IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





Kingdom Continuity

Date: Apr. 19, 2015

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Kings 2:1-25

Key Verse: 2 Kings 2:14

“He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah 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.”

There is not much in life that lasts forever. Our printer at home, after seven years, is becoming very flaky. It is breaking before our eyes. Just before Christmas, my wife’s phone broke after only a year of use. Roads fill with potholes after every winter. Buildings will crumble and windows will break. Sure enough, even our time will come to pass. There will be a time when we are not here on this earth anymore. If Jesus doesn’t come first, then we will die. It is almost a certainty. Fortunately, there are many things that will outlive us. One of the oldest companies of the planet is Kongo Gumi, a construction company in Japan. It was family owned from its inception in 578 until it as absorbed into another company in 2006. That is more than 1400 years of family operation. How does a company stay in business for over 1400 years? Of course, over the course of the years, there were countless construction projects. Having lots of business helps, but one key piece to a long-lasting company like Kongo Gumi is a good succession plan. Making sure that there is continuous leadership is essential to maintaining viability. The same can be said for God’s kingdom. God is the great and mighty king. He is everlasting and never changing. However, the world that we live in does change. That’s going to be the case until God’s kingdom comes in to full view. Until Jesus comes back and establishes the new heaven and the new earth, God’s servants will continue to change over time. It’s up to us to ensure that there is continuity to God’s kingdom.

The passage starts out, “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” (1) The prophet Elijah’s time on earth was coming to an end. He had had a hard time under Ahab’s rule, but now that Ahab was dead and so was Ahaziah, his son, Elijah’s ministry was over. He had fought God’s battles against the idolatry of Baal and, with Ahaziah’s death, Baal worship in Israel was beginning to falter. God’s fiery warrior was due some rest. As Elijah and Elisha were walking on the road from Gilgal, Elijah turns to Elisha and says, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” (2) Upon hearing this, Elisha didn’t want to stay. He said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2) And they went to Bethel. Both Elijah and Elisha knew that Elijah’s time was coming to an end and they both knew that Elisha is the successor. When Elijah tells Elisha to stay, it’s a test to see if Elisha would go back, but Elisha carries on and they go to Bethel.

In Bethel, the company of the prophets greets them and the prophets ask Elisha if he knows that the Lord is going to take Elijah away. Elisha knows this and doesn’t want to talk about it. Then, Elijah tells Elisha to stay in Bethel as he was going to Jericho. Like before, Elisha refuses to stay in Bethel, but wishes to stay with Elijah. They go to Jericho and the pattern continues there. The company of the prophets comes out and tells Elisha the same thing as the prophets back in Bethel did. Elijah then tells Elisha to stay in Jericho as he goes to the Jordan, but Elisha refuses again and they go to the Jordan. There is this sort of repetition that is going on here. This is a type of repetition that is commonly seen in the Bible. These events happen three times, like Peter’s rejecting of Jesus three times or his reinstatement three times. The repetition is intended to show the severity of what is going on. Peter’s sincere repentance is assured in the triple account. The same can be seen here. Elisha is not worn down by Elijah’s constant telling him to remain. His resolve only gets stronger and he continues to stick by his master’s side.

This shows the relationship between Elijah and Elisha. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah called Elisha to follow him. Elijah put his cloak on Elisha, symbolizing that Elisha would be his successor. Afterwards Elisha became Elijah’s servant for the next four to twelve years. During that time, they grew close and, since they both knew what was going to come, Elisha followed closely. He watched and saw everything that Elijah was doing. He saw the intricacies of Elijah’s ministry. He saw the prayer and the worship. He saw the rebuking of kings and fire from heaven. Over time, they probably became good friends and knew each other better than anyone else. You can see the care that each has for the other in the passage. It is more than being a mentor. It’s like being a father. It’s more than being a student. It’s like being a child. It is a deep relationship that is willing to do huge things for the other. With every question that Elijah asks, there is an opportunity for Elisha to think if he wants to continue on. With each answer, Elisha is unwavering in his desire to stay with Elijah.

Elijah spent much time with his protégé and he groomed Elisha to take over when he was gone. He didn’t teach Elisha what to wear or what words to use. He didn’t teach him how to call fire down from heaven or how to have a Bible study. He taught him about God and his Spirit. When they reached the Jordan, “Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.” (8) When they got to the other side, Elijah asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” (9) Elijah saw Elisha’s commitment to him and to God and he knew that the time had truly come for him to leave, so he asked Elisha, “What can I do for you?” He wanted to give Elisha a parting gift and the inheritance that Elisha requested was a double portion of the spirit given to Elijah. Elisha recognized the importance of the spirit. The tools didn’t matter without the spirit. In order to carry on, in order to advance the kingdom, Elisha would need the spirit.

