There are some difficult passages in Scripture to wrestle with, and several unusual events that call for careful consideration, sometimes without a satisfying solution. The remarkable letter which king Jehoram received from Elijah is a case in point.
According to the biblical narrative, Elijah was translated during the reign of King Jehoshaphat (c. (873 – 849). However, during the reign of his son and successor Jehoram (c. 849 – 842), we read of Elijah sending a letter to the king in which he rebuked Jehoram, and predicted judgment for various acts of wickedness during his reign.
The Bible says, “And there came a writing [letter] to him [King Jehoram] from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, 13 But hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: 14 Behold, with a great plague will the Lord smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods” (2 Chron. 21:12).
Keep in mind that this letter speaks of events that took place after Elijah had been taken into heaven, and of an impending punishment.
So, what is to be made of this remarkable letter? Two main observations come to mind.
First, the letter allows for a natural death of Elijah to take place, thereby fulfilling the teaching of Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”.
Whatever happened to Elijah in his ride in a heavenly chariot on the strength of a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), there is evidence to suggest he returned to earth to minister again and then to die a natural death.
The Bible clearly teaches the death of all men.
“Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:14).
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Only Christ has ascended up to heaven. “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13).
If that is true, and it is, then of necessity, Elijah and Enoch must have died prior to entering glory.
Elijah and Enoch are often set forth as two exceptions to the rule of universal judgment of death upon all mankind, but that may not be the case.
Second, the letter takes away the false analogy some Dispensationalist teachers like to make concerning an alleged Rapture whereby Christians suddenly disappear off the face of the earth in a secret, silent coming of Christ prior to His Second Advent. Elijah and Enoch are said to be prototypes of the coming Rapture of the Church.
The Bible does not teach the Dispensational view of the Rapture, no matter how forceful, popular, and dogmatic their teachers are on the subject. There is not a single passage in the Bible that clearly teaches the Church will be snatched from earth, or that Jesus will come a third time to earth. On the number of times Christ is to return to earth, the Bible is crystal clear. Unto them that look for him, Christ shall appear “the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28). There is no third coming of Christ as Dispensational theology assert.
The Bible does teach that a generation of Christians will be transformed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, but there is nothing of a translation.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:51).
In order to understand the experience of Elijah going to heaven, it must be understood that the Bible teaches there are three heavens.
First, there is the atmospheric heaven consisting of the sky that surrounds the earth. “And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen. 1:8). The Bible also, refers to this heaven as the sky. “He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red” (Matt. 16:2).
Second, there is the heaven which house the stars and planets. “And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:19). The plural form of “heavens” quite often is in reference to the stars beyond this solar system: the myriad of galaxies in the universe. “By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent” (Job 26:13).
There is the third heaven mentioned by Paul. “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth); such an one caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:1, 2).
It is most likely that Enoch, and Elijah, went into the atmospheric heaven as they were transported from one place to another by the Spirit, so that neither should see death by being murdered or killed. Support for this concept might be found in the usage of the word “heaven” in 2 Kings. The Hebrew word is shâmayim (Hebrew, שׁמה שׁמים). It is the plural form of the Hebrew word shameh which means “to be lofty, the sky, the visible arch in which the clouds move”. This word does not refer to the third heaven where God’s throne is located.
When Jesus, in John 3:13, and Peter, in Acts 2:3, state that no one, including David, has gone to “heaven”, the reference must be to the third heaven where God resides.
Therefore, when Hebrews 11:5 states that Enoch was “translated” or transported, it need not mean that he was miraculously removed from earth by God to live forever with Him near his heavenly throne. Rather, Enoch was moved or transported through the earth’s atmosphere or sky to a new physical location the Bible does not name so that “.. . he should not see death.”
This is the same thing that happened to Elijah. In His infinite wisdom and mercy God physically transported Enoch and Elijah from where they were located to prevent them from being maimed or murderer.
The experience of Elijah and Enoch might find a parallel in the New Testament. The Bible records the experience of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, whom Philip baptized. “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cæsarea” (Acts 8:39-40).
In light of Hebrews 9:27, it can be surmised that Enoch, and Elijah, each continued to live in their generation the same kind of fleshly existence all other humans live until the day they died for, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
The counsel of John Calvin on this matter is wise. “Let it suffice us to know, that their translation was a sort of extraordinary death. Nor let us doubt but that they were divested of their mortal and corruptible flesh, in order that they might, with the other members of Christ, be renewed into a blessed immortality.”