Bible studies in the life of Elijah
The Rapture of Elijah
By Fraser Gordon
We are going to continue with our study of Elijah. Last time we looked at the death of Ahab and how he partially repented of his wicked deeds after Elijah spoke the words of God to him. However, he did all that he could to escape the coming judgement upon him, even disguising himself and asking King Jehoshaphat to pretend to be him in battle! But then the Bible says that a man drew a bow at random and fired a shot into the air - not really knowing where he was firing, and it killed Ahab!
In this study we are in 2nd Kings Chapter 2 and it is Elijah's last journey. You may remember that Elijah had earlier run from Jezebel and asked God to take his life. If God had granted this prayer, then we wouldn't have the five years between then and now. It is so encouraging to me that even though a man may fail, God can still use him. Yes, because of that failure there was a judgement that came upon him because God said to him “Listen, you are going to have to train Elisha because he is going to take your place.” However, despite the weaknesses and failings of Elijah, God still uses him during these five years and his end is an absolutely glorious one. It is a radical event that is going to happen in the life of this prophet. He is one of a kind. And the way that he is caught up to heaven is a great picture and type of the rapture as we shall see. So we come to his last journey and God directs him to travel to four specific places which I believe represent spiritual truths that need to be learned. God is actually saying something here through Elijah's last journey to these significant places and they all mean specific things. Let’s look at this.
First stop... Gilgal
2 Kings 2:1-5 And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. (2) Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. (3) Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" And he said, "Yes, I know; be still." (4) Elijah said to him, "Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. (5) The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be still."
Gilgal is the first place mentioned, Elijah starts out from there. What do we know about Gilgal? First of all this place has great meaning for the nation of Israel - it has great spiritual significance for them. God intervened for the nation at Gilgal, and Joshua chapter 5 tells us what happened there. The nation of Israel had wandered in unbelief for forty years, finally crossing the Jordan and encamping at Gilgal. This is the first place that they came to, and it is here that Joshua circumcised the children of Israel.
Joshua 5:5-9 For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. (6) For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, to whom the LORD had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. (7) Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way. (8) Now when they had finished circumcising all the nation, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. (9) Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.
All of the people which had come out of Egypt and died in the wilderness had been circumcised. But there was no circumcision done during their wilderness wanderings of forty years. When their children came into the land of Canaan the first thing that Joshua had to do was to actually circumcise the people. Circumcision always stands for the cutting away of the flesh. It means that the flesh life is no longer the dominant force in our lives. So it is a picture of the self-life actually being put under the knife and not having the rule over us. The next thing it says is that they did this in the face of their enemies and waited for healing to take place. Jericho was right in front of them, but they could not tackle their enemies until they were healed. So there was a time period here. Then the Lord said to Joshua “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you, therefore the name of this place is called Gilgal” – which means ‘a rolling’. Now what does the reproach of Egypt mean? There are two possibilities. One is that when a person is born again there is a sense of shame when there is a remembrance of things done while in the world…Egypt. It takes circumcision of the heart, and an understanding of what Christ accomplished on the cross for us to ‘roll these memories away.’ Then there is another way of looking at this…it was not God’s plan for Israel to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. This in itself was a reproach to them and gave their enemies an opportunity to mock, and to say that their God was not able to bring them in! It is also a shame to us as Christians, when we try to go back to Egypt, or wander in the wilderness and do not take hold of the promises which God has given us to enable us to enter into His rest - which is typified by the Promised Land.
Joshua 5:10-12 While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho. (11) On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. (12) The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.
So they get into the land at the place called Gilgal and are circumcised there. Then they experience Passover (which they never experienced in the wilderness) because there is now something to observe and celebrate. The Manna which they ate in the wilderness is no longer their food; now they begin to experience all the goodness God has for them, typified by the corn of the land. They also ate of the good fruit of the land which God had prepared for them. It is the good fruit of His life. Manna was no longer needed. The good fruit of the land was now available. So when you come to Gilgal there is a completely new beginning for the nation of Israel, and a new way of living for them.
