For some reason or other, over the last year we have considered various things about the Prophet Elijah. These messages haven’t come from any one source or cause – from some book or article I’ve read. And I don’t believe that I have been the one who has preached all those messages. They haven’t been sequential – they have been totally random – and with different purposes. But I will tell you that this week I did read an interesting book on the life of Elijah by F.B. Meyer. And Wednesday when I began asking the Lord for a message, one question rose to the top of my heart, and I couldn’t shake it. I don’t know why – I don’t know what the Lord’s purpose might be – but I feel lead to ask a question for which we don’t have a definitive answer. “Why did Elijah leave the world in the way that he did?” “Why was he translated?”
As I was chatting with someone about this question, it was said, “It was because he was so close to the Lord.” We’ve probably all heard this sort of thing – especially about Enoch, the first man to be translated. Genesis 2:18 – “Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch: And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And ENOCH WALKED with GOD after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And ENOCH WALKED with GOD: and he was not; for God took him.” Why was Enoch miraculously translated? The argument off the top of the head is – Enoch was so close to the Lord that the Lord took him. Or as I have heard it expressed, “God and Enoch were walking together for so long, at the end of the day, they were closer to God’s house than Enoch’s, so the man just went to live with the Lord.”
Several times now, I have used the word “translated.” That is because the Bible teaches us to do so. Hebrews 11:5 says, “By faith Enoch was TRANSLATED that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” The word means “to transpose” or “to transfer” something or someone from one place to another. When we translate between languages, we take an idea and express it in different words, but the message remains the same. The translation of Enoch and the apparent translation of Elijah was their transposition from earth to Heaven. Enoch “pleased God.” Was that part of the reason Jehovah translated him? I can’t say for sure.
But whether that was true of Enoch or not, it probably shouldn’t be said about Elijah. As I stated in one or two of those earlier lessons, Elijah is a very REAL individual. The history of that man is not a hagiography – a whitewashed biography filled with nothing but praise. We see a servant of God of like passions as ourselves – with all his warts and blemishes.
And here is the first lesson I’d like to leave with you ….. Elijah had earlier been the greatest man in his day. He was the defensive “chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” He had enough faith to trust God to be fed by ravens, and then with the never-ending crumbs of meal at the bottom of a poor woman’s barrel. He was the man who called down fire from heaven on the water-logged carcase of a bullock. He put with Ahab and his more wicked wife Jezebel in their place. He put 450 false prophets of Baal to death. He held back the wrath of Satan and of God. He could have single-handedly put Israel back on the spiritual map, when there were no kings or priests to do it.
But he committed one sin – he temporarily cast aside his faith in the omnipotent God. He looked at the political circumstances of his day and ran in terror from the powerful anger of Jezebel. He begged God to take his life – not with a fiery chariot, but with a stroke or heart-attack. He didn’t want to do the work of the Lord any more. He tried to abdicate his calling and responsibility. In a most cowardly way, he refused to fight any more of the Lord’s battles. And that part of his wish was granted.
Like Moses, who with one sin, disqualified himself from entering the Promised Land with Joshua…. And like King Saul, who with one sin – usurping the office of God’s priest – disqualified himself from the throne of Israel. Elijah committed one sin, and his life was redirected from being God’s prophet to anointing three separate men to take his place before his death. And the point is – any of us – you could commit some sin tomorrow – one sin – which could derail your train from reaching the depot of God’s greatest blessings. That sin could be the uttering of a lie to the wrong person, or it could be entering a forbidden door. You could commit a sexual indiscretion or some petty crime, disqualifying you from future opportunities. If you are a child of God, it will not negate God’s saving grace, but it could rob you of His blessings. No, I don’t think Elijah was translated because he was in perfect harmony with God’s will for his life.
He was translated because God WANTED TO translate him.
I know that might sound silly, but it is what the Bible says. II Kings 2:1 – “And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah to heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.” Modern man, even religious people, refuse to admit the sovereignty of God – that the Lord is really King. He can do whatever he chooses, and He does do whatever He intends. And it was the Lord’s choice to take this man to Heaven without walking him through the doorway of death.
Since we didn’t read all this chapter, let me make a quick summary. When it was time for Elijah to leave this world, his departure began down by the Jordan River, at Gilgal. Christian poets and preachers love to make the Jordan a picture of death. I don’t usually do that, but just for fun, lets follow their lead this morning. Elijah was near death – I mean he was near the Jordan – but God controls every human departure. The keys of death and hell are in the pocket of the Lord Jesus Christ – Revelation 1:18. Some might think that their friend is going to die, but sometimes it isn’t the Lord’s time, and they recover. And others who appear to be perfectly healthy are struck down overnight with a stroke, coronary or the flu. That is not necessarily a Satanic attack – it is the will and plan of God.
