I. THE PURPOSE OF MIRACLES
In the Greek New Testament three words are used to refer to the manifestation of the supernatural in the sphere of human activity. The inherent dominant idea of one of these words is that of a marvelthat which amazes; of the second, that of powers, manifestations in a special way of the presence of God; and of the third, that of a sign, indicating some purpose for which the miracle is wrought. In other words, the miracle is looked upon as evidence, signifying some spiritual fact. In the history of Israel, whenever God, so to speak, came out in the open and performed miracles on a large scale, He allowed Satan to do likewise. But He always put a limit upon the devil's activity in order that there might be left to the people a margin for the exercise of faith. In all of these demonstrations of supernatural power, the men of God excelled and made it manifest that the power which was working through them was superior to that which was operating through the false prophets, magicians, and those dabbling with the occult.
A thorough study of the subject of miracles in both the Old and the New Testament leads one to the conclusion that miracles were primarily wrought to arrest the attention of the people so that they would listen to the Word of God, which alone can produce faith in the heart of the honest truthseeker: "So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17).II. THE MIRACLES OF JESUS, HIS CREDENTIALS
When miracles are wrought constantly, they become commonplace and soon lose their power of attracting attention. This fact is clearly seen by investigating the miracles God wrought at the time of Israel's exodus from Egyptian bondage. Moses and Aaron appeared before the children of Israel and performed certain miracles which caught the attention of their elders for the time being. Then they appeared before Pharaoh and performed the ten miraclesthe plagues wrought against Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Finally, after the death angel had passed over Egypt, Pharaoh consented, with the greatest reluctance, to let the Israelites leave the country. But when they started on their long trek, he sent his armies in an effort to restrain them and to force them to return.
Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea, which were divided and congealed by a miracle, and thus made a way of escape for the fleeing Hebrews. Attempting to follow, the Egyptians were drowned, because the waters were no longer held back by the power of God. The Almighty met the needs of Israel on their forty-five days' journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai He performed most marvelous miracles and signs in connection with the giving of the law. After the people of Israel had stayed nearly a year at Sinai, they made the eleven-day journey through the desert to Kadesh-Barnea, where they encamped. From this place Moses sent forth twelve leaders to spy out the land of Canaan and to obtain all information possible regarding the condition of the land and the possibility of Israel's entering and taking possession of it. During the trek of the Israelites from Egypt by way of Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea, God sent a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. He also provided them with food and water.
When the twelve leaders returned from spying out the land, ten of them reported that it was impossible for the Israelites to enter the country and take possession of it. Two of them, Caleb and Joshua, declared that they could and should immediately go into and possess the land. As a result of the discouraging majority report, a murmuring arose at once among the people. Soon there was an outburst of rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaronand also against God. And the people said, "... Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Num. 14:4). Joshua and Caleb tried to calm the people and to reason with them, but to no avail. The aroused congregation shouted that Caleb and Joshua should be stoned (Num. 14:4-10). But God spoke to Moses and Aaron:
11 And Jehovah said unto Moses, How long will this people despise me? and how long will they not believe in me, for all the signs which I have wrought among them? 12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a nation greater and mightier than they (Num.14:11,12).
Circumstances show that miracles, mighty works of God, were being wrought every day and every hour in behalf of the Israelites. They, therefore, became commonplace in the eyes of the people, who lost sight of the person of the Almighty and doubtless attributed the entire situation to nature. Let me repeat: Though miracles have their purpose in arresting attention, they do not have the power to sustain faith. An example from the New Testament will prove this point. According to the record of John, chapter 6, one day Jesus fed five thousand men, besides women and children. The next day some of the people who had been fed met Him in Capernaum and asked Him to show them a sign in order to prove that He was the Messiah. Though He had performed that marvelous and wonderful sign of feeding the five thousandenough evidence to convince any honest heartthey did not have eyes to see. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Miracles, then, will not convince anyone when the heart is not right and is not open to conviction.
God had promised Israel that He would raise up prophets to them from time to time, but He warned that a prophet had to present his credentials before the people should give credence to what he said (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:22). Whenever a prophet appeared to Israel, the people, in accordance with instructions as given by Moses, were to insist upon his performing a miracle. And after he had done so or had made a prediction that came to pass exactly as he had foretold, the people were to listen to the message which he brought. If, however, the prophet performed a miracle and, at the same time, urged the people to serve other gods, his performance of a miracle was not to be accepted as proof of his having been called of God. The final authority and power were in the message which was delivered. The people of Israel were right in demanding that Jesus show His credentials, and He did.III.THE MIRACLES OF JESUS IN VARIOUS SPHERES
Matthew 8:1-9:34 presents the credentials of Christ in three realmsof disease, of physical nature, and of the spirit worldin which He performed miracles to support His claims of being the Messiah of Israel.A. In the Realm of Disease
In Matthew 8:1-4 Christ heals a leper. Conscious of who He is and what He is doing, He touches the leper and says, "Be cleansed." Immediately the leprosy departs. Then He instructs the healed man to go to the authorities in Jerusalem and make the offering commanded by Moses for a testimony to them. Verses 5-13 is a record of His healing the servant of a Roman army officer, a centurion. Verses 14-17 relate that He not only healed Peter's mother-in-law of a fever, but also cast demons out of many people and cured all those who came to Him for healing.B. In the Realm of Nature
In connection with the healing ministry of Jesus, one should note that very frequently He urged a person whom He had healed to say nothing about the cure, lest the people in their great excitement think of healing instead of salvation. He healed the diseases of the people because in Isaiah 53:4 the prediction is made that He would bear their sicknesses. Healing is in the Atonement. By the blood of His cross, all things are reconciled unto God (Col. 1:18-20). Though healing is not universal today, it will be at the coming of the Lord, according to many Scriptures.