Joshua 5:13-14 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" (14) He said, "No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?"
Then they come across a Man who says “I am not on your side, or on the side of your enemies, but I have actually come to take over.” So it was a new rule of life for them where the Lord Himself was in charge. And that is what Gilgal actually stands for - things that are really significant for the nation of Israel. But it is also significant, in type, for us, because all the things which were true for them, in type or picture, are the same for us. We learn that the flesh shouldn't rule over us, that we should have communion with the Lord continually, that there is a Man that has come to take over and to rule in our lives life, and that we are not our own, Christ wants to live His life though us. This is the meaning of Gilgal.
Onto Bethel... another significant place in the Christian’s journey
Now Gilgal is only the starting point of the journey, for we read that Elijah says to his servant Elisha, “Stay here please for the Lord has sent me on to Bethel.” What do we know about Bethel? It means ‘house of God’. Who was the first person to encounter it? Jacob. Remember when Jacob managed to get Esau to sell him his birth right, which was his as he was the oldest son, and then deceived his father as to which son he was to get the blessing of the first born; his mother told him to run from there because his brother was seeking to kill him because of this. So he flees to his uncle and on the way he has an encounter with God. This is his first real encounter with the God of his fathers. He gets a vision of a ladder coming down from heaven with angels ascending and descending and God, despite Jacob's weaknesses and failings, actually appears to him and says “I love you and I am going to bless you and make your seed prosperous and you are going to abound, and I am going to bring you back to this land once again.” So the picture that you get in Bethel is one that God is a God of love and protection. He is a God that cares for us despite our weaknesses and failings. It was a really significant place for Israel because it speaks of God being someone who loves us, despite the things that we do wrong. God committed Himself to Jacob even though Jacob hadn't realised what he had done - he hadn't even repented, but God said “I am on your side.”
However, under Ahab, these places were completely wicked. In the books of Amos and Hosea when speaking about Gilgal we read that it says ‘all of the wickedness is in Gilgal.’ So these places, even though they should have been deeply spiritual for the nation, had become incredibly wicked. Bethel, which was the house of God or the gate of heaven, had also become wicked. We read that Jeroboam had placed golden calves in the house of God because he wanted the nation to worship there; rather than to go to the south, where the temple was. So even though these places were really significant for the Jews they had become defiled. Elijah is visiting all of these places for a reason. He is going on a little journey and I believe it is very important to consider this. If you knew that you were going to be taken and that you only had a short amount of time left here, you would want to install some sort of truths. I believe this is what God is doing with Elijah in this passage. He is taking him on this journey, actually almost retracing the journey that Israel took when they came across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.
2 Kings 2:3 Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" And he said, "Yes, I know; be still."
This is the first time that we are introduced to a group of people called the school of prophets. Scripture doesn't say how it came about but when you read the context of this it almost implies that Elijah was the head of this school of prophets and here he is on his last journey, visiting these areas where these people were - maybe as an encouragement to them... but we are not sure. If you look back on the life of Elijah when he was sitting under a broom tree and saying “God I am the only one you have got left,” something had obviously happened between then and five years later for these little groups to be established. You have this school of prophets in Bethel and another school of prophets in Jericho. Elijah is visiting these men, and they know that he is going to leave because they have a certain amount of understanding of what was about to happen. So it would seem that Elijah had probably set up these schools, and had been involved with them. Not only is he tutoring Elisha to take his place but there are these other schools of prophets as well. It is interesting to note that everywhere Elijah goes he tells Elisha to “stay here” and every time Elisha replies “no way”, so you almost have a little replay on what Ruth said to Naomi - “Wherever you go I will go,” I will not leave you type of thing. There is a real commitment by Elisha to stay with Elijah even though he is told to stay in every place that they went to. I believe that Elijah knows that God is going to take him up, and he is entirely focused on this, so he is visiting the people that are important to him.