When it was time for Elijah to leave this world he left the banks of the Jordan and walked up to Bethel in the highlands of Israel – about 20 miles. After taking care of the Lord’s business there, the two men walked back to Jericho another 20 miles. At both Bethel and Jericho, seminary students spoke to Elisha, telling him that Elijah was going to be taken soon. But Elisha told them to hush. And also in both places, Elijah told Elisha to stay put, but he refused. Then the pair crossed Jordan – without death – miraculously walking over dry land through the midst of the river. Do I really believe it happened that way? Of course I do, because the Bible says so. Verse 8 – “And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.”
And then there is verse 11 – “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked… behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Why did a chariot of fire, in the midst of a tornado, carry Elijah up into Heaven? Because that was God’s will as we saw in verse 1.
Notice the words, “and it came to pass” – “and it came to pass” exactly as God said it would. Do you know how many times “and it came to pass” are found in the Bible? 452 times. I don’t need to stress the fact, but that phrase sometimes emphasizes that things come to pass because it is God’s will that they come to pass. God wanted Elijah to go up to heaven in a fiery chariot, “and it came to pass.” God wanted Elijah to go up depart in a whirlwind, “and it came to pass.” I can assure you, the omnipotent God always has His way. He is King. He is sovereign. And when it appears otherwise, it is only an illusion and temporary, because God has a special purpose. Why are you in this service today? You might be able to find a dozen reasons and explanations. But above them all is that it is God’s will – “and it came to pass.”
But so far, this doesn’t really answer our question: “Why was Elijah translated like this?” It wasn’t just because God COULD do it that He did do it. There must have been some other purpose. But the truth is, this is as close as we can come to a Biblical answer. All the rest is guessing on my part. But that is what I am going to do.
Elijah was translated as one LAST MESSAGE to the sensual, secular world which he was leaving behind.
Israel began as a monotheistic society – they worshiped Jehovah alone – there were no other gods. And their day-to-day lives actually revolved around the Lord and His worship. Just about everything they did after they left Egypt involved the Lord – births, deaths, the food they ate, the changing of the seasons, droughts and rains, the ending of every week, plagues – everything. But over time they believed that less and less; they became less and less spiritually-minded. They became more and more secular. Life became more about pleasing themselves, pleasing the spouse, pleasing the kids – than pleasing God. More and more time was spent earning an income and spending the excess of that income – having fun. They didn’t care who their kings and governors were; they didn’t care whether or not they were wicked. And with the passing of more time, heathen idolatry began to creep into the soul of Israel, until in the days of Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah idolatry had a strangle-hold on their religion – on their lives.
The days of Elijah and Elisha were not much different from our day and age. When a plague of locusts, or a new strain of the flu, came into the land citizens didn’t fall on their faces beseeching God for protection or forgiveness for their sins; they looked to their scientists or politicians to fix things. When the rains stopped falling for three years, they didn’t flock to the house of God; they built desalination plants along the coast and started negotiating with neighboring nations to buy fresh water. When their enemies began massing armies and building nuclear weapons, they didn’t turn to the Lord, they built bigger weapons and drafting stronger armies themselves. Years earlier they had been told that judgments would befall them if they turned away from God. And God also said, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land,” but they had forgotten. Elijah and a few others had been doing their best to bring Israel back to their senses – and to the Lord. But the nation was too filled with their equivalents to March Madness, the Super Bowl and the NBA to listen to calls for repentance.
I can’t tell you how many of that society gave much thought to life beyond Jordan. I can’t tell you whether more than a handful in Bethel, Jericho, Samaria and Jerusalem had “set their affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.” But I can tell you that today – in this country – even among those who attend the great churches around us, once they leave the plush church auditorium they rarely give the Lord a second thought. There are too many distractions – too many problems – too many pleasures – too much secular life. Grandma and Grandad are living longer lives, so their grandchildren aren’t forced to think beyond the Jordan – beyond death.
But when they hear Elisha’s report about the translation of Elijah…. When they hear that the seminary at Jericho shut their doors and every able man of them was out looking for the body of Elijah without success…. When they hear that someone crossed Jordan without dying but was then translated to heaven by a fiery chariot in the midst of a tornado… A few in Israel reconsidered the nature of their short lives and pondered their own departure from this world.
The translation of Elijah gives evidence that there is another world beyond this one – where the life and language is too holy for our sinful tongues – there must be a translation. As Christ Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” He also said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee ye must be born again.” Elijah both saw and entered that kingdom, but the average Israelite at that point had no hope. And neither does the average American, because so few have been born again. Elijah was translated in order to illustrate that death is not about funerals – burying our loved ones – it is about entering a new eternity – either in Heaven or Hell.
