Who Has Ascended?

Today, it is commonly believed that when a person dies they go to heaven (unless they are very wicked, then they go to hell). This concept is taught, not only in Christendom but throughout the secular world as well. However, Y'shua said:

"'No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.'" (John 3:13)

"'And the Father Himself, who sent Me has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.'" (John 5:37)

The Apostle Peter testified that not even king David, whom God loved as a man after His own heart, has  ascended into heaven:

"'For David did not ascend into the heavens ...'" (Acts 2:34)

So why the controversy? The three Scriptural episodes that most readily call into question the teaching that death is the cessation of life, are the stories about Enoch, Elijah, and the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. A cursory reading of each one of these stories tends to support the idea that all three men are currently alive and well in heaven. And, of course, if they are, then it stands to reason that all of the other righteous men and women who ever lived, and subsequently died, must also be alive and well in heaven.

But is this true? Is this what the Scriptures really teach? Or are there some misunderstandings about these stories that need to be clarified? In this chapter we will examine all three of these stories, as they are set forth in Scripture, and see if what is commonly believed about these men is really supported by Scriptural evidence.

Before beginning, it is important to point out that the first chapter in this issue: The Sting of Death, and the second chapter: The Hope of the Resurrection, examine a number of Scriptures which testify to the fact that the soul of man can and does die, and that the spirit of man remains in an unconscious sleep like state until it is resurrected. It is upon the foundation of these two chapters that this one has been written.

~ Multiple Heavens ~

Let us first examine the story of Elijah being taken up in a Chariot of Fire:

 "And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. ... "Then it happened, as they  continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." (II Kings 2:1, 11)

Well, it certainly says that Elijah was taken up into heaven by a 'whirlwind,' or Chariot of Fire. But a question needs to be asked; What is the correct definition of 'heaven?' According to the Scriptures, heaven is a created place:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1)

Notice that God created more than one heaven, for it says clearly that He created heavens, plural. In fact, in Hebrew every usage of the word heaven is in the plural form (shamaim = shaw-mah-eem'). The root word (shama = shaw-mah'), which is singular, is never used.

The Apostle Paul confirms the existence of more than one heaven when he relates the story of someone (we know not whom but presume it was Paul himself) being taken up into one of them:

 "... I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago -- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows -- such a one was caught up to the third heaven." (II Cor. 12:1-2)

According to Jewish tradition there are not just three heavens, rather there are seven, and some writings indicate the number to be ten. It is very interesting to note that the third heaven (of the supposed seven) is said to be 'Paradise.' This squares exactly with what Paul relates about his visionary experience:

"And I know such a man -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (II Cor. 12:3-4)

If one wishes to stick strictly with the Scriptures (always the safest course), it is clear there exists three 'heavens.' The first heaven would probably be the atmosphere that surrounds the earth; the air in which the birds and airplanes fly, and which contains the oxygen so necessary to sustain life. The second heaven could well be classified as outer space; the seemingly limitless area that exists between the planets and the stars, but which cannot sustain oxygen breathing creatures. Presumably, the third heaven would be the one in which God exists; a nonphysical place that might well be very near to us, but which cannot be seen with physical, human eyes. This is likely the place of which it is written:

"The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD's throne is in heaven." (Psalm 11:4a)

Some feel that the heaven in which God dwells exists in the northern sky. They base this teaching on a verse from Isaiah which depicts Lucifer attempting to exalt himself over the throne of God:

"For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north;" (Isa. 14:13)

Returning to the story of Elijah, it is written that Elijah was taken up into heaven. However, the story about Elijah and the Chariot of Fire does not say that he died, for (as we shall see) the Scriptures show that it was not possible that Elijah could have died at this time. This being the case, it could mean that he was taken up into the atmosphere of the earth (the first heaven), similar to the place where modern airplanes fly, and transported to another earthly location.

~ Elijah's Great Escape ~

In order to establish the fact that Elijah was still alive on earth after being taken up in the Chariot of Fire, we must examine the line of kings for both Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom), during the period known as the Divided Monarchy.

We pick up the story with king Ahab of Israel. He is considered to be the worst king Israel had in their approximately 240 years as a nation. It was primarily during his reign that Elijah functioned as a prophet. King Ahab had a son named Ahaziah who became co-regnant with his father Ahab. This happened in the:

"... seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah ..." (I Kings 22:51)

Shortly after Ahaziah became co-regnant, his father, king Ahab, died leaving  Ahaziah to be the sole king over Israel (I Kings 22:37, 40). But king Ahaziah had a very short reign. He fell ill and sent servants to inquire of Baal-zebub as to whether or not he would recover, but God sent Elijah the Prophet to intercept the messengers and tell them YHVH had determined that he was to die:

"So Ahaziah (the king of Israel) died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken. Because he had no son, Jehoram became king in his place, in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah." (II Kings 1:17)

