A while ago as I was reading in Luke I noticed something, namely, Elijah and Elisha get a lot of play in this gospel. I first noticed it when reading Luke 9 and 10. In Luke 9 there is the feeding of the crowd which echoes the feeding in 2 Kings 4.42ff, a miracle performed by Elisha. (Interestingly, the conversation afterwards is, “who do the crowds say that I am?” One of the answers is, “Elijah” or one of the prophets of old that has risen.) A few verses later we find another allusion to Elijah and Elisha when someone wants to follow Jesus. Here Jesus takes a different road than Elijah who allowed Elisha to go back to his family to say, “goodbye”. Jesus says that no one who turns back is worthy of being part of his kingdom movement. In Luke 10 we find Jesus’ disciples wanting to call fire down on a Samaritan Village. Jesus tells them, “No”. In 2 Kings 1 we find that Elijah in fact calls down fire on troops sent from Samaria who don’t respect God and don’t respect him. Those are just a few examples of where you can find Elijah and Elisha in Luke’s gospel.
Why does Luke do this? Jonathan Huddleston of Abilene University actually wrote an article on this (much to my surprise). He points out in the article that Luke is raising for his readers the question, “What would Elijah and Elisha do?” As Jesus carries out his ministry if Elijah were doing this, if Elisha were doing this, what would they do? The contrast and continuity between Jesus and these prophets gives us a powerful picture of the continuity and discontinuity between life in the Old Testament kingdom in the midst of an established Israel and life in Jesus’ kingdom in the midst of living in the Roman empire. It also shows us the differences and similarities between the mission of Jesus and the mission of these prophets. In doing so we gain deeper insight into Jesus, the kingdom of God, and how we live that kingdom as Jesus followers, not Elijah and Elisha followers. Such knowledge comes with an additional advantage, we can ask not only what would Elijah and Elisha do, but we can take what they did and compare it with Jesus’ actions as we make decisions--hopefully discovering if we are acting more like Jesus or more like someone else.
All of this points to a rather simple, but profound reality: to read Luke well we need to read the story of Elijah and Elisha. To read the story of Elijah and Elisha, to have the miracles, the actions, and the teachings of these two great prophets in our mind adds a richness to Luke, but also a vital understanding of the continuity and discontinuity of God’s ways in the Old and New Testament.
Where do you find Elijah and Elisha in Luke’s gospel? What are similarities and contrasts between Jesus and them? What richness does it add to your understanding of the kingdom?