Summary: There is profound meaning in Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.
The Ascension of Elijah: An Exposition of 2 Kings 2:1-12
It has been said: “No one leaves this world alive.” Everyone knows what this means. Everyone is going to die. But what does one do with this knowledge? Some would turn the saying into “You only live once; so go for all the gusto you can.” “Live life to its fullest” is another way to put it. This is a little better from the first conclusion in that if one is motivated to make this world a better place to live in for others and for one’s descendants is more noble than living for one’s self. But the Bible has a different turn on this phrase: “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). Yes, all will die. But to leave off the truth that the judgment follows is catastrophic to human behavior. I might also add that some people have left this world alive. We know of Enoch as well as Elijah whom we will be looking at this morning. They left this world alive. So did Jesus, even though He had died. After the resurrection, He ascended alive to heaven. The Bible also says that there will be some who are alive and remain to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The truth goes even further. There will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust. Some will rise to eternal reward in the presence and others will be condemned to eternal punishment. It is important to have this in perspective.
In the text this morning, we will be learning about the ascension of Elijah in a fiery chariot into heaven. This event has captured the imagination of many. We can think of the movie “Chariots of Fire” and a spiritual like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” How spectacular that must have appeared to Elijah’s younger partner in the prophetic ministry, Elisha, who would ascend to Elijah’s ministry upon his master’s departure.
Elijah had a long a productive prophetic ministry. We first come across Elijah when he comes to the evil King Ahab and declares from the LORD that there would be no rain in the land until Elijah gave word. Elijah had to flee and was his by the LORD in the wilderness where the LORD commanded ravens who were unclean and not the sort to share anything to feed Elijah. Later on, Elijah was sent to Zarapath in the land of Phoenicia to be fed by a Gentile widow woman. The LORD provided that the little meal and oil they had would provide food for Elijah, the woman, and her son until the rain returned. Elijah later returned and told Elijah to assemble all the priests and priestesses of Baal and Asherah to come to Mt. Carmel. There was a contest between Yahweh and Baal as to which was the true God. Ahab was himself confused, although Jezebel his wife, was firmly committed to Baal. Baal and his consort Asherah were thought to control the storms, rain, and fertility. By the failure to bring down fire (lightning?) upon the sacrifice to consume it, it proved the priests of Baal were powerless which said Baal either did not care or was himself powerless. Elijah then doused his altar with precious water, it had not rained in three years. When Elijah prayed, the fire came down and consumed the sacrifice. The people cried out “The LORD, he is God” again and again. Many other deeds and wonders did Elijah perform.
Now it was time for the elderly Elijah to bring his ministry to an end. The LORD provided Elisha to take his place. Elisha followed Elijah in mentored ministry much as Jesus led and taught His disciples to take His place after He ascended. Not only did the LORD have Elisha, but He had at least two schools of prophets as well which are mentioned in this text. A prophet is one who speaks the words of the LORD to the people. Some of these might be the declaration of future events, but prophets are not mere fortune-tellers. Much of what the LORD says speaks to issues that were current to the hearers. We make a mistake when we see prophets as primarily telling of future events. In reality, this is a secondary role of the prophet. We also tend to see the miracles that prophets like Elijah and Elisha performed as prominent. But we also must remember that John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and role of Elijah and was called by Jesus the greatest of the prophets did no miracles at all. (John 10:41) He spent his entire ministry preaching a baptism of repentance and preparing the way for Jesus. Elijah, whose name means “Yahweh is my God” had the primary task of telling Israel that Yahweh and not Baal was their God, their only God, because He is the only God. Let the occupation of todays prophets be to proclaim Jesus is the Christ. If God wishes to confirm these words with signs and wonders, that is well and good. If God wishes to warn His people concerning future events, that is well. We should be faithful proclaimers of the LORD’s word with or without these.