Relics and Elisha’s Bones (2)
We continue with this question, submitted by one of our readers: “If God forbids us to have relics or to venerate the dead, why was the soldier resurrected from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones in II Kings 13:20-21?”
We have seen that the veneration of relics is both foolish and sinful. Though spittle and clay, handkerchiefs, garments, Peter’s shadow and Elisha’s bones were used in healing the sick and raising the dead, there is no power in them and they may not be worshipped. They were only means used by God and by those He sent. He alone, in Christ, may be worshipped, as the first two commandments require.
It is worth noting that God does not work such miracles or any miracles through men any more, miracles such as were done by Elisha’s bones, by Peter’s shadow or by handkerchiefs and aprons from the hand of Paul. In the New Testament, such miracles were signs of an apostle: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (II Cor. 12:12). Though there are those who claim to be apostles today, their claims are bogus, for one of the qualifications of an apostle was that a man be an eyewitness of the risen Christ (I Cor. 9:1).
Do we not believe in miracles, then? We do. All God’s works are miraculous. He works every day in the sea what Jesus did by the Sea of Galilee when He multiplied fish. God performs every year in the fields what Christ did when He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 with miraculous multiplications of bread. God also does things in our lives for which there is no “natural” explanation. Some are healed by God’s hand when the doctors have given up and all available medicines have failed. Some are rescued from death when there is no human power that could have rescued them. God still works miracles, but not now by men and never by relics.
What, then, is the point of the narrative in II Kings 13 and what is its purpose in God’s Word? A correct answer to this question will help us see that the story of the man raised by Elisha’s bones has nothing to do with the veneration of relics.
II Kings 13:20-21 reads, “Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” That is one of only ten such miracles in the Bible (counting the resurrection of Jesus) and of three in the Old Testament.
The miracles of the prophet Elisha are unique in the Old Testament. More than any of the other miracles of the Old Testament, they pointed ahead to Christ’s miracles. No one in the Old Testament except Elijah and Elisha raised the dead; only Elisha multiplied food (II Kings 4:42-44); he alone healed a leper (5:1-14); only he paid someone’s debt by a miracle (4:1-7). The correspondence is not perfect but many of Elisha’s miracles are similar to those of Jesus. Also, apart from Moses, Israel’s great lawgiver, the miracles of Elisha are more numerous than those of any other Old Testament figure.
Is there, then, a correspondence between the miracle recorded in II Kings 13 and the work of Jesus? We believe there is: that what happened when that man was raised by Elisha’s bones is similar to what happened at the death of Jesus: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matt. 27:50-53).
In both cases, we see the victory over death that Jesus brings and the power of God in Jesus to bring life out of death. His death is the death of death and the beginning of our new life. This is the point of the story of Elisha’s bones. It is not an encouragement to look for and keep relics or to put our trust in things, but a reminder that death is swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, a reminder that “if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). That is the good news of the gospel, not the fact that handkerchiefs and aprons, clay and spittle, and old bones were once used by God to heal or to bring people back to this life.
Raised from the dead by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we begin already in this life to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and to experience a severing of the ties that bound us to this fallen world: “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “For our conversation [i.e., citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).
When we die, it is the death of Jesus that makes the burial of our bodies only a “sleep” until He comes again. It is Christ’s death that ensures our presence in Paradise at the moment of death and that guarantees the resurrection of our bodies at the end of this age. This is the point of the narrative in II Kings 13. Having begun already in this life the life of heaven, we “go on unto perfection” and to that glory which no eye has seen or ear heard—all by the power of Jesus’ death and His resurrection! Rev. Ron Hanko