Prior to this time, a different man, also named Jehoram (this one the son of king Jehoshaphat of Judah) also began a co-regnant reign with his father, in the kingdom of  Judah. So now there are two kings, one in Israel and one in Judah, both named Jehoram. Despite the confusion of having two kings with the same name, plus the co-regnant years in both kingdoms, the Scriptures are clear that king Jehoshaphat was still in power in Judah when Elisha performed his first act as a prophet:

"But Jehoshaphat said, 'Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?' And one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, 'Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.'" (II Kings 3:11)

This verse indicates that Elijah's ride in the Chariot of Fire must have taken place prior to the death of king Jehoshaphat, because his successor, Elisha, is already acting as a prophet. After Jehoshaphat's death there were the two Jehorams, each one reigning over their respective kingdom. It is interesting to note that king Jehoram of Judah was married to Athaliah, the daughter of the wicked king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel. Jezebel was of Phoenician rather than Israelite descent, and was completely caught up in Baal worship. King Ahab and queen Jezebel were also the parents of king Jehoram of Israel. Thus, the two  Jehorams were brothers-in-law.

~ Elijah's Final Prophecy ~

The final prophecy of Elijah comes in the form of a letter to Jehoram king of Judah, rather than to the king of Israel. This is the first and only time that Elijah the prophet ever pronounced a prophecy exclusively toward Judah, all of his previous prophecies had been toward the kings of Israel.

King Jehoram did that which was evil in the sight of YHVH, including the killing of all his brothers and the other princes of Judah:

"Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab and done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD. ...

"Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit harlotry, and led Judah astray." (II Chron. 21:5-6, 11)

It was at this point that God instructed Elijah to write king Jehoram of Judah a letter. This was several years after Elijah had taken his famous ride in the Chariot of Fire:

"And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, 'Thus says the LORD God of your father David: "Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father's household, who were better than yourself, behold, the LORD will strike your people with a serious affliction -- your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, 24 until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day."'" (II Chron. 21:12-15)

This letter from Elijah came to king Jehoram of Judah several years after the supposed 'death' of Elijah. It represented Elijah's last recorded prophetic utterance.

It is our contention that Elijah did not die at the time of his chariot ride, nor was he taken to a permanent home in heaven and given immortality. Rather, it seems clear to us that he was physically transported by God to another location, probably outside of Israel and Judah, where he was 'retired' from prophetic service. He had served well and had suffered greatly during his years of service, and it was time to let someone younger take on the responsibility. Based on all of the other Scriptures which speak of a physical death and resurrection, along with Y'shua's words that "no one has ascended into heaven," we conclude that Elijah's ride in the Chariot of Fire took place in the first heaven (the atmosphere).

~ What Happened to Enoch? ~

Now let us turn our attention to Enoch, the pre-flood man who was said to have been 'taken' by God:

"Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. ... "Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. "So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." (Gen. 5:18, 21-24)

The book of Hebrews speaks of this event as well:

"By faith Enoch was translated so that he did not see death, 'and was not found, because God had translated him;' for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." (Heb. 11:5)

The English word used here to describe Enoch being taken away is the word "translated." A more correct rendering of the Greek word, metatithemi (met-ah-tee-'thay-mee, Strong's #3346) would be "taken away." For example, the same Greek word is used to describe the bodies of Jacob and Joseph being brought back from Egypt to be buried in the promised land:

"And they were carried (metatithemi) back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem." (Acts 7:16)

So, to be "translated" merely means to be moved or carried to another place. In this case, Enoch was moved to another place so that he would not "see death." It does not say in either of these verses that Enoch "was taken to heaven."

The question must be asked: Why would God move Enoch away from the center of civilization? One possible answer could be that there were other men who desired to take Enoch's life. The reason for their hatred toward Enoch could well be because he "walked with God." The fact that the Scriptures state this proposition twice is indicative of its importance.

A similar type of experience may have happened to Philip, the deacon who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, when the Scripture says:

"Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing." (Acts 8:39)

Here the Greek word for "caught away" is harpazo, and it means: "to seize, carry off by force; ... to snatch out or away." There is much disagreement in the world of Biblical interpretation as to exactly what happened to both Enoch and Philip, but in Philip's case, we know from the very next verse that he did not leave the earth:

"But Philip was found at Azotus." (Acts 8:40a)

It is worthwhile to note that within the traditions of Judaism, two views prevail concerning Enoch. The most common tradition, and the one accepted by Rabbinic Judaism, is similar to the common Christian understanding. In this view, Enoch is taken to heaven where he was given the names of Metatron and Safra Rabba, or 'Great Scribe.'

The second view is somewhat different.  were we find that Enoch is said to have actually suffered death in his three hundred and sixty-fifth year. This viewpoint is delineated in the following quote from The Jewish Encyclopedia:

"Enoch is held to have been inconsistent in his piety and therefore to have been removed by God before his time in order to forestall further lapses. The miraculous character of his translation is denied, his death being attributed to the plague." (Vol. 5, p. 178.)

