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A Biblical View of Signs, Wonders, & Miracles

This article is a guest post by Justin Peters. To hear more from Justin or interact with him you can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook.

Is God still in the miracle business? There is an entire swath of professing Christianity that would answer that question with a resounding and enthusiastic, “Yes.” The Word-Faith and New Apostolic Reformation movements (WF/NAR) are twin movements that, though there be a bit of distinction between them, have far more in common with one another and, in fact, they are today essentially melding into one. They both teach that there are modern day Apostles, that Christians are entitled to guaranteed physical healing and financial prosperity, and that signs and wonders are to be a normative part of the believer’s life. Though this author holds that these movements are doctrinally heretical and teach a different gospel,[1]such serious concerns are beyond the scope of this article. We will focus here specifically on whether or not their claims of the continuance of modern day signs and wonders are valid.

What is a Miracle?

We should begin by defining exactly what a miracle is because this is a term that is often misunderstood and misused even by theologically conservative believers with a high view of Scripture. A miracle is “an observable phenomenon effected by the direct operation of God’s power, an arresting deviation from the ordinary sequence of nature, a deviation calculated to beget faith-begetting awe, a divine in-breaking which authenticates a revelational agent.”[2]In other words, a miracle is an act performed by God that is an indisputable change in natural law that validates one of His revelatory messengers.

There is an important distinction we must make between a miracle and God’s providence. Floating ax heads, parting seas, talking donkeys, fire from Heaven, and resurrections from the dead[3]are miracles. The Lord snatching Philip away (Acts 8: 39) is a miracle whereas fortuitously running into someone who lends us aid is not. A man lame for 38 years suddenly walking is a miracle (John 5:1-9), but slowly recovering from cancer is not. We should give thanks to God for sending us people to lend aid and we should give thanks when one recovers from a disease (even when one does not recover from a disease!), but such things are not to be called miracles. Rather, they are acts of God’s good Providence. Disease can come in many forms which is why those who follow the words of the Lord should really familiarise themselves with the spiritual causes of disease if they are to understand the routes to recovery.

Were Miracles Common?

Many have this idea that God was performing miracles all the time throughout the Bible. We think that had we been living in biblical times we would be seeing God perform one miracle after another. Such is not the case, though. For one, if miracles were commonplace then they would cease to be, well, miraculous. More definitively, though, is that even in biblical days miracles were quite rare events. Consider this: Between Adam and Moses, about 2500 years passed with precisely zero miracles. Then Moses and Joshua arrived and performed a dozen or so miracles. After they passed from the scene another 500 years passed with no miracles until the arrival of Elijah and Elisha who performed another handful of miracles. There then commenced another multi-century long drought of the miraculous (and of God even speaking) until the ministries of Jesus and His disciples[4]who between them, for a few decades, performed many miracles. With the closing of the Apostolic age until now there has been no one who can credibly claim to perform miracles. So, for the 6000 year or so history of mankind less than 200 of those years saw any miracles performed and only by 100 or fewer individuals. Surprised?

The Purpose of Miracles

Many professing Christians today believe that God performs miracles for our own benefit. If someone is sick, God desires to heal that person and would gladly do so if that person only has enough faith. The clear teaching from Scripture, however, is that God does not primarily perform miracles for the benefit of a particular individual. Rather, when God performed miracles He did so with the primary purpose of authenticating one of His messengers. The miracles of the Old Testament authenticated Moses and the prophets as coming from Yahweh and also showed Him as the one true God over pagan deities. The miracles of the New Testament authenticated Jesus as the Messiah and the Apostles as His spokesmen.

Individuals certainly benefited from the healing miracles of Jesus, but these acts were always done to authenticate Who He was and to affirm His divine mission to atone for sins. Jesus certainly had compassion on the sick, but their physical comfort took a distant back seat to his concern for their spiritual well-being. He knew their greatest need was not healing from sickness and disease but from sin.[5]

Are there Apostles Today?

Given that after Jesus was resurrected and ascended into Heaven it was primarily His Apostles who performed signs and wonders,[6]a crucial question to ask regarding the continuance of the Apostolic gifts is, “Are there modern day Apostles?”

In order to be an Apostle a man had to meet three requirements:

1) He had to be an eye witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ[7]

2) He had to be directly appointed by Christ to be an Apostle[8]and

3) He had to be able to perform the signs and wonders of an Apostle.[9]

None of the men who saw Jesus raised from the dead are around anymore. They have all been in Heaven now for almost 2000 years. This takes care of the first two requirements. As for the third, no one can do what the Apostles did. No one. No one today can heal the sick and raise the dead as did the Apostles. A careful reading of Scripture shows that the ability to perform signs and wonders were unique to the Apostles even in the days of Acts.

