Chapter 2 of Melakhim II describes how Eliyahu is carried to the heavens in a whirlwind amidst fiery horses and chariots:
(א) וַיְהִי בְּהַעֲלוֹת י"י אֶת אֵלִיָּהוּ בַּסְעָרָה הַשָּׁמָיִם...
(יא) וַיְהִי הֵמָּה הֹלְכִים הָלוֹךְ וְדַבֵּר וְהִנֵּה רֶכֶב אֵשׁ וְסוּסֵי אֵשׁ וַיַּפְרִדוּ בֵּין שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיַּעַל אֵלִיָּהוּ בַּסְעָרָה הַשָּׁמָיִם.
The depiction is both wondrous and mysterious, clearly indicating that Eliyahu did not die a natural death. In fact, it makes one wonder whether Eliyahu died at all.
Throughout the chapter, there is discussion of the prophet's imminent departure:
...כִּי הַיּוֹם י"י לֹקֵחַ אֶת אֲדֹנֶיךָ מֵעַל רֹאשֶׁךָ...בְּטֶרֶם אֶלָּקַח מֵעִמָּךְ...אִם תִּרְאֶה אֹתִי לֻקָּח מֵאִתָּךְ...
In all of these verses, the speakers state that Eliyahu is to be taken, but not that he is about to die.1 Is the word "לֹקֵחַ" simply euphemistic language for death, or are the characters suggesting that Eliyahu was meant to be taken by Hashem while still alive? The fact that the prophets (בני הנביאים) search for Eliyahu after the incident further implies that they, too, were unsure of his fate. Thus, the reader is left to wonder: did Eliyahu die or is he still living? If the former, how is the supernatural scene of his death to be understood? If the latter, where does Eliyahu dwell? Why, of all prophets, was he chosen to defy mortality?
A Posthumous Letter?
Eliyahu is mentioned twice in Tanakh after his disappearance in the storm. In Divrei HaYamaim, we read of a letter sent by him to king Yehoram:
וַיָּבֹא אֵלָיו מִכְתָּב מֵאֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא לֵאמֹר כֹּה אָמַר י"י אֱלֹהֵי דָּוִיד אָבִיךָ תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַכְתָּ בְּדַרְכֵי יְהוֹשָׁפָט אָבִיךָ וּבְדַרְכֵי אָסָא מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה.
As Elisha appears to succeed Eliyahu as prophet already during the reign of Yehoshafat,2 Yehoram's father, it seems that this letter was received after Eliyahu was taken by Hashem. If he had died, though, how could he write such a letter? Is this, then, evidence that he is still alive?3
Harbinger of the Day of God
At the end of Malakhi, Eliyahu makes a second appearance. Hashem announces that He is going to send Eliyahu to the people before the coming of the "Great Day of Hashem", so that he can help them repent:
(כג) הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם י"י הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא. (כד) וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם פֶּן אָבוֹא וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם.
(23) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming Of the great and terrible day of the Lord. (24) And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, And the heart of the children to their fathers; Lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming Of the great and terrible day of the Lord.
Is Eliyahu being resurrected in order to fulfill his duties or does this verse also imply that Eliyahu never died?