The Rapture of Elijah - Swing Low Sweet Chariot!

Bible Study on the Prophet Elisha

The Rapture of Elijah - Swing Low Sweet Chariot!

by I Gordon

We looked last time at the call of Elisha and his desire to follow closely and minister to his master, Elijah. His desire to never leave Elijah took Elisha through four prominent locations in the land of Israel - Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan river. In this study, we are going to carry on in 2 Kings chapter 2 verses 9-14 and hopefully gain a little insight into the source of Elisha's strength. It is a well know passage, and by the end of it, Elijah will be seen no more... (Well, not for quite a few hundred years anyway! But that's getting ahead of ourselves!) Let's have a look at the passage.

What is your desire?

2 Kings 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, '  Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?' 'Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,' 

So the passage starts with a question... and a big question at that! Elijah knows that his time is nearly up so he asks his disciple Elisha what he would like to receive before Elijah leaves him. Big question. How would you respond?  [1]  Something material? Something physical? Or something spiritual? We see the type of character that Elisha had in that he asks for 'a double portion of your spirit'. It was spiritual blessings that mattered to Elisha! But don't get his request wrong... he wasn't asking to do twice as many miracles or be twice as important as Elijah. He was asking to be Elijah's heir. Under the law of Moses, the firstborn son was entitled to a double portion of the fathers inheritance (see Deut 21:17). Now Elijah didn't have a son. Nor was he materially wealthy. But he was spiritually wealthy and that is what Elisha considered important. Elisha wasn't after riches or possessions or fame. He wanted to be considered as Elijah's son and inherit from him spiritually. He wanted to receive the same Holy Spirit that empowered Elijah to carry on his work amongst the nation of Israel.  [2]  So let's just briefly bring this back onto you... what do you consider important in this life? If God gave you a choice, what would you ask Him for?

The hard thing... 

Elisha replied. 'You have asked a difficult thing ,' Elijah said, 'yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours - otherwise not.'

Now, why do you think it was that Elisha had asked a difficult thing? Was it difficult to receive a double portion? It doesn't seem overly difficult to actually receive it for he only had to see Elijah as he was taken up. So what is it that is hard or difficult? I believe the difficulty comes not in receiving such things, but in the responsibility that comes with bearing such gifts. Elisha was asking to be Elijah's heir spiritually. And I can imagine Elijah surveying his life, with all the difficulties and trials that were his because of his role as God's prophet... and so he tells Elisha 'you have asked for a difficult thing.' 'Don't think for one moment that possessing God's Spirit in this measure will be easy. It won't my son. You have asked for a difficult walk.'  [3] 

Jesus said the same thing using a different phrase - '  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.' (Luke 12:48)

 Swing Low Sweet Chariot  [4]  

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.

Here one minute... gone the next! As Elisha looked on a chariot of fire took his master Elijah up into heaven. And in doing so, Elijah  [5]  became only the second man to ever enter heaven without seeing death. Can you name the first?  [6]  We have in this little story a picture of something that will take place one day on a far greater scale... the rapture of the bride of Christ. For as quick as Elijah was here one minute and taken the next, even so the chariots of God will one day take all those that truly believe in His name up into the place that has been prepared for them. In the twinkling of the eye, Paul tells us, we shall be changed. (1 Cor 15:52). It has been the hope of many over two thousand years... But do not lose heart for we see the day drawing even closer. For  'the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.' (Hab 2:3) 

One other small point before we move on. As Elijah went up into the sky, Elisha cried out ' My Father, my Father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel'. At first reading you would be forgiven for thinking that Elisha is saying 'Elijah, look at that! Check out the chariots and the horses coming down in the sky!' You would be forgiven for thinking that it is similar to tattoo on 'Fantasy Island' yelling out 'da plane, da plane.' Let me assure you, thankfully, that there is no likeness to Fantasy Island here, nor Tattoo for that matter, for Elisha wasn't pointing out anything to his master Elijah. He was saying that Elijah was the strength of Israel. He was their chariots, he was their horses. Israel's strength as a nation was found in the person of Elijah because of God's power through that man. It is a remarkable statement that Elisha said as his master went from him into heaven. Not convinced? Always read the fine print!  [7] 

A picture of Jesus' ascension...

Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him 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.

We see also in this ascension of Elijah, a nice little picture of Jesus' ascension and our need of seeing this fact. Let's just state the facts again...

1. Elisha had asked for a double portion of his spirit.

2. Elijah said that this could only happen if Elisha saw him ascend into Heaven.

3. Elisha sees this, tears his own clothes, and puts on the cloak or mantle of Elijah that fallen from Elijah.

4. Elisha then performs his first miracle through the power of God.

In like manner, Jesus said that it was good that He had to go back to the Father, for He would send the helper - the Spirit of truth (see John 16:5-14) to be with all that believe in His name. And just as Elisha tore his own clothes and took upon himself the clothing of Elijah, so we take upon ourselves the garment of righteousness. Just as it is written:

'  I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!  For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness  . I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.'(Isaiah 61:10) 

But to do so means that we tear our own clothing first just as Elisha did! It means that we look not to our own righteousness or good works, as though that would win us favour with God, but in faith accept and see the Lord Himself as our righteousness, as our standing before the Father. The robe of righteousness that is given by the risen Lord is a free and precious gift! It will not wear out and will cover you completely until the day that you see Him face to face and are transformed into His image! Don't ever forget it! (see Rom 4:4, 5:17, 10:1-11, 1 Cor 1:30, 1 Cor 14:1 John 3:2)

Conclusion - Our ongoing need... See the risen Lord! 

The final point from this study is our ongoing need to see the Lord Jesus as alive, risen, and ascended! As I mentioned above, Elisha had to see Elijah ascend into Heaven before he could be given a double portion of Elijah's spirit. Once that had happened, he stood before the Jordan river and was tested straight away as to whether he would act on his belief that the same spirit that empowered Elijah would now work through him. As he stood on that river bank he spoke out '  'Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?'... When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.' 

Elisha knew that any strength or ability that he would have to follow in Elijah's footsteps had to come from God... not himself. So he says straight away 'where is the God of Elijah?' He was looking in the right direction! Some Christians live as best they can, trying to imitate the life that Jesus lived while He was on earth. They read the commands of Jesus in the Bible and give it their all to fulfil them. It is truly a noble desire and commitment... but one with failure stamped all over it. We all need to remember that Jesus is not dead and He certainly isn't sitting back hoping that we will one day have enough strength to mimic how He lived. We need to remember that the only way He was able to live the life He lived while on earth was through the strength of His Father doing the work in and through Him! Even Jesus didn't step out in His own ability and strength.

So Elisha, looking to the Lord, stands and cries 'Where is the God of Elijah?' And what do you know? Elisha finds that the God of Elijah is still alive and well for the waters of the Jordan are divided left and right. He finds that just as God was with Elijah, so He will be with Him too. God doesn't just work through one person and he certainly hasn't stopped doing wonderful things in the lives of those that look to Him. The God of Elijah hasn't changed.

May we, like Elisha, trust and look to Him.

[1] ↩  Kind of reminds us of God's question to Solomon when God asked him 'Ask for whatever you want me to give you.' (1 Kings 3:5) Mmmm, now what would I like? Let's see, maybe 3 more wishes! More than likely, the sick would like to be well, the single may want to have a partner, the poor might want to be better off. If God came to you and was willing to give you whatever you ask for, would you ask for something spiritual or something physical/material? Tough question but if we are honest with ourselves, it is more likely that what we would ask for in something in the latter category. That is what makes Elisha's response all the more remarkable.

[2] ↩  Elisha saw his great need of God and the Holy Spirit. He had heard, and knew the reality, of that which the sons of the prophets kept saying on each step of the journey - 'Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?' It is more than likely that the sons of the prophets were jealous! For God didn't pick them! When it came to having a successor to Elijah God went to an uneducated plowman instead of these 'prophets'! Always, always, always remember that God isn't after your education, qualification, or sophistication. The only B.A initials that you need after your name is one - 'Born again'. It was said of D.L Moody that he was the only man who could pronounce Jerusalem in one syllable! He was a simple shoe salesman and by all accounts butchered quite a bit of the Queens English! But through the Spirit that was upon him, D.L Moody was a powerful vessel for God and one of the greatest evangelists the Christian church has ever known.

[3] ↩  The same goes for us. Sometimes we read of great spiritual gifts in the Bible and truly desire to possess them. But with great gifts comes great responsibility. Your time will not be your own. Sometimes young believers desire to be a great Bible teacher. That is good for it is important. But heed James warning that 'not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.' Desiring spiritual gifts is great. It is encouraged in the Bible and should be desired. But in doing so you have not chosen an easy thing. Be assured that there is always a price to pay. In fact, it isn't just desiring spiritual gifts that is 'a difficult thing'. Anyone who asks and desires to know God better has asked a hard thing. For true growth, is growth in grace. And God grace, and His power, is made perfect in weakness. And weakness, means not being in control of your situation. Hence, it is always a 'hard thing'. But it is God's way.

[4] ↩  It is believed that this originated with the African Americans during their years of slavery. They had a hope of the Lord's return, and would sing 'Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. Well I looked over Jordan and what did I see? Coming for to carry me home. A band of angels, coming after me... Coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot...'

[5] ↩  Although, it is very very likely that Elijah will see death at one stage. You will remember that the last verse of the Old Testament ends with a promise that Elijah will come again before the great and terrible day of the Lord. (Mal 4:5). We know that while John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, even Jesus said that Elijah is yet still to come (John 17:11-12). We know that during the first half of the tribulation, two mysterious witnesses appear on the scene. It is likely, although still speculation, that one of these will be the return of Elijah. Note also that they are given the power to call forth fire or to shut the sky from raining (Rev 11:5-6). Both of these miracles were those that characterized the ministry of Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:1, 18:37-38, 2Kings 1:9-14).

[6] ↩  Easy question for those that have read Genesis 5:24 or Hebrews 11:5. The first was of course Enoch.

[7] ↩  This saying 'My father, my father, the chariots of God and its horseman' was a phrase known in Israel. And it wasn't just limited to Elijah. One day, it would be said about Elisha himself. If you have a look at 2 Kings 13:14 you will see that as Elisha was dying, the king of Israel used this exact same phrase about Elisha himself for he knew that Elisha was the strength of Israel just as Elijah had been before him.