Why did Jesus and His apostles perform miracles? What is it about the “miracle” that makes it unique in God’s plan? What was God really doing with miracles some 2,000 years ago? These are very important questions the answers to which are extremely important as it relates to our overall understanding of Scripture.
The modern American hermeneutic reads the reader into the text. The typical evangelical Christian sees himself in Scripture. He assumes that the activity of God recorded in divine Scripture is normative. That is to say, he fails to distinguish between God’s actions in the revelation of redemptive history and God’s actions outside that revelation. Unless Scripture and its contents are understood within the right framework, a variety of error is sure to follow. The purpose of this post is to make a case for the view that God’s activity in Scripture must not be confused with God’s activity outside Scripture. The logical implications for a right understanding and defense of Scripture are far-reaching when it comes to this particular subject.
To begin with, a miracle is not just a unique event, although it is that. A miracle is a unique event not capable of being duplicated. It requires divine, or supernatural activity. God, in His providence, decreed that the Messiah would be identifiable as one who could work miracles of every conceivable type. The promise of a Messiah came early in the history of mankind. From the beginning of the fall, the promise of the “head-crushing seed of the woman” was given explicitly to the serpent. What was a curse for the serpent was the glorious promise of life and grace to our first parents! Who would this “seed” be? Who would be the “serpent-head-crusher” that would come to rescue mankind? As God continued to unfold or reveal His plan in history, He slowly began to reveal identifiers. The seed would come through Abraham, specifically, then through Isaac, through Jacob, through Judah, and finally through David. Additional identifiers for who this redeemer would be coming through the prophets. The Messiah would be born of a virgin, perform many supernatural acts, and sit upon the throne of David.
The NT writers went to great lengths to connect the works of Jesus Christ with the promises of the coming Messiah. Their goal was not to give us something thrilling and exciting. It was not their intent to impress us with the dazzling display of God’s power so that we too should expect similar works of God in our lives if we could just conjure up enough faith. The purpose was to demonstrate to their first-century audience that Jesus Christ is in fact, the “head-crushing-redeemer” promised in Gen. 3:15. It was to show that this is the one the prophets and Moses wrote about. Now, it seems reasonable to hold that God would select proofs for the identification of the Messiah that no human could replicate so as to create confusion. And to that end, God providentially used the unique phenomenon of “miracle” to display the Messiah. God is not the author of confusion. He made a promise, gave clear criteria for that promise, and then delivered on that promise without ambiguity. Hence, we have the miracles of Jesus Christ.
(1) Only the Messiah will have these miracles surrounding his life.
(2) Jesus had those miracles surrounding his life.
(3) Therefore, Jesus must be the Messiah.
(4) Since Jesus is the Messiah, His message must be from God and must be believed.
Jesus selected a small group man, taught them his doctrine, gave them a special relationship with the Holy Spirit to enlighten them and preserve his teachings in them, entrusted them with His message, and commissioned them to be authoritative leaders of the church. Paul describes it this way; “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20) Jesus also empowered these men to work miracles as an identifier that they are His apostles, speaking with His authority. (1 Cor. 12:12)
So now we have seen that God used miracles as a means to identify the Messiah and His apostles. Miracles then, should not be understood as a way to excite us, impress us, or to wow us with displays of His incredible power. They are always pointing to something greater. Miracles are signs deliberately pointing to revelation. They are identifiers. They point to Christ. They point to the Word of Christ. The words of the Messiah are authoritative because they are the words of God, and they are identifiable because they are accompanied by the facts of the prophets, which included miracles. The words of the apostles are authoritative because they are the words of the Messiah. Moreover, we know that they are the Messiah’s special apostles because of the miracles and signs the risen Messiah enables them to perform. And since they are His special apostles, His authoritative agents carrying His message, we know their message is the Messiah’s message and therefore, authoritative. From these facts, we know that the apostles were special messengers of Christ. Their relationship to Christ was unique. We also know that the apostles had a special and unique relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit worked in them, enlightening them to understand the teachings of the Messiah, and He worked in them so that they would remember everything Jesus had said to them. Because this is true, the first-century Christians and every Christian thereafter have a Word from God for our lives that we can identify.
It is not difficult to see the relationship of miracles to the revelation of Scripture. They serve as identifiers of that which eventually became written down: The Word of God. If we will only acknowledge that the works of God in Scripture were unique in that they served this purpose of identification, perhaps we can avoid the erroneous view that Scripture is nothing more than a history of God’s acts at that time, no different from God acts at subsequent times, and in particular, at this time.
When someone claims to have heard from God, that God spoke to them and told them to do x, it is only fair that we ask for justification. Why should we accept the claim that “God has spoken to this person?” It is an extraordinary claim, and always has been, to say that God spoke. God has a long history of making it crystal clear when He speaks. If you do not believe me, ask Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or any of the prophets and apostles. And that is the point of the miracles we see in Scripture. The last time I checked, we are not living in Scripture. As the one TV character put it: “This isn’t the Bible.”
- Unique proofs were to accompany the Messiah.
- The unique proofs were specific.
- Jesus performed these specific, unique proofs perfectly
- Jesus is the Messiah
- Jesus says that His apostles will do the works that He did
- The apostles performed the miracles that Jesus performed
- Therefore, these apostles of Christ were readily identifiable as Christ’s authoritative messengers
- Jesus said His apostles would be especially gifted with the Holy Spirit to understand, remember, and proclaim all His teachings
- These apostles, identified by their unique abilities, issued a specific body of teachings
- Therefore, these teachings are the teachings of Jesus Christ as interpreted by the Holy Spirit in the writings of the Holy Apostles
- If we look at Scripture from this perspective, we can certainly understand the role of miracles in God’s revelation: it was an identifier to the first-century eye-witnesses but it began with God’s promises in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.