I came from a no-name town. My ministry began at the Jordan River. I performed many miracles, including healing a leper, multiplying food to feed a crowd, and raising someone from the dead.
Who am I?
When I pose this riddle to the students in my Midweek School class, they all give the safe answer: Jesus. Jesus came from Nazareth, a no-name town in His day, His earthy ministry began at the Jordan River when He was baptized by John, and He performed all those miracles listed above. But my students are usually surprised to learn that Jesus wasn’t the first biblical figure to fit the description. To find the answer we need to look back nearly 900 years before Jesus was born.
Think back with me to the Old Testament, to the days of the split Kingdom of Israel. Remember how King Solomon’s son Reheboam had been foolish and caused the Northern tribes to revolt (I Kings 12:1-24)? So from then on, the northern kingdom became known as “Israel” while the southern kingdom was “Judah.” There was a lot of idolatry going on in both kingdoms, so God sent many prophets to His people to preach repentance. One of the most wicked kings of Israel was King Ahab, aided by his evil wife Jezebel. It was a definite religious crisis for the people of Israel. Baal worship was thriving. “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him,” I Kings 16:33 tells us. And the great prophet of those days was Elijah. Every Sunday School kid knows the story of Elijah’s dramatic showdown with the prophets of Baal, where God set fire to Elijah’s sacrifice even though it was soaking wet. It’s an amazing story of God’s power. Elijah was a great prophet, no doubt. But he isn’t the one described above either. Rather, it’s his successor, Elisha.
Elisha too had an amazing ministry marked with many miracles. Unfortunately, he tends to get overshadowed a bit by Elijah. Many people know the story of Elijah getting fed by ravens, the aforementioned showdown with the prophets of Baal, God coming to him in the “still small voice,” and of course his dramatic exit from this world in a whirlwind amidst the horses and chariots of fire. That’s exciting stuff. But what about Elisha, who received a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit? Most people could probably recall the story of Elisha cleansing Naaman the leper, but beyond that, he performed many other miracles, some very similar to those Jesus later performed.
Elisha first appears in the Bible in 1 Kings 19:16, when God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha from Abel-Meholah as his successor, and Elijah proceeds to do just that (I Kings 19:16-21). I’m no expert on biblical geography, but I can’t recall any other mention of Abel-Meholah in the Bible. Definitely not a well-known town. And although Elisha then became Elijah’s assistant, his public ministry didn’t begin until after Elijah was taken up into heaven by the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:1-14). Matter of fact, his first miracle was parting the Jordan River (v 14) to cross back, just as Elijah had parted it on the way over (v 8). During his ministry, he continued to perform many miracles, including healing Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14), multiplying 20 barely loaves to feed 100 prophets and still have leftovers (2 Kings 4:42-44), and raising the Shunammite’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:18-37). All miracles that Jesus would later perform—cleansing lepers, multiplying a meal, and raising people from the dead. It’s clear that God’s power was at work in Elisha’s ministry as well.
When I ask my students where Jesus is in the Old Testament, they usually reply, “He isn’t born yet. He only shows up in the New Testament.” But that’s not true either. Jesus is present from the very beginning, from the account of creation all through the Old Testament. He’s first promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, where God says to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” He’s promised and prophesied many other times throughout the Old Testament, most notably in the books of Isaiah, Psalms, Malachi, Micah, Exodus, Zechariah… You get the picture. He’s all over. And there are many people in the Old Testament who are “types” of Christ; people who foreshadow the work of the coming Messiah: well-known people like Noah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Jonah, as well as lesser-known characters like Melchizedek. The miracles performed by prophets such as Elijah and Elisha call to mind the later miracles of Jesus. Take the time to brush up on your Old Testament reading and see for yourself how rich it is with the good news of Jesus. Jesus opened the Scriptures to the Emmaus disciples by examining the Old Testament. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
So where is Jesus in the Old Testament? In short, He’s everywhere.