Elisha actually uses the term “double portion” and there are a couple of ways that this could be interpreted. When I first read the passage, I thought that “double portion” meant that Elisha wanted twice the spirit that Elijah had. It could mean that he wanted to do greater things than Elijah. The other possibility lies in the terminology of “double portion”. In ancient times, when a father passed away, the inheritance would be divided up among his sons, with the oldest son receiving a double portion. What this could mean is that Elisha wanted to receive the oldest son’s inheritance in regard to the spirit; thereby being fully acknowledged as Elijah’s successor. When I think about it, the second thought appears to be more correct. If you look at what happens afterwards, we see that Elisha is indeed the successor to Elijah’s ministry. Also, if you look at Elisha’s request, he says, “a double portion of your spirit”. Elisha is referring to Elijah’s spirit and not specifically the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want a double portion of the Holy Spirit because he is not asking for that; he is asking for Elijah’s spirit.

Elijah knows that to be his successor is no easy task, but he acknowledges that Elisha would get his request if he witnessed Elijah being taken up. As soon as he said that chariots of fire and horse of fire appeared and separated the two of them.  Then, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah is just taken up. He doesn’t die; he has a direct ticket to heaven. There is only one other person who never dies, but is taken up to heaven, Enoch from the book of Genesis. Elijah goes up in a whirlwind. A tornado comes and scoops Elijah up. A very powerful and violent way to be taken up, but it fits well with Elijah’s ministry. With all the fire that he has called down, it is fitting that there is a chariot and horses of fire and that he his taken up in a whirlwind.

As Elijah is going up, Elisha cries out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” (12) In what Elisha says, we can see how deep of a relationship that they had. Elisha calls Elijah his father. They had been together for so many years that their relationship was like that of a father and son. They cared for each other and treated each other like family. There was no animosity or patronizing, but there was grooming. Their relationship was not haphazard; it was deliberate. The Lord told Elijah to search for his successor in Elisha and Elijah sought him out. This allowed Elijah to know without a doubt that Elisha would be his successor. He knew that God was grooming the next generation and he didn’t have to worry about it, so Elijah focused on working his ministry and developing a relationship with Elisha. Elijah didn’t have to impose anything on Elisha. It was God’s will to choose him and it would be God that prepared him to serve.

After Elijah had gone, Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen off and he went back to the Jordan. Elijah had told him that he would receive the inheritance of spirit if he saw Elijah go up to heaven and he did. However, Elisha didn’t feel any different. He felt like the same old Elisha that he had always been. When Elisha got to the river, he decided to see if he had actually received the inheritance. “He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah 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.” (14) When Elisha asked, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he was seeking verification that he was indeed chosen by God to be the successor and that he had come into the same office that Elijah once had. Sure enough, the water divided to the right and to the left and he crossed over.

Now fifty of the prophets from Jericho followed Elijah and Elisha to the river. They saw them cross to the other side and saw Elisha cross back. They rightfully recognized that Elijah’s spirit now rested on Elisha. They came up to Elisha and offered to go looking for Elijah. They thought that the whirlwind had taken Elijah to some other location. It wouldn’t have been the first time that something like this happened. Just before the epic battle on Mount Carmel, Obadiah alluded to the same thing, that the spirit of God would whisk Elijah away to some other location. Elisha knew better and refused their help, but they were relentless. The passage says that Elisha have in because they were pushing so hard that it was getting embarrassing. So, they went out in search of Elijah and they couldn’t find him. For three days they looked, but there was no sign of him. Elijah was gone and Elisha had taken his place.

In Jericho, the people had a problem. The water was causing sickness and the crops were not growing. The leaders brought this to Elisha’s attention, and he asked for a new bowl and some salt. He went to the spring where the water was coming from and threw the salt in his and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” (21) Then, the water was healed. This was a sign for the people of Jericho that Elijah’s ministry had passed on to Elisha. It would remove any doubt from the people’s minds and hearts that Elisha was the successor.

There was another sign that would show God’s favor to Elisha. This sign was for those who would scoff at God’s servants. God had protected Elijah and he would protect Elisha, too. In this account, there were some boys who were jeering at Elisha saying, “Get out of here, baldy!” Now, in those times, baldness was thought to be a sign of weakness. So by calling him baldy, the boys were insulting his power and God’s power. The boys had no respect for God’s servants and only looked at outward appearances. Now, you might be thinking that this just sounds like boys being boys, but this was a sign of the epidemic in Israel that the people in general didn’t respect the Lord or his servants. In order to protect the young prophet, God sent two bears to silence the boys. Now it might seem harsh to have bears maul forty-two boys, but these boys seemed like the self-important teenagers that I have seen around Bridgeport. They drive around in the Escalade blaring gangster rap, getting a kick out of insulting people who are different. They may have even beaten up a few people just for kicks. They are no means innocent little boys. God was protecting his own from the evil in the hearts of those youths.

