Elijah had been a faithful servant of the Lord through a very dark time in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Sometimes it seemed as if his bold obedience to Jehovah, his miracles of mercy and judgment, and his startling manner of prophesying offered the only sources of spiritual light in the nation. In the beginning of his ministry he had been a solitary voice crying in the wilderness, but over time he had influenced others and established a sort of prophetic guild with organized groups in Bethel and Jericho. The most notable of Elijah’s trainees was the man with the similar-sounding name, Elisha, who would soon take over as Israel’s lead prophet.
It was Elijah’s time to go, and everyone knew it. Crossing the Jordan River with a strike of his cloak (his final miracle), he promised Elisha the “double portion of his spirit” that he had asked for. I believe the request reflected Elisha’s desire to bring glory to God like Elijah had, and even more so.
As the two men talked, suddenly an other-worldly transport arrived — flaming horse-drawn chariots that swept up Elijah and rushed him to heaven in a supernatural, tornadic updraft. What a way to go! Elijah actually bypassed death on his way to heaven! I believe God granted him this glorious non-death for two reasons: He was honoring His faithful prophet and He was leaving the conclusion of Elijah’s ministry open. According to Malachi 4:5-6, Luke 1:13-17, and Matthew 17:12, John the Baptist would serve out a continuation of Elijah’s ministry (John even dressed like Elijah; compare 2 Kings 1:8 and Matthew 3:4). After his flight to heaven Elijah made one more appearance in Israel, alongside Moses at the Transfiguration of Jesus (see Matthew 17:3).
Elisha was left alone and grieving (v.12), but he had the mantle of Elijah, the symbol of prophetic authority. God immediately confirmed Elisha’s ministry with a trio of miracles: the parting of the Jordan that duplicated Elijah’s last miracle, the miracle of purifying the contaminated water, and the unusual miracle of judgment in which God punished the insolent boys of Bethel with horrific bear attacks (seems awfully harsh, but to insult the prophet of God was to insult the God of the prophet).
Let us live like Elijah, with unwavering boldness for God, and when it is our time to leave this world, may hell be glad to see us go and may heaven be happy to see us coming!
Please enjoy this classic by the late Rich Mullins…