2 Kings 2:1-12
1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
The Book of Kings is part of the “Deuteronomic History” that includes the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. These books are a didactic history of Ancient Israel from the time in the Wilderness (c. 1250 BCE, if the account is historical) to the Babylonian Captivity in 587 BCE. These books were given their final form around 500 BCE – long after the events they described.
The authors used the stories in these books to demonstrate that God controls history and it was the failures of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)
After Solomon’s death in 928 BCE, the nation divided in two. The Northern Kingdom consisted of 10 tribes and was called “Israel.” The Southern Kingdom had two tribes, Judah and Benjamin and was called “Judea.” For the most part, the Deuteronomists portrayed the Kings of the North as unfaithful to YHWH, and Ahab (873-852 BCE) was one of the worst offenders. Because Elijah defeated and killed hundreds of Ahab’s prophets at Mount Carmel, Ahab’s wife (the Baal-worshiping foreigner, Jezebel), vowed revenge upon Elijah and caused him to flee to Beersheba in the south.
Today’s story recounts the succession of the prophet Elijah by his faithful disciple, Elisha, who asks for a “double share” (the share of an oldest son) of Elijah’s spirit (v.9). According to Biblical chronology, the events took place about 840 BCE, after the reigns of Ahab and the two kings who followed him. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary opines that the Deuteronomists included the stories of Elijah’s succession by Elisha and Elisha’s later actions because the stories “exemplify the conception of the prophet as the dominant figure throughout Israel’s history.”
The account of the transfer of spirit from Elijah to Elisha has many parallels to the stories of Moses and his successor, Joshua. Elijah and Elisha crossed from the west bank of the Jordan River to the east bank (v.8), just as Moses and Joshua crossed the Sea of Reeds. After Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot in the area near Mount Nebo where Moses died (v.11), Elisha parted the Jordan and crossed to the west side just as Joshua did (v.14). The NJBC notes that Elisha used Elijah’s cloak to perform these extraordinary acts because one’s clothes were seen as an extension of the person.
Because Elijah was raised to heaven “in a whirlwind” (v.1), he is thought not to have died. The Jewish Study Bible notes that Enoch in Gen. 5:24 was also understood in some Jewish traditions as not having died (“Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.”).
The text of today’s reading does not explain how the “disciples of the prophets” (v.3) or Elisha knew that the LORD would take Elijah away.
The JSB observes that Elijah’s assumption into the heavens “became the stuff of many legends in Judaism and traditions about him in prophetic circles. These legends suggest that Elijah periodically returns to the earth.” This return to earth was seen as a harbinger of the coming of the Messiah (Mal. 3:23-24). Even today, a place/chair for Elijah is left open at table (and often the doors of homes are left open) at Passover Seders in the event Elijah might return that night. In many ways, John the Baptist was portrayed as an Elijah-like figure in the Gospels.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3 Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.
Paul’s controversies with the Corinthians continued, and he wrote a number of letters to them. The Second Letter is a composite of fragments from these letters. In the Second Letter, Paul countered the positions of some Jewish Jesus Followers who were disagreeing with Paul and undermining his authority. The Jewish Annotated New Testament suggests that the letters were intended to maintain the exclusivity of Paul’s relationship with the Jesus Follower community it Corinth (with him as its apostle) and to maintain the gospel of Jesus as Paul proclaimed it.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible says: “This challenge to his missionary activity prompted Paul to visit Corinth a second time. The result was unfortunate: Evidently a member of the congregation offended him grievously (2.5-6); he later called this the ‘painful visit’ (2.1; 7.2). After his bitter departure, Paul wrote what he called the ‘letter of tears’ (2.4;7.8), a letter that is now lost. “Either despite or because of its severity, this letter evidently succeeded in persuading the majority of the church in Corinth to Paul’s position, as Titus reported when he met Paul in Macedonia (7.6-7).”
Today’s reading is part of the climax to Paul’s defense of his ministry and his response to a question of his competence raised in Chapter 2. The JANT understands verse 3 (“The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing”) to mean that the people who do not see the Gospel’s truth are spiritually blind and that is not a failing of Paul’s teaching. Paul’s reference to “the god of this world” (v.4) meant the Roman authorities as well as the secular wisdom of the current age. Paul affirmed that Jesus the Christ is the “image of God” (v.4) and the “Lord” (v.5). Paul paraphrased part of the First Creation Story (Genesis 1:3) regarding the creation of light and said that the light of the knowledge of God is found in Jesus the Christ (v.6).
Today’s reading comes right after Paul’s interpretation (3:16) of Exodus 34:29-35, in which Moses’ face shone after talking with God and receiving the tablets of the Law.
2 Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Today’s reading is an account of the Transfiguration and is found in all three Synoptic Gospels, but not in the Fourth Gospel. In Mark’s account, Jesus took his “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) and went up on an unspecified mountain (sometimes identified as Mount Tabor or as Mount Hermon) where he was “transfigured” (v.2). The NJBC says Jesus’ form was changed (metamorphōthe) and that the disciples were “granted a glimpse of him in his glorious state.” He appeared with Moses (the lawgiver) and Elijah (the great prophet whose return would be a sign of the coming of the Messiah). The NJBC says the inclusion of Moses and Elijah shows “the road upon which Jesus is embarking is in accord with the law and the prophets.”
Because the original ending of Mark’s Gospel did not include any resurrection appearances by Jesus, The JANT notes that some scholars see the Transfiguration account in today’s reading as a resurrection appearance placed back into the lifetime of Jesus.
Moses (representing the covenant of the Torah) and Elijah (representing prophetic denunciations of corruption and idolatry) were the two greatest prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Although Moses’ death is recorded, his burial place is unknown (Deut.34:6) and Elijah was taken up to heaven in fiery chariot. Accordingly, both were seen to stand in God’s presence and to communicate God’s word.
The JANT points out that “dazzling” clothes (v.3) suggest a mystical experience, citing Moses and Daniel 12:3 (“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky”).
Peter addressed Jesus as “rabbi” (v.5). The JANT points out that “Rabbi” in Hebrew means “my great one” or teacher and that it was not yet (in the first half of the First Century CE) a technical term for a religious leader.
Peter’s suggestion to make three dwellings (v.5) is reminiscent of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles. Sukkot is a harvest festival and a reminder of living in tents during the Israelites’ time in the Wilderness. In First Century Israel, it was one of the three feasts each year during which Jews were expected to make a pilgrimage for a week to the Temple in Jerusalem.
The JANT points out that the cloud (v.7) evokes the cloud of the LORD’s presence on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:15-18) and the cloud of the tent of meeting (Ex. 40:34-38). It also is the cloud that led the Israelites in the Wilderness (Ex.13:23).
The “voice” (v.7) is similar to the voice and words spoken at Jesus’ baptism (1:11), except that now the others present hear the voice.
The reference to the “Son of Man” (v.9) is a reminder of the messianic vision in Daniel 7:13 – “I saw one like a human being [son of man] coming with the clouds of heaven.” Ordering the disciples to “tell no one about what they had seen” (v.9) is consistent with the “Messianic Secret” concept in Mark that Jesus’ Messiahship was not to be known by others (including his disciples) until his Crucifixion and Resurrection.