The Lord truly established Elisha as Elijah’s successor. He prepared the next generation to take over the ministry and guide God’s people back to him. It really was God that prepared him. God gave the power and the protection, just like he did with Elijah before him. Sometimes, we look at the generation that comes after us and wonder about them. We look at them and wonder if the future is secure. They don’t seem responsible and seem to have more interest in watching cat videos and playing games than anything else. Millennials seem to never leave their parent’s household and can’t seem to do anything by themselves. But these thoughts don’t reveal the truth that the next generation will take over and God will prepare them. 

God has always prepared the next generation. He is the one to ensure that his kingdom has continuity from one generation to the next. This passage actually mirrors the passing of leadership from Moses to Joshua, and if you look at the path that Elijah and Elisha took, it is the reverse of how Israel entered the Promised Land. The crossed the Jordan and went to Jericho, then Bethel and then further. Elijah was retracing the steps. Also, this is reminiscent of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus raised up disciples and they followed him everywhere. They lived with him for years and saw every aspect of his life, just like Elisha did. The disciples saw Jesus be taken up into heaven, just like Elisha saw Elijah go up. Each of these relationships was not superficial, but they were deep. They cared for each other very much; they loved each other. They did not focus on the faults of the next generation and complain about how inadequate they are. The older generation didn’t try to turn the next generation into a mirror image of themselves. They made the tools of ministry available, but they allowed them to be themselves and use whatever tools were needed. 

The apostle Paul spoke of king David, “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation”. (Acts 13:36) David had served God in his own generation. He couldn’t serve future generations because he died. He could only serve the generation that he was a part of. It was like running a relay race in the Olympics. There are four people on the team doing the running. As you are running, you run the best you can, but there is a point where you hand off the baton to the next runner. You can't run for the next runner. You have to trust that the next runner is going to run the best that they can and keep going to get to the next runner until they all complete the race. Likewise, we can only serve God in our own generation. We are a part of God's great history that has been continuous since the time of Adam. God's history has never been broken since the time of Adam to now. You cannot be worried about the next generation. There are some horrible generations between the time of Adam and now, and God is the one who keeps working through each one of these generations. He is the one that prepares the next generation. 

So when our time passes, someone else has to take over. We have to love them and show them what is truly important. What truly matters is that we serve and love God with everything that we have. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our hear, with all your soul, with all your mind, and to love each other. Those are the two things that we really need to hold on to. It is important that our spirits are involved when we serve. If we do things out of compulsion or habit, then there is no point in serving. If we have not given ourselves to the cause, then God will not give himself to our work. If our hearts are not in it, God won't bless it. Elisha asked to have the same spirit as Elijah, not anything seemingly practical, but spirit. Have you ever been to a conference where all the messengers sounded the same? Everyone delivered the exact same way, but there was no life in them. There was no spirit. It was as if a toolbox was given and everyone had to use it the exact same way. That is not the way to prepare the next generation. It doesn’t provide true continuity to God’s kingdom.

Think about it this way: you know the company that I mentioned at the beginning of the message? Kongo Gumi operated independently for over 1400 years. They were a construction company. They built many, many things. Do you think that they used the same exact tools over the course of 1400 years? Imagine building a modern building with tools from the 500’s. It wouldn’t work very well. If they didn’t adapt their tools to modern times, then they would never have survived 1400 years. The same goes for God’s work. In the 1800’s preachers needed to have big booming voices so that the people could hear them. That changed in the 20th century with the advent of microphones and speakers. People with smaller voices were able to reach a larger group than ever before. Radio and television expanded the scope of who would hear the message and now in the beginning of the 21st century a shift has happened again. Through the internet, people from all around the world can read and hear God’s message. This is true even for us. Through our website, people are able to hear and read God’s word all around the world. We have people from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, India, the Philippines and Australia coming to our site. They are reading the messages and hearing the sermons. From this little Godbox, we are reaching the whole world. Our tools will continue to change, but it is the spirit that should not change.

God is really the one who raises up the next generation, but we have to have a hand in it. If we do not, then the next generation will be raised up someplace else. We have to develop strong relationships with those who are younger and older. We are sometimes the next generation and we should love and respect the elders. They are our spiritual mothers and fathers. At other times, we are the older generation and we need to prepare the next generation for what is to come. We should be open and loving and let the Holy Spirit do its work. We need to set the next generation on fire for God. They need to have the heart and spirit that longs for God and desires him. They should have a desire to share Jesus with others. We cannot squash that desire by imposing our methods and tools. We should make them available, but not make them the gospel. They are not necessary for salvation. When we have these wonderful relationships with respect and love, God’s kingdom flourishes, his kingdom advances, and God’s great kingdom doesn’t miss a beat.

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Key Verse: 2: 2

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How is the word to be read and heard in order to become effective for salvation?

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