Immortality

Several of the most intriguing accounts in all of Scripture involve men who, as far as we know, did not die.

Consider the case of Enoch, Adam’s great, great, great, great grandson. One day, Genesis 5.23 tells us, Enoch “was not, for God took him.” End of story.

How can this be? To understand it, we have to read the history of Adam and of his descendants. Genesis 5 embarks on a long narrative of the genealogy of Noah, from Adam through Seth, who was born “when Adam had lived 130 years.” At the time of Seth’s first-born son, Scripture says, “people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” What follows is the record of Adam’s descendants spanning from Seth to Noah.

Adam, who lived 930 years, was still very much alive when his great, great, great, great grandson, Enoch, was born. Although Genesis (5.21-24) devotes a mere four verses to the life of Enoch, the passage presents a transfixing set of facts about this incredible man. Twice, Genesis tells us, “Enoch walked with God,” meaning Enoch had close fellowship with God. The verb walked, in the sense of walking in close fellowship, is similarly used in Genesis 6 to describe Enoch’s great-grandson, Noah.

Genesis 5.24 concludes the account of Enoch with one of the most puzzling clauses in all of scripture: “then he was not, for God took him.” Why? “By faith Enoch was translated not to see death,” the author of the book of Hebrews explains. “For before the translation, he was commended to have pleased God.”

Then there’s the remarkable account of the great prophet, Elijah. As Elijah and his protégé, Elisha, were walking, according to 2 Kings 2, “chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them.” Then “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Elijah later appears with Moses in the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17.3, Mark 9.4, Luke 9.30).

One other person we know didn’t die was Melchizedek, King of Salem and “priest of God Most High.” We meet Melchizedek in Genesis 14, blessing Abram after his triumph over four kings. Scripture mentions Melchizedek again in Psalm 110, which speaks of the coming Messiah: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, upon the order of Melchizedek.’”

Later, in the book of Hebrews, we learn the complete story of the significance of Melchizedek. “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but rendered in the likeness of the Son of God, he remains a priest unto all time.” Here, the author of Hebrews clearly equates Melchizedek with Jesus, “having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” In fact, Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” As with Enoch and Elijah, there is no record of Melchizedek’s death. What is certain, however, is that like Enoch and Eljah, he walked with God.

Like others who were faithful, Hebrews continues, “they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Those who say such things show that they are seeking a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

That better country is the same realm Jesus had in mind when he proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. He said: “The kingdom of God will not come with observable signs. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For you see, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The stories of Enoch, Melchizedek, Elijah, and others in the Hebrew bible were future tellings of the story of the Gospel — the good news about God’s love and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus, accomplisher of life eternal in the heavenly Kingdom over which he now reigns.

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