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 told hold of his garment and tore it in two.
Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood at 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.
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 down to the ground before him. (2 Kings 2:11-15)
The story of the prophet Elijah’s entrance to heaven is filled with echoes to the larger story of Scripture. What happens here has, in some way, happened before and happens again. Not in the sense that history repeats itself, but that God’s action in one story should remind us of his action in others. The cross-pollination of the two stories should bloom into deeper understanding of God as he has revealed himself in his Word. Whether these echoes were intentional on the part of Elijah and Elisha (I’m guessing some of them were), in the providential work of the Spirit they are clearly intentional. These echoes are no accident.
One clear echo is in the parting of the Jordan River. The phrase ‘divided to the right and to the left’ brings to mind the dividing of the Red Sea so that Israel could cross on dry ground to safety. It also brings to mind the cross of the Jordan by the people of Israel as they entered the Promised Land for the first time. Carrying the ark of the covenant, the priests walked into the river and it parted to the right and to the left so the people could enter the land on dry ground.
However, I believe this story also echoes one centuries later. In 2 Kings 2, there is a man of God who ascends into heaven, there is a violent wind, fire, and then it is remarked that the Spirit has come upon someone. What other story might contain those same elements?
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
It’s the same story! Jesus has ascended into heaven. Now, instead of a whirlwind and fire going up into heaven, it comes down and rests on those gathered in the house. And again, the Spirit is seen to rest upon the people.
Could it be that what happened at Pentecost should be seen in light of the passing of Elijah’s mantle to Elisha? Could it be that Christians should see Elijah’s ascension in light of the story of Pentecost?