WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF MIRACLES?
by Guy Caskey
Among many churches of Christendom, the claim is made that miraculous powers—such as healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, speaking in tongues, and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit—continue with God's people today. Each denomination insists that it receives this power directly from God and bases its claim for genuineness upon examples and cases of miracles which, it is contended, still occur and serve to confirm their assertion. But each religious group preaches a different doctrine which conflicts with that taught by another group that makes the same claim to work miracles. They are in strong opposition to and in irreconcilable disagreement with one another, and yet each claims to work miracles by God's power and divine character. Surely, it can be seen that God does not confirm with signs the preaching of one sect, while at the same time, he is confirming with the same miracles the opposite and contradictory doctrines proclaimed by another sect. This would make God inconsistent and the author of confusion. We know that He is not.
Who Had Power to Work Miracles?
1. Jesus. During the Lord's ministry upon the earth, He performed many miracles. "… For this Man works many signs" (John 11:47). "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee" (John 2:11). He opened the eyes of the blind (Matthew 9:27-30), unstopped the ears of the deaf, loosed the tongue of the mute (Mark 7:32-35), caused the lame man to leap as a hart (Isaiah 35:6) and raised the dead (Matthew 11:5, John 11:43, 44). While he had compassion on men who were diseased and unfortunate, His primary reason for performing these miracles was to prove that He was indeed Christ, the Son of God. "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30, 31).
2. The Apostles. The Lord promised His apostles the power to work miracles. "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons …" (Matthew 10:7, 8). He assured them of additional power. "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endured with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father 'which,' he said, 'you heard from Me' … 'But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth' " (Acts 1:4-8). On the first Pentecost, after the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and gave them this power to work miracles and speak in languages which they had not learned (Acts 2:1-11). One has but to read with some observation the Acts of the Apostles to learn that these men selected by Jesus to be His witnesses, His personal representatives, received power to work many and various miracles. Paul said to the Corinthians, "Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you…" (II Corinthians 12:12). "And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people …" (Acts 5:12).
3. Those on whom the apostles laid their hands. Certain ones in the church of the first century received miraculous gifts by the "laying on of the apostles hands." Seven godly men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, were selected by the church and appointed by the apostles to do a special work in the church at Jerusalem—to distribute food and clothing to some widows who had been overlooked. These men were "… set before the apostles: and when they prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Acts 6:1-6). One of these men, Philip, later worked miracles as he preached the gospel in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:6). "And the people with one accord gave heed unto the things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." But Philip did not have the power to impart these miraculous gifts to others (Acts 8:16). This belonged exclusively to the apostles. Not until Peter and John, apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, came to Samaria did any of the Christians there receive miraculous gifts, or the power to work miracles. "Then laid they their hands (Peter and John) on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given …" (Acts 8:17, 18).
In many places in the New Testament, we are reminded that the transmission of this miraculous power to others belonged solely to the apostles. When Paul came to Ephesus, he found there certain ones who had been baptized unto John's baptism. He taught them the truth about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and they were immediately baptized into Christ. "… And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues (languages) and prophesied" (Acts 19:1-6). To the church in Rome, he wrote these words, "For I long to see you, that I [an apostle] may impart unto you some spiritual gift …" (Romans 1:11).
"Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (II Timothy 1:6).
Not all Christians in the early church received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul discussed this very lesson with the Corinthian church. "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (I Corinthians 12:29, 30)? The obvious answer is that all in the church did not exercise these miraculous gifts—only those on whom the apostles laid their hands.
Purpose of These Miracles
1. Miracles served the purpose of revealing the truth. "But the Helper, [one who stands by the side of] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). Jesus was getting ready to return to the Father, but He realized that the apostles would need some help in remembering and teaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. So He promised them a miraculous measure of the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He assured them that they would be taught all things by the Holy Spirit; and he would enable them to recall all that He taught them while He was with them. Without miraculous help, they would have been unable to do this. Jesus gave them the fullest assurance that they would be divinely assisted in what they should speak. "… do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say" (Luke 12:11, 12).
In further discussing with them the help they would receive from the Holy Spirit after he had gone back to heaven, Jesus said, "However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth …" (John 16:13). From these verses, we are shown that the Holy Spirit would: (1) Teach the apostles all things. (2) Bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had spoken to them. (3) Guide them into all truth.
