Dead Soul Syndrome

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ENOCH AND ELIJAH

Rom 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned."

The bible proclaims the obvious: that every person will die a physical death. No human is exempt: 1Cor 15:22 "For in Adam all die."   Yet a strange teaching is frequently found in Christian churches that Enoch and Elijah never died. Instead these two unique men were allegedly transported or raptured to heaven and escaped death.

In my book on page 58, I acknowledge their mysterious situation as an "anomaly." At the time of writing the book, I could not explain the circumstances of their apparently rule breaking disappearance.  Fortunately, we all keep learning and I have come to understand that no anomaly exists. God did not break his rules of human existence. Instead the judgment and doctrine of many churches has made a mistake of which I partook. I trust this paper will set the record straight.

Enoch and Elijah died. I can be emphatically sure of this because of the primacy of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the first human (although not the last) to beat death. No one comes before Jesus. He is the firstborn from the dead (Rev 1:5) and the appearance of our eternal life (1John 1:2).

This paper will study in detail everything that is Scripturally known about the departure of Enoch and Elijah. Let us start with Enoch. He was the seventh from Adam.

Gen 5:24 (NKJV) "And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him."

Hebrews 11:5 (NKJV) "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."

These two verses are all that we know for sure about Enoch's last days. Everything else that you may have been taught is conjecture and theory.

In Hebrews the Greek word for 'taken away' is metatheseōs. It means changed, removed, translated, put aside. First, it should be noted that this is NOT the word  harpazō or cognate thereof meaning caught up in the rapture as used in 1Thes 4:17. Second, it should be noted that nowhere does the text tell us that Enoch was taken to heaven. He was just taken away from that place.

We are told in Heb 11:5 that Enoch did not experience death, but does that mean that Enoch never-ever died, or only that Enoch did not die at that time? Very powerfully notice that the conclusion to the hall of fame in Heb 11 for the great men of faith says in verse 13 that “these all died in faith.” That would include Enoch.

As a plausible alternative, I'll propose a theory. We are only given 2 verses to work with, so I readily admit this is fiction. However when we explore the theological requirement that Jesus Christ be the first man to  conquer death, then this speculative account seems reasonable.

Perhaps Enoch during the pre-flood world had enemies. We are told that before Noah's flood the morality and godliness of humanity was at an all time low. They sought evil continually. Every imagination of their heart was completely full of wickedness. Enoch was one of a small cadre of faithful men still honoring and respecting his Creator. Perhaps Enoch encountered tribulation, resistance and hatred from his neighbors. They were  going to kill him. The wicked neighbors surrounded Enoch with swords and bludgeoning clubs. They were about to martyr this great holy man, when POOF. Where did Enoch go?

Scripture repeatedly tells us that God will protect his faithful servants. He hid Elijah in a canyon from Jezebel. He shut the lion's mouth for Daniel. There was no hail in Goshen. Perhaps God teleported Enoch away from his persecution to a place of refuge far away where he was not found and escaped certain death. Enoch would still be on earth but he would have been taken, did not see death and was not found. This scenario would explain all of the biblical language.  At this point in Enoch's life, his heir Methuselah was already 300years old. Perhaps his wife had previously died or perhaps she too went with him. We do not know the details. Enoch would have eventually died somewhere and someday as stated in Hebrews 11:13. If his genes were similar to others mentioned during his timeframe, he probably would have lived about another 500 years after being relocated in God's witness protection program.

As I said, the details here are purely speculation. But the theory is biblical. In John 3:13 (NKJV) Jesus said:

"No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man."

Does "no one" include Enoch? Of course, it does. Was Jesus mistaken? Of course, he was not. At the time Jesus spoke those words, no human had ever been to heaven. Isaiah, Ezekiel and others had visions of heaven, but no person had ever actually travelled to heaven in physical body or spiritual body.  We are given scant information about the fate of Enoch, but in Elijah's story it specifically mentions heaven. What about Elijah?

2 Kings 2:11 (NKJV) "Then it happened, as they [Elijah and Elisha] continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."

This verse specifically tells us that Elijah went up into heaven. But which heaven? The Hebrew word shamayim is used to describe three different heavens. The first heaven is where the birds fly and the clouds waft. It is used many times in Scripture. We call it the sky or atmosphere.  The second heaven is where the stars and moon are hung. It envelops our world like a cloak of darkness. We call it outer space. The third heaven is the spiritual celestial abode of God. This is the heaven from which Jesus claims to have come down from. In John 3:13 Jesus is claiming equality and presence with God in the third heaven. He is unique in that no human had been there as of that time.

Elijah could not have gone to the third heaven due to Christ's words. It is silly to consider Elijah going to the second heaven beyond Jupiter in a rocket ship chariot. So that leaves the common sense option that Elijah went up into the sky to be taken away. The fact that he was taken in a whirlwind sets the answer in front of our noses. Wind only exists in the atmosphere.

