Mighty signs and wonders
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” ((Rom 8:16))
With the resurgence of the neo-pentecostal movement in the 20th century, there have been many phenomenon attributed to the activity of the Holy Spirit.
These phenomenon run the gamut from divine healing, to the manifestation of the “sign” gifts,1 to being endued with all kinds of supernatural powers, the least of which is not having the ability to predict future events.
All of the claims of Holy Spirit (or “Holy Ghost”) manifestations/powers are, of course, substantiated with Scriptural documentation. As it has often been said, just about anyone can peruse the Scriptures and find a passage somewhere that proves up their experience.
The purpose of this essay is to show, from Scripture, that the third person in the Godhead is not the power behind these manifestations, indeed, cannot be, unless God be the author of confusion, which He is, of course, not. ((1 Cor 14:33))
To properly address this issue it is necessary to look at the subject from a dispensational prospective, in order that we may see that the Holy Spirit has acted differently in the life of God’s children in different times, and for different reasons. This explains the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “rightly divide the word of truth” in his second letter to Timothy,2 which, in effect, says that not all things in scripture are written or commanded for the obedience of faith to all who are “the called according to his purpose.”3
This truth should be obvious to even those possessing only a novice’s knowledge of the Bible. For example, no one is called today to build a huge boat, and fill it with animals in anticipation of a world-wide flood, ((Gen. 6:14-22)) or give up all their worldly possessions4 and disavow themselves of familial relationships5 in order to be in obedience to God. Certainly, those “ministers of the faith” who claim “the anointing,” and claim the sign gifts to be in effect presently, believe as much, as most of them, like the young man desiring to become a follower of Jesus, have “great possessions.”6 Yet, while they would readily brush aside the idea that anyone, now, must “sell out” to be qualified for discipleship, they curiously find that those spiritual manifestations and powers extant in the same dispensational period of time are, indeed, very much now in effect.
Which leads us to ask: are signs and wonders now in effect?
The answer is no, and by employing the method of rightly dividing, I will show why this is so.
In the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, written in his Acts ministry, around AD 60, probably from Ephesus, (( Ref. Acts 20:16-38)) he makes the claim:
Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
I would like to address, in this essay, the first two phrases of this passage; “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.” To do this, let’s examine the who, what, when, where and why of this issue in Scripture, I’ll start with a definition.
First, what is a “sign?” In the Biblical sense of the word, it is something of a physical, literal nature, that is, something that one of our six senses can comprehend, which is made manifest by supernatural (spiritual) means, that instructs, foretells, indicates, makes provision for something, or warns of an impending event. The wonder part simply means that when such a sign is made manifest, it causes those who hear/see it to scratch their heads, “wondering” from whence it came.
Second, since Paul claims here that it was through signs and wonders–produced by the power of the Spirit of God, and manifested throughout the Acts by the apostles–he was enabled to “fully preach the gospel of Christ,” let’s list the one’s done to and through him.
The first one would obviously be in Acts 9,7 in his famous road to Damascus experience, described in his testimony before king Agrippa:
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
To save time and space here, I am going to simply identify each sign/miracle done by Paul in the Acts–from chapter 13 on– followed by the chapter and verses where the text can be found.
- Strikes a sorcerer blind. (Acts 13:6-12)
- Heals a man who has been lame from birth (Acts 14:8-10)
- Is stoned (to death) at Lystra, and apparently raises from the dead. (Acts 14:19,20)
- Raises a man from the dead (Acts 14: 7-12)
- Gets a vision from an angel of the Lord, and prophesies that no one will be lost in a storm at sea (Acts 27:22-26)
- Unharmed by the bite of a venomous snake (Acts 28:3-6; also ref. Mark 16:18)
- Heals the chief man of the Island of Melita of a feverish bloody flux, by the laying on of hands; does the same thereafter for all the sick on the Island who are brought to him. (Acts 28:8,9)
Other references to signs and miracles in Paul’s Acts epistles
- 1 Cor. 12: 5-11; 28-31 lists the “sign” gifts that are extant in the church.
- 1 Cor. 14:1-22 discourse on the use of tongues (they are for a sign to them that believe not–viz., Israel)
- 1 Cor. 13:8-13 Foretelling of the cessation of the sign gifts.
Evidence of the ceasing of the gifts in the post Acts epistles
- Never any mention of them in the post Acts epistles, especially in the letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians.
