The One Who Gives Life

2 Kings 13:20-21; John 11:17-29
Lawrence Semel

The prophets Elijah and Elisha resemble a two-man relay team in their ministries. In a relay race, one runner begins the race. He then pulls alongside the one who succeeds him. They run together for a while and in that space of time they pass the baton. The first runner drops out and the second one runs the race to the finish line.

This pattern appears in Scripture, not only with Elijah and Elisha, but also with Moses and Joshua and with the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles. The Scriptures suggest the comparison of these "teams." In Luke 9:30-31, Luke records his account of the transfiguration and tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain with Christ and were speaking with our Lord about his "departure (exodus) which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." Moses, the outstanding figure of the law, witnesses to Christ. Moses is the exodus leader of the people of God—out of captivity in Egypt in order to bring them to worship God at Sinai and establish them in the Promised Land. Elijah is the outstanding figure of the prophets who witnesses to Christ as he leads the exodus of God's people from captivity to Baalism while returning the land (though imperfectly) to the national worship of Yahweh. Christ is the central figure of all redemptive history. He is the promised Savior and King who leads the final and glorious exodus of God's people, this time setting them free from their deepest captivity to sin and death and Satan. He brings them to God, to worship him and to dwell with him in his own heavenly dwelling place.

Moses, Elijah and Christ are linked in Scripture in several other ways. They are linked together in the manner of their mysterious appearances. Moses appears suddenly in Egypt after forty years in the wilderness. He comes from the presence of God at Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1ff.). Elijah appears on the pages of Scripture without introduction. It's as though he has stepped right out of heaven from the presence of God (1 Kings 17:1). And of course, our Savior comes from heaven, the very presence of God, and makes his appearance in this world. Later he suddenly appears on the public scene in Israel.

These three are also linked by their mysterious departures. Moses dies on the mountain and God buries him. Search for his body if you will, but you will not find it. Elijah goes to heaven in a chariot of fire without dying. Search for his body if you will, but you will not find it. Christ was dead, but he is raised from the dead and in his body he ascends into heaven. Search for his body if you will, but you will not find it.

These three are the central, outstanding figures to whom is given the mission of deliverance by God. With each of them, before they depart this world, their mission is as good as complete. But they each have a successor. Moses has Joshua who, like a relay runner, comes alongside of Moses. They run together for a while; the baton is passed; and then Moses departs and Joshua continues the mission to its already appointed end. He does so in the spirit and the power and the word of Moses. Elijah has Elisha who comes alongside of him. They run together for a while; the baton is passed; and then Elijah departs while Elisha continues the mission to its already appointed end. He does so in the spirit and the power and the word of Elijah. All of this anticipates the Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples. Jesus has his disciples who come alongside of him—twelve of them for the mission which now encompasses the whole world. They run together for a while until Jesus departs into heaven. The baton is passed. His disciples continue the mission to its already appointed end in the Holy Spirit and power and word of Jesus.

This pattern is instructive to us as we consider this unusual passage in 2 Kings 13 about the end of Elisha's life and ministry. Elisha's name declares his ministry, "God is salvation." In the final era of the northern kingdom's history, before she was ripe for judgment, before she was to go into captivity and exile, throughout that final era the message was the same, "God is salvation." To those who seek it, salvation is from the Lord. And those who seek it from him will find that all along he was the one in his grace seeking them. This is the message declared by Elijah's life and ministry. It was the same message continued in Elisha. And the passage before us tells us that it was the same message continued in Israel even after Elisha was dead and gone. Even beyond the death of this great prophetic team.

All of this anticipates this final era of history, these last days in which we live, between the comings of Christ. At the end of this era, the world and the church that has become like the world, will be ripe for judgment. The message for this entire era is God is salvation in his son Jesus Christ. "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). This is Christ's own message and it is continued in his apostles. And the life contained in that message continues even beyond the death of the apostles to all those who believe it.

