Elijah’s rapture by a burning chariot pulled by burning horses is one of Scriptures most captivating images. Besides inspiring a film title, the phrase “chariots of fire” continues to circulate as an invocation of a powerful mystical experience.
For Reformation theologians like the German Johannes Piscator (1546–1625), Elijah’s ascent provides an opportunity for typological exegesis, that is, reading Old Testament events as prefigurations of New Testament ones, especially as concerns Christ—as in this case. Piscator reads significance of Elijah’s ascent forwards, while he reads the accompaniment of angels in New Testament passages concerning Christ backwords into the Elijah narrative.
Elijah’s Ascension into Heaven as a Type of Christ’s
Elijah ascended into heaven by chariots of fire pulled by horses of fire, which were really holy angels. In this we see a type of the ascension of Christ. For although there is not an express testimony from Scripture that Christ ascended into heaven in exactly the same way, he was accompanied by holy angels. We can partly gather this notion from the words of Paul, which say:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was . . . seen by angels.
We can also partly and particularly gather this from the collection of distinguished acts of Christ in which the angels ministered to him. We see this, for instance, at Jesus’ nativity:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.
And we see it at his resurrection:
While they were perplexed about this, behold, two angels stood by them in dazzling apparel.
And finally, we will see angels accompany Jesus when he returns as judge:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, eds. Derek Cooper and Martin Lohrmann, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT Vol. V, pp. 401-402.
The RCS Historical Books Series
Week 1: With the Tumult of the World in Our Hearts (1 Sam 3:2-18)
Week 2: The Hypocrite’s Confession (2 Sam 12:13)
Week 3: Out of the Paw of the Lion (1 Sam 17:31-37)
Week 4: But David Still Loved Saul (2 Sam 1:11-16)
Week 5: Victim-Blaming is Bad Exegesis
Week 6: Meeting Christ in the Bible’s Boring Bits
Week 7: Several Images of Fire Pointing to Christ