By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed July 31, 1982)
Miracles are wed to the scriptures in anticipation and purpose. Miracles find their meaning essentially in a period of new revelation, when messengers appear with a new aspect of the message regarding God’s redemptive scheme. When the historical setting of miracles is ignored, the way for deception and inconsistent testimony regarding the Lord’s way is opened.
New revelation as much as possible involves the teaching and predictions of prior revelation. This is why miracles were of such significance in the life of Jesus. Jesus labored in a day of new revelation and transition (Luke 16:16). He constantly related the old and new. This is seen in his use of old signs given (Matthew 12:38-41) and in reminding the people what the scripture declared would be done when the Messiah came (Luke 7:22; 4:17-21; John 7:31).
Evidently, Jesus limited his availability or use of miraculous power by a clear understanding of its purpose and a knowledge of the people involved (Matthew 4:1-10; 16:1-4). New revelation never steps beyond the boundary of fulfilling old revelation or otherwise one would destroy, instead of fulfill (Matthew 5:17,18). The use of miracles by Jesus related to his primary purpose of preaching the coming kingdom of heaven. Mark 1:37,38 reads, “And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. And he said unto the, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for therefore came I forth.”
Jesus, in presenting the reality of his Messiahship, told men to believe on him for his work’s sake, even though they were struggling with believing his words. Still a careful reading of the scriptures reflects that Jesus was very cautious regarding belief founded upon miracles without grasping the scriptural significance. This seems to be the consideration behind John 2:23-25. Miracles not accepted for scriptural reasons leads to exploitation (John 6:26).
Acts 2:22 reveals the overriding role of miracles in the life of Jesus. New revelation from heaven, the fulfilling of the Messianic predictions, and the confirming of the authority to forgive sins called for credentials unquestionably issued from heaven. Thus miracles fit firmly and comfortably into the ministry of Jesus. But in bold contrast, we live not in a day of new revelation or even expect such. Faith in the Messiah comes from the completed scriptures (John 20:30-31), and the fact that Jesus is the Savior comes from a confirmed Word of God.
Therefore, it is Biblical and essential to ask how or why miracles would benefit man today? The historical setting of new revelation is behind us forever. What purpose would miracles fulfill scripturally now? We do not find the scriptures anticipating miracles for today from God or revealing a Biblical purpose for their need.
The Case of the Apostles
The circumstances of the apostles and miracles is already laid in the circumstances of Jesus and his ministry. You have heaven’s prepared messengers introducing heaven’s prepared message upon earth. The introduction of the new message calls for a surety that the message is from heaven. Can a man bear witness of himself? Hence, the question of a sign arises legitimately.
It is absolutely mandatory that we see the difference in being converted when the revelation is new and being given as opposed to when the revelation is already given or completed. The fact that revelation is being confirmed or has been confirmed plays a crucial role in what we expect from the bearer of the revelation. What is the difference in conversion under the two conditions mentioned above? THE DIFFERENCE IS NOT THE MESSAGE, NOT THE RESULT, BUT THE POSITION OF THE TEACHER!!!
How shall the teacher be capable of showing the message is not his own? How will he confirm the message is from heaven or how will heaven do it? The miracles fulfill this role according to the scriptures. They filled the void, when new revelation was being given. Once this was done, the written testimony of those confirming miracles remains forever to show that the revelation was approved by God’s hand. The confirming events will not disagree with prior revelation, as they work toward the same end. Therefore, we expect a constant tie between prior revelation, new revelation and the signs that confirm the word.
Look at the apostles in their first century position. Reflect on the position they held historically compared to the position of where the children of God stand today regarding revelation given or not given. This can help the person struggling with the question of miracles today. Think about the degree of completed revelation the apostles possessed and their task.
They were perceived as ignorant and unlearned men. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13).” Their task was summarized by one writer in this manner; “Consider the task. We have a group of nobodies that had the task of telling everybody about somebody who could save anybody. Who would believe this new message of hope they were about to declare unto the world?”
Their task was absolutely overwhelming. They were to declare a new revelation in the name of Jesus Christ, the crucified one revealing salvation for all. It would be very necessary to show this was heaven’s will. Today, we commonly accept the words of Acts 2:21, but what about then? “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This verse is only rightly understood by recognizing its stance in comparison to the Old Testament. Also, we must realize how perverted the view of the Old Testament teaching had become to those who possessed the oracles of God.
The true teaching of the Old Testament scriptures and their fulfillment had to be declared to the very people who killed the Christ. Why did they kill him? They were blind to the true meaning of the scriptures. Do you remember how they questioned Jesus and doubted him in regards to the promise of sins forgiven? How much more would they ask the apostles, who preached forgiveness of sins to all men for all men? Read the words of Acts 2:38; 3:19, 5:31; and 10:43. Consider how those words you just read would have sounded to the ears of an audience of the first century with no written New Testament.
Let us not lose sight of how the words of Acts 2:21 would have sounded in the first century. Especially, let us recall how shortsighted they were about the reality of the Old Testament scriptures. Those, who may protest and say you are making too much of little we ask you to consider. The events of Acts 10 were several years after the words of Peter in Acts 2:21. How did the brethren receive the news of the conversion of the Gentiles? Acts 11:1,2 reads, “And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him…” It was only after Peter reviewed the matter and cited the confirming of heaven that they concluded “…then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
Peter’s message of forgiveness in Acts 3 in the name of Jesus was confirmed by a miracle, just like Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness was established in Mark 2. The beginning of the message of salvation for all men through the gospel, the establishing of the one new man through the cross and the church (Ephesians 2) necessitated the miracles in their confirming role. But, we are not in a period of beginnings, we are not in a period of new revelation, so where is the scriptural springboard that calls for miracles today? The error is too far reaching. The neglect of historical setting is too obvious for one to say it is all right for those who ask, since they mean well. It does not agree with the Word of God.
The apostles needed that aid, a seal of power, credentials that declared them truly ambassadors of heaven. Why? They were God’s messengers with the plan of salvation from sin for earth, so that the government of heaven could reign here. We could expect such, because such was not foreign to the word of God in the past. Again, we are not ignorant about how government officials must present their credentials when they speak for their government in other lands.
The call for credentials is in order, if they have never been presented. The confirming signs are surely in order when the message is new and not established in origin. But thereafter , what would be the reason for asking for the credentials? Furthermore, how would such a request be honored once the need had been met?
The problem of credentials is well illustrated in the Old Testament. Exodus 3:10-12 reads, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go to Pharoah, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.” Chapter 4 attacks the problem of confirmation head on. “…for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.” Read through these verses and note verse 8. “And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.” God goes on and tells Moses that he would confirm the message, as being from heaven. In fact, God would not stop with just two signs if necessary.
Exodus 7:9 brings the whole matter before us clearly. “When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take they rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.” The Septuagent has the words sign and wonder in the verse. The question of credentials and miracles is not new to the Bible. A study of their relationship can only help us be free of false expectations. (To Be Continued…)