It would be like that for us, if you knew you had limited time here on earth, what would you do? Different people say different things. Some people would say “Well, I will go and sell all and take a holiday somewhere.” You could possibly look to do something that you had never done before, or look to things that are really important to you - the close people that are in your life, your family, your friends, things like that. Well Elijah is like that. I believe that he is going to these places because they are what are important to him. I remember reading how John Wesley responded when he was asked “What would you do if you only had three days to live?” He said “Well, I would do what I have already planned to do. I would minister in one place, I would visit another and I would just keep going until I yielded my spirit back to the One who actually gave it to me.” When I look at Elijah I can see that he knows he is going to be with God, but he is still doing what he knows he should be doing. He wasn't off on some island kicking his feet up - he was doing what he considered to be important. When I look at this passage I am really thrilled that God is still using Elijah which shows that He always has a plan for us right up until our departure.
Next stop... Jericho!
2 Kings 2:4-5 Elijah said to him, "Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. (5) The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be still."
What do we know about Jericho? This is the third place that Elijah goes to. Jericho was the first enemy city that the Israelites encountered when they came across into Canaan. This is the same city that Joshua marched around thirteen times, the last time in absolute silence. It is where God took the battle against the city on His own behalf. The people didn't have to do anything but rest, trust and believe that God was going to work for them. They had to be obedient to what God wanted them to do but God was the One who was fighting this battle, not them. We know that it was God who destroyed the walls so that the city crumbled and was taken by Israel. We also know that Joshua put a curse upon the city and said “Cursed is the man who rebuilds Jericho, when the foundations are laid his oldest son would die, and when the gates are hung his youngest son would die. This curse came to pass 500 years later when someone tried to do just that. The man who did this was named Hiel, and he came from Bethel which as we said was meant to be known as the ‘house of God.’ So Jericho was rebuilt in defiance of the words of Joshua. Jericho speaks about the enemy’s power but it also speaks about God who has power over the enemy. So that was the third place that he was sent to, the fourth is the Jordan.
Death and resurrection in the Jordan
2 Kings 2:6 Then Elijah said to him, "Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." And he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on.
What do we know about Jordan? It was there that the nation of Israel crossed into the Promised Land. The priests who carried the Ark went first, because the presence of God had to stand in the midst of the Jordan so that the waters would part. The Jordan always speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ, but we are also are included in His death and in His resurrection also. Joshua then put up two monuments of stones; one on the other side of the Jordan in Gilgal so that people could look at the stones and remember that they had come out of death and into life. The other monument was actually in the Jordan itself. Joshua put twelve stones in the Jordan, which, when you think about it, can only be seen by the eye of faith. The waters came back over and you can't actually see that monument, but it is there and it remains there to this day. We cannot see that we have died and have been buried with Christ with our natural eyes. It is a spiritual truth that can only be understood when our eyes have been opened – but it is there. The New Testament says that “We have died, we have been buried but we are also risen again.” Joshua put the stones in the Jordan for a specific reason which can only be seen through the eye of faith. We are buried with Him but we have also been raised to life again in Him.
A quick sum-up...
So to sum up, all of these places speak of radical things not only for the nation of Israel but also for us. Gilgal speaks of the fact that there must be a circumcision of the flesh; that the flesh shouldn't rule us and it speaks of tasting the good things of the Lord - which God wants to bless us with. Bethel speaks of God's love and protection for us despite our weaknesses. Jericho speaks of God's power over the enemy and Jordan tells us that not only have we died, but we are buried with Christ and have been raised again to new life.
If I was going to leave, as Elijah was, I would want to tell my children about the things that really counted in life. And the things that really count are the things we have been talking about. For me, they are the heart of everything in the Christian life. The central focus of really going on with God – to know that He loves us; that we died in Christ, and that God has power over the enemy. These are the really essential things to experience in our walk with God.
The request for a double portion
2 Kings 2:7-9 Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. (8) Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. (9) When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me."
When someone knows they are going to depart there is this desire to do things for others; they want to help, and they want to instil something, or do whatever they can before they are taken. It doesn't matter whether they are a believer or a non-believer everyone wants to do something for someone. So Elijah says to Elisha “What can I do for you?” Elisha's request is a big one, for he says “Let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” Interestingly, Elijah performed eight miracles and Elisha sixteen, so here we have the double portion!