According to Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus went with the disciples across the sea of Galilee to the east side. After the boat had left the shore, Jesus went to sleep. While He was thus resting, there arose a great tempest. The winds were dashing the waves over the boat. It looked as if all in the boat would perish. The disciples immediately went to Jesus and awoke Him, begging Him to save them, and saying that they were perishing. Jesus reprimanded them for their lack of faith and for their fear. Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the waves. Immediately there was a great calm. Thus He who controls the elements calmed the storm.C. In the Realm of the Spirit-world
According to Matthew 8:28-34, when Jesus and His disciples arrived in the country of the Gadarenes, two men who lived in the tombs, and who were possessed by demons, came forth to meet them. The demons who indwelt the men cried out and asked Him if He had come to torment them before the time. They implored Him, moreover, that, if He sent them out of the men, He would allow them to enter into a drove of swine feeding nearby. Then Jesus commanded them to leave. Immediately they entered into the swine. Then these hogs ran down the steep embankment and were drowned in the sea.IV. A BRIEF STUDY OF DEMONISM
The people of the community were awe-stricken and amazed. They were thinking, however, more of swine's flesh, profits, and material possessions than they were of things spiritual. Hence they begged Jesus to leave their country and not to bother them, and He did.
That there is such a thing as demon possession, or Satanic powers, operating in the lives of certain disobedient people, is manifest both by the Old and the New Testament. One of the most thorough discussions of demonology is by my friend Dr. Unger, of the Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.
The Scriptures recognize the existence of Satan, the archenemy of God, and of all that is good, who led a revolt among the angels of the Almighty. Satan and these rebellious angels were hurled, figuratively speaking, from their high positions of honor and trust. They constitute the kingdom of darkness that wages everlasting warfare against God and His Kingdom.A. Demons Opposing Moses
Here and there in the Scriptures are references to these malevolent spirits and some of their activities. When Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, demanding the release of the Hebrew captives, the God of Israel gave them as their credentials the power to perform miracles. The first one wrought was turning a literal rod into a living serpent. The second miracle was turning the water of the rivers, pools, streams, and ponds into blood. But Pharaoh would not hearken. Then, at the command of Moses, frogs came up out of the waters and filled the entire landa mighty plague. When Moses and Aaron performed each of these miracles, the magicians and enchanters of Egypt duplicated these wonders.
The fourth miracle which Moses and Aaron wrought was bringing lice upon the land of Egypt. At this point in the contest between Moses and the magicians, the latter, figuratively speaking, threw up their hands, admitting candidly that they were unable to duplicate this miracle.
It was quite evident that Moses and Aaron performed the miracles which they wrought by the power of the God of the Hebrews. It is also clear that the magicians by some other mighty power duplicated the first three miracles wrought by Moses and Aaron. By what power did the magicians perform their miracles? Certainly not by the power of God, because they were opposing Him and Moses and Aaron, His representatives. This mighty power was able to convert the rods of the magicians into living serpents and to bring forth frogs, living creatures, from the rivers throughout the land of Egypt. Evidently such power or powers consisted of intelligent, invisible creaturesevil spirits.
Further light on these subjects is shown by a glance at certain passages found in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses repeatedly warned Israel against the idolatry of the nations living in Canaan whom they were to dispossess. See Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and parallel passages. He likewise warned them against every phase of witchcraft and sorcery, and the like. See Deuteronomy 18:9-14 and related Scriptures. By reading all the passages uttered by Moses on these subjects, one can clearly see that in the mind of Moses idolatry and spiritism are indissolubly associated. In Deuteronomy 32:16-18 Moses clearly revealed this connection:
16 They moved him to jealousy with strange gods;
With abominations provoked they him to anger.
17 They sacrificed unto demons, which were no God,
To gods that they knew not,
To new gods that came up of late,
Which your fathers dreaded not.
18 Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful,
And hast forgotten God that gave thee birth.
From this passage it is clear that in worshiping idols, one is worshiping demons. This explanation is confirmed by the following quotation:
34 They did not destroy the peoples,
As Jehovah commanded them,
35 But mingled themselves with the nations,
And learned their works,
36 And served their idols,
Which became a snare unto them.
37 Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons,
38 And shed innocent blood,
Even the blood of their sons and of their daughters,
Whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan;
And the land was polluted with blood (Ps. 106:34-38).
