Updated: Nov 29, 2021
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; 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. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
Elijah said to him, “Elisha, 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. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
The way one needs to read this story of Elijah preparing to ascend into heaven is as a parallel to the story of Jesus doing the same thing. One has to realize that Elijah did not die before he “ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” Jesus died in body first, but then was resurrected in the same body, in which he remained for forty days, before he ascended on the forty-ninth day of the Counting of the Omer [Pentecost is the Fiftieth Day and final day in that count]. This, the above reading from Second Kings, needs to be read as if Elijah had also died in body, but resurrected in that body, with his ‘farewell tour’ that Elisha followed him on being the equivalent of the forty days Jesus spent teaching his disciples. Elisha should be seen as the disciple being taught by Elijah.
In the sense that Elisha is a follower of Elijah, the three places Elijah went: Bethel, Jericho, and the other side of the Jordan, where Elisha demanded he go too, those can be seen symbolically as the three years of ministry Jesus had, where his disciples followed him without fail. At each place where we read that Elijah met with “a company of prophets,” who asked Elisha, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” those can be seen as those who Jesus healed, thereby having filled them with the Holy Spirit and made them unknown “prophets” of the Lord. In that way, those healed and filled were then placed on an equal standing with Jesus (duplicates in the Christ); so, they knew Jesus could not be kept in the flesh for long. They communicated with God to know that. So, when Elisha told each, “Yes, I know; be silent,” he knew it was time for him to also become one of the company of prophets.
[Compare what Elisha said to what God told Simon during the Transfiguration - "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"]
When we read that Elijah took off his mantle and rolled it up and caused the waters of the Jordan to be parted and the land where the river flowed immediately dried, this is the power of God that was previously possessed Moses [the Red Sea], then Joshua [the Jordan], and now Elijah [also the Jordan]. Whereas all the Israelites that crossed the Jordan [as worthy descendants of those who escaped Egypt] were the same as “a company of prophets,” having been taught to talk to God and listen to His Will, God chose leaders for those prophets. Elijah had been one. Elisha followed Elijah because he wanted to please the Lord and become the next leader of the companies of prophets.
When Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you,” Elisha should be seen as a disciple who was ready to assume the role of leader. Elijah had anointed him as his successor; so, the fulfillment of that role was not in Elijah’s hands, as God was the one who gave power to the leaders of the prophets. When Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit,” this was a new way of him saying, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” That had been Elisha’s way of saying Elijah’s power was because he had his soul spirit in addition to the Lord’s spirit – the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, Elisha asked Elijah to give him the same Holy Spirit so he could become just as powerful as Elijah.
When Elijah said to Elisha, “You have asked a hard thing,” that said the Holy Spirit was not Elijah’s to give. That is important to realize, because the parallel between Elijah and Jesus says Jesus also did not have the power to give anyone the Holy Spirit. While there were companies of prophets in Israel because of Elijah's leadership and plenty of people in Galilee and the surrounding regions who went into ministry casting out spirits and healing “in the name of Jesus,” because of his presence, it was God who passed that ability on to believers of deep faith. This is why Jesus said, “Go. Your faith has healed you.” In the same way, Elijah heard Elisha ask Elijah for the power of God, knowing it does not work that way. Elijah knew Elisha would get what he asked for, but it would not come from his asking Elijah. It would come from Elisha’s faith in God. Thus, Elijah said to Elisha, “if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you.”
This means that faith was the way Elisha saw Elijah rise in a chariot and it says the disciples had faith, which allowed them to witness Jesus ascending in a cloud. When Elisha watched and cried out “Father! Father!” that was his faith speaking at the time of a whirlwind and a chariot with horses and fire separated him and Elijah. His cries are the proof that he would become the replacement leader of Elijah.
When we then read that Elisha tore his clothes in two pieces, the impression is that he was anguished at losing Elijah. While that certainly would be the case outwardly, the deeper reason is the symbolism of Elijah needing to change his way of expressing himself. When they say, “The clothes make the man,” that implies one must dress appropriately for one’s profession. Elisha tore the clothes of a disciple in two, so he would never again wear them. He picked up the mantle of Elijah and put it on, telling everyone he was from then on ordained by God to be a high priest. The mantle was the symbol of possessing God's power, but it cannot be confused with any particular article of clothing [like a bishop's crosier, a pope's high hat, or a priest's collar, et al]. It is a halo around one's head.
As a reading selected with purpose during the last Sunday in the season after the Epiphany, paired with the reading from the Gospel of Mark that tells of the Transfiguration, it should be easy to see how Elisha was transformed from follower to leader. In the same way that God scolded Simon [mostly, but also James and John], saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” we should be able to hear that command when Elijah told Elisha, “You have asked a hard thing.” It is just as hard for a human filled with God’s Holy Spirit to pass on one soul’s guarantee of eternal salvation to another [losing eternal salvation in the process?] as it is to build a house out of fabric and ropes for a ghost. Human projects led by a brain cannot bring about spiritual rewards; so, no one can give one the Holy Spirit. One has to earn it and the only way to do that work is to follow the orders of Jesus Christ [i.e.: God in human form].
When Elijah told Elisha, “if you see me as I am being taken from you,” he was referring to an ability to see spirits divinely, not with physical eyes. When Elijah told Elisha he would gain a “double share of spirit” [meaning the soul of Elisha would forever become married to God and joined with God’s Holy Spirit – two as one] – if he could see Elijah ascending – that acts as a prophecy for Simon, James, and John, as they saw two prior souls (incarnations) of Jesus: as Moses and as Elijah. Their being able to see that means they were like Elisha in getting what they wanted, which God knew through their faith [before they knew]. In both cases, faith is shown by following instructions.
When this can bring confusion because Elisha was told by Elijah to wait at a place, while he went on ahead, and Elisha refused to follow orders, those orders were a test of faith sent by God, through Elijah. By Elisha not listening to the “You don’t have to do anything but sit here on your ass” command, his faith spoke that he was not about to do nothing, because he wanted to be with Elijah until the end … no matter what. That is the commitment of a marriage and the way family stays with one another.
As a lesson during a season when one’s spiritual progress is based on having experienced a call within to follow a leader to find God [an Epiphany after feeling the birth of Jesus close], one must go beyond the walking behind part and become transformed into a walk before others status. So many today, who call themselves Christians, would hear a priest say, “Wait here. I’m going to go see God” and they would say, “Okay boss. I’ll stay here on this pew … in my spot that I mark with cushions and books.” One does not get to go see God when one’s life ends, having followed that do-nothing path.
As for the double portion of Elijah’s spirit, being able to see the power of God before one’s spiritual eyes – chariot of fire, horses, whirlwind, and a High Priest ascending – then one has received God’s Holy Spirit. Paul wrote about the gifts of the Spirit, which are many. Those are symbolized by the mantle that fell from heaven. It was never Elijah’s to give away. Only God can pass the mantle of holiness on to a human being; and, that gift demands complete faith to receive.
To see how Elisha used the mantle in the same way that Elijah had used it, rolling it up and hitting the Jordan waters, causing them to part and the land to be dry, says the Holy Spirit being passed on by God means one has the powers of God at one’s disposal. That is the greatest gift, because it is only given away so one will become the agent of God on earth [like Moses, like Elijah, like Jesus] and use those powers to lead others to serve God. That demands one “Listen to him!”