In Matthew 11:14, Jesus recalls the promise in Malachi 4:5, and names John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come. If Jesus is the one who comes after John the Baptist, can we draw a parallel to the one who came after Elijah? If John is Elijah, does that mean Jesus is Elisha?
If we look closer it is actually possible to find an uncanny resemblance between the man of God who came after Elijah in the book of Kings, and the Son of God who came after the second Elijah, the Baptizer. Not only do their names have similar meanings (compare Elisha—‘God is salvation’—with Jesus—‘Yahweh will save’) but the respective accounts of their lives show clear parallels.
To begin with, their ministries commence with a ‘handover’ scene at the Jordan River. Elisha receives a double portion of Elijah’s spirit having just passed through the river Jordan (2 Kgs 2:6-12). He then sees Elijah taken up into heaven by a whirlwind. Jesus, in turn, meets John and is baptized by him in the river Jordan, whereupon the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove. Just as Elisha had taken up Elijah’s prophetic mantle, the gospels portray Jesus as taking up where John’s preparing of the way had largely been completed.
Jesus himself draws some parallels at the beginning of his ministry when in Luke 4:27 he compares his own prophetic role to that of Elisha. This parallel continues as we see that Jesus’ works remind us of the spectacular and sometimes strange feats Elisha performed.
For example, Elisha raises the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead (2 Kgs 4:8-37) just as Jesus raises the widow of Nain’s son from the dead and rescues the Centurion’s servant from imminent death (Luke 7:1-17). Elisha miraculously feeds 100 men with a few barley loaves (2 Kgs 4:42-44), and there is some left over, even as Jesus feeds crowds of 5,000 and 4,000. In chapter 5 of 2 Kings Elisha heals Naaman the Syrian of leprosy; Jesus himself shows a number of times his power over the disease (Luke 5:12-16). Elisha’s ability to part the Jordan River and make axe heads float on water (2 Kgs 2:13-14 and 6:1-7) is not unlike Jesus walking on water and making Peter able to do the same. The greedy disobedience and ultimate departure and curse of Elisha’s servant Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:15-27 is somewhat similar to the betrayal of Jesus, motivated by greed, perpetrated by his accursed disciple Judas.
Elisha the prophet also displays a power over both physical and spiritual sight, which points to Jesus. In 2 Kings 6:15-17 he gives his servant the ability to see the spiritual reality of God’s army of horses and chariots of fire. He then also makes blind the enemy Syrians and subsequently returns their sight once he has led them to a trap in Samaria. This seems to correlate to Jesus’ ability to give sight to the blind, including spiritual ‘sight’ to his disciples (cf. Mark 8:22-9:13) even in the midst of spiritual blindness. The two also have in common their capacity to know what other people are thinking and to know events that are otherwise secret. Elisha receives a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (and is therefore in some sense greater than his predecessor); John is unworthy to even tie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.
Finally, the most remarkable connection between Elisha and Jesus may be seen in their deaths. For even in his death Elisha brought life to others—his tomb was in fact a place of resurrection. Raiders interrupted a burial, and the body was thrown hastily into Elisha’s tomb. On touching Elisha’s bones, it came back to life (2 Kgs 13:20-21)! Jesus’ tomb was also a place from which a man miraculously walked out alive, but this time it was the prophet himself, and he brought resurrection not just for one man, but for the whole world.
All of these comparisons are unbalanced, though. Jesus’ miracles are all greater than Elisha’s: he feeds much larger crowds (with less food); he heals more people; he raises Lazarus from the dead after four days; he displays power over demons. And amidst all this, he proclaims and ushers in the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ extraordinary ministry proves that he is one of the prophets of the God who never changes, but the magnitude with which his miracles exceed those of the prophets declares him to be far greater than his predecessors. He is the final and ultimate prophet of God. In fact, he is the reality to which the prophets had always been pointing. Jesus is not only a prophet; he is also the prophesied one. As Hebrews 1:1-4 puts it, he is the finality of God’s prophetic message, the messenger and the message of God combined in one perfect man.