Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. (II Kings 2:11)
A dramatic exit, with fiery horses and a fiery chariot.
Elijah had spent his life insisting on the truth, accusing liars and cheaters to their faces, tirelessly serving the God of Abraham and Moses, even when everyone around him tried to forget the Ten Commandments. Certainly his dramatic exit from this world vindicated Elijah in all his efforts. The Lord brought the prophet’s work to a particularly eminent conclusion.
But the ancient Israelites understood Elijah’s ride into heaven in another way, too. They understood it as having something to do, not just with the past, but with the future. The fact that Elijah did not die meant that his relentless zeal, his unswerving insistence on faithfulness to the one, almighty Creator—the meaning of Elijah’s danger-filled life—it was not ending. Elijah’s earthly career came to an end, but his ministry of serving justice and truth was not over.
The Israelites knew that the fiery chariot ride meant that everything the prophet Elijah preached and hoped for would be accomplished and fulfilled. The Messiah would come from the heaven to which Elijah had ridden. Then an age of reconciliation, of peace and communion between Israel and God—the kingdom of God, in other words–would come.
Elijah rode into heaven as a sign that Jesus would come from heaven to us, and that all hearts should await Him vigilantly.