Life from a Dead Elisha

In 2 Kings 13:20-21, we have this curious and wonderful footnote to the record concerning Elisha. Joash, king of Israel, visits Elisha who is near death. God promises the king one more deliverance to turn them from their apostate worship of the bull calves (vv. 14-19). In 2 Kings 13:20-21 we read, "And Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. And as they were burying a man, behold they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha."

Here we have a funeral procession to bury a dead Israelite. The mourners are frightened by a band of Moabites who regularly show up in Israel around that time of year to pillage the land. In their haste to escape, the mourners have to dispose of the deceased's body quickly and they cast it into the grave of Elisha that they just happen to be passing. Verse 21 continues and says, "And when the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet." By contact with Elisha, even a dead Elisha, one who was dead was revived. New life was breathed into him and the one who had been laid down in death, is resurrected from the dead and made to stand up on his feet.

God is salvation. God is the one who gives life in the place of death. This is the point of one story after the other in Elijah and Elisha's ministry. You have actual resurrections from the dead in the ministries of both of these prophets. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah raises the son of the widow from Zarephath. Her son dies. There is no breath in him. Elijah then stretches himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord, and said, "O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child's life return to him" (v. 21). And we read that the Lord heard the voice of Elijah and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah stretches himself upon the child's body. By contact with Elijah who was the prophet of the God of salvation who gives life in place of death, this woman's dead son was revived—was resurrected and lived.

Elisha duplicates this miracle in 2 Kings 4:1-37. The Shunammite woman who was barren is given a miracle-child who later dies. Elisha went in where the child's body lay and stretched himself upon the child, mouth-to-mouth, eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand. The lad sneezed and new breath came into him. He opened his eyes. He is revived and resurrected. By contact with Elisha, God's prophet, the body of this child was raised from the dead. God is salvation. He gives life in place of death to those who come into contact with him through his prophets.

But here in 2 Kings 13, we have this amazing story. Elisha was dead and gone. He was dead and buried. But when this other dead body was cast into Elisha's tomb and came into contact with Elisha's dead bones, the man was revived and raised from the dead and stood up on his feet. Even though Elisha was dead, his name was still "Elisha." His name still declared, "God is salvation." Even though Elisha was dead, his message, the word in his name, had life in it. For Israel, even beyond Elijah's departure into heaven, even beyond Elisha's departure in death, the message continued and it continued to save all that came into contact with it. And it continued to give life in place of death. Behind these men and their message was God himself.

God is life and he is salvation. He imparts life to those who are dead. That life-imparting salvation is in the message that comes from God. It is in the Word of God. Those who come into contact with that message even though the messenger is dead and buried, come into contact with the ever-living God. Elisha, the messenger of the word of life was dead, but the message that imparts life to those who came into contact with it and believed it still lived.

Elijah received his message from God. It was the word of life. Elijah delivered it to Elisha. Elisha received it and delivered that message of life to others. Those who received it, who came into contact with it, though they were dead, were revived and made to live. Life was in the word because God was in the word. Even from a dead Elisha, one who was dead was raised to life.

Life from the Risen Christ

In John 11, the Lord Jesus Christ revealed himself to Mary and Martha and his disciples as the resurrection and the life. Where Jesus comes, salvation from death comes and life is given in place of death. Lazarus had been dead for four days. He was stinking dead. Jesus directed that he be taken to the tomb. Arriving at the tomb, Christ and his powerful life-giving word was showcased for all to see. Here is the teaching of Scripture about regeneration, about the power that saves and brings the dead to life. Lazarus was dead. It is Jesus who will give life to him in place of death.

Arriving at the tomb, our Lord spoke his powerful word: "Remove the stone." "Lazarus, come forth." "Release him and let him go." And the one who was dead is made alive. Jesus did not have to touch Lazarus. He was God come in the flesh. Jesus merely spoke his life-giving word and Lazarus was revived and stood up on his feet. He was resurrected.

