The Bible teaches that when we die, our body returns to dust (Genesis 3:19) and God’s power or breath that has kept us alive returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Death is a punishment. It is separation from the LIVING God. Many christians believe that they will go to heaven when they die but this is not what the Bible teaches.
Now, when we look at the stories of Elijah and Enoch in the Bible, we have a problem. Lets look first at Elijah.
Read 2 Kings 2:1-14. Verse 11 clearly says that Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind (that is a very strong wind). How do we understand this? First, let me remind you of the words of Jesus. We know that Jesus never sinned and therefore he never lied, so we must believe his words. Read John 3:13. ‘NO man has ever gone into heaven.’ This verse was written nearly 1000 years after Elijah lived, and so we know that Elijah CANNOT have gone to heaven. The Bible also shows that no man has ever seen God, except the Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember, the Bible shows that at death we know nothing. We cannot praise God, we have no feelings (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6) – we are just dust. Our christian hope is to be resurrected from the dead when Jesus returns (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). But how can we explain this verse that says Elijah went to heaven? Lets look carefully. The first thing to notice is that it does NOT say that Elijah died and went to heaven. In fact, we know that Elijah was still alive 12 years later because he wrote a letter to the King of Judah warning him to repent of his wicked life (2 Chronicles 21:12).
What did the people with Elijah think had happened to him? Did they think he had gone to heaven? Read verse 16. These prophets had seen Elijah taken up into the air but thought that God had just moved him to another mountain or valley. They didn’t think that he’d been taken up to heaven to be with God. Elisha knew that there was no use in trying to find him because God had said that they would be separated (v5).
It is important for us to understand this word heaven. It doesn’t always mean the place where God lives. Psalm 115:16 says that ‘God lives in the HIGHEST heavens but the earth is the place where man lives’. In the Bible, the word heaven describes the space above the earth. Psalm 8:1 says ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’. We see the wonderful power and majesty or glory of God by looking at the clouds, the sunsets ... the heavens here means the sky. Look also at Daniel 4:20-21. The NIV version of the Bible says the birds that ‘fly in the air’, but if we compare it with the AV version, an old version of the Bible, it says ‘the birds that fly in the heavens’. We know that birds cannot leave the sky that surrounds the earth because they’d die, so again, heavens means sky.
Understanding this helps us when we look at Elijah. God didn’t take Elijah to the heaven where God lives. He went up into the sky and was put somewhere else on the earth. The Bible even tells us that this had happened before to Elijah. Read 1 Kings 18:10-12. Elijah lived at a time when King Ahab ruled Israel – he was a wicked king who wanted to kill Elijah and the other prophets of the true God. But God had been protecting Elijah from Ahab. Whenever Elijah’s life was in danger, God had moved him away by His spirit. God also did this in the New Testament to the disciple Philip. Read Acts 8:38-40. After baptising the Ethiopian man, God moved Philip away by the spirit to another place and the Ethiopian man ‘saw him no more’. The Bible tells us that God had moved Philip to a town called Azotus.
So we can see that these verses in 2 Kings 2 about Elijah being taken to heaven DO NOT contradict the rest of Bible teaching. Elijah was just moved to another place on earth to continue his work for God. Romans 5:12 says ALL men have sinned and the ‘wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). Elijah was no different. He sinned and died like all other men and women and waits to be resurrected to life again when Jesus returns.
The few verses that tell us about Enoch can be confusing too. Read Hebrews 11:5.
‘Enoch was taken from this life so that he did not experience death,
he could not be found because God had taken him away’
How can we understand these verses without contradicting Bible teaching? Well, Enoch – like Elijah – sinned and therefore died. Hebrews 11:13 tells us that ‘all these people (mentioned in the chapter) were still living by faith when they died – they didn’t receive the things promised to them’. So,
(a) Enoch died
(b) Enoch has not received the reward promised to faithful followers (which is everlasting life)
Read verses 39-40. Enoch has to wait until the resurrection when Jesus returns to the earth when ALL faithful followers will be rewarded together.
So the Bible certainly isn’t teaching that Enoch was taken to heaven so that he didn’t have to die. We are told some more about Enoch in the Bible and this might help us. This is an idea that explains what Hebrews 11:5 says.
Firstly come to the book of Jude verse 14,15. what do these verses tell us about Enoch?
(a) he was the 7th in the line from Adam
(b) he prophesied (spoke the words of God to wicked men)
(c) his message was that God is going to judge everyone and convict ungodly people of actions and words against Him
Now, come back to Genesis 5:21-24. This is where we first hear about Enoch. These verses tell us:
(a) Enoch walked with God (led a godly life)
(b) God took him away and he ‘was no more’
(c) Enoch lived 365 years. As everyone else in this list died, we know that Enoch died after 365 years.
So, we are told quite a lot of information about Enoch. If we put these things together we get a picture of WHY God took Enoch away. Jude 14 says that Enoch was the 7th from Adam and if we look at Genesis we see that this is true. Enoch came 7 generations after Adam through the line of Seth (see the table below).
We are also told the generations through the line of Cain, Adam’s other son. See the table below.
Lamech lived at the same time as Enoch and the Bible gives us much information about him too. We can see that Lamech was a very ungodly man. Read Genesis 4:19-24.
(a) he was the first man to have 2 wives (God had said a man should have only one wife)
(b) v23 – he sings a song boasting about murdering someone because they had hurt him
(c) v24 – he threatens to get vengeance
Now, why are we told this about Lamech? Remember what Jude said Enoch was doing – speaking Gods words to ungodly men. What was Lamech threatening to do? To kill people speaking against him. Enoch’s life was in danger and so …
‘Enoch was taken from this life so that he would not experience death AT THE HANDS OF WICKED MEN
– he couldn’t be found by LAMECH because God had moved him away’
Like Elijah, God was protecting his faithful servant. So, again we can explain this verse using the details God has given us, to show that the Bible does NOT contradict itself. It does not say that Enoch died and went to heaven. Remember, ‘NO man has EVER gone to heaven.’