Consider Acts 2:43, “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place among the Apostles.” Notice that the signs and wonders were being done by the Apostles. Acts 5:12 is even more clear, “At the hands of the Apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.” Notice the specificity and clarity of the Holy Spirit as He inspires God’s Word. The signs and wonders were being performed “at the hands of the Apostles” who were “among the people.” Signs and wonders were simply not being performed by Christians at large, but by the Apostles and there are no more Apostles today. Period.

Has God Changed?

One of the primary arguments that believers can perform signs and wonders today is the biblical truth that God does not change.[10]The reasoning is that if God did miracles in the past (which He did) and God does not change (which He doesn’t) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (which Hebrews 13:8 states) then He should be performing miracles today with the same frequency as He did back then.

But this is to fall into a logical fallacy. Using this logic then one would be compelled to say that we should still be sacrificing animals today. He required it in the Old Testament, and God does not change, so we should be doing it today. But no believer today is sacrificing animals. Why not? Did God change? No, but His revelation of Himself has progressed through the ages culminating in the Person and work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2-3). Jesus’ single sacrifice on the cross put an end to the need for animal sacrifices.[11]

One of the interpretive errors made by adherents of this movement is to assume that everything that occurred in the book of Acts should be occurring for believers and the church today. If it happened in the Bible, it should happen today they reason. However, this is to confuse the descriptive with the prescriptive. In other words, even though every event recorded in the Bible happened, not everything recorded in the Bible is to be considered normative. Not everything that the Bible described is prescribed. As we’ve already mentioned, God made a donkey talk but I sincerely hope you haven’t been seeing any talking donkeys lately. If you have then I would recommend Ephesians 5:18 as your next memory verse!

Are Their Claims True?

There is certainly no shortage of miraculous claims today. One would be hard pressed to watch “Christian” television networks such as TBN, Daystar, INSP, etc. for more than about ten minutes without hearing a televangelist make claims of regularly operating in signs and wonders. Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California claims that gold dust and angel feathers fall from the sky in his services. Todd White, head of a ministry called “Lifestyle Christianity” can be seen on YouTube going up to people at random on the streets and commanding them to be healed. One of his more well-known tricks is to command a person’s leg to grow about half an inch.

All of these things, though, are just that – tricks. I have researched and studied this movement and its claims for over 20 years now and can tell you that there is not a single verifiable case of anyone performing a genuine physical healing – much less a resurrection – as did the Apostles. No one. God is not dispensing gold dust and angels are not dropping their feathers. And if Todd White can heal people randomly on the streets then the first place he should be going is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and heal those sick and dying children of cancer. If he can command a leg to grow then surely he can command cancer cells to die.

But you won’t catch Todd White or Benny Hinn or any of the other panoply of fake miracle workers anywhere near a hospital. They can’t do what they claim they can do. They are charlatans who prey upon the poor, the sick, the desperate, the widows, and the gullible for personal financial gain.

Conclusion

Many in this movement accuse someone like me of not believing in the Holy Spirit, not believing in the spiritual gifts, and not believing in the power of God. Nothing could be further from the truth. I fully affirm both the Person and regenerating, indwelling work of the Holy Spirit of God. I fully affirm that genuine believers are given the spiritual gifts of teaching, mercy, administration, exhortation, etc. (I only assert that the Apostolic gifts[12]have ceased). I also fully affirm that God not only can but does physically heal people today when it is His sovereign will to do so. I reject, though, that anyone possesses the gift of healing as did the Apostles.

This is not a question of God not being able to heal people or perform miracles. Of course He can. God can do whatever He wants to do (Psalm 135:6). The greatest miracle, though, is not when the blind see or the lame walk. The greatest miracle is when the dead are raised, not physically, but spiritually. The greatest miracle is when God takes those who are spiritually dead in sins and makes them alive in Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul states, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).”

Want to see the real power of God unleashed? Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

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[1]For more information on the cultic origins of these movements and documentation on their doctrinal heresies, see my DVD entitled Clouds Without Water available at www.justinpeters.org

[2]Harrison, Everett F., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1960), pg. 356.

[3]Floating ax head (2 Kings 6); Red Sea parting (Exodus 14); Talking donkey (Genesis 22); Fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18; 2 Kings 1); Resurrections from the dead (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4; Luke 7; John 11; Acts 20; Jesus’ resurrection recorded in all 4 gospels and referenced many times throughout the New Testament).

[4]This would include the 72 disciples commissioned by Jesus as recorded in Luke 10.

[5]See for example Matthew 9:1-8.

