There are those who want to deny that Jesus is God. They teach that only the Father is God and that He alone is one true and living God but Jesus is just a man, albeit an anointed man used by God and even the Messiah but certainly not divine. These groups will often claim that they hold that Jesus is the true Messiah and that He was born of the virgin Mary by the power of God but they deny that He was God or even claimed to be God. Some of them believe Jesus was the Son of God but not eternally existent with the Father and distinct from the Father in any way. The Oneness Pentecostals, for example, deny that the Son of God is eternal but rather that He came to exist in Bethlehem (Luke 1:35; Galatians 4:4).
You’ll find many of the Hebrews Roots Movement teachers denying that Jesus is God. They hold to modalism but only that Yahweh is God but not Yeshua. They teach that Jesus is the Messiah but He was not God nor did He claim to be God. They view Jesus as anointed by Yahweh and the servant of Yahweh but He is not Yahweh and He is not divine. Jesus is our example, a mighty prophet of God, the Messiah sent by Yahweh, but Jesus is not divine in their teachings. They believe this protects the monotheism of Judaism and does not elevate a man above Yahweh.
Others teach, like the Oneness Pentecostals but in different terms, that the Father alone is God. They point out the word of Jesus in such passages as Mark 12:29-30 or John 20:17. It seems that Jesus is giving honor to the Father and alone to the Father thus He is not claiming equality with God nor is claiming to receive worship but He is pointing others to the Father who alone is God.
Let us briefly examine these claims.
Jesus Is Assigned Old Testament Designations of Yahweh.
When we compare the Old Testament texts with their New Testament fulfillment in Christ, we see that Jesus is indeed Yahweh. Consider Matthew 1:23 from Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 3:3 with Isaiah 40:3; John 3:31 with Psalm 97:9; John 12:38-41 with Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1; Acts 3:14 with 1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Corinthians 1:30 with Isaiah 43:24 and Jeremiah 23:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:8 with Psalm 24:7-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10 with Ecclesiastes 12:14; Ephesians 4:7-8 with Psalm 68:18; Philippians 2:9-11 with Isaiah 45:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 with Isaiah 2:10-19; Titus 2:13 with Hosea 1:7; Hebrews 1:8-9 with Psalm 45:6-7; Hebrews 13:20 with Isaiah 40:10-11; 1 Peter 3:15 with Isaiah 8:13; Revelation 1:17 with Isaiah 44:6.
Jesus Is Superior to Men and Angels.
Jesus is above men and angels. He is not part of them. The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is Michael from the Old Testament. The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus the Son is but a man and not the eternal God. The Hebrews Roots Movement teaches that Jesus is a great prophet and even the Messiah of God but He is not God but is part of God’s creation. Consider these texts: John 1:17; Ephesians 1:19-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:17-18; Colossians 2:10; Hebrews 1:4-6, 13; Hebrews 2:5-8; Hebrews 3:3; 1 Peter 3:21-22; Revelation 1:5.
Jesus Receives Prayer, Praise, and Worship.
How can Jesus receive prayer, praise, and worship if He is not God? This would violate the clear teachings of the Old Testament that forbids the people of God from praying to anyone but Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 4:39; 5:7-9; 13:1-5; Isaiah 43:11; 44:6-8; 45:22; etc.). The Bible is clear that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and there are no other gods. So if Jesus received prayer, praise, and worship and He is not God, then men are praying, praising, and worshiping a man (even an exalted man by Yahweh but Yahweh alone is to receive worship). This would be utter blasphemy (as Muslims point out) if Jesus is just a prophet, just a created being, even just the Messiah. If Jesus is not God, why pray to Him or praise Him or worship Him? This would be sinful. Yet Scripture is clear that people did pray, praise, and worshipped Him:
Acts 3:16; 7:59-60; 22:16; Romans 1:7; 10:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9; Galatians 1:3-5; 6:18; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:10-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:2, 12; 2 Timothy 4:18, 23; Hebrews 1:6; 13:20-21; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 5:14; 7:9-10; 15:3-4.
Consider the strong words of Matthew 28:17, “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” The Apostles worshiped Jesus? These faithful Jewish men worshiped the Jewish Jesus.
One cannot read the New Testament and see that Jesus is distinct from His Father. He speaks of His Father, prays to His Father, and says that He has come to do the will of His Father. Jesus said that His food “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Jesus said that He does not nothing by His own initiative but He only spoke the things as His Father taught Him (John 8:28). Jesus said that He proceeds from the Father to do the Father’s will (John 8:42).