The reason that Elijah was taken away is told in 2Kings 2:5 "“Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?”
Elisha had been the faithful servant of Elijah. Elisha poured water over the hands of Elijah.  This is a servant's duty. Handling the water jugs is a menial task, not generally performed in antiquity by high ranking social classes. Elisha was a servant.  He was also an apprentice or a prophet in training.  To be a great prophet, you must be humble, thus the servant training.  Elijah was his master over him. Elijah was being removed from the position of prophet and Elisha was going to get a promotion.   This is why Elijah was taken away.

2Kings 2 is the story of Elijah being taken away in the chariot of fire. 2Kings 3, the very next chapter, speaks of a revolt of Moab against Israel. The king of Israel, Joram, asks Jehoshaphat of Judah to help fight. Jehoshaphat agrees and brings with him the king of Edom, who is vassal to Judah at that time. They consult Elisha for guidance. This is important. If Elijah had been still around, then the kings would have talked to the master, not to the servant. This story is AFTER the taking of Elijah. The conclusion to note is that Jehoshaphat is alive after Elijah is taken.

Now look at 2 Chron 21. It includes a curious piece of information. Elijah wrote a letter to King Jehoram of Judah. The dating of the letter has always been problematic for bible students because it clearly was written AFTER Elijah was taken away.

2 Chron 21:1-6, 11-15 "And Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place. 2 He had brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat: Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azaryahu, Michael, and Shephatiah; all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. 3 Their father gave them great gifts of silver and gold and precious things, with fortified cities in Judah; but he gave the kingdom to Jehoram, because he was the firstborn. 4 Now when Jehoram was established over the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself and killed all his brothers with the sword, and also others of the princes of Israel. 5 Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. 6 And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the LORD."

11 "Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit harlotry, and led Judah astray. 12 And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying,

   Thus says the LORD God of your father David:

   Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, 13 but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father’s household, who were better than yourself, 14 behold, the LORD will strike your people with a serious affliction—your children, your wives, and all your possessions; 15 and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day."

Jehoshaphat was a good king of Judah. He reigned for 25yrs in the mid 9th century BC. He was a contemporary and friend of Elijah. After Elijah is taken away, Jehoshaphat consults with head prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 3 about military tactics. Then later Jehoshaphat dies and  his wicked son Jehoram does much evil. Elijah writes a letter of rebuke with a prophetic curse of Jehoram's death. In this passage of 2 Chron 21, Elijah outlives Jehoshaphat.   Click link for an Excel chart with timeline of the dates of the kings of Judah and Israel during the 10th and 9th centuries BC.

Liberal critics have long pointed to this discrepancy as evidence that the bible contains internal contradictions. They suggest that perhaps Elisha wrote the letter, and the bible scribe wrote it down incorrectly. Elijah/ Elisha, they are similar names and that would be an easy mistake for me or you. (However, they are more similar in English than in Hebrew.) Or perhaps the chronology of the chapters in 2 Kings is wrong. Maybe, the liberal scholars suggest, 2Kings 3 should come before 2 Kings 2. The scribe was confused and wrote his history in the wrong order. Others have suggested that perhaps the letter was written much earlier, when Jehoshaphat and Jehoram were both alive and reigning as co-regents (a common practice for a father to install his heir while he is still alive). However, the text specifically says "after Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers" in verse 1.

I am sure that many other dodges and excuses are possible, but if you have a high view of biblical inspiration and textual integrity, as I do, then you must concur that Elijah truly wrote the letter after he was taken away. Maybe he wrote it from heaven and it was delivered by angels, some have postulated. If so, it did not shock Jehoram into repentance. He died 2 years later in severe pain from bowel disease.

A more down to earth and realistic scenario is that Elijah was taken into the sky by a chariot of fire in a whirlwind and set back down to earth somewhere far away and safe, but still alive in his body regular.  He was decommissioned as a prophet and went to pasture in retirement. Elijah lived for several more years, possibly in Turkey, Babylon, or Egypt. Later, probably by inspiration he writes a letter to Jehoram, the evil son of his good friend Jehoshaphat. Elijah and Jehoshaphat had had a long history. They worked closely together. The letter is much more powerful coming from a trusted advisor of the father king, than it would have been from the new generation of prophet Elisha.

The letter is delivered in the traditional fashion by messenger. Elijah can not come in person, as he has been decommissioned. At some point after the writing of the letter, Elijah dies a normal human death and is buried to await the resurrection.  Of course, this is historical fiction. I cannot prove a word of it from our known history. It is a plausible solution to the given facts of the text.

What I can prove comes from theology.  This is why I am certain that neither Enoch nor Elijah went to the celestial heaven of God's throne room.