[6]The only two exceptions would be Steven (Acts 6) and Philip (Acts 8) who were close associates with the Apostles.

[7]Acts 1:22, 10:38-41; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:7-9.

[8]Matthew 10:1-7, Acts 1:24-26, Galatians 1:1.

[9]2 Corinthians 12:12.

[10]This biblical truth is referred to as the “immutability” of God.

[11]See Hebrews 7:27, 10:1-18; 1 Peter 3:18.

[12]The Apostolic gifts, or, “sign gifts,” to which they are also referred, include the gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, miracles, and physical healing.

Pharisees and False Teachers

There is a word that used to have no derogatory meaning but has found its permanent place in  the insults of “Christianese.” Its original meaning referred to a man’s position as an expert adherent of God’s law with rabbinical duties to guide others. The word is – Pharisee.  

Nowadays, this word is used and thought of in a slightly different way. If you call for accuracy in biblical preaching you could get called a Pharisee. If you lovingly confront a small group friend concerning their sin, you’re not thanked through tears – you’re called a Pharisee. If you voice concern for dangerous doctrines and the exploitation of those desperate for hope…well, you’ll see.

Recently a special conference was held in our city (Tustin, CA). The promoter promised signs, wonders, and miracles to those who would attend. A big sign was posted on the street and social media sites spread the word. Revival and health for the sick and needy was coming to our little corner of Orange County. Finally! Clever marketing tactics tagged the miracle working men as the “Pep Boys.” Perhaps because they were going give spiritual “tune-ups” to the crowd. Of course, admission was free. Based on some of the video footage from the conference host, the “signs, wonders, and miracles” were in short supply, but unintelligible tongues and bad theology was plentiful.15871887_941119289357321_4192490706401469971_n

Any push back against this tomfoolery could get you labeled. Shining a light on the flagrant lust for phony signs & wonders in today’s church climate could get you a new nickname. Encourage your friends to flee from this gimmickry and caution people about this unbiblical chaos, and you’re going to hear the P-word at some point.

You Pharisee.

Such a jarring indictment is enough to make any bold Christian think twice about opening their mouth concerning any serious issue. Jesus Himself called the over-zealous Pharisees horrible names. Would you ever want to be thought of as one of these?

  • Blind guides (Matthew 23:16)
  • Fools (Matthew 23:17)
  • Serpents (Matthew 23:33)
  • Vipers (Matthew 23:33)
  • Hypocrites (Luke 11:44)

That is one serious list. Obviously this kind of Pharisee is the last thing you ever want to be. Even from the earliest age, churches teach kids about these religious infiltrators with songs like,

“I don’t wanna be a Pharisee (a Pharisee!), I don’t wanna be a Pharisee (a Pharisee!), cause they’re not fair-ya-see? I just wanna be a sheep (ba-ba-ba-ba!).”

Ok so maybe only a few of us still remember that song from Sunday school, but you get the point.

There is one glaring problem with everything I’ve just described. Many people don’t know why Jesus used such harsh words with certain Pharisees. This leads to Christians getting either confused or fearful when called such a horrid term. So what in the world would constitute being called this type of Pharisee in today’s world? Is it being strict about biblical commands? Is it prohibiting the wearing of nail-polish or earrings at church? Is it calling out dangerous teaching? Is it the old guy who yells at the kids for playing drums in their youth worship service?

We need to let the bible speak so we don’t completely miss the point of what disastrous Pharisaic practices truly were.

Here’s what the gospels teach about the kind of things that the wretched Pharisees were doing to garner such harsh responses from Jesus:

  1. They Were Sign Seekers

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after signs…” Then warning His own disciples Jesus cautioned, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees…He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:1,6,12).

Jesus calls the teachings of the Pharisees “leaven” as an illustration of how it changes bread dough when it’s added in. Similarly, modern day false teachers alter the gospel message with their own ingredients and corrupt it to the core. Signs and wonders is not what Christ came for and never to be our focus. He came to save sinners (Luke 5:32).Kris-Vallotton_large

When modern day churches start to obsess over signs, wonders (and everything in between) to draw an audience, they’re on a slippery slope. If preference is given to sign-seeking healing services over gospel-centered preaching, it is a sign that the wrong kind of Pharisees may be running the show. Further, if the gospel message is said to be powerless without signs and wonders, run from the place that teaches such a thing.

We don’t need more hype about signs and wonders. The pulpit must determine to know nothing among us but Christ crucified and Him raised from the dead.

  1. They Targeted Helpless People

In order to benefit themselves most, certain Pharisees preyed upon those who could defend themselves least. They were notorious for targeting helpless widows so they could benefit from the estate and resources a deceased husband had left to her.

