculty of understanding this, or that will believe that this is the Elijah spoken of, let him attend to it and remember it.’ — Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible
The vast majority of John the Baptist’s generation was oblivious to the presence of the Messiah, and stubbornly ignored the warnings of impending doom. Consequently, except for the remnant, they suffered the judgement in AD 70.
Jesus taught the disciples an important lesson concerning Old Testament prophecy when He explained the spiritual fulfilment of ‘the second coming of Elijah’. Not all prophecy is to be interpreted literally, and certainly not by the theory of double fulfilment!
The Bible student has to be open minded and capable of differentiating between literal and spiritual fulfilment without presupposition or bias.
This is also a prerequisite when interpreting prophecies concerning the second coming of Christ!
The fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy was in the 1st century AD.
What do you think?