11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. 13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 2 Kings 2:11-13 NKJV
Probably a decade or so passed after Elijah had pleaded for the Lord to end his life while on the run from the death-threat of Queen Jezebel. The day came when God finally answered his prayer. It was answered in a way that nobody could have possibly imagined – a chariot of fire came down to earth to taxi him up to heaven in a whirlwind, with no prior death required.
This was a most unusual occurrence in multiple ways. Besides being the first appearance of the “Chariot of Israel”, the only other person in the Bible who apparently went to be with God without experiencing death first was Enoch, way back in Genesis.
24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24 NKJV
Even the great prophet and leader of Israel, Moses, experienced death in Moab before entering the Promised Land of Israel.
Jesus Christ ascended into heaven only after first being resurrected from His own death, suffered voluntarily on the cross for our redemption. He is the first, and so far, only to enter into heaven with a new and glorified body rather than with our old, worn out one. According to the apostle Paul, many other believers will follow in this state later:
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NKJV
It seemed that all of the prophets around Elijah, including Elisha, knew that this would be Elijah’s last day on earth. God made sure that those who followed him knew about it beforehand. They all knew the day, but no one knew the method.
Before he went up to heaven, Elijah asked his mentee, Elisha, what he could give him before he went. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Though it was not actually in Elijah’s power to give, he told Elisha that if the Lord permitted him to see Elijah exit, the request will have been granted by God.
What is Elijah’s spirit that Elisha wanted a double portion of? This is still a bit of a mystery to many.
The Old Testament prophet Malachi wrote that Elijah would come again to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth (Malachi 4). The coming restoration of God’s kingdom is, to this day, celebrated in the Passover seder, with an extra glass of wine set at an empty place at the table, hoping for the prophet’s arrival.
Later, Jesus told his disciples that John the Baptist, who had been killed by King Herod, had come in the spirit of Elijah. Jesus also told them that Elijah will come once again in the future. He said this after being transfigured in glory on a mountain before them, speaking with an appearing Elijah and Moses. They were likely speaking about His approaching suffering, crucifixion and death.
11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:11-13 NKJV
Many believe that Elijah will also be one of the Two Witnesses prophesied about in Revelation 11. These two will come in the end times to prepare for the return of Jesus Christ, to establish His global kingdom on earth. Their divine powers will include sending fire and drying up the earth with a drought, two miracles that Elijah has already performed.
There is much speculation as to the identity of the other Witness. Many believe he will be Enoch, as Enoch has apparently not yet experienced death. The Bible tells us that death is an appointment that comes once to each man and woman, followed by the judgement (Hebrews 9:27).
Others believe that the second Witness will be Moses, as he has already come back once with Elijah to encourage Jesus at the Transfiguration. One day all will be revealed to us. In the meantime, we now know through God’s word some of God’s methods, but not the day of Elijah’s (or Jesus’s) return.
Elisha grieved when Elijah was taken to heaven. He had followed his teacher around very closely for years, soaking up all that he could about God’s ways and His teachings, and had become extremely attached to Elijah in the process. He also wondered if the close relationship he had with God would continue now that his rabbi was gone. It did. In fact, it was closer than ever. The double portion of Elijah’s spirit was manifested though his performance of many miracles – the Bible records Elisha performing twice as many as Elijah.
Who is a spiritual teacher or mentor in your life?
Lord, send me holy men and women who follow You and walk in Your ways to teach me and instruct me in Your word. Help me to make it a priority to listen and learn, and to pray for them as we all earnestly seek to walk with You. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.