Jesus described these greedy predators in His final public teaching discourse that Mark recorded. He taught, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).

These conmen took no prisoners and even broke God’s law to make a buck off of heart-broken widows! The Old Testament commanded that people not overharvest their crops so that widows could benefit from what wasn’t picked the first time. Widows were not even be held to their own pledges (Deuteronomy 24:17-21). God took the care of widows seriously along with those who could not care for themselves – such as orphans.

In these modern times, false teachers take advantage of the lonely, the sick, the weak, and still go after widows much like the predatory Pharisees did. “Christian” leaders who capitalize on the least, last, and lost of our society for their own gain mirror the kind of bottom-feeding behavior that many Pharisees undertook.

  1. They Added to God’s Law

Pharisees enjoyed nothing more than adding their own powerless words, traditions, and methods to God’s basic commands. Where God had given enough instruction for the people’s good, the Pharisees added traditions and precepts that were established by their own ambition. Their agenda was centered on controlling people and making themselves look powerful. In Mark 7:6-9 Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their man-made system:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”

Much like the Pharisees of yesterday, false teachers today add to God’s decrees with decrees of their own. They convince people that God has more to say, and He is using them to say it. These modern Pharisees toss aside what God has declared and in preference their own twisted version. As if the completed revelation breathed out by God Himself wasn’t enough (2 Timothy 3:16-17), they seek to elevate their own ideology as equal to God’s revealed word.

One famous mystic who has sold millions upon millions of books opens one of her best-sellers by saying, I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.” This is common place today. Hoards of people yawn over expository preaching from the pages of Scripture, but mystical (possibly even demonic) counterfeits and prophetic conferences draw millions of people who are seeking a “new” word from the Lord. How much more time and money could be spent on spreading the gospel and lives saved from deception if people would accept that God already has spoken?

Reliability is in short supply in many loose theological circles that claim new prophetic words from God. Perhaps going back to the sufficiency of God’s already revealed will in the Scriptures and leaving it at that would solve the insufficiency of old pharisaic habits.

  1. They Added Unlawful Burdens to People

This one carries over from #3 on this list because the “extras” that the Pharisees added to God’s law were things they couldn’t even keep themselves. Hypocrites! For example,  where God set the Sabbath in order for man, the Pharisees created a laundry list of ridiculous additions to define “work” how they saw fit. At one point Jesus looks at an expert of the law and said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).

Though they appeared to be righteous, the Pharisees were crooked benefactors of a system that burdened the people. image_large

The type of burdens the Pharisees used back then have a modern-day version that burdens Christians in similarly oppressive ways. For example, false teachers convince people that if they want to be healed, they should give money or just “have enough faith.” People are taught that they have to give a certain amount of money to be “blessed”, to get a “breakthrough” at their job or have relief from debt. Further, people are taught that certain men and women are especially anointed so they should give money to them.

These burdens are as powerless as the works-based salvation the Pharisees sold. This spiritual abuse results in confused Christians with deflated faith, and false teachers with inflated wallets. None of that sort of teaching is biblical. Sure, anyone can twist God’s word for capitalistic control over people. The Pharisees did it better than anyone.

  1. They Loved Their Own Honor

Nothing excites a Pharisee more than a system that will honor himself. These leaders love when people elevate them to unbiblical heights. This cultish hierarchy makes the shepherds of God’s people into anointed royal rulers worthy of glory and praise that only God deserves.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees sat themselves in the best seats, received immaculate greetings in public, and ensured that everyone noticed how holy and powerful they were.

One day, Jesus gave them an ear full and told them what He thinks about their honor-system.

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it” (Luke 11:43-44).

Now there’s a divine indictment. These status seeking Pharisees were caught red-handed by Christ. He saw right through their fancy clothes, front row seats, long bios, and hidden hypocrisy. He knew of their self-indulgent pride, lust for power over people, and desire for possessions. They were like dead corpses lurking unnoticed below and spoiling their unsuspecting victims.

Like those who Jesus rebuked, false teachers in the church world today love to be called humble yet enjoy the spoils of a king. They use a culture of honor to protect themselves from accountability. Protecting the precious people of God is the last thing on their minds. In fact, they are the very wolves attacking the sheep from within the fold. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were too busy honoring themselves that they missed salvation from the Messiah when it was right in front of them. Today’s Pharisees take on the form of supposed “pastors” who spend a lifetime compiling a pension of riches from their powerless pulpits, only to find their lake front retirement plan is more of a lake of fire one. Christ is not in the building. He was never involved at all (Matthew 7:22-23).

Once we allow the bible to speak on this issue, it’s not so hard to spot a real Pharisee after all is it?