The Bible talks of Enoch being "translated" and Elijah being taken up in a chariot of fire. What do these passages mean?
Hebrews 11:5 tells us, "Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death." The verse continues with a quotation from Genesis 5, saying that he "was not found." The wording implies that someone was looking for him to cause him harm, and that God protected him by removing him to a safe place. Some assumed that God took him to heaven, but the verse does not say that. "Taken away" ("translated" in the King James Version) is from the Greek word metatithemi and it means "to transfer to another place" ( Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words , 1985).
What of Elijah—did God take him to heaven? Without reading the full account of the history of Judah and Israel, one might easily assume that 2 Kings 2:11 reports the death of Elijah and his subsequent removal from earth to heaven. Actually, the prophet did not die, as is borne out by the astonishing record of a letter that he wrote some years later! You can read this letter in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15.
What was the "heaven" to which Elijah was taken? Scriptures speak of three heavens:
The first, the atmosphere that envelops the earth (Genesis 1:8).
The second, what we call "space" (Genesis 15:5).
The third, the location of God's throne (2 Corinthians 12:2).
The prophet was supernaturally transported to a different location—through the "heaven" of earth's atmosphere—allowing his associate, Elisha to step into the office of the chief prophet to Israel.
The Bible teaches that "no one has ascended to heaven" (John 3:13). What we find in Acts 2:29 and 34 clearly illustrates this fact. It says that righteous King David was still in his grave about 1,000 years after his death! Remember Jesus' comment in John 10:35, "the Scripture cannot be broken." That is, its teachings are consistent throughout. The biblical teaching is that heaven is not the reward or the destiny of the saved.
A more complete explanation of all that the Bible teaches about the afterlife is available in our booklets Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What Happens After Death?