The saying goes, “The only things that are certain are death and taxes.” This is more a comment on the ubiquity of taxes than anything else, but I’m sure plenty of people have escaped taxes. Have any escaped death?
There are certain overarching passages that would suggest that answer is “no”:
“The wages of sin is death.”Romans 6:23
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”1 Corinthians 15:22
There are many more, but perhaps they are hyperbolic or have a few exceptions. The Bible does use language that way. Even in the above passage, not all will be saved and made alive by Christ. You learn that from other passages.
The utility of death is easy to understand. When Adam and Eve had sinned, God made sure that they could no longer eat from the Tree of Life. As long as they continued to live they would live with a sin altered bodies and suffer all the consequences from aging to illness. Dying allows us to shed our bodies which is where our “sinful nature” resides. Death may be a consequence or punishment for sin, but it is useful in fixing that issue.
The Bible presents us with three strange candidates for skipping death: Enoch, Melchizedek and Elijah. Did this happen or is it simply a lack of reporting?
“Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.Genesis 5:22b-23
There is clearly nothing usual about Enoch’s life. He is part of period in human history before God dialed us back to a 120 year max (Gen. 6:3). The phrase “Enoch walked with God” is somewhat enigmatic. I would not read this literalistically, but take it to be a comment on his unusual righteousness for a person born with a sinful nature like the rest of us. “God took him away”, could easily be a euphemism for death. Let’s look at the others before hazarding a conclusion.
Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High…Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.”Hebrews 7:1,3
“And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who had become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.Hebrews 7:17
Melchizedek gets more said about him in Hebrews than he does in the Old Testament (Gen. 14:18-20, Psa. 110:4). The discussion in Hebrews is about how Jesus can serve as our priest before God in Heaven. He is not a Levite by birth, but rather a priest like Melchizedek who pre-dates the Levitical priesthood. Melchizedek seems to be a person who continues to have knowledge of God from Noah. The text does not record any family history or birth and death record. Does that mean that he is not human? If he is, does it mean that he did not die? Jesus is the one with an “indestructible life” after his resurrection. This is not necessarily true of Melchizedek.
“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to Heaven in a whirlwind.”2 Kings 2:11
Elijah’s departure is at least recorded. Was his death a form of dying or skipping it all together. Elijah was a great man but also a sinful man, could there be another form of transformation for his flesh?
Jesus who raises from the death with an indestructible form of an earthly body is referred to as the “firstborn from the dead”. From this alone, I would conclude that Enoch, Melchizedek and Elijah all shed their sin-affected bodies in some way. Jesus’ words in John 3:13 would further support that these men did not progress from Earth to Heaven, but rather from Earth to Sheol to Heaven like the rest of the Old Testament righteous. Their descriptions remain mysterious to be sure.
There is one other way mentioned to lose our sinful bodies and gain a resurrected body without the process of death. It is a future process, however.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed.”1 Corinthians 15:51-52
While that sounds very good, there is no need to fret about the normal way to be “changed”. Death as a process is not necessarily pleasant, but short; and it can have some beautiful moments. The result, when you are connected to Christ, is wonderfully transformative. No more sinful nature, no more results of the curse. A serious upgrade.