The world is replete with symbols and symbolic actions, the bible no less so.
2 Kings marks the handover from Elijah to Elisha, as the latter takes up the former’s mantle in 2:13. Straight away, his first action of parting the waters echoed back to Moses and the exodus from Egypt. In so doing, he was prophetically identifying himself with Moses. But in doing it with Elijah’s mantle, he was also linking himself to Elijah.
As he became one of the most revered prophets of his time, he not only hearkened back to those who went before, but in later years, he himself was echoed by the prophetic actions of others, most notably Jesus. From our post-New Testament perspective, one might read through Elisha’s early ministry and be reminded of Jesus’ early ministry.
Take, for example, his feeding of a hundred men with a seemingly insufficient amount of food in 4:42-44. Sound familiar? Well, there had already been a sign of abundance earlier in 4:1-7, which has something of a hint of the provision of the temple tax in a fish’s mouth in Matthew 17:27. What about the reanimation of the Shunammite’s son in 4:8-37? Surely one cannot but help think of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:41-56.
Yet to find Elisha reminding us of Jesus seems terribly anachronistic. Surely it was Jesus’ actions which echoed those of Elisha, thus resonating with the 1st century audience who would have been familiar with their cultural history. It’s little wonder, then that in Peter’s confession of Jesus as the messiah that it was prefaced by his statement that people thought Jesus was a prophet. After all, if it walks a prophet and quacks like a prophet, it must be a prophet.
To make such prophetic allusions, Jesus not only needed a familiarity with the past, but an understanding of his contemporary world. If we are to do similar, then not only ought we be familiar with the stories of our bible and the theology within, but to be able to relate to today’s fast-moving world.
In our digital world, we are still infants, babbling away and finding our feet. The stories and questions which frame a digital worldview are still being written and asked; and all this on a ground that is ever-shifting. To fix our eyes on Jesus with an earthquake underneath you is not an easy thing to do, and we will inevitably fall down at times. But the gradual maturity of the online world allows us room to shape its future. No one group of people can dictate the shape that that future will take. But Christians can have an influence, so while the future may not be an exact likeness of Christ, there may be something of a hint of a shape, an echo of that voice which may just resonate. It’s up to us to speak the words which create those echoes.