Since 1989, I have been hearing that God is “about” to pour out an unprecedented “revival,” one characterized by great “signs and wonders,” the likes of which even Jesus and the apostles never witnessed. And these miraculous displays will awe billions of men and women into accepting the gospel. Well, I can only hope!
I am all for genuine miracles that meet real human needs, though personally, I would never entrust, well, me(!) with awesome supernatural powers. Still far too much of the old Adamic nature left and all that. Still, among the leaders of the Charismatic Movement, “signs and wonders” has become the mantra, the means and goal, the evidence, indeed, the raison d’être of the Christian faith. No “signs and wonders,” no “revival” or genuine faith.
I am not so sure. I mean, after all, Jesus did warn of coming “false prophets who will show great signs and wonders; so that, if possible, they may deceive the elect.” And did he not conclude his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ with the sobering words:
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by your name, and by your name cast out demons, and by your name do many mighty works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.”
And in saying this, Jesus did not deny that the “workers of iniquity” performed actual supernatural acts. It seems, the problem was the failure to obey his words, not the ability to do “signs and wonders.” And if so, then logically, manifestations of “signs and wonders” do not prove the genuineness of a person’s faith or ministry, at least, not in and of themselves.
Certainly, “signs and wonders” can stimulate faith; however, Jesus also complained of men and women who followed him because of his healings and exorcisms, declaring: “Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
And, yes, Jesus and his apostles did heal the sick, they did cast out demons, and they even did raise the dead. And yes, thanks be to God for all His gracious miracles. But the miraculous is neither the end-goal nor the defining characteristic of the faith of Christ. Yes, God did resurrect Jesus from the dead, but Calvary preceded Easter, not vice versa.
So, what about “signs and wonders”? Again, God is all-powerful and merciful, and therefore, certainly does do supernatural things for His people. Nevertheless, He is not the only one who performs “signs and wonders.”
Paul warned the Thessalonians of the coming “man of lawlessness” who will cause many to apostatize from the faith with “lying powers and signs and wonders.” Likewise, in Revelation, the “false prophet” tricks men and women into “rendering homage to the beast” by using “great signs, that he should even make fire to come down from heaven… And he deceives the inhabitants of the earth by the signs which he did in the sight of the beast.” If the Devil and his human agents can also produce “signs and wonders,” we better be on our toes!
In Mark’s Gospel, before his death, no man or woman recognized who Jesus was despite his many miraculous deeds, although the demons that he exorcised certainly did recognize him as the “Son of God”! But only at his death on a Roman cross did a human being perceive him to be the “Son of God,” and ironically, the very pagan centurion in charge of his execution.
Apparently, Jesus cannot be understood apart from his death, and if so, then it is not his miracles that mark him out as the Messiah and “Son of God,” but instead, his self-sacrificial obedience and shameful death on the cross.
Paul described “Christ crucified” as the very “power and wisdom” of God, not “signs and wonders,” an understanding that only the truly “spiritual” among us can grasp. No matter how many “signs and wonders” you or I perform, if we do not appropriate Christ crucified to our lives, we are not at all “spiritual” – (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5).
In Revelation, Jesus exhorted the “seven churches” to “overcome.” But to do so, believers must overcome in the same manner that he did: “Just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21-22).
And how did the Son of God “overcome”? Through his self-sacrificial death. Likewise, so must anyone who would “follow him wherever he goes.” Believers overcome Satan, not by “signs and wonders,” but “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony; even they loved not their lives unto the death” – (Revelation 12:11).
And Satan is perfectly capable of providing “signs and wonders” through his human vassals that already are working busily among us, including many so-called “apostles and prophets.” And according to Paul, it is not supernatural “signs” and experiences that prove the genuineness of an apostle, but his willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel – (2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10).
Finally, on the last day, the last words we want to hear are – “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.”