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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, March 14 2024

What became of Enoch and Elijah?

A biblical event many cite to support the belief the righteous go to heaven when they die involves the prophet Elijah. Some also believe Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5 declare God took Enoch to heaven.

Genesis 5:24 tells us “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Hebrews 11:5 adds: “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”

The Bible does not say Enoch was taken to heaven. It simply says God “took him” without specifying where he was taken. John 3:13 tells us: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” Although we don’t know exactly what happened to Enoch, we do know he did not go to heaven. He died and is awaiting the resurrection of the just.

God doesn’t give us the details of what happened, but a few scenarios have been proposed that do not conflict with the fact that Enoch died as the Bible says. Enoch died at 365 years old, which was young for his time. Those before and after him lived into their 800s and 900s, causing some to speculate that God "took him" from life prematurely so he would not have to live out his remaining centuries in a miserable world, with his next moment of consciousness being the resurrection (see Isaiah 57:1-2).

God could also have transported Enoch elsewhere to keep him from martyrdom at the hands of angry persecutors who didn’t like his announcement of coming divine judgment (Jude 14-16). Still others, putting the likelihood of Enoch experiencing persecution together with his early death, have concluded that Enoch was murdered—martyred for his preaching. Enoch being taken and not found would then refer to God removing his body and burying it—as happened with Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). Enoch being taken so that he would not see death could also refer to him being spiritually converted, transferred from the world's ways to God's way of living, so that he would not see ultimate death in the lake of fire (compare Colossians 1:13; John 8:51).

Hebrews 11:13 tells us concerning all the men and women of faith listed there, including Enoch: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." We don't have enough details to know exactly what is intended, but we do know that Enoch did not skip death and go to heaven. He died, and no human being has ascended to heaven except Jesus Christ.

Elijah

Another biblical event many cite to support the belief the righteous go to heaven when they die involves the prophet Elijah, who was a prophet of God in the ninth century B.C. The Bible states "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11).

Many assume Elijah was at this point made immortal and taken to the heaven where God resides. This was not the case, and the sons of the prophets knew this, and were concerned for his safety. They knew the whirlwind had simply removed Elijah to another location on earth, telling Elisha: "Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley" (2 Kings 2:16).

Careful study shows that three "heavens" are discussed in the Bible. One is God's dwelling place—the place of His throne—the heaven where the resurrected Jesus is today. Speaking of Christ, who is our High Priest, the Bible says, "We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Hebrews 8:1). Heaven is specifically called God's dwelling place (Deuteronomy 26:15). The Apostle Paul calls this heaven the "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2). It's described as the "third" because, being in the spirit realm, it is beyond the other two, which are in the physical realm.

Another heaven discussed in the Bible is outer space, the domain of the moon, planets, comets, asteroids, sun and stars. David spoke of this when he reflected on the awesomeness of God's creation (Psalm 8:3), and many scriptures mention "the stars of heaven" (Genesis 26:4; Deuteronomy 1:10 and 28:62; Isaiah 13:10).

The other heaven, closest to us in proximity, is earth’s atmosphere, the envelope of air surrounding our planet, consisting of oxygen and other gasses, mentioned in such passages as Genesis 7:11-12, which describes the great flood of Noah's day: "The windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights." The Bible also speaks of "the birds of heaven," those that fly overhead (Job 35:11; Jeremiah 16:4). It was into the lower reaches of this first, closest heaven—the earth's atmosphere—that Elijah was taken.

Several years after Elijah was removed in the whirlwind, Elijah wrote to King Jehoram of Judah, to warn him of the consequences of his wickedness (2 Chronicles 21:12-15), proving he was still alive on earth some years after he was removed by the whirlwind and replaced by Elisha. The Bible tells us nothing more about Elijah’s life following his writing of this letter, but he eventually died just like the other prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament. They all died in faith, not yet receiving the eternal life God has promised as Hebrews 11:39 states.