Down it came, down from on high, down to the ground to lie in a heap at the feet of Elisha. Elijah's colleague, servant, and friend. Elisha picked it up. It was the seal of a new covenant between him and the ascended master in heaven. He had prayed for a double portion of the master's spirit. "Keep your eye on me, then," said Elijah. That was what Elisha had done. Now he had the mantle of the man in the glory.
Elisha saw something few have ever seen. He saw a living man caught up through the clouds. There had come a mighty rushing wind such as later came at Pentecost. There had come a chariot and horses of fire. Heaven had touched earth for an instant, there at Jordan, the river of death; and the master was gone. All that remained was a mantle, still warm from the touch of living man, now caught up into heaven. The crack in the space-time dimension closed, and Elisha stood there alone.
How long Elisha stood there gazing up into heaven we do not know. But presently he brought his gaze back down to earth; and there it was—a mantle, the seal of the new covenant, the earnest of his inheritance. It was now his. And with it came the double portion he had desired. That mantle marked him out as a firstborn son. He picked it up, and the spirit of the master in heaven clothed the body of the disciple on earth. He would walk worthy of his lord. He would be fruitful in every good work. He would increase in the knowledge of God. But let us come back to that mantle.
The mantle of Elijah is mentioned four times. The first time it is associated with the paradox of the man of God (I Kings 19:13). For Elijah, mighty man of God that he was, had feet of clay. He was a man subject to like passions as we are. We find him on Horeb, the Mount of God, far from where he belonged. God ministered gently to him. He revealed Himself in the fury of the wind and in the forces of the earth-quake and in the fierceness of the fire. Elijah hid in the cave as all nature rumbled, roared, and rolled about him. Then came the still small voice. Elijah ventured out, his face wrapped in his mantle, and self-pitying still. We see the man who could call down fire sulking like a schoolboy. Alas, there would be no more Carmels after this. The paradox remains. The greatest man on earth was overcome by passions such as overthrow the weakest of people. God, most assuredly does not whitewash the heroes of the faith.
The second time the mantle is mentioned it show us the personality of the man of God (I Kings 19:19). There goes Elisha following his plow. Here comes Elijah, mantle in hand. The prophet throws the mantle over the plowman and so great is the power and charisma of Elijah that the successful businessman gives up all to follow him. Of course there wasn't a man, woman, boy, or girl from the king on his throne to the mendicant on the city streets, who had not heard of Elijah or been touched by the force of his personality.
The next time we see that mantle it reminds us of the power of a man of God (2 Kings 2:8). One flick of that mantle over Jordan's wave, and the waters fled. There was more power in the hem of that garment than in all the robes in King Ahab's house.
We see that mantle one more time, and it reminds us of the pilgrimage of a man of God. For when his earthly pathway was ended, Elijah stepped into a whirlwind and was gone. He would need the mantle no more. He passed it on to his heir. The new young prophet wore that mantle with all the authority of the one to whom it had formerly belonged.
The Lord expects the same of us. We are Christ's heirs to the Holy Spirit. We wear the Lord's mantle of power. The pilgrim church moves on through time, the mantle of the Spirit of God being the guarantee that God's will will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven.