The Man Who Never Died
We think a person is very old if he makes it past 90 and approaches 100 years old. If we hear about a village where quite a few people get that old, we try to find out their secret. What makes them live so long? Is it something they’ve been eating? Is there something special about the air and water in their region? Does long life somehow run in their family?
Now, if we’re so impressed by a group where most people live past ninety, what about a group where most lived past nine hundred? In Genesis 5 the Bible traces a family line for ten generations from Adam to Noah. These men, commonly known as patriarchs, lived in the time between the creation of man and the great flood. Adam, the first man, lived to the astonishing age of 930 years, and Noah lived longer yet, 950 years. Still, Adam and Noah didn’t even make the top two. The two oldest were 962 and 969 years old.
You might think such ages would be impossible. But don’t be too sure about that. The fact is that we don’t know all there is to know about aging. We don’t know how strong and hardy those early humans may have been or how their bodies and their rate of aging may have differed from ours. We don’t know how the world before the flood may have differed from the world as we find it today. We only know what the Bible tells us: most of these patriarchs lived over 900 years. So instead of asking how their lives could possibly be so long, we might better ask why our lives are so short.
There’s good reason to believe what the Bible says, because it is the Word of God himself. And there’s no scientific or historical reason to deny that the patriarchs really did live as long as the Bible says they did. An ancient document not connected with the Bible lists a number of kings who reigned for an average of 30,000 years each. These time spans are only legends, but they may come from dim, distorted memories of a time when people lived much, much longer than we do today. The Bible reveals the facts from which these legends developed. None of the patriarchs made it to 1,000, let alone 30,000. Of the ten patriarchs listed, seven made it past 900 years old, another died when he was 895, another when he was 777.
One man on the list, however, fell far short of the others. That man, Enoch, spent just 365 years on earth—not exactly young by our standards, but nowhere near the age of others in his family line. It’s interesting that Enoch was sandwiched between the two men who lived the longest. Enoch’s father, Jared, died at the age of 962, and Enoch’s son, Methuselah, the oldest man who ever lived, died at the age of 969. It’s amazing to think of anyone living so long, and yet the most astounding man listed in Genesis 5 is not Methuselah, who died at a record-setting age, but Enoch, the man who never died at all.
The average age of the patriarchs from Adam to Noah was enormous, but they still died, one by one. Genesis 5 begins,
This is the written account of Adam’s line.
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.”
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.
When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. And after he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, and then he died (5:1-8).
The same pattern is repeated over and over. The Bible gives us another man’s name, the age at which he fathered the next man in line, how long he lived beyond the birth of that son, the fact that he had other sons and daughters, the total length of his life, and the final refrain: “he died.” “Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died.” “Kenan lived 910 years, and then he died.” “Mahalel lived 895 years, and then he died.” “Jared lived 962 years, and then he died.” The dreadful drumbeat keeps booming—“he died, he died, he died”—until we come to Jared’s son, Enoch.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (5:21-24).
Unlike everybody else, Enoch didn’t die. He simply vanished. God removed him from earth and took Enoch, physically and directly, to his eternal home.
The Bible mentions only one other man in history who bypassed death and went directly to heaven: the prophet Elijah, who lived thousands of years after Enoch and about eight centuries before Christ. Scripture says of Elijah that “a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared … and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11-12).
Enoch and Elijah are the only people from the past who never died, but in the future there will be a large group of people who never die. The Bible says that when Jesus returns to earth, “the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). In other words, all people who belong to Jesus and are alive at his return will not die at all. They will follow the path of Enoch and Elijah. Their bodies will be transformed and transported to meet the Lord and be at home with him forever. It’s possible that many people now alive will never die, if Jesus returns within our lifetime.
And even if Jesus doesn’t return that soon, even if we get old and die before the Lord comes back, it’s encouraging to know what happened to Enoch and Elijah and what will happen to Jesus’ followers who are alive at his coming. The fact that not everyone dies means that the pattern of death can be broken. If a few people in the past and many more in the future will not die at all, then death is not unbeatable. The greatest hope comes not from knowing about the man who never died but from knowing someone who did die but then rose to life again: the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if it turns out that we must die, all who belong to the living Lord Jesus can take heart that that something marvelous lies beyond death. The God who provides a detour around death for some can take others through the valley of the shadow of death and bring them out safe, sound and resurrected.
These days, when we hear about people who live to an extremely old age, we want to know their secret and find out if we, too, could live longer. But Enoch bypassed death entirely and lives forever. Shouldn’t we learn his secret, so that we, too, can defeat death and enjoy eternal life?
According to the Bible, Enoch’s secret was this: he “walked with God.” Walking with God was Enoch’s greatest joy in life, and walking with God was how he walked right past death. “God took him away.” God’s power to grant eternal life is what removed Enoch from this earth and it’s what raised Jesus from the dead. If you want victory over death, walk with the Lord of life.
Walking By Faith
What does it mean to walk with God? First of all, it means to live by faith. Hebrews 11:5-6 says, “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:5-6). Enoch knew God as a living reality and counted fellowship with God as the greatest reward.
Is God real to you? Do you have a relationship with him? Do you savor God as your deepest pleasure and prize him as your highest treasure? That is the kind of faith that pleases God, the kind of faith by which Enoch walked with God. Do you have such faith? It’s impossible to please God or walk with him unless you “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Faith involves the head and the heart. The head knows God’s reality, and the heart desires his friendship and delights in the rewards of being his.
If you walk with God by faith, your outlook depends on God, not on other people or on your problems. Here’s a striking example of that. A Chinese Christian was imprisoned for his faith. Prison authorities gave him the worst job in the prison. Each day he had to work in a pool of sewage, filled with human waste. What could be more humiliating and disgusting? To have such filth on his clothes and skin and such a foul smell in his nostrils was almost unbearable at first. But after awhile, working in the sewage became his favorite part of the day.
How could that be? Well, it was the only place in the prison where the guards left him alone. Everywhere else they watched his every move and heard his every word, but the guards wouldn’t go near that horrible filth and odor. So each day, amid the sewage, that Christian man seized the opportunity to say or sing anything he wanted. He recited Bible verses aloud, prayed, and sang hymns at the top of his voice. One chorus in particular was a favorite: “He walks with me and talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” Every time he walked into that cesspool, he was walking with God, and that filled him with joy.
Enoch didn’t have to work in a cesspool of sewage every day, but he walked with God in the middle of a cesspool of sin. He lived in a society that was becoming more and more wicked and disgusting. Eventually it got so bad that God decided to wipe out the wicked with a worldwide flood. The only survivors were Enoch’s great-grandson, Noah, and his family. Already in Enoch’s time, things were going downhill fast, but while most people were moving farther and farther from God, Enoch walked with God. His faith, not his surroundings, shaped his outlook.
The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 RSV). Are you walking by faith? If so, you will focus more on God’s rewards than on your problems, and you will be more eager to please God than to please other people. Faith shapes your outlook and your behavior.
Walking in Light
When you walk by faith, you walk in the light of the Lord. His light overcomes the darkness of sadness and the darkness of sin. Enoch may have become discouraged by seeing so much sin around him, and he may have been tempted to give up on God and join in. But he didn’t. God walked with him and he with God, and that made all the difference. If, like Enoch, you walk with the Lord, you too will shun sin and walk in the light of holiness.
The Lord Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). When you walk with Christ, his light is yours. You cannot walk with him yet wallow in wickedness. At times you still commit sins, but rather than moving further into darkness, you confess your sins to God, ask his forgiveness, and seek to obey him more faithfully. The Bible says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin” (1 John 1:5-7).
If you belong to the Lord Jesus, he not only forgives your sins but he also empowers you to overcome sin. Walking with him, you sin less and become more like him. To those who belong to Jesus, the Bible says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us… Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them… Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:1-15).
The Bible makes it clear that as Enoch walked in light, he exposed the darkness around him. Enoch was a prophet. He saw that the evils of his own time were leading up to the terrible judgment of the flood, and he saw further into the future when another time of wickedness would lead up to the final judgment, when the Lord himself would appear with all his angels. The Bible book of Jude offers an excerpt from Enoch’s preaching:
See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him. (Jude 1:14‑15).
Notice how often Enoch used the word “ungodly.” It takes a person who knows God to recognize what is not of God. Because Enoch knew God so well, he knew ungodliness when he saw it, and he wasn’t afraid to confront the ungodly.
Are you like Enoch? Do you know God well enough to know ungodliness when you see it? Are you offended by what offends God? Do you warn the ungodly? If you try please everybody, it’s a sign that you don’t know God yourself. You assume his standards are like yours. In the Bible God says, “You thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue” (Psalm 50:16-17,21-22).
The Bible says that Enoch pleased God. Be a God-pleaser, not a people-pleaser. Walk in God’s light, and confront the darkness.
Walking Each Day
Walking with God means walking by faith, walking in the light, and walking with God each day over the long haul. Genesis says that Enoch was 65 when he fathered Methuselah, and that Enoch walked with God 300 years after that, until God took him away. Enoch didn’t check in with God once a week or once a month or once a year. Enoch walked with God constantly. Enoch’s relationship with God wasn’t a sudden sprint now and then. It was a steady, daily walk, staying near God every step of his journey.
When you go for a walk with a friend or family member who is dear to you, you treasure what he says and you’re glad that he listens to you. Likewise, if God is dear to you and you walk with him, you will treasure what he says to you in his Word, the Bible, and you will be glad that he hears your prayers when you talk to him. The Bible urges us to “meditate on God’s Word day and night” (Joshua 1:8) and to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). “It is good … to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night” (Psalm 92:1-2).
How important is this pattern of regular, everyday, lifelong prayer and meditation on God’s Word? People of faith would rather give up their life than give up their daily pattern of walking with God. The Bible tells the story of Daniel. The government issued a decree that banned prayer for a month. Anyone who prayed would be thrown into a den of lions. What did Daniel do? “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). Daniel would rather spend a night with lions than spend a day without God. Daniel was thrown to the lions, but an angel protected him, and the lions never touched him.
Do you have a daily pattern of walking with God? Daniel set apart three special times each day. Other Bible writers speak of praising God morning and evening (Psalm 92:2). Not everyone must have exactly same schedule for special intimacy with God, but such times ought occur every day, usually more than once a day. This is a vital part of walking with God. So set aside time for the Lord each day, and stick with it throughout your life. Enoch didn’t merely try walking with God for a little while; he stuck with it for over 300 years until God took him home.
The list of patriarchs in Genesis 5 is an honor role of the line that remained faithful to God. Genesis 4 describes how Adam’s son Cain, became a murderer, and how his offspring moved further and further from God. But Genesis 5 traces another line from Adam and his son Seth all the way to Noah. This was a godly line. Faith in God was passed from father to son. There were other sons and daughters in this line besides those mentioned. Some probably served the Lord, while others rejected God as Cain’s line had done. But God always made sure that at least some were faithful to him from generation to generation.
When the Bible records a list of names (as it does in Genesis 5 and other places) we might find those names boring. But those names remind us that God is personal. He’s not a machine that treats people as numbers or statistic. Jesus says, “He calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3) and tells his friends, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The Lord knows each of his own by name today, just as in the past. In Genesis 5 God records the names of the faithful line who stood for him amid increasing evil. Of all these men, Enoch stood out for having a special walk with God. In a setting where many were godless, Enoch kept walking with God.
Then one day God decided to take Enoch all the way home. Enoch walked with God for a lifetime and then beyond. That is the great hope of every friend of God. When Enoch disappeared without dying, the other patriarchs who were alive at the time must have rejoiced when God let them know why Enoch was no longer on earth. Even if those patriarchs still had to die, they knew that God was greater than death and that death would not have the last word.
The hope of life beyond death, already glimpsed so long ago, has been fully established and confirmed in the resurrection of Jesus. Believe in him, walk with him, and you can be sure that you will defeat death. If Jesus comes within your lifetime, you will not die at all. Like Enoch, the man who never died, you will be taken and transformed. If Jesus doesn’t come within your lifetime, your body will die, but your soul will go to be with the Lord after you die, and your body will be raised to life again when Jesus returns. In any case, when you walk with Jesus, you never really die. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25).
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.