It might also be said that with Elijah’s spectacular departure, A NEW MINISTRY was begun.
Elijah’s successor was introduced to us in I Kings 19. His name was the very similar “Elisha.” By that time, Elisha had been studying at the feet of Elijah, and he had been learning quickly. Even though there were a few students in Elijah’s schools of the prophets, the Lord had chosen this one special man to take the pulpit where Elijah had been standing.
Elisha was permitted to follow Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel and back to Jericho. The older man told the younger to remain behind, but Elisha said, ”as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee,” and he did not. He was told several times that the Lord would soon take Elijah, and he replied, “Yea, I know it.” Then as they walked along a road in Trans-Jordan Elisha asked Elijah, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” Some people interpret this to be a double portion of Elijah’s Heaven-sent power – his strength. But it more than likely refers to the birthright of the eldest son according to Deuteronomy 21:17. It referred more to Elijah’s authority – than to his ability to raise the dead or to do other miracles. It was Elisha’s desire to be Elijah’s son in the ministry – “My Father, my Father.” Elijah replied that this wasn’t really his to give, because in reality Elisha was not Elijah’s son, even though he had been directed to find and mentor Elisha. He said, “Thou has asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” Then when Elijah was actually taken up and translated, his mantle – a particular part of his uniform as God’s prophet – was left behind for Elisha to pick up and use. A new ministry began.
I admit that Elisha would have been Elijah’s successor whether there was a translation, a coronary or an execution at the hands of Jezebel. But God ordained this special departure to encourage Elisha – and to authenticate the exchange before the eyes of others. Elisha used the mantle to once again divide the waters of the Jordan River, so that he could return to Jericho. “And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”
I believe that one these days, all of God’s current Elijahs will be taken away in much the same spectacular way, and then will begin a new and very spectacular ministry. I believe that the Bible teaches that there shall be another translation – a translation of all God’s servants who are left on the earth at the time. And at that point there will rise up be new preachers – first a special pair and then many thousands of others. There will be signs in the sky, disasters on the earth, unleashed satanic powers and political intrigue unlike the world has never seen before. But the work of the Lord will go on. That new ministry will not begin until the old ministry ends. And although it will be similar to God’s ministry as we know it, there will be spectacular changes as well.
And I will reiterate – Elijah was translated in order to AUTHENTICATE his EARLIER MESSAGES to Israel.
His transposition to Heaven was obviously a miracle. It can’t be explained by any of the ordinary, physical laws of this world. But it can be explained by the special divine laws of Heaven. And like all Biblical miracles, that translation was not about the translation itself. My original question still stands: “What was God’s purpose in taking Elijah this way?” Wasn’t it the same as the reason for the miracles of Christ? When Jesus raised the dead, healed the sick or fed the multitude, it wasn’t for the grieving mothers, or the starving babies, per se. Christ’s miracles were to point a finger to Himself and to His message. The miracles pointed to his message of repentance – “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” To His message of salvation – “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of Heaven.” With his translation, Elijah was gone, but all his earlier sermons and exhortations remained.
The first reference to this man is in I Kings 17:1. “And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” His ministry began with a very loud – “The God of Israel lives, and he is cutting off your water supply.” And it was so. In the next chapter, Elijah told the King of Israel, “You, your wife, and your father’s house are destroying this nation through your idolatry and sin,” but no one really paid any attention. Then after he ordered Ahab to bring all Israel together, he challenged the nation, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” No one moved. In the hear-shot of many in Israel, he prayed, “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell…” For years Elijah had been calling Israel to repentance, but the response had been small. But with his translation, God told the nation, “You should have listened.”
What will it take to turn the hearts of this country back to the Lord? The world wars of our grandparents didn’t do it – successfully or permanently. And the wars of today seem to push people even farther from God rather then closer. Hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes aren’t bringing people to the Lord. And plagues aren’t doing it either – not polio in my youth, or AIDs, SARS, or the Spanish Flu. And neither will Covid 19 in and of itself.
Next week I am supposed to a
ddress a group of Native American Missionaries … My message will be – “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” My message to you is the same as it was preached last week – “Repent ye therefore, and be converted that you sins may be blotted out….” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” because it is only by faith that we sinners can be justified and “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Is Covid-19 scaring the socks off you? I hope that is not the case. But if it is, then I urge you to turn to the only solution to ANY of the problems of this life – turn to the Saviour. Repent before God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But if your fears are pushing your attention toward the government, to the Chinese, toward yourself, then your fear is a waste of time and energy. In the best days of our lives, we need Christ, and in the very worst days we need the Lord. Can you say with Biblical assurance that if your earthly life was taken today, you’d be instantly in the presence of the Son of God? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”