Yeshua once said, “No man has ascended up to heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.” (John 3:13)
Did you catch that? No man has gone to heaven, but Yeshua Himself! That’s a pretty clear statement, but it raises an issue with two men from Scripture who we have been taught went straight to heaven without dying – namely Enoch and Elijah. If Yeshua’s statement is true, and we know He doesn’t lie, then on face value it means Enoch and Elijah apparently didn’t go straight to heaven. Let’s examine this to see if there can be any plausible answer to this dilemma.
We’ll look at the prophet Elijah first, and the details of interest to us are found in 2 Kings 2:1-12. This passage begins with the words, “And it came to pass, when YHWH would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind”. Ok then, so perhaps the storybooks are correct, but let’s keep searching out this matter.
In verses 3 and 5, we see that the “sons of the prophets” said to Elisha that YHWH was going to take his master (Elijah) away from his head that very day. With this terminology, they never actually said that Elijah was going to die or be taken into heaven. But, we come to the climax of the passage in verse 11, where we’re told, “it came to pass, as [Elijah and Elishah] still went on and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it …”. Once again, it appears pretty straightforward – until we consider exactly what “heaven” is.
Heaven can certainly mean “the abode of GOD”, but equally it can mean “the atmosphere above the ground”. We read in the first chapter of Genesis that the birds fly in the heavens, and I believe that this could be the answer to our quandary with Elijah. I think it is at least plausible that Elijah went up into the atmospheric heaven and disappeared from view, perhaps into the clouds.
Another piece of evidence for this view is found in the actions of the sons of the prophets after this event took place. We see in 2 Kings 2:15-18 that they searched for Elijah. They never found him, but we see that they didn’t even consider that Elijah had been taken into the heaven of GOD – neither before or after their search. So, although this is used as evidence that Elijah escaped death and went into YHWH’s heavenly abode, the text doesn’t actually state this.
More evidence of Elijah’s survival after the whirlwind is found in 2 Chronicles 21:12. The passage contains a letter from Elijah to King Jehoram – possibly written seven years after the whirlwind incident! It must be said that many theologians discount this in various ways, so you’ll have to decide if the theologians are discounting the letter’s timing to hold to long held beliefs, or for more valid reasons. Also, there is an interesting verse in 1 Kings 18:12 that could possibly be seen as prophetic. Elijah meets Obadiah, and asks him to bring King Ahab to him. Obadiah is fearful to do so because he thinks that “as soon as I am gone from thee, the Spirit of YHWH shall carry thee whither I know not”. Interesting!
So, my proposal is that Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind into the sky and transported to another place outside of Israel, thus allowing Elisha to take over his role as prophet. With this scenario, Elijah would have later died as all other men did.
Turning to Hebrews 11:39,40, we read that the people previously mentioned in the chapter (which included the prophets, of which Elijah was one) “shall not be made perfect” without us. This indicates (to me at least) that none of the “Old Testament saints” would currently be in heaven with YHWH. This same chapter brings out further things of interest to us. Verse 13 says that those mentioned in the preceding verses “all died in faith”. One of these men that died was Enoch – the other man we have been taught went directly into heaven! Verse 5 tells us that “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because GOD had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased GOD.” So, from my understanding, we see that Enoch was translated that he should not see death, yet he died according to Hebrews! The word “translated” means “to put in another place”. Therefore, we know that Enoch was put into another place by YHWH – but we are not actually told where. Genesis 5:24 only tells us that “Enoch walked with GOD: and he was not; for GOD took him”. This doesn’t tell us where YHWH took him either. It appears, though, that wherever he was taken, he was never seen again by others.
One very interesting suggestion is that Enoch may have been taken/translated to the Garden of Eden. Enoch walked with GOD, and we’re told that Adam and Eve also walked with GOD in that very place. If Enoch was taken to the Garden, it may have been for the express purpose of keeping him from the great sin and depravity of mankind at that time. He also would not have seen death, just as Scripture teaches! In fact, Eden was possibly the only place on earth that this could have happened.
If you think all of this is a little far-fetched, then it’s worth considering one other story found in Acts 8. In this story we see exactly what we’ve been reading about, but with one extra verse to give added information. Philip had finished baptizing an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to Jerusalem from his Queen Candace. In verse 39 of the chapter we read that “the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more.” That sounds particularly reminiscent of Enoch and Elijah to me. However, this time we’re told that Philip was actually transported to another place – Azotus (v40)! Here is a Scriptural example of YHWH taking a person from one place to another earthly place. It happened once – couldn’t it have happened two times before!?
To conclude, we may ask ourselves if any of this really matters? Well, probably not in terms of our salvation, but it may well impact some of our understanding in other parts of our lives. Firstly, we read Yeshua’s words at the beginning of this post. He said no man has ascended up to heaven! Was He telling us the truth or not? We read in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed unto men once to die …”. I realise that there are a select few that have actually died twice, but is it possible for some to have never died in the past? Is Scripture the truth always? I believe that the suggestions I’ve put forward show that we can hold to the truth of all Scripture!
The final point to be made is that many of us have been taught that once we die, we’re immediately in heaven with our GOD. Stories like Elijah and Enoch highlight this for us if we accept the common understanding. However, I now have cause to question that belief. And this flows on to other things too. If no-one is currently in heaven, then what about all these top selling books we see in christian bookstores? Dare we question those??
I’ve posted this in order to help us question our beliefs and our understanding of the Word of YHWH. Sometimes (often?), our beliefs are based on things other than the Scriptures themselves. We must live our lives in submission to Him by continually seeking His will and His truth – no matter what man may teach or say!