Signs & Wonders

Are signs and wonders (miraculous signs, healings, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, etc.) for today? There are basically two opposing Christian theological camps on this issue. On one side are the cessastionists; they beleive that signs and wonders were only for the time of the apostolic age to confirm the authenticity of the new gospel message. They contend that since the sole function of signs and wonders was to authenticate the new gospel message, and since that was accomplished in the days of the early church, they now have no further role in the modern church. Though they do believe God can still perform miracles today, they insist that he does not use individuals to perform any of those miracles.

On the other side are the continuationists; they argue that signs and wonders haven’t left the church since the days of the apostles. They view the role of signs and wonders as not only the authentication of the gospel, but also as something God used, and continues to use, to draw people to hear the gospel, to provide proof of the power and authenticity of the gospel, and to help bring people to faith in the gospel. They reject the notion that God has removed signs and wonders (or any other spiritual gift) from the church, admit that throughout history there were seasons of times when signs and wonders seem to have been more or less prevelant in the church, and agree with the fact that signs and wonders can be counterfieted by false prophets and therefore, could lead people astray from the faith.

Biblical Considerations of Signs & Wonders

The promise of signs & wonders were promised in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament.

The prophet Joel foresaw that in the last days God would pour out his Spirit upon mankind. This pouring out of the Spirit of God was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the disciples began to speak in tongues declaring the mighty works of God (Acts 2:1-21). Joel’s prophecy also included men and women prophesying, dreaming dreams, and seeing visions. With a similar theme, the writer of the Gospel of Mark wrote that signs and wonders, such as speaking in tongues, casting out demons, healing the sick, and being protected from deadly substances, would accompany those who believe in Jesus Christ (Mk 16:17-18).

  • “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. Joel 2:28-29

  • “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Joel 2:30-32

  • “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mk 16:17-18

  • But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel. Acts 2:14-16

Jesus performed many true signs and wonders so that people might believe.

The list of signs that Jesus did is quite extensive; among other miracles, he turned water into wine, fed enormous crowds of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, healed everyone’s illnesses, and even raised people from the dead. Though he communicated the message he preached in words, he understood that signs and wonders were of use in helping people see the amazing power of the gospel.

Of course, signs and wonders didn’t convince everyone to believe the gospel. As it turned out, even after Jesus had performed numerous and powerful signs and wonders in their presence, many (if not most) people still didn’t believe in him (Jn 12:37). While it’s clear that signs and wonders aren’t essential to people coming to salvation, it’s also just as clear that Jesus, the apostles, and other disciples performed signs and wonders that had an impact on people coming to believe in the gospel.

  • This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. Jn 2:11

  • Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. Jn 2:23

  • “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” Jn 4:48

  • The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. Jn 4:53-54

  • So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Jn 6:13-14

  • So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Jn 6:30

  • Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” Jn 7:31

  • Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. Jn 11:47

  • Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Jn 20:30-31

  • “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. Acts 2:2

Signs & wonders drew people’s attention to the gospel message.

As a side benefit, the performance of signs and wonders caught people’s attention and drew them to check out and pay attention to the gospel message. Because of signs and wonders, people went out, not only to see the amazing power of God, but to also go out to meet and follow the performed or those miracles, Jesus Christ.

  • Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. Jn 12:18

  • And a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Jn 6:2

  • And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. Acts 8:6-7

  • Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. Act 8:13

  • Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. 1 Cor 14.22

Signs & wonders showed proof of the power of God.

The Apostle Paul understood that the gospel came not only with words, but also with power. Performing healings and other miracles were evidence to the hearers of the gospel that this new message wasn’t from the imagination of man, but directly from God.

  • For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 1 Cor 4:20

  • I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.  Rom 15:18-19

  • Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1 Thes 1:5

Signs & wonders were performed to confirm the gospel message.

To give evidence to those hearing the gospel that it truly was of God, God would [sometimes] grant that signs and wonders be done as proof of the origin and power of the message as well as the authority of the messenger. These signs of witness ranged from the healing of sicknesses, the casting out demons, believers speaking in tongues, and the pouring out of spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit.

  • And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. Mk 16:20

  • The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jn 2:18

  • This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jn 3:2

  • Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. Jn 9:16

  • So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Acts 14:3

  • I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 2 Cor 12:12

  • It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Heb 2:3-4

The Apostles prayed for and performed many signs & wonders among the people.

The Apostles understood the performance of signs & wonders to be complementary to their sharing the gospel message. While they took full responsibility to boldly share the gospel, they also prayed for and relied on God to grant that signs and wonders be done to confirm their message so that people might come to faith in Jesus.