Rom 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned."

Romans 5:12 tells us that human death is a direct result of human sin. Death is part of the curse levied against Adam: to dust you shall return (Gen 3:19). Without redemption from God, all people will ultimately and finally die in hell. The bible calls it the second death. Graciously and mercifully God has provided redemption. We can escape death through Jesus Christ.

Jesus defeated death by his resurrection. The bible tells us that Christ is the first man to conquer death.

Colossians 1:18(NKJV) "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence."

Revelation 1:5(NKJV) "and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. "

1 Cor 15:20 (NKJV) "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."

Firstborn from the dead means that Jesus is the elder brother of all believers. He is the first human to be resurrected and the first to never ever die again. Likewise, firstfruits indicates the beginning of the resurrection harvest. Nothing comes before him in preeminence, chronology, or by any other measure.

Heb 2:10 "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain [archēgos] of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Jesus is the archēgos of our salvation. This Greek word literally means to bring forth from the beginning. Another words pioneer, predecessor, original leader by example. Jesus furnished the first cause of eternal life. Using this very same Greek word, Heb 12:2 calls Jesus the author [archēgos] of our faith. In Acts 3:15, Jesus is the archēgos of life itself. He is the pioneer of Life Eternal. Captain is a good translation, for the captain of an army platoon  always leads the charge in a battle.

This is theologically critical for a Christian to believe and acknowledge. Jesus is prime. Enoch nor Elijah received eternal life before Jesus.

This single point should be overwhelmingly enough, however additional evidence exists.  For Enoch and Elijah to be bodily raptured to heaven and never physically see death would be in contradiction to the epistle of Hebrews.

Heb 9:27 "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."

Some dispensationalists have speculated that Enoch and Elijah have only temporarily avoided this clause. They think that perhaps these two will return as the 2 witnesses of Rev11 and then have their chance to die. They would be at least 2500 years old at that point. Even if the 2 witnesses are individual persons (of which I am not dogmatically convinced), their being 2500years old would be in violation of Genesis 6:3.

Gen 6:3 (NKJV) "And the LORD said, 'My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.'"

Granted, this decree was given after Enoch's departure but hundreds of years before Elijah's birth.

Remember, Jesus said to Nicodemous in John 3:13 that no one had ascended (literally  'gone up') to heaven. Likewise Jesus also said:

John 6:46 (NKJV) "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God."

The point that Jesus is making is that no human had ever been to heaven, except Himself. No regular human had ever seen God.  This precludes bodily ascension and spiritual ascension of the soul in the afterlife as of that point in history. (BTW- The Resurrection and Pentecost changed the course of afterlife for believers. This is the major tenant of my book, Dead Soul Syndrome. The New Testament experience most certainly DOES include being with God in heaven. But remember, these words were spoken before the resurrection of Christ, a watershed event for history.)

A final thought about the return of Elijah: Malachi 4:5 speaks of Elijah returning before the great day of the Lord. This is metaphor. Jesus said in Matt 11:14 that John the Baptist was Elijah in fulfillment of the prophecy. Yet John bar Zechariah himself denied it in John 1:21. John was not literally Elijah. He was not reincarnated. But John was the message of Elijah, he came in Elijah’s shoes (another metaphor).  Likewise,  the 2 witnesses in Rev. 11 (if they are individuals) will also come in the shoes of Elijah and Enoch and Moses and all of the other great prophets. But these future witnesses are not yet born. They are not literally the ancient prophets. They will be people uniquely born in that day, but carrying a very old message.   

Enoch and Elijah did not physically go to heaven without bodily death before Jesus' redemption from death.   Enoch and Elijah did not receive a glorified resurrected body before Jesus. Enoch and Elijah did not live in heaven as a spirit for 1000's of years before Jesus created a path of eternal life.  This only leaves one option- they died on earth.

Understanding this concept of the primacy of Jesus, that Jesus laid the path to heaven, that Jesus opened the door to God's presence is an important aspect of my book Dead Soul Syndrome. I advocate the soul sleep of righteous believers before the resurrection of Jesus. They were forgiven, but not yet redeemed. They still suffered from the consequences of sin, which is death. Spiritual death separated them from God. Only after the resurrection of the Messiah would all of the OT saints be granted a spiritual life in the comfort of heaven awaiting the bodily resurrection.  What happened to Enoch and Elijah is the same thing that happened to ALL men before the Pentecostal era. They simply died, rested in the grave and waited for the calling of their God. That call came loud and clear when Jesus Christ rose from the grave.

Jesus alone is foremost. He is the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10). He is the chief apostle and head priest of our confession (Heb 3:1). Immortality and spiritual life for believers (including Enoch and Elijah) must follow after Jesus Christ.