From these passages and others which might be studied, it is evident that in the law of Moses demonism is recognized and exposed.B. Demons Sent on Certain Missions by Jehovah
Again we get a glimpse of the spirit world in Judges 9:23: "And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech."C. Demons Hindering Angels
Once again there flashes a light upon the world of evil spirits in I Samuel 16:14: "Now the Spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him." The same situation is seen in I Samuel 18:10,11: "And it came to pass on the morrow, that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as he did day by day. And Saul had his spear in his hand; 11 and Saul cast the spear; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall. And David avoided out of his presence twice." When this evil spirit was upon Saul, he endeavored to slay David, whose music was the only thing that had brought peace and tranquility to his troubled soul. His attempt to slay his benefactor was an illogical and irrational act. Evidently this evil spirit was dominating his mind and actions. Once more we get a glimpse of the world of evil spirits in I Kings 22:19-23:
19 And Micaiah said, Therefore hear thou the word of Jehovah: I saw Jehovah sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. 20 And Jehovah said, Who shall entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner; and another said on that manner. 21 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Jehovah, and said, I will entice him. 22 And Jehovah said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt entice him, and shalt prevail also: go forth, and do so. 23 Now therefore, behold, Jehovah hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets; and Jehovah hath spoken evil concerning thee.
These evil spirits here are none other than demons who are under Satan, the prince of demons.
In Daniel, chapter 10, is a very illuminating revelation concerning the world of evil spirits in their opposition to the Kingdom of God. According to this revelation, Daniel prayed to the Lord. When he did so, setting his heart to understand and to humble himself before his God, his prayer was heard:D. Demon Activity in the Days of Jesus
12 Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel; for from the first day that thou didst set thy heart to understand, and to humble thyself before thy God, thy words were heard: and I am come for thy words' sake. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days; but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia (Dan. 10:12,13).
The very day that he uttered this petition, an angel was dispatched by the Lord to him. As the angel sped from heaven to earth, he was intercepted by the "prince of the kingdom of Persia" and detained for twenty-one days. Finally Michael the archangel came to his rescue and fought off the opposition, allowing the angel to continue his Journey to Daniel's side.
The New Testament recognizes the existence of Satan and demons and their activities. The first mention of demon possession and activity is found in a brief reference in Matthew 4:24. In Matthew 8:28-34 is an account of the Gadarene demoniacs. These men were completely under the control of demons and were a terror to the whole countryside. The demons by whom they were possessed recognized Jesus as the Son of God, who will eventually consign them to the place of torment. They, moreover, pleaded that, if He intended to cast them out of the men, He would allow them to enter a herd of swine. Jesus permitted them to go into the swine, which rushed down the cliff into the sea and perished. The citizens of the community implored Jesus to leave their shores. He did so and left them to their fate.E. Demons and Idolatry in Israel of the End Time
For a fuller and more graphic account of this case of demon possession, see the parallel passage in Mark 5:1-20.
Two other instances of Christ's casting out demons are recorded in Matthew 12:22-37 and 17:14-20. Further examples of demon possession and activities are recorded in Acts of the Apostles.
As the last passage from the Prophets on the subject of evil spirits, or demons, see Zechariah 13:1-6, but note especially verses 2 and 3:F. Demons Warring Against the Saints
2 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered; and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. 3 And it shall come to pass that, when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of Jehovah; and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.
Here is a prophecy concerning the land of Israel of the end time and of the prevalence of idolatry and demonism. This prediction concerning idolatry in Israel is no surprise to the one who is familiar with the writings of Moses, who foretold that Israel, scattered among the nations, would worship idols: "And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell" (Deut. 4:28). Since Israel dispersed among the nations has never engaged in worshiping idols, and since in this passage the prediction is made that the nation will, one may be certain that this prophecy will be literally fulfilled in the end time. This interpretation is confirmed by the context of Deuteronomy 4:28, which immediately speaks of Israel's turning to God in the latter days (vv. 29-31).
Satan and the demons, as suggested above, constitute the kingdom of darknessthoroughly organized and alarmingly efficient in operation. This fact is seen in Ephesians 6:10-20:G. Demon Activity in the Last Days
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, 19 and on my behalf, that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
The inspired Apostle Paul informs us that our wrestling is not with men, but with these evil spirits who are ever vigilant in their fight against the people of God. He, moreover, shows the only method of successfully fighting against the enemy. Man in his own strength will fail. He, therefore, must be made strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Each born-again believer must put on the whole armor of God and fight in the strength which God supplies. If one will follow these instructions and resist the devil and his host, they will flee.
7 Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded (Jas. 4:7, 8).
5 Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; 7 casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you (I Pet. 5:5-10).
Satan and the evil spirits are especially active in these dark days, as foretold by the Apostle Paul:
4 But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 through the hypocrisy of men, that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth (I Tim. 4:1-3).
According to this passage, a person who wants truth must be on his guard lest seducing spirits palm off upon him their doctrines.
According to Revelation 12:7-12, the time will come when Satan will put forth a titanic effort of persecution against the people of God, but they can be victorious through the blood of the Lamb and through the word of their testimony.
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; 8 and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. 10 And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying,
Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death. 12 Therefore rejoice, 0 heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time (Rev. 12:7-12).