  • When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

  • And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. Acts 2:43

  • And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:29-30

  • Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Acts 5:12-16

  • And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Acts 6:8

  • So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Acts 14:3

  • And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:1

  • Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?   Gal 3:5-6

Signs and wonders (as well as all sorts of spiritual gifts) were given to believers in the church to help build it up.

God gave spiritual gifts to the church to be used for the building up of the church. Among these [at least twenty gifts] were speaking in tongues, the ability to heal, the performance of miracles, and being able to prophesy – what many would describe as signs and wonders.

  • Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Rom 12:6-8

  • To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 1 Cor 12:7-11

  • Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Cor 12:27-28

  • As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Pt 4:10-11

Warning: False signs and wonders can deceive and lead people astray.

Just as Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate some signs and wonder by their secret arts (turning their staffs into serpents, turning the water of the Nile into blood, and making frogs come up in the land of Egypt (Exo 6:11-12, 7:22, 8:7), so false prophets today are also able to deceive and lead astray the elect with their counterfeit signs and wonders. Be warned: Just because someone does a sign or wonder, even in the name of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was of God.

  • “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Mt 7:22-23

  • For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Mt 24:24

  • For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. 2 Cor 11:13-15

  • The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders. 2 Thes 2:9

  • It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. Rev 13:13-14

  • For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. Rev 16:14

  • And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. Rev 19:2

Conclusion

As we look to the Scriptures, it seems that signs and wonders were certainly performed to give authenticity to the gospel message of Jesus Christ. However, there seems to be no reason to limit signs and wonders to that singular purpose (especially since the Bible is silent on that matter). Jesus performed many miracles that were clearly seen as signs of his divinity; as a result, many believed in him. In like manner, the Apostles also performed many signs and wonders; accordingly, many people came to faith in Jesus Christ. In addition, there were also other individuals (who were not Apostles) in the early church who performed many signs and wonders, such as Annanias, who healed Paul of his blindness (Acts 9:17-18), Philip who cast out demons and performed healings (Acts 8:4-8, 13), the unnamed and unmarried daughters of Phiip who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9), and Agabus who prophesied (Acts 21:10-12).

In the Apostle Paul’s writings to the church at Corinth, he laid out a very detailed description of spiritual gifts and their benefit to both believers in the church as well as non-belivers outside the church (1 Cor 12-14). Of note is that some of these gifts were speaking in tongues, healing, miracles, and prophecy. Cessastionists would contend that these “miraculous gifts” are no longer needed and have been taken away from the church by God while the other “non-miraculous” gifts, such as teaching, adminsitration, and helps remain. One problem with this line of thinking is that since all spiritual gifts are from God and as such, rightly bear the stamp of the divine, all are by definition miraculous. Also, there is no indication in the New Testament writings (unless one poorly and with extreme prejudice exegetes 1 Cor 13:9-12 to their liking) that any of these gifts would ever be removed from the church until Christ returns. Therefore, the argument that “showy” spiritual gifts ceased upon the completion of the New Testament falls flat due to the lack of Scriptural support.

One point of common ground which both cessastoinist and continuatists agree on is that spiritual gifts can be counterfieted by false prophets and at times (and for the wrong reasons) be sought after by immature believers. An easy reactionary position to this danger is to deny the very existance of signs and wonders and attribute any show of the miraculous to a delusion caused by wishful thinking or possble Satanic activity. The problem with this position is that it is tantamont to throwing out the baby with the bathwater; as a result, one can be found fighting against the plan and power of God.

It’s interesting to note that the Apostle Paul encouraged all believers to earnestly seek after spiritual gifts, specifically that they would prophesy (1 Cor 12:31, 14:1). He also wrote that his desire was for all believers to speak in tongues (1 Cor 14:5). Was his intent for beleivers to have these so-called “showy” gifts to authenticate the gospel? No, in fact, he stated that the express purpsoe of these and other spiritual gifts was to build up the church (1 Cor 12:7, 14:12; Eph 4:12-13). Is there any question that the church still needs building up today?

By way of observation, it seems that within the evangelical church, signs and wonders are seemingly normative in some denominations and yet rarely if ever seen in others. Cessastionists cover their bases by pointing out that the churches that in any way promote signs and wonders are guilty of faulty theolgy and therefore should cease from seeking after or performing signs and wonders. On the other hand, continuationists resist being pulled into a circular theological debate and simply point to the fruit of those who have been healed through prayer, people who have had an evil spirit cast from them and are now in their right minds, and/or to those who have come to faith in Jesus as a result of the combination of boldly preaching the gospel and seeing signs and wonders performed by the power of God.