Having the person and work of our Lord at the forefront – of anything – is always good. And Christ’s once for all finished work for our salvation invites examination of the controversial subject of CESSATIONISM.
Cessationism is the doctrine that the miraculous signs done by Christ and the men God chose to preach Him and His gospel have ceased.
(Some bristle at this idea, believing it asserts that God is limited in what He CAN do. That is a straw man. Cessationism addresses what the God Who is able to accomplish all His holy and perfect purpose has told us He WILL do. In other words, cessationism does not deny God’s almighty power nor His ability to reveal whatever He desires.)
That group of chosen men included Moses, Elijah and others who lived on the other side of the cross, as well as the apostles and a few others like Agabus and Luke who lived on our side of it. That group is no longer inducting members. Therefore prophecy narrowly defined as a spiritual gift (charisma) through which God communicated divinely authoritative, infallible words also has ceased. More below on that.
OK, so why this cessation? The term SIGNS is not used in vain in Scripture. Those miracles served to authenticate and confirm the divine commission which that Man and those men had from the Father to preach the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit:
1. See Exodus 4:1-9, 1 Kings 18:36-39, and 2 Kings 1:9-15. Also,
2. “He sent Moses His servant, and Aaron whom He had chosen. They performed His signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.” (Psalm 105:26,27)
3. “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him…” (John 12:37)
4. “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)
5. “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.” (Mark 16:20)
6. “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” (2 Corinthians 12:12)
7. “…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)
Even though chronologically the canon of the New Testament was not complete until several decades after our Lord’s ascension, its content exactly corresponds to His once for all finished work. There is nothing to be added to the work of Christ for our salvation. Hence there is nothing to be added to the documentation of Christ’s work for our salvation.
In a nutshell, God’s general self revelation by creation is universal, perpetual, and enduring. It leaves men without excuse for not honoring Him and giving Him thanks. But His special self revelation, having its zenith in Christ and documented by the closed canon of Scripture, has ceased. What an angel told Daniel, which that wise and learned man struggled to understand, concerned events which were yet to come for him but which are long past for us:
“Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24)
The Most Holy there is Jesus the anointed One, the Christ. It is Jesus Who already has “made an end of sins, made reconciliation for iniquity, brought in everlasting righteousness, and sealed up vision and prophecy.” What even that choice servant Daniel perceived but dimly, the new covenant believer sees clearly, cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12.
Christians who affirm the precious truth of the infallibly authoritative inerrancy of the God-breathed Bible often cite a great verse, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” but perhaps they fail to recognize the profound significance of the very next verse: “…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
Paul is writing to his ministerial protege, his son in the Lord. But in a sense the apostle’s expression “the man of God” refers to every believer, for we all are called to be students and proclaimers of the Word according to our varying gifts, callings, and abilities.
So, having the authoritative, infallible, inerrant, God-breathed Scriptures and the indwelling Spirit to illumine them, every believer (and if one doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His, Rom. 8:9) is spiritually equipped with all he needs for life, ministry, and godliness.
No doubt God will have much, much more to reveal about Himself when we get to the celestial city. In fact, one glory of Heaven is the prospect of unending growth in the knowledge of the One Whose being is infinite and eternal.
“When we’ve been there 10,000 years” not only will we have no less days to sing His praise, but no less days to be forever and ever plumbing the riches of the bottomless depths of God…ascending to the splendors of the exhilarating heights of God which have no summit! Hallelujah! After 10,000 to the 10,000th power billions of eons, we will still be only scratching the surface of what it means to know God and His love which surpasses knowledge.
But for now, what Christian can claim even to have begun to master what God has already given us in the Bible? Why would Father give us more when we haven’t taken in and fully digested what He has already given? We have that fullness of equipment per 2 Tim. 3, but are we familiar with or even beginning to use more than a fraction of it? Let’s learn how to ride a bicycle before we try to pilot the next space mission.
Then is God now silent, a mute and distant deity who does not communicate? NO WAY! He speaks to us through that inspired Word known as the holy Bible, once for all given with confirming signs – corresponding to Christ’s once for all atoning work.
Does He hear and answer prayer, do extraordinary works of healing and provision we might call miracles or divine intervention (as if He wasn’t in control of all the contexts of every so called intervention)? Of course.
