2 Kings 2:11 (ESV) … “And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”
As Elijah and Elisha stood by the Jordan River, they were watched by fifty of the sons of the prophets, men who stood afar off. They knew that Elijah was going to leave that day (vv. 3 and 5), but they didn’t know how he would depart or when God would call him. It’s likely that only Elisha actually saw Elijah go up into heaven (v. 10), and after the prophet disappeared, the fifty students thought he hadn’t really left them (vv. 16–18). They saw Elijah open the waters of the Jordan and close them again, and they saw Elisha repeat the miracle, but they didn’t see what Elisha saw when the whirlwind took Elijah to heaven. The fifty men were spectators that saw only part of what happened, but Elisha was a participant in the miracle and the heir to Elijah’s ministry.
Elijah didn’t give his successor three wishes; he simply asked him to name the one gift he wanted more than anything else. Every leader needs to be right in his priorities, and Elisha had a ready answer: he wanted a double portion of the spirit of his master. This was not a request for twice as much of the Holy Spirit, or for a ministry twice as great as that of Elijah, but for a greater degree of the inner spirit that motivated the great prophet. The request was based on Deuteronomy 21:17, the law of inheritance for the firstborn. Though there were many “sons of the prophets,” Elisha saw himself as Elijah’s “firstborn son” who deserved the double inheritance that Moses commanded. Like a firstborn son serving a father, Elisha had walked with Elijah and attended to his needs (3:11; 1 Kings 19:21), but the only inheritance he desired was a double measure of his master’s inner spirit of courage, faithfulness, faith in God, and obedience to God’s will. In saying this, Elisha was accepting the prophetic ministry that Elijah had begun and declaring that he would carry it on to completion, with God’s help.
Elijah was honest with his friend and told him that such a gift was not his to grant, for only the Lord could do it. However, if the Lord allowed Elisha to see his translation from earth to heaven, that would be proof that his request had been granted. Then it happened! As the two friends walked along talking, a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses came between them, and a whirlwind lifted Elijah out of sight—and Elisha saw it happen! This meant his request had been granted and the Lord had equipped him to continue the ministry of Elijah. Elijah was certainly the “prophet of fire,” for Scripture records at least three instances of his bringing fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:10 and 12), so it was right that God send fiery horses and a chariot of fire to accompany His servant to glory.