Signs, Miracles, and Wonders

In his excellent and helpful book Concise Theology, J.I. Packer writes:

“Belief in the miraculous is integral to Christianity. Theologians who discard all miracles, thus obliging themselves to deny Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection, the supreme miracles of Scripture, should not claim to be Christians: the claim is not valid. The rejection of miracles by yesterday’s scientists sprang not from science but from the dogma of a universe of absolute uniformity that scientists brought to their scientific work. There is nothing irrational about believing that God Who made the world can still intrude creatively into it.”

But that’s not the whole story on miracles. To say that God CAN do something is not to say that God WILL do something. God COULD cause a pound of solid gold to materialize out of thin air onto your kitchen table. But God has given us no reason to suppose that He WILL do that.

And that drives us back to His written word, from which the child of God learns what God has done and will do according to His eternal purpose. Through His apostle, the Holy Spirit expresses it this way:

“…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9,10)

The earthly work of Christ, His once for all sacrifice of Himself through His bloody death followed by His earthly burial and glorious resurrection, is finished. And it is the only grounds of His ongoing work from Heaven at the Father’s right hand, that “gathering together in one,” already begun through the power of the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven.

And that brings us back to miracles. Throughout both testaments, God did miraculous works as signs authenticating (proving, testifying to) the messages He gave through His prophets and apostles. The Bible is the infallible record of those messages and attending signs.

In other words, the Biblical miracles had a very specific purpose. The old covenant scriptures foreshadowed and pointed ahead to Christ’s work. The new covenant scriptures tell of its historical accomplishment and fully expound its salvific meaning. Signs were done by God’s spokesmen of both testaments, including the Lord Jesus (cf. John 10:38), as proof that they were indeed speaking for God. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

“…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a 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 both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Hebrews 2:3,4)

In our zeal to defend the inerrant infallibility of the inspired, holy scriptures using 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” let us not overlook what the very next verse says: “…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Nothing can be added to Christ’s once for all sacrifice. Likewise, God will not add any more inspired words about that once for all sacrifice; all we need to know is in the Bible already. Hence there is no further need for authenticating signs such as those worked by Moses, Elijah, Jesus, or His apostles. Having the holy Bible, the Church of Jesus is complete with all we need for life and godliness and every good work until He returns. There are no private sequels to the Bible.

At the coming day of Christ’s appearing, God’s self-revelation will indeed resume and continue eternally! There will be an everlasting, adoring feast of new discoveries about His incomprehensibly glorious being, the infinite wisdom of His eternal purpose, and the unfathomable depths of His redeeming love. A child must master his A-B-C’s before he moves on to the great classics of literature. Even so, we now have God’s written word; there will be no new divine literature, so to speak, until He comes Who said this:

“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book…” (Revelation 22:18)

So is that the whole story on miracles? Do any miracles happen today? If we mean signs authenticating alleged special (verbal) divine revelation equal to what we have in the sixty-six books of the Bible, NO. If we mean extraordinary works of God’s providence (commonly called divine intervention), healings in answer to prayer for which medical science can give no account, and other such wonders absolutely YES!

Let’s be concise in our theology indeed. In God’s intimate, loving care for His people, He will do miraculous wonders that surprise and amaze and generate profuse thankfulness. But since Jesus proclaimed “It is finished,” since the revelation of the plan of salvation is complete, there is no more need for the miraculous signs which authenticated its revelation. Our call is to faithfully proclaim what already has been revealed once for all.

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