Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 59. Elijah Taken To Heaven

Prophets And Kings
Day 59
Elijah Taken To Heaven 

Elijah, a great prophet of God, doesnt even haves to die but is taken to heaven in a whirlwind.

2 KINGS 2:1-18
Elijah and the successor the Lord told him to anoint, Elisha, are walking together. "When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, 'Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.' But Elisha said, 'As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.' So they went down to Bethel." (2 Kings 2:1-2) We don't know when the word of the Lord came to Elijah to tell him he would be taken to heaven, but from today's passage it seems to have been common knowledge, at least among the prophets. Elisha is devoted to his friend and mentor and wants to stay with him til the end.

"The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, 'Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?' 'Yes, I know,' Elisha replied, 'so be quiet.'" (2 Kings 2:3) These men want to make sure Elisha isn't in the dark about what is soon to take place. He knows perfectly well what's about to happen but he doesn't want to talk about it. I can relate to this, can't you? Some things distress us so much we don't even want to take about them. 

"Then Elijah said to him, 'Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.' And he replied, 'As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.' So they went to Jericho." (2 Kings 2:4) I think Elijah may have intended his suggestions for Elisha to "stay here" as a test. Maybe Elijah wanted to make sure his successor had what it takes to see things through. Or maybe he already knew Elisha possessed this kind of spirit but wanted Elisha to know he had it. Usually a test is not so much for the teacher as for the student. 

"The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, 'Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?' 'Yes, I know,' he said, 'so be quiet.'" (2 Kings 2:5) It looks as if Elijah is visiting all the companies of the prophets before his departure, perhaps to encourage and strengthen them in the faith, perhaps just to say goodbye. 

"Then Elijah said to him, 'Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.' And he replied, 'As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.' So the two of them walked on." (2 Kings 2:6) Three times now Elijah has given Elisha the option of staying behind but Elisha has refused. This reminds me of when the Lord Jesus, after the resurrection, commissioned Peter to be a leader in the church. Three times He asked Peter if he loved Him. Three times Peter said yes. And three times the Lord commanded him to, "Feed My sheep." The work of a church leader is the work of a shepherd, caring for the flock, and the work of a prophet in Israel was similar. Jesus knew the answer to His questions to Peter and I believe Elijah knew what Elisha was going to say. Jesus knew Peter loved Him and would now be willing to go to the death for the gospel if necessary. Elijah knew Elisha loved him and was willing  to go to the death for the truth of God's word if necessary. But Peter and Elisha needed to know it. They needed to receive their commissions and to accept the privileges and the challenges that were going to come along with them.

"Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground." (2 Kings 2:7-8) These fifty men won't see Elijah taken up into the whirlwind but they do get to witness a miracle. This is a parting gift from the leader of the prophets, something to strengthen their faith in the Lord.

"When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, 'Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?' 'Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,' Elisha replied." (2 Kings 2:9-10) I've always heard this passage interpreted as Elisha asking for twice the amount of power that Elijah had. But I found an alternate interpretation in my background study and it's quite interesting. It stated that Elisha is asking for the inheritance right of a firstborn son from Deuteronomy 21:17. The firstborn son was to inherit a double portion of his father's worldly goods, twice the amount that any other sons would inherit. I had never looked at it this way but am coming to the conclusion that this is probably the best interpretation. Elijah had no biological son but Elisha was his son in the faith. Elijah had no worldly goods and could only leave Elisha a spiritual inheritance. I am reminded of the way the Apostle Paul, an unmarried man with no children, always referred to his convert Timothy as his son in the faith. We will see that Elisha considered Elijah as his father later on in today's passage.

Elijah mulls over Elisha's request and then tells him, "'You have asked a difficult thing,' Elijah said, 'yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours---otherwise, it will not.'" (2 Kings 2:10) Elisha must go all the way with Elijah on his earthly journey, a thing which he has already determined to do. It's natural when we love someone to want to be with them at the end of their earthly journey. There's something in us that needs to see a thing like that all the way through. Sometimes a death happens so suddenly that some family members can't get there in time and it often leaves people without a feeling of closure or completion. The departure of Elijah is like a death to Elisha. He's grieving the loss of his friend and teacher, so much so that he doesn't even want to talk about it. He'd like to push it out of his mind and pretend like it's not going to happen but now the time is at hand. So Elisha is going to do the only thing he can do, see this through to the end.

