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In 2 Chronicles 21, the wicked King Jehoram of Judah receives a letter from the prophet Elijah. The letter from Elijah said this, in part: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘. . . You have followed the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your own family, men who were better than you. So now the Lord is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out’” (verses 12–15).

The account of Elijah’s grim and graphic letter to Jehoram seems fairly straightforward—a prophet of God delivers a divine message of judgment to a wicked ruler. However, matters are complicated by a comparison with 2 Kings chapters 2 and 3. In 2 Kings 2, Elijah is translated to heaven in a chariot of fire. Then, 2 Kings 3 relates the story of King Jehoshaphat taking military action against the Moabites and receiving advice from Elisha, Elijah’s successor. The order of events presents a conundrum: if Elijah was taken to heaven during the reign of Jehoshaphat, then how can he send a letter to Jehoram, who was the king after Jehoshaphat?

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    @NigelJ It's not a problem for this site to also have a definitive answer for each alleged contradiction. However most of them have also already been asked here before!
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 10 at 23:27
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This question is an exact replica of the same question on Got Questions.

The answer is - also - on Got Questions, after the question.

So I have just copied the answer to here :

  1. Jehoram is anointed king of Judah (2 Kings 1:17), ruling with his father, Jehoshaphat, for the final 5 or 6 years of his father’s reign.
  1. Elijah is translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:1–18).
  1. Jehoshaphat, advised by Elisha, teams with the king of Israel in a fight against Moab (2 Kings 3).
  1. Jehoshaphat dies, leaving Jehoram to rule alone (2 Chronicles 21:1).
  1. Jehoram murders all his brothers (2 Chronicles 21:4) and builds idolatrous high places in Judah (verse 11).
  1. Jehoram receives a letter from Elijah that details his judgment (2 Chronicles 21:12–15).

According to the above chronology, Elijah was taken from this world during the joint reign of Jehoshaphat and Jehoram. The question then becomes, how did Elijah send a letter to Jehoram about the evil the king did, when Elijah was not around during that time?

There are several reasonable explanations for how Elijah’s letter was delivered to King Jehoram seemingly after Elijah’s translation to heaven:

First, it’s possible that the author of 2 Kings did not place the account of Elijah’s translation to heaven in chronological order with the surrounding chapters. Elijah could have still been serving as prophet until much later in the reign of Jehoram.

Another possibility is that Elijah wrote the letter to Jehoram before his departure to heaven and left it for Elisha or someone else to deliver. Elijah was a prophet, after all. God could easily have given him the words to write ahead of time.

Another possibility is that, before his translation to heaven, Elijah told Elisha what Jehoram would do and what God’s judgment would be. When the time came, Elisha wrote out Elijah’s prophecy and delivered it to King Jehoram.

It’s also been suggested that Elijah was not translated to heaven but was whisked away to another location, much like Philip was in Acts 8:39–40. Elijah then was able to write the letter personally at the time of Jehoram’s sin and have it delivered through a courier. According to this theory, after the whirlwind experience of 2 Kings 2, Elijah lived out the remainder of his days in a secret location.

In any case, the letter from Elijah was prophetic in that it condemned Jehoram’s sin and predicted his judgment before the king became ill.

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How did Elijah send a letter to King Jehoram, if Elijah had already been taken to heaven?

The problem here is with the interpretation of "heaven".

The word "heaven" can refer to:

  • Earth's atmosphere.
  • Space, including all the stars and planets.
  • God's home.

The third one is in fact referred to as "the third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2.

In this case, Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind, so the reference to "heaven" obviously refers to the Earth's atmosphere. Elijah was taken up, but then he was transported elsewhere and returned safely to the surface of the Earth.

The fact that Elijah was heard from well after this event simply confirms that the whirlwind did not take him to the third heaven, as is popularly believed.

For more details, see:

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  • Would you agree that Acts 8:39 parallels 2 Kings 2:11-12? It seems to me that Luke used elements of the Elijah's disappearance story to tell us about the end of Philip's encounter with the eunuch. Which suggests Luke himself did not think that Elijah had gone to heaven. Sep 13 at 23:53
  • @ארקדיוס, yes. The events are similar enough that it's hard to argue that Elijah and Enoch went directly to heaven but Philip stayed here. Sep 14 at 0:14

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