In connection with Jesus, those who are dead will be raised from the dead, revived and given eternal life. Before Jesus performs this miracle, he tells Martha who he is. "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25). Throughout his gospel, John tells us what it means to believe in Jesus. It means union with Christ. It means to receive Christ even as the disciples received Jesus into their boat on the Sea of Galilee (John 6:21). It means to lean and rest upon him as John leans upon the Savior's breast at the supper (John 13:25). God, who is salvation and who gives life in place of death, has come in the flesh. This resurrection life is imparted to all who come into contact with him, to all who believe in him.

Jesus delivered this life-giving message with life-giving power to his disciples. The disciples received it and delivered it to others. Christ accomplishes salvation and ascends into heaven. The disciples will carry the mission forward to its already appointed end. And they do so in the Holy Spirit and power and word of Jesus. They show the life-giving power of this salvation by duplicating Jesus' miracles of raising the dead. They are his unique and divinely appointed successors. In Acts 9:40, Peter raised Dorcas from the dead. In Acts 20:9-10, when Eutychus fell out of the window and died, Paul raised him from the dead by falling upon him and embracing him. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. And that resurrection life was in his apostles and in the message they declared in Jesus' name.

The apostles speak about their message and the word they proclaim in this way. The Thessalonians turned from idols to serve a living and true God as a result of the preaching of the gospel to them (1 Thessalonians 1). In Philippians 2:16, Paul urges the Philippians "to hold fast the word of life." In 1 Peter 1:22-23, the apostle states that our new birth is achieved through "the living and abiding word of God." In 1 John 1:1, the apostle says that he is writing his letter concerning "the Word of Life."

Jesus received his life-giving message from the Father. He delivered it to his apostles. They received it from Jesus and they delivered it to others. It was the word of life and the apostles declared that word of life to the church that came into being as a result of their witness. It was and still is the message of eternal life to all who believe, to all who come into contact with Jesus.

And in keeping with 2 Kings 13 and the final episode about Elisha, we are taught that even from dead apostles, salvation comes to those who come into contact with them and their message. In their written words, the message for this era between Christ's comings is: God is salvation in his Son Jesus Christ. While the apostles are dead and gone to heaven, their message continues to impart life. It is the word of God. It is the word of life. It declares to us Jesus who is the resurrection and the life.

The apostles themselves see it this way. They knew that when they were dead and gone to heaven and were just bones in a grave awaiting the resurrection of their bodies, that their message would continue in the church and through the church to a world dead in its trespasses and sins. They knew that the life-giving word of Christ would continue to impart life to dead sinners. In 2 Timothy, Paul saw the moment of his death approaching (4:6) and directed Timothy to the sacred writings which give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. In 2 Peter 1:13-15, Peter also sees the time of his departure approaching. He had written to them to remind them of all the things that had been declared to them "pertaining to life" (2 Peter 1:3), so that after he was gone they would be able to call them to mind. The apostles saw to it that their witness to Christ and the Savior's word was deposited with the church so that the church would have it to refer to and to proclaim, beyond the death of these messengers.

Even from the dead bones of the apostles, there comes a message that imparts life. A message that raises the dead, that raises dead sinners to new and eternal life. In contact with that message, we come into contact with Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. We come into contact with the one who was dead but is alive again and is alive forever more.

Let us be numbered among those who believe that message and believe in the one who is declared therein. In contact with that message, even from messengers dead and gone, we come into contact with Christ; the Christ who raises us from the death of sin and breathes new life into us and revives us and causes us to stand on our feet in the power of his resurrection. That resurrection that gives life to our dead souls and that, one day, will give resurrection life to our mortal bodies as well.

The church must be apostolic in its message. Her message must always declare and agree with the apostolic message. Life from the Father has been given to the Son and is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit. And that life is contained in the Word. All who would share in that life must come into contact with Jesus declared to us in that apostolic word. "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you might have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).

Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Morgantown, West Virginia