"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. Elisha saw this and cried out, 'My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!' And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two." (2 Kings 2:11-12) The whirlwind takes Elijah up to heaven, not the chariot. If you've ever watched some of the ancient alien theorists on TV, you probably know that they like to try and turn this chariot and horses into a spaceship. They think Elijah got on board and was whisked away. But the Bible specifically tells us it was the whirlwind that took Elijah away. The chariot and horses of fire symbolize the mighty power of God on behalf of His people Israel. Elisha will see chariots and horses of fire again in Chapter 6 and it's very clear there that they symbolize the power and protection of the Lord. 

In his grief, Elisha tears his robe. He then takes up Elijah's cloak and performs a miracle with it. "Elisha then picked up Elijah's cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. 'Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?' he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over." (2 Kings 2:13-14) Elisha wants to see if indeed the power of God has passed from Elijah to him. Without this, he can do nothing. Without the Spirit of the Lord, none of us can do anything. The Lord Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) Elijah was such a mighty prophet of God that I think Elisha can't help but doubt that such power can pass on to him. Before he can move forward, he has to know without a doubt that the Lord is with him, so he cries out something like, "Are You with me, Lord? Is the God of Elijah with me as You were with him?" To test and see, Elisha strikes the Jordan with Elijah's cloak and it parts for him, just as it parted for Elijah. 

It's unlikely any of us will literally see waters part before us, but spiritually speaking, how many times has God made a way through for us when we didn't see a way? How many times has He simply moved obstacles from our path forward? If we could only see what's going on in the spiritual realm, I think we'd be struck speechless by all the waters our Lord parts for us, all the mountains He moves for us. Elisha lived in special times, a time before Christ, a time before the Holy Bible was printed. In those days, God related to man in a different way that He does now. Sometimes He parted waters. Sometimes He sent fire down. Sometimes he defeated armies by supernatural means while kings like Jehoshaphat didn't have to even shoot an arrow. God uses whatever means of communication is required for different periods of history. "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2a) In our times the Lord speaks to us through the Son. Everything we need to know about the Lord we can learn through Jesus. We probably will never strike water with our cloak and part a river. We probably will never call down fire from heaven. But our hope is in the One who took our sins on Himself, tasted death in our place, was forsaken by God in our place, and then conquered death and rose from the tomb. What more could we ask for? Who needs to part the Jordan when we have a Savior who overcame the grave?

"The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, 'The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.' And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 'Look,' they said, 'we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.'" (2 Kings 2:13-14) These men seem unwilling to accept that Elijah is gone. They are having trouble moving on from here. They are hoping against hope that he is not permanently gone from them.

"'No,' Elisha said, 'do not send them.' But they persisted until he was too embarrassed to refuse. So he said, 'Send them.' And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, 'Didn't I tell you not to go?'" (2 Kings 2:17-18) The men insist for so long that Elisha finally says, "Fine, go ahead and look." But they scour the countryside thoroughly for three days without finding Elijah. When they return empty handed he tells them, "See, I told you he was gone. The Lord took him to heaven. He's not coming back." 

Elisha knows what he knows. He believes what he saw with his own eyes, just as all the people who saw Jesus after the resurrection knew what they knew and believed what they had seen. There's no point in going up on the mountaintops or peeking into caves looking for Elijah. He's gone. He's with the Lord. And there was no point in the followers of Christ looking for Him on the hilltops where He taught or peeking into empty tombs at Jerusalem. He's gone. He's with His Father. He rose from the dead just as He said He would. He appeared after His death for forty days, once even in front of more than five hundred witnesses. Our Lord has been taken up to heaven and the only place we should be looking for Him is up. "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11) Amen! Come soon, Lord Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment