Authority: Authority and Miracles

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

While we continue to examine the doctrine of authority it is important to see how it relates to another immensely popular part of the Christian life.  The doctrine of authority speaks directly to the doctrine of miracles.  Unfortunately, the connection between authority and allegedly miraculous activity is rarely, if ever, made by today’s Evangelical.  I would strongly recommend that B.B. Warfield’s “Counterfeit Miracles” be a part of every Christian’s library.  Buy it and read it.  Warfield conclusively proves (and I presuppose here) that miraculous (or “charismatic”) activity ceased with the end of the apostolic age and the close of the canon of Scripture.  (I will go into more detail about the “cessation of the charismata” in the essay entitled “Evangelical Heresies”.)  For our purposes here, the connection between authority and miracles needs to be understood.

It is a sickening thing to watch modern health and prosperity preachers rail on and on about the miracles they are supposedly able to perform for anyone who is foolish enough to send them money.  These charlatans cash in on the doctrinal ignorance and personal desperation of the masses of people who are looking for an easy escape from life’s hardships.  Make no mistake about it, all of their alleged miracles are counterfeit!  The only thing that is miraculous about what the televangelists are able to do is how they can continue to fleece the personally desperate and doctrinally ignorant of their money.  We need to understand a bit about miracles before we examine their connection to authority.

First, miracles occur with relative infrequency throughout history.  This comes as a complete surprise to Evangelicals who have been taught to believe that miracles happen several times per day to every believer on the face of the earth.  The whole of Scripture history encompasses about 4000 years, with an additional 2000 years since the close of the canon.  During that 4000 year period of scriptural history, the total number of miracles performed is very small when compared to the number of years, or days, when miracles could have taken place.  Long periods of time passed with absolutely no miraculous activity whatsoever.  The period of time between the testaments (about 400 years) had no verifiable miraculous activity.  The conception, expounded by today’s false preachers, that miraculous activity is normative in the life of all true believers throughout the history of the Church is clearly erroneous.  Most of God’s people lived their entire lives without ever witnessing a genuine biblical miracle.

Second, miracles were never primarily performed to make God’s people more healthy, wealthy, or wise.  The primary purpose for a miracle will be explained in a moment.  For now, consider the fact that prosperity preachers are totally wrong when they assert that God wants to perform miracles to feed the flesh of His people.  That conception of miracles is utter nonsense.  God promises that the lives of His followers will be harder, not easier, when they seek to obey His will.  Jesus warned His followers that they would lose everything and suffer hardship, not experience financial prosperity, when they took up their crosses and followed Him.  Jesus told the apostle Paul that he would have to suffer greatly on His behalf throughout his ministry.  A Christian today should not have the expectation that God is going to feed his flesh by means of miraculous deliverances from poverty and disease.  Death and disease are the necessary consequences of our sin.  Death and disease will continue to reign in our mortal bodies until Jesus returns to conqueror them at the time of His final coming and our bodily resurrections.

Third, Jesus rebuked the people for their craving for miracles and would often perform them as an act of judgment against them.  John 4:48 records where Jesus said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”  Matthew 12:39 records Jesus as saying, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet…”  Indeed, just a few days earlier Jesus had reproached the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, two cities in which He had performed magnificent miracles, that “…if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.”  Clearly Jesus is telling them that the miracles He had performed on their behalf were going to serve as witnesses against them in a time of future judgment.

Miracles are Signs Attesting to Authority

The word most frequently translated as “miracle” in the New Testament literally means “attesting sign”.  The fact that a miracle is a sign is easy to understand.  However, what is the miracle attesting to?  The answer to that question is authority.  A miracle attests to the God given authority of the person who is performing it.  The primary purpose of a miracle is to get the attention of the people for the purpose of dramatically illustrating that the person performing the miracle has the authority of God and is there to bring the revelation of God’s will to them.  All of the other “benefits” of miraculous activity are secondary to this primary purpose.

Throughout scriptural history God has sent His prophets to reveal His will to His people.  The job of the prophet has always been to deliver the revelation of God to His people.  In order to dramatically obtain the attention of the people, the ability to perform miracles was also given to the prophets.  Given the sinfulness of human nature, the people would frequently focus upon the miraculous activity and ignore the message.  That reality was true of the Jews while they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  They remembered all the miracles that took place but they just couldn’t seem to remember that God’s law prohibited the practice of idolatry.   The tendency to remember the miraculous and forget the message was also the primary reason Jesus rebuked the people of His time for “craving” miracles while they ignored the message that He was preaching.  In the New Testament, the apostles were empowered to perform miracles (at Pentecost) in order to attest to their authority as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They were not given power to perform miracles in order to start a healing ministry, or to raise funds for evangelism, or to help the people who were physically or emotionally hurting.  The miracles they would perform (such as the execution of Ananias and Sapphira) were designed to get the attention of the people so the people would listen to the message of repentance from dead works they were about to preach.

When Paul had to defend his apostleship to the Corinthians, he says this, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”  (II Cor 12:12) The “signs of a true apostle” were miracles.  The miracles that Paul performed were not designed to make his listeners feel better about themselves.  The miracles that Paul performed were designed to attest to the authority that God had given him to preach to the Gentiles the Gospel of Christ.  Furthermore, the miracles themselves were not the focus of Paul’s ministry.  It is incomprehensible that Paul would approve of a dog and pony show showcasing his ability to do miracles as a means of raising funds or preaching an evangelistic sermon.  It is impossible to believe that any apostle would ever have made the performance of miracles into the center of any of their preaching services.  The miracles they performed attested to their authority as apostles.  That served as an executive order to those present that God was in the house and it was time to listen to what He had to say, through His designated representatives.

A dearth of understanding of the tie between miracles and representative authority has brought us to the point where the charismatic heresy runs rampant in the Church (more on that in “Evangelical Heresies”).  As a result, individual believers in the Church remain in a perpetually infantile spiritual state.  They crave the milk of miracles and gag on the meat of biblical preaching.  Reprehensibly, there are plenty of false preachers who are quick to capitalize on this reality and make very nice incomes consuming the flesh of God’s people.  I do not expect the false prophets to repent.  They have way too much to gain financially.  I do expect true elders to repent.  True elders need to repent of their cowardice, evidenced by their  refusal to discipline these false prophets out of the Church.

A common type of miracle that is recorded in the New Testament is the casting out of demons from individuals.  When Jesus commissioned the seventy to go out and preach the Gospel of His Kingdom, they returned to Him marveling that they had been given authority over the demons.  That raises an interesting question and introduces the last topic we have to discuss in our consideration of the doctrine of authority.

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