Paul later spoke to the Corinthian church upon this same topic, in these words: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory" (I Corinthians 2:7). In verse 10, he continues with this thought: "But God revealed them to us through His Spirit." This is what Jesus promised to do. The gospel was revealed unto the apostles by the Holy Spirit and they preached all that Jesus commanded. They did it without error. To the Ephesian Christians he said that the unsearchable riches of Christ "… as it has now been revealed by the Spirit … that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body …" (Ephesians 3:5, 6).
The apostles, in turn, preached the word which they had received from the Lord. "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God …" (I Thessalonians 2:13).
Note one other passage which states that the Holy Spirit revealed the truth unto the apostles, "To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven …" (I Peter 1:12)
2. Miracles served to confirm and verify the truth.When Jesus sent the apostles out on the Great Commission, it is said, "And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs" (Mark 16:20).
It should be well understood that the New Testament was not written at this time, and so miracles attended them to establish and corroborate the gospel message they preached. The miracles served to support with evidence the divine authority by which they proclaimed Christ. The Hebrew writer said that the great salvation, "… which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness [corroborated their testimony] both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit …" (Hebrews 2:3, 4). These were supernatural proofs by which the truth was established—shown to be genuine and authentic. The inspired truth was written down, committed to record, by those providentially prepared men whom the Lord selected. Now you and I have access to the truth that was revealed and confirmed (John 20:30, 31; II Timothy 3:16, 17). Once the truth had been revealed and established by miraculous power, there was no further need for the exercise or use of that power. Jesus said all of the truth would be revealed to the apostles by the Holy Spirit. Further revelation of truth is impossible. The truth which the apostles preached was completely verified, and no man can further prove it. It can be preached, but it was proved almost two thousand years ago.
Were Miracles to Continue?
Listen to Paul as he discusses this subject with the Corinthians: "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect [complete] has come, then that which is in part will be done away" (I Corinthians 13:8-10).
God's will was revealed by the Holy Spirit only a part of the time, "bit by bit." A full and complete revelation was not made known to the apostles at once. Miraculous powers such as prophecies, foreign languages and supernatural knowledge, were some of the means by which the gospel was revealed and confirmed. But when the gospel system was completely revealed, miracles had served their purpose and came to an end.
But it is observed that the "prefect" to which Paul refers does not mean the will of God, but the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the "Perfect One." But this is not the case. When Paul said "When the perfect—to teleion is come," he used the neuter gender. Jesus Christ is not neuter gender. He is masculine. In speaking of the will of God in Hebrews 10:9, 10, the inspired writer employs the neuter gender. "He taketh away the first that he may establish the second. By that will [to thelma] we have been sanctified …" The word for perfect means "brought to completion; fully accomplished, fully developed, complete, entire, as opposed to what is partial and limited" (I Corinthians 13:10, Analytical Greek Lexicon). So, when God's revelation to man was completed, "fully developed, entire," there was no further need for miracles. They had served their purpose and come to an end — were "done away." We now have the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25).
"…'When he ascended on high, He led captivity captive, gave gifts unto men.' " These miraculous gifts, bestowed for the purpose of revealing and confirming the will of God, were distributed to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The reason for their bestowal was "the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:8-13). "The faith" is the entire gospel system.
Jude speaks of it as "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). These miraculous gifts were to last until "the faith" was completed, until it became one unit. Once it was made whole, finished, fully developed, the miracles which had been responsible for its revelation and confirmation passed away. That revelation was completed in A.D. 96, when the apostle John finished the last letter. Since that day, there has been no need for miracles. We have the word of God, all of the truth into which the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit, and it is to govern us in all of our beliefs and practices.
No New Truth
One must not change, alter, or corrupt the gospel as it was preached by the apostles (Galatians 1:6-9). If anyone goes on and does not abide in the teaching which is from Christ he does not have God (II John 9). We are warned that if we speak, we must speak as the words of God (I Peter 4:11). Jesus Christ has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). The scriptures are able to furnish us unto every good work (II Timothy 3:16, 17). It is not only dangerous but damning to add to or subtract from the word of God (Revelation 22:18, 19). There have been no new revelations through these past two thousand years since the close of the New Testament. There is no such thing as an additional revelation, or a progressional revelation. The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth, and we have the truth revealed and confirmed today in the New Testament, the perfect will of God (Romans 12:1, 2).