Elijah/Elisha, John/Jesus, Law/Gospel

By Mike Shea

John 1:15 John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”

If John the Baptist was like Elijah, and Jesus is the one who comes after him but who surpasses him, then that makes Jesus like Elisha. The ministries of Elijah and Elisha very much foreshadow the ministries of John and Jesus. Elijah is a terror inspiring preacher of judgment to come, he announces a drought on the land, he calls down fire from heaven, and when he runs from Jezebel the text says that he goes and hides not in a cave, but in the cave, which many believe is a reference to the cave on Mt. Sinai where Moses received the law. Elijah is, like John the Baptist, a preacher of the law unto repentance. But then Elisha comes and he surpasses Elijah; he receives a double portion of his Spirit. And where did this transfer of the mantle take place? On the banks of the Jordan River, just where John is standing when he points his disciples to Jesus.

Hot off the presses, Hebrew scholar Bruce Waltke has an article in September’s Tabletalk about parallels between Elisha and Jesus. Both are itinerant miracle workers. Both receive the Spirit on the other side of the Jordan. Both cleanse lepers and heal the sick and raise dead sons and restore them to their mothers. Both miraculously feed the hungry by multiplying loaves of bread. As Elisha makes a lost ax head float, so Jesus walks on water and lifts Peter up as he is sinking. Both have a covetous disciple (Gehazi and Judas). Both minister to the Gentiles. And when Elisha dies, we read in 2 Kings 13:20-21 that “they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.” Clearly a foreshadowing of the life-giving tomb of Jesus, of the resurrection that all who go to their graves in Christ will experience.

Elijah is a bad news preacher of the law, but clearly Elisha is a minister of the gospel. He brings good news of new life and healing. Elijah and Elisha make for a great contrast between law and gospel. And that law/gospel distinction is clearly on John’s mind as he writes for he continues in verse 16-17 “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”