And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:17-18 (my emphasis)
1. Who is the “them” in the opening phrase of this maxim, spoken by the Lord Jesus to his eleven (originally 12, but the betrayer, Judas Ischariot, is gone by this time) disciples?
For the answer, back up to verse 16, where it says: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Believe what? In the context of the gospel of Mark they would have to repent of their sins, and believe that the Lord was resurrected from the dead, and then be baptized.
But anyone could say they believed,1 so to separate the wheat from the chaf, i.e., the true believers from the reprobates, there would be certain specific “signs” manifested by the true believers indentifying them as such.
This is not for the benefit of the world, by the way, it is solely for the benefit of believers, as in Matthew 7:20, where it says: by their fruits (works)ye shall know them. Thus, a true believer will manifest these very specific signs, as this is how they will know each other.
Since traditional Christian theology teaches that the primary message for the Christian church is in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is assumed that all the commands in these letters are for it (the church), which leads to the next question:
2. Will all these signs be manifested by all true believers in the Christian church?
The better question is: will any of these signs “follow after” anyone in the Christian church?
The answer is no, because the present Christian “church” is not being addressed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
But, but doesn’t the Lord start the church in Matthew 16 with the declaration: “upon this rock I will build my church?”2 He starts a church with that statement, but he isn’t referring to the church that presently exists in the world, because that church did not begin until its revelator came on the scene much later, in Acts chapter 9. That revelator would be Saul of Tarsus, who later on became the apostle Paul, who wrote the following words in his first letter to his understudy, Timothy:
15 This [is] a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
Traditional teaching will say the church referred to in Matthew 16 is one and the same as this church Paul is speaking of, but that cannot be so, for the following reasons: 1. Paul couldn’t be a member of that church, because in 1 Timothy 1:13 he says that he was a “blasphemer,” and the Lord plainly said5 that the sin of blaspheme could not be forgiven in that economy,6 or the one to come;7 and 2. Everything the Lord spoke of in his earthly ministry, as recorded in the four gospels, was the fullfilment of prophecy, including the church in Matt. 16. On the contrary, Paul’s revelation, which included the church, the body of Christ, was part of what he referred to as “the mystery:”
Rom 16:25-26; Eph. 3:1-5
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith….the mystery….which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. (my emphasis)
So what’s the difference? If we go back and look at the position that Gentiles occupied under the prophesied Israelite kingdom, never, ever are they given the designation of “fellowheirs,” but rather of servants. (reference Galatians 4 for Paul’s discourse on the difference between a servant and an heir) For example, look at what the major prophet of the major prophets, Isaiah, has to say about the “nations” (Gentiles):
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to they light, and kings to the brightness of they rising…..for the nation and kingdom that shall serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted….The sons also of them that aflicted thee shall come bending unto thee….they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel….Thou shalt suck the milk of the Gentiles…and thou shall know that I the Lord am thy Savior and they Redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob. ((Isaiah 60:1-16))
It should be clear from this, even to the casual reader, that the Gentiles spoken of in this passage are not “fellowheirs” with Israel. On the contrary, the Gentiles Paul speaks of are part of something unconnected to Israel and Israel’s prophetic Scriptures; part of a “church” that was kept secret until Paul revealed it in his 13 epistles.
The church of the present dispensation/economy is not the church that Jesus began in Matthew 16, which had to do with the calling home of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Therefore, these signs cannot be applied to it.
But if this be the case, why then did Paul manifest all these signs throughout his Acts ministry, and proclaim them to be in effect in the Corinthian congregations, who were members of the body of Christ8 Two reasons: 1. According to Romans 1:16, the gospel was to be taken to “the Jew first,” and indeed it was throughout the Acts ministry, and; 2. “the Jews require a sign.9 But he also said in the thirteeneth chapter (of 1 Corinthians) that they would cease (verse 8) when “that which is perfect is come,” (verse 10) and stated that they were, in effect, child speak, and would be put away. (verse 11)
The question is: when were they “put away”? “When that which is perfect is come. “That” which is perfect is the finished revelation of the mystery. With its completion,10 and the ending of the mission to Israel (Ref. Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:22; Acts 28:25-28), the dispensation of grace commenced, and the d of g is characterized by the absence of signs and wonders in the church, not their presence. The only thing that any believer possesses as an identifier of who we are is our testimony of salvation, that is, when did you first trust Christ, believing that he died for your sins, and was raised again the third day…for your justification?11
All Scripture references are taken from the King James Bible. Please feel at liberty to distribute this article as you see fit.
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