In Jesus’ times the Jewish people expected the great prophet Elijah to come again – and, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus suggests that this has happened in John the Baptist. He says to his disciples, ‘If you are willing to accept it, John is Elijah who is to come.’
Accepting this, people began to ask whether Jesus – who seemed to continue the ministry that John the Baptist had started – was Elisha, the even greater prophet who succeeded Elijah.
It’s an interesting question. And, when we read the Old Testament stories about Elisha, we see many similarities between Jesus and Elisha.
Here are ten of them:
1. Their names have similar meanings
Elisha means ‘God is salvation.’ Jesus means ‘Yahweh will save.’
2. Their ministries both start at the River Jordan
Elisha takes up the mantle of Elijah at the River Jordan and starts his ministry. Jesus is baptised by John at the River Jordan and starts his ministry. Elisha sees the heavens open and Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind and then receives a ‘double portion’ of the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism John sees the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove.
3. They both raise a woman’s adult son from the dead
Elisha raises the son of the ‘Shunaammite woman’ from the dead. Jesus raises the son of the ‘widow of Nain’ from the dead.
4. They both feed large numbers with a small quantity of food
Elisha feeds 100 men with a few barley loaves and there is food left over. Jesus, on two occasions, feeds 5000 and then 4000 with a few loaves and fishes and there is food left over.
5. They both turn a small quantity of liquid into an abundance
Elisha turns a small amount of oil into enough oil to fill every vessel in the community. Jesus turns water into huge quantities of wine.
6. They both heal lepers
Elisha heals Naaman, the Syrian commander, of leprosy. Jesus heals many lepers.
7. They both make things that should sink, float
Elisha makes an iron axe head float. Jesus walks on water and enables his disciple Peter to walk on water.
8. They are both betrayed for love of money
Elisha is betrayed by his servant Gehazi because Gehazi sees an opportunity to make money from betrayal. Jesus is betrayed by his disciple Judas because Judas sees an opportunity to make money from betrayal.
9. They both give sight to the blind
Elisha first blinds his enemies and then restores their sight. Jesus often restores sight to the blind.
10. Their deaths bring new life
Elisha’s tomb was a place of resurrection. Raiders interrupted a burial and the body was thrown hastily into Elisha’s tomb. On touching Elisha’s bones, the dead person came back to life. Jesus’ tomb was a place of resurrection. He himself was raised to life and brought the promise of new life to all.
It’s fascinating to see all these parallels and how the ministry of Elijah points forward to the time when the will of God would be revealed uniquely and fully through the person of Jesus Christ.
The ministries of Elisha and Jesus share similarities – not that surprisingly, as they both lived their lives in relationship with God. But Jesus, as God’s son, lives fully in relationship with God in a way that no other has or can. This is why, as Christians, we believe that God is completely revealed in Jesus.