Gone in the twinkling of an eye!
2 Kings 2:10-11 He said, "You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so." (11) As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
Just like that, when the two of them are walking and talking, there is a sudden event and a sudden departure. Something happens really quickly. In the twinkling of an eye there is a separation and there is a departure. When you look at the life of Elijah, he is unique- apart from Enoch who had the same experience - he is the only other person that has been taken to heaven body, soul and spirit. Enoch was taken as he walked and talked with God, but no-one saw this event. But Elisha saw Elijah taken up bodily into heaven in the fiery chariot. This is why he is a type of the rapture. Two of them were together and then in an instant, one was gone - just like that! Chariots of fire separated them and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
1 Thessalonians 4 talks about The Coming of The Lord, that the dead in Christ will rise first and those who are still alive at Christ’s coming shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and caught up together with them to meet The Lord in the air. So Elijah is a type of the rapture of the church, and this why you see him on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and the Lord Jesus. Moses speaks about those who have died beforehand under the law. Elijah is a type of those that are raptured, but they are both taken to be with Christ in the clouds. Those that have died and those that are still alive are taken body soul and spirit and caught up to be with The Lord. So Elijah retraces his steps and comes to Jordan – and another miracle occurs – the Jordan is parted before them! He and Elisha cross over to the wilderness side and are out of the land of Israel. He is on the wilderness side of the Jordan when he is taken. It is possible that the reason that God led Elijah to the wilderness on the far side of Jordan was that the rapture which occurred there speaks of the church which consists mostly of gentiles. It is not a promise to Israel as a nation; they are waiting for the coming of their Messiah – which will occur at the end of the tribulation. This taking away of Elijah is a very great event, a really glorious departure. We may be caught up in the rapture or die first but yes, every Christian also has a glorious departure into heaven - from the greatest saint to the smallest, even though we can’t see it. I was reminded of that story of the rich man Lazarus; remember that parable in Luke 16 - it talks about the poor man who had nothing but when he died it actually says that “the angels carried him to Abraham's bosom” and I thought yes, from the greatest prophet like Elijah -who had such a marvellous departure, to the poorest beggars who are believers, the angels came for them. I was encouraged when I read that, because for every Christian the end is glorious.
2 Kings 2:12-13 Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. (13) He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan.
Elisha had been in training all of this time but now when one prophet goes it is another ones job to take up the work which he had been prepared to do. There is a good principle here that no matter what situation we find ourselves in we should always be ready to take up the work of God. It is interesting that when Elisha was with Elijah, Elijah was the spiritual head and Elisha just followed along. But there always comes a time when you have got to stand on your own two feet. Elisha now has his own Jordan to cross alone. Elijah had gone but God was still present and this why he prays “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” He didn't say “Where is Elijah.” He said “Where is the Lord God of Elijah.” Every one of us has their own Jordan to cross and you can only do that on your own, just as Elisha had to do it on his own. He faced his own Jordan and he crossed it with God.
So that comes to the end of the life of Elijah the prophet but when you look at his life what a rugged prophet he was! The Jews look to three men: Abraham, Moses and Elijah – that is how prominent he was in the Jewish thought! Even now when Passover is observed, a place is set for Elijah because the Word says that he is going to return. We have not seen the last of him yet. God says “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord, see Malachi ch.4 v 5. Just to re-cap, we looked at him when he came out of Gilead to stand before Ahab and pronounce Gods’ judgement. We saw him at the brook Cherith, and have looked at the miracles he did when he stayed with the widow at Zarepath. We have also seen what he did at Mount Carmel when he took on 400 prophets of Baal, and revealed who God was. Next, we looked at the massive failure that Elijah had (and it was a big fall!) and how God said “Look you are going to be removed from your office and Elisha is going to take your place.” Then in that last five years before he was caught up and taken into heaven he carried on his ministry and God still used him. He has popped into scripture at times to speak with Ahab and taught Elisha to take his place and now his departure is one of the most radical departures in scripture. So what a great man of God!