Summary: Passing on the mantle: issues of succession in the church.
THE ASCENSION OF ELIJAH
The taking up of Elijah by the LORD prefigures the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and anticipates our own meeting with Jesus in the air.
1. Elijah’s ascension was attended by horses and chariots. As Elisha and the sons of the prophets looked on, Elijah was taken up “in a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).
2. The ascension of Jesus was attended by angels. As the disciples looked on “a cloud received (Jesus) out of their sight” (Acts 1:9-10).
3. Our own meeting with the Lord in the air will be “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” The church is going to be “caught up together in the clouds,” to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
1. The main theme of 2 Kings 2:1-12 is not so much the whirlwind, which is only cursorily mentioned (2 Kings 2:1), but rather the matter of succession. Nicely poised between the end of the reign of one king (2 Kings 1:17-18), and the commencement of the reign of another (2 Kings 3:1-3), the passage deals with the parallel question of prophetic continuity.
When it came to the time when Elijah was to be received into heaven, Elijah and Elisha retraced the footsteps of Israel (2 Kings 2:1-8). Three times Elijah told Elisha to return, but the latter was persistent, and refused to leave his master (2 Kings 2:2; 2 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 2:6). Twice the sons of the prophets informed Elisha of Elijah’s impending departure, and twice Elisha instructed them to keep silence (2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 2:5).
They came to Bethel, where Jacob had twice met with the LORD in his journeys from and to Israel: and where Jeroboam had more recently set up one of his golden calves. Then Jericho, where Joshua had begun the conquest of Canaan: a city recently rebuilt at great personal cost to the builder thereof (Joshua 6:26; 1 Kings 16:34)! Then they miraculously crossed the River Jordan, reflecting as in a mirror the first entrance of Israel into the promised land.
Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's blessing, but Elijah laid emphasis on God’s sovereignty in this matter (2 Kings 2:9-10). After Elijah was taken up, Elisha tore his own clothes into two pieces, then took up Elijah's mantle (2 Kings 2:11-13).
2. There was also concern for the continuity of the church after the ascension of Jesus. It was a time for waiting, according to His instruction, for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The question of continuity amongst the Apostles was something of a distraction during the waiting time, but did give rise to a timeless definition of the qualifications required of an Apostle (Acts 1:21-22).
3. The visible church still has to address occasional gaps in ministry, when one servant passes the mantle to another. The times between ministries are times for waiting, for prayer (Acts 1:14), and for maintaining church unity (Acts 2:1).
1. It is also true that, because Elijah ascended into heaven without dying, hope arose that he might return. This is stated explicitly at the end of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6). According to Jesus, this hope is fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13-14).
2. Similarly, the perplexity of the disciples at the Ascension of Jesus was met by the promise of His return “in like manner” (Acts 1:11). This is our hope.
3. Finally, not only are we told that the church is going to be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, but we are also told the result: “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
In the meantime Jesus tells us, “What I say unto you, I say unto all. Watch” (Mark 13:37).