Lectionary Reflection for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

From 1 & 2 Kings (BTCB) by Peter J. Leithart, commenting on 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Starting with Moses, Jesus teaches his disciples that all the Old Testament Scriptures are about the sufferings and glory of Christ (Luke 24: 27). That hermeneutical rule is more obviously applicable to some passages than to others, but there is no problem applying it to 2 Kgs. 2.  Elijah is a type of John the Baptist (Matt. 11: 14; Mark 9: 9–13; Luke 1: 17), and the transition from Elijah to Elisha foreshadows the succession from John to Jesus. Like John, Elijah is a lone voice in the wilderness, but Elisha is surrounded by disciples. Jesus’s ministry is a ministry of life-giving miracles—cleansing lepers (Mark 1: 40–45), raising dead sons and restoring them to their mothers (Luke 7: 11–17), relieving distress. Similarly, Elisha raises the dead (2 Kgs. 4: 18–37), provides a meal for one hundred men from twenty loaves of barley bread (4: 42–44), cleanses a leper (2 Kgs. 5). On the surface of things, Elisha is a type of Jesus.

But the typology works another way as well: Elijah is a type of Jesus himself, and Elisha of the disciples who continued Jesus’s ministry after his ascension. Elisha first appears plowing a field, but he leaves home and family (1 Kgs. 19: 19–21) like the disciples of Jesus who leave their fishing boats and tax booths to follow him. At the beginning of 2 Kgs. 2, Elisha doggedly follows his master, refusing to stay behind, until Elijah is taken from him in a whirlwind. Because he follows Elijah, Elisha becomes like his master, and after Elijah departs he immediately begins to replicate his ministry. Having received the promised double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha is a “reincarnation” (or “reanimation”) of Elijah, as the church is the body of Christ in the Spirit of Jesus. The sons of the prophets recognize the family resemblance between Elisha and his predecessor, just as the Jews perceive the courage of Peter and the apostles and remember they have been with Jesus (Acts 4: 13).

From this angle, the Elijah-Elisha narrative directly foreshadows the sequence of the biography of Jesus (Brodie 1999, chap. 5). The Gospels begin with the ministry of the Elijah-like John, who confronts the ambivalent King Herod and his bloodthirsty queen and calls Israel to repentance (Mark 1: 1–8; 6: 14–29). John baptizes Jesus as his successor (Mark 1: 9–11), as Elijah calls Elisha (1 Kgs. 19: 19–21); and Jesus receives the Spirit as he is baptized, as Elisha receives the spirit of Elijah. Jesus announces the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple (Mark 13), and Elisha anoints the temple-destroyer, Jehu (2 Kgs. 9: 1–10). Jesus comes eating and drinking (Luke 7: 34), and Elisha’s ministry is like Jesus’s above all in giving central attention to the gift of food and drink. He heals the deadly waters at Jericho (2 Kgs. 2: 19–22), provides healthy food for the sons of the prophets (4: 38–41), multiplies loaves to feed a multitude (4: 42–44), feeds Aramean soldiers who come to capture him (6: 20–23), and provides food for besieged Samaria (7: 1, 18–20). The Gospels end at an empty tomb, and Elisha’s story ends with his life-giving grave (13: 20–21).

©2006 by Peter J. Leithart. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.