Given the multitude of Scriptures that indicate men do not go to dwell in heaven for all eternity upon their death, and given the clear words of Y'shua that:

"'No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.'" (John 3:13)

It is therefore our conclusion that Enoch was moved away from the center of civilization so that he would not be killed by men who hated him because of his close relationship with God. It is also our view that he did not die at that time, else the Scriptures would state that fact, as it does with the other pre-flood men of renown.

~ A Parable ~

Now let us turn our attention to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man:

"'There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

"'So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

"'Then he cried and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."

"'But Abraham said, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us."

"'Then he said, "I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment."

"'Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them."

"'And he said, "No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent."

"'But he said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead."'" (Luke 16:19-31)

There were two primary methods of teaching used by the first century rabbis. One is called Aggadah (Ah-gah-dah), or the story method of teaching; the other was called Halacha (Hah-lah-cah = "the way one walks"), which was the teaching of Torah principles or 'law.' Y'shua's primary method of teaching was through the use of Aggadah, or storytelling, and His parables give witness to this fact.

The first thing to recognize about any parable is that it is a parable, not a literal truth. This was certainly true in the first century when Jewish teachers used a story method called Midrash, in which the story itself did not have to be true literally, but the moral that it taught did. Although Y'shua did sometimes teach Halacha, His primary method of instruction was Aggadic, employing parables or Midrash.

The following interpretive passage teaches us that the parables of Y'shua are in the form of classic Jewish Midrash, and are not to be taken literally:

"Another parable He put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.

"'But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, "Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?"

"'He said to them, "An enemy has done this."

"'The servants said to him, "Do you want us then to go and gather them up?"

"'But he said, "No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"'" (Matt. 13:24-30)

A literal reading of this parable might have lead some to conclude that, just prior to the return of Y'shua to this earth, all Believers would turn into either wheat plants or weeds. However, the accompanying interpretation makes its meaning clear:

"Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, 'Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.'

"He answered and said to them: 'He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.

"'Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

"'Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!'" (Matt. 13:36-43)

The moral truths of the Midrash known as the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man are all supported by other Scriptures as follows:

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is not intended to be a factual, literal account of life in heaven. To view this parable in a literal sense is to do injustice to the intentions of Y'shua's method of teaching. When Y'shua wanted to communicate a factual truth, He used the Halachic method and spoke in a direct, factual manner. For example:

"'You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not commit adultery," but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.'" (Matt. 5:27-28)

This is a clear Halachic example of Y'shua teaching His disciples a stricter interpretation of the law than what was given in the Torah.

Y'shua's use of parables and Midrash were for the purpose of teaching how one should conduct his/her life in preparation for the Kingdom of God.

~ In Conclusion ~

 In our opinion, the Scriptural evidence for an unconscious death and a resurrection back to life, is incontrovertible. Both the Old and New Testaments teach this basic truth. Therefore, those passages which seem to contradict the direct  statements of Scripture in this regard can only, in our opinion, be misunderstandings based upon long held incorrect beliefs, for the apostles lived their lives according to their hope in the resurrection.

Peter spoke of being begotten (born again) to a living hope of an inheritance that does not fade away:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you." (I Peter 1:3-4)

Paul also spoke of this same hope of a resurrection of the dead:

"But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men." (Acts 24:14-16)

So too, we should live our lives based on our:

HOPE OF THE RESURRECTION

May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life for all eternity.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

~ Sources ~

Carberry, John J. , S.T.D., Ph.D., J.C.D., LL.D., Catholic Encyclopedic Dictionary,, Catholic Bible House, Charlotte, NC, 1961.

Crockett,William Day, A Harmony of the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1961.

Edersheim,Alfred, Bible History, Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., Wilmington, DL.

Gillman,Neil, The Death of Death, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock,VT., 1997.

Green,Jay P., Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1985.

Halley,Henry H., Halley's Bible Handbook, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1965.

Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures, The Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1988.

The Holy Bible (KJV), Oxford University Press, London.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York and London, 1904.

Lieth,Norbert, And Death Shall Be No More, from Midnight Call Magazine, March, 1999, Midnight Call, Inc., W. Columbia, SC., 1999.

The Open Bible, The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville,1985.

Sonsino,Rifat & Syme, Daniel B., What Happens After I Die?, UAHC Press, New York, 1990.

Strong, James, S.T.D., L.L.D., Strong's New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, 1986.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, D.D., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1977.

Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux, LL.D., Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1979.

Weissman, Rabbi Moshe, The Midrash Says;The Book of Beraishis, Benei Yakov Publications, Brooklyn, 1980.

Wigram-Green, Jay P., The New Englishman's Greek Concordance and Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA., 1982.

Wigram, George V., The Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1980.

       
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