by David Tavender
Over the years that Spiritual Blessings has been in publication, we have printed several articles on what happens after death. Most, if not all, of these articles will have expressed the view that a believer does not go directly to Heaven after dying, but lies unconscious and in need of resurrection which will take place at a future time of God’s choosing. We do not intend to plead for acceptance of this approach in this edition, so, for an overview of “life and death” issues, we refer you to another article on this website, titled “The Soul and What Happens To It at Death“.
Elijah and Enoch
In light of our stand point regarding the believer’s need for resurrection, one of our readers asks, “Why was Elijah taken straight up to heaven, and also Enoch?”
Let’s begin by looking at two relevant verses of Scripture:
- “…and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (1 Kings 2:11)
- “…and Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24)
Have you ever considered the possibility that neither Elijah nor Enoch was actually taken up to what we call “Heaven” to live an eternal life of bliss with God?
In brief, it is my belief that both of these men were moved from one place on earth to another place on earth. Consider how the apostle Philip was taken away by the Spirit from the Gaza road, to be later found perhaps 30kms (20 miles) away at Azotus (Acts 8:39,40). Philip didn’t walk there, and he certainly didn’t die first and then appear in some post-life form. God simply moved him from one place to another place, and Philip continued living as a mortal does, until at some later point he died. I think this can help us to see what may have taken place in the lives of both Enoch and Elijah. Let’s look at each one in turn.
Doesn’t the text say Elijah was taken up “into heaven” ? Yes, that’s exactly what the English says. But the Hebrew word from which it is translated – shamayim – is used interchangeably to mean “the abode of God” (“God in heaven” – 2 Chronicles 20:6) and sometimes to mean “sky”, as in where the birds fly and the clouds are (“…fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven” – Genesis 1:20). It is occasionally unclear as to which meaning should be applied. Here, I am suggesting that Elijah was taken up into the sky by the whirlwind and placed back down on the earth elsewhere, for it is more consistent with the overall testimony of Scripture regarding life and death.
Furthermore, it is well worth noting that neither Elijah nor Enoch was said to have been living with God in Heaven after they were taken away – and you will not find it said of any other human either. For example, in Acts 2, Peter refers to:
“the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day…For David is not ascended into the heavens…” (Acts 2:29,34)
David is not looking down at us from Heaven, and neither are Elijah or Enoch in my opinion.
In support of the suggestion that Elijah was placed back on the earth is the record of a letter from Elijah to King Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:12), which would have been written and delivered some 10-15 years after Elijah was supposed to have been gone from the earth! The most likely explanation, in my opinion, is that Elijah was simply moved by the whirlwind to another place back on the earth, and then, years later, wrote the letter in the normal fashion.
Regarding Enoch, it is said that, “By faith, Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him” (Hebrews 11:5). Also, “…Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
However, this is not all that Scripture has to say about the matter. Hebrews 11 outlines a chronological list of those who are said to have exhibited faith in some way. Enoch is one of those, as seen in Hebrews 11:5, quoted above. The faithful, listed in verses 4 to 12 of that chapter, is comprised of Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Verse 13 goes on to tell us that “these all died“, and that includes Enoch.
But how could Enoch “not see death”, and still die, as I am suggesting? We are told that he “was translated that he should not see death”, and it seems likely to me that somehow Enoch’s life was in danger where he was, so God removed him from that location. It’s a theory, but it seems to be a more consistent view than making an exception to the laws of life and death which have applied to every human being since Adam and Eve.
In addition, the word “translated” (Hebrews 11:5) is the Greek word metatithemi, and is used elsewhere to describe the carrying of bones to another place (Acts 7:16). More evidence that Enoch was probably moved, rather than “raptured” in some way.
The Prayer of Jonah
Some time ago, I presented a Bible study on Jonah at one of our meetings. At that meeting, it was suggested that Jonah had actually died before being spewed out of the fish’s belly and onto dry land. One of our younger readers (12 years of age) in attendance at that meeting later wrote to me and asked: “If Jonah was dead in the belly of the great fish, then how could he pray to the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly?”
The question was a good one, and a closer look at what Jonah says solves the problem.
Jonah’s prayer (ch 2:1-9) is not, “Lord, please get me out of this fish”. Rather, it is a prayer of thanksgiving for having been made alive – and this took place while he was still in the great fish’s belly!
We should really go back a step and fill in some of the details surrounding Jonah’s prayer. You can read about the events we are covering in chapters 1 and 2 of Jonah’s prophecy.
As one of the Old Testament prophets, Jonah was commissioned by the Lord to preach to the Ninevites, but chose instead to “run away”. In the process, he was thrown into the raging sea, where he was swallowed by a great fish. Let’s now take a closer look at some of the events, in the order in which I think they took place. Keep the book of Jonah open and see how this summary compares with the Bible text…
- Firstly, the sailors threw Jonah into the sea (1:15);
- Jonah began to drown and lose consciousness as he prayed to the Lord (2:7);
- He was swallowed by the fish (1:17);
- … and he continued to pray, losing consciousness (2:2).
- Jonah died, and he remained dead in the belly of the fish for three days and nights (1:17);
- The Lord brought Jonah to life again in the belly of the fish (2:6)
- … where he offered up the prayer of thanksgiving recorded in 2:1-9.
- Finally, the fish vomited Jonah onto the dry land, alive (2:10).
I believe the text of the book of Jonah supports this view on its own, but there is New Testament evidence as well. For instance, as the Lord Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, he refers to: “the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”. (Matthew 12:40) For the full context see Matthew 12:38-45, and Luke 11:29-32.
We know that the Lord Jesus died, was three days and nights in the tomb, and then was raised again. Here he is talking about his death and resurrection and calls it “the sign of Jonah”. Obviously, from the Lord’s words, Jonah’s ordeal inside the great fish was not merely an unusual story. Among other things, it was designed to help later generations, including us, to better understand the death and resurrection of the Lord Himself.
Jonah in “Hell”
Regarding Jonah’s prayer, The KJV says, “out of the belly of hell cried I” (Jonah 2:2).
Was Jonah temporarily punished in hellfire before the Lord put him back on dry land? The answer is No. The NIV translates this phrase, “from the depths of the grave I called for help”, and this better reflects the original Hebrew of the verse.
The Hebrew word often translated “hell” is sheol, and simply means “the grave”. Jonah was as good as dead when he issued that cry for help, and he saw that he was headed for the grave when he began to drown.
Later in the same chapter, the KJV says “you brought up my life from corruption” (Jonah 2:6). Again the NIV translates this particular phrase well when it says, “you brought my life up from the pit”. In other words, Jonah was brought up from the place where one buries the dead.
Yes, there are still questions which will be raised about the fate of each of these men, but, at this time, I believe that the suggestions offered above hold up well against the orthodox views when we consider the overwhelming picture that Scripture paints for us regarding life and death – i.e. not that believers go to heaven straight away after death, but that the hope of the believer lies in resurrection through the grace of God. Let us, when we consider these issues, look at the general patterns of God’s dealings with man which are laid before us, and resist the temptation to have the rare, odd and unusual events which we find in Scripture form the basis of our beliefs about these things.
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Further reading: “The Soul, and what happens to it after Death“.
Listen or download the free MP3 audio series (with accompanying charts) – “Life, Death and Resurrection“.