- 1 Tim. 5:23, and 2 Tim 4:20 are certain evidence that Paul no longer possessed the power to heal.
- None of the “sign” gifts are listed in the list of gifts for edification of the church in Ephesians 4:11,12
Why is their now no need or cause for God to supernaturally intervene in the affairs of men and the world?
- Because the Jew required a sign (1 Cor. 1:22) in order to believe, therefore, throughout the Acts, deference was given to them by Paul over the Gentiles8 This necessarily included signs and wonders, just as they were produced in the gospels, to validate Paul’s apostleship to Israel. But that deference ended with Paul’s declaration of their national blindness and deafness to the gospel in Act 28:26,27.
- Being that signs and wonders were ordered for the church during the Acts, they qualified as “ordinances.” But in Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14, Paul declares them to be “abolished” and “taken away.”
If signs and wonders are no longer extant in the church, why do so many Christians claim that they are still in effect, and claim to have experienced them in some way, e.g., speaking in an unknown tongue, witnessing people being exorcised of demonic possession, getting miraculously healed, being “slain in the spirit,” etc., etc.?
Good question, of which there are sound answers:
Anyone can lay claim to the Holy Spirit manifesting himself through them in one of the ways listed above, which is not by any means an exhaustive list.
First, I would never say that there is no supernatural activity going on in the world or in Christian church movements, because I’ve witnessed it, first hand, as have many others. But what never seems to be proffered by those who claim to be manifesting these things is the question: what “spirit” is the power behind these manifestations? Is it the Holy Spirit? Or is it the “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience?”9 I say it’s the latter, because as I have shown heretofore, there is now no cause for the Holy Spirit to work in this way.
Second, Paul said that in the latter times, Satan will work with all power and signs and lying wonders, and that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears”….and “….depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”10
2 Corinthians 5:7 says: “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” Moreover, Romans 10:17 says: “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” and Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (my emphasis)
I believe we possess God’s finished revelation in a King James Bible. And as it says in Romans 10:17, faith and belief come by hearing it preached, not by witnessing a so-called miracle, or hearing someone speak some psycho-babble11 that nobody has a clue what has been said, not even the speaker. In all my experience of hearing people speak in these so-called tongues in church meetings and prayer circles, not once did I ever hear anyone interpret any of it.
“Well, it’s my prayer language.” one man explained to me, “and I get this wonderful, exhilarating feeling when I do it. I can’t believe God wouldn’t want that kind of experience for his children.”
My response to this was; where does it say in the word of God that the sign gifts, which included the gift of tongues, were given to the Acts church so that they could be emotionally titillated?
This stuff appeals to the flesh, folks, not the spirit, and God is not in the business of building up (edifying) his children’s flesh.
The sign gifts were given to the church to placate Israel. Paul set national Israel aside in Acts 28 by declaring them blind and deaf, and subsequently ushered in, in the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, a new Gentile dispensation he called “the dispensation of the grace of God.”12
The Lord Jesus said that “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign,”13 and while he was speaking to Israel in that verse, the spirit of it applies to today’s purveyors and seekers of “signs and wonders.” Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by these self-proclaimed “anointed” preachers. Caveat! They are after something other than your spiritual edification.
Related articles: I Am Not a Charismatic; Why Paul?; The Anointing
While there are thousands of variations of Christianity in the world today, the common thread that runs through them all is; Jesus Christ is “the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.”(1 Tim 4:10). This is to say that Jesus Christ and his sacrifice at Calvary provided the way for all men to be saved, but only “them that believe” will be justified before God and saved. (Romans 3:22). Ephesians chapter 1, verses 13 and 14 says of the Ephesian Gentiles: “… whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
Have you, friend, ever trusted in Christ for your salvation? Do you know, for certain, that you are his “purchased possession,” and “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise?” If not, then today, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
2 Tim. 2:15 ↩
Romans 8:28 ↩
Matt. 19:21 ↩
Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29 ↩
Matt. 19:16-22 ↩
Acts 9:1-8 ↩
ref. Romans 1:16; 3:1,2; 1 Cor. 9:20; evidence throughout the Acts that the Jews were always given the gospel first ↩
Eph 2:2 ↩
Ref. 2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim 4:3 ↩
The miracle of tongues at Pentecost, was that Jews from 14 different nations, speaking 14 different languages, heard the disciples in their own languages. ↩
Eph. 3:1-3 ↩
Matt 16:4 ↩