Do we have intimate fellowship with Him as the indwelling Holy Spirit illumines the precious written Word to us, the living stones who are the body of Christ, the Father’s forever family, the dwelling place of God in the Spirit? Absolutely.
Are the children of God led by the Spirit of God? Yes.
The doctrine of the cessation of verbal revelation and its accompanying signs does not inveigh against this precious heritage of the people of God. Expressly to contrary, it affirms it by giving us its “parameters” – its Scriptural nature and character per passages like Romans 8, Gal. 4:6, and 1 Peter 1 (key in on verse 8).
Now to address prophecy more expressly. In 1 Cor. 13:8 we read that prophecy shall:
1. fail, KJV and NKJV
2. cease, NIV and ESV
3. gifts of prophecy, they will be done away, NASB.
BlueLetterBible.org’s primary definition of the pertinent Greek word is “to render idle, unemployed, inactivate, inoperative.”
However, the word prophecy has broad meaning, i.e. not limited to utterances that came via that special gift (charisma). Here it is helpful distinguish FOREtelling from FORTHtelling.
Expository preaching is the chief form of forthtelling prophecy; the kind of prophecy that has not ceased. Today’s faithful preacher rightly divides the Word of God in studious, prayerful preparation then holds it forth in public Christian worship or other gatherings. So do other teachers in the body of Christ. Parents rightly nurturing their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord prophesy in that way as well. So do we all as we obey the many injunctions in the Bible to encourage, exhort, comfort, and counsel one another.
Yes, specific future events foretold by God’s holy men are recorded in Scripture. Examples: At the word of the LORD, Isaiah tells king Hezekiah that his life will continue for 15 more years. Daniel wrote what the angel told him would happen centuries in Daniel’s future. Christ predicted His imminent death and resurrection, and the more distantly future desolation and destruction of Jerusalem (in His Olivet discourse – Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), which occurred some 40 years after His ascension. Not one stone of that temple was left on top of another just as Jesus foretold. But He began to build and is building another eternal temple…
Normally, foretelling has a conditional aspect. Jonah foretold that Nineveh would be overthrown in forty days, but an amazing city-wide repentance prevented it. No doubt the overthrow otherwise would have occurred.
The church at Ephesus evidently repented when the One Who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands rebuked them for losing their first love, and threatened to remove their lampstand if they did not repent. The lampstand remained – at least for a time. But their repentence was evidently temporary as was that of Nineveh, which after Jonah’s time was overthrown.
Moreover, Biblical prophecy of the foretelling kind is never merely to satisfy the curiosity of those who want to know the future. That’s the occult business of mediums and fortune tellers, whom the children of God are to avoid like the plague (Cf. Lev. 20:27, Deut. 18:10-12). It is not good that some think of Scripture as a “crystal book” the way some regard a crystal ball.
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.’ ” (Acts 1:6,7)
That seems crystal clear. Future times and seasons are not for us to know. We walk by faith, not sight. We would all be better off having the mindset of Moses:
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Or of the Psalmist:
“…LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.” (from Psalm 131)
So when there is foretelling in Scripture, it is primarily to motivate people to repentance and on to godliness and holiness, not to divulge those secret things which belong to God…things which are not for us to know. Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4. Paul either could not or would not tell of certain things shown to him…
An observation concerning the Bible’s last book is offered. The way it is so often called “revelationS,” plural, reveals (excuse the pun) that many Christians think of the book as a kind of smorgasbord of mysterious future predictions…a baptized tarot deck so to speak. Grab a passage, any passage! I will declare it means X, Y, or Z while another babbler insists it means A, B, or C.
The book’s very first words blow this approach out of the water: “THE Revelation (SINGULAR) of Jesus Christ…”The Greek word is transliterated APOKALIPSIS, apocalypse in English, which means unveiling..disclosure. The purpose of the book is to reveal JESUS, not to tantalize us into seeking codes, obscure meanings, the timing of future events, etc.
The Apocalypse is jam packed with Old Testament imagery and concepts which some in their ignorance have completely overlooked and gone hermeneutically astray. To delve into them is beyond our purpose here, to search the Scriptures concerning the matter addressed by these closing citations from them.
“…the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)
“Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5,6)
“…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…” (the Lord Jesus Christ, per Revelation 22:18)