And on and on it goes. The Lord Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God, equal with the Father (John 10:30) but He is never said to be the Father. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet the Bible affirms that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:4-6). 1 Corinthians 8:6 has stumbled some but John MacArthur writes:
Paul repeats the truth that there is but one God. He is the one from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. There is only one true God. He has come to us in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, and we are brought to the Father through the divine Son. Everything comes from the Father, and all believers exist for the Father. Everything is by the Son, and everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Son. This is a powerful and clear affirmation of the equality of essence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 8:6, rather than denying the Lordship and exaltation and deity of Jesus Christ, actually makes Him equal with the Father.
In Hebrews 1:2 tells us that God the Father made the world through the Lord Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 1:3 it is Jesus who upholds the universe by His Word. In Hebrews 1:8 the Father says about the Son that He is God. In Hebrews 1:10 we read that Jesus is Yahweh (see Psalm 102:25-27).
So the question is whether Jesus is His own Father? The Oneness Pentecostals and other modalists insist that Jesus as the Son is less than the Father and that the Father alone is truly the eternal God. The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Ghost. In Oneness teachings, Jesus is God but He alone is God and God is unipersonal (meaning that there is only one Person in the Godhead; Colossians 2:9). Trinitarians teach that there is only one God but we believe in three persons (unitarian versus trinitarian). I reject the Oneness view that Jesus is His own Father. I find nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jesus is His own Father nor can one find a passage without extreme twisting.
The closest text we have is Isaiah 9:6. Oneness Pentecostals will quickly quote this verse when defending the idea that the Father is Jesus and Jesus is the Father. They teach that one of the titles of the Lord Jesus would be “eternal Father.” Yet Oneness Pentecostals are alone in their unique view of Isaiah 9:6. The titles found in Isaiah 9:6 are part of who Jesus would be. He would be like a wonderful counselor. Jesus would be the mighty God. Jesus would be like an eternal Father speaking of HIs Fatherly role as our Redeemer, and He would be the Prince of Peace. These are not offices Jesus would be fulfilling but titles He would take upon Himself.
Consider this: does the New Testament ever say that Jesus is the Father or the Father is Jesus?
The Oneness view destroys so many precious doctrines. The Person of Jesus suffers. One has to read the New Testament with a weird “key” of trying to figure out if Jesus is speaking as the Father (as God) or as a man (as the Son). The sacrifice of Jesus is not infinite in its value because Jesus is just a man who is dying on the cross for our sins rather than God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14). The nature of true love is lost because the Lord Jesus is but a created being of the Father (who alone is God). Prayer suffers as we pray to Jesus (the Father, the eternal God) in the name of Jesus (the Son, the flesh but not God) rather than seeing that Jesus is God the Son praying for the saint before the throne of God the Father through the power of God the Spirit.
In closing, let me state that as I write this I am listening to a oneness Pentecostal preacher preaching. Ironically, he is shouting over and over again that Jesus is God, that Jesus alone is God, and that there is no God but Jesus. Yet he is borrowing from a trinitarian presupposition by borrowing our language to speak of God. He speaks of the Father and he preaches about praying in the name of Jesus and worshiping God through Jesus but all of this involves having to “split” Jesus up. The oneness Pentecostal must borrow from the trinitarian view to make their theology work but they then must hate the Trinity lest they be a trinitarian (which condemns the sinner). They must speak of Jesus as a unipersonal being with dual personalities (at least while on earth).
I rejoice in the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a precious doctrine. The Trinity makes sense of the Bible and helps us to see the infinite value of the atonement of Christ. Further, the work of sanctification in the disciple is enhanced by understanding that the entire Trinity is involved not just in my salvation but in my sanctification. I worship God and rejoice that He is wonderful and worthy.
Arminius shared in the Reformers views regarding the Papacy. His words are strong toward the Pope and he holds nothing back. In our time, it is now common to offer grace toward Roman Catholics but we must remember that during the time of Arminius, the Catholics were persecuting all Protestants. The debate with the divines at Geneva would be set aside when it came to battling the Catholics as Arminius would gladly join hands with the Calvinists to debate the Catholics and defend biblical Christianity.
This should be a call to us today as well. We are not Catholics. I stand with my Calvinist brethren in defense of the Reformation, in a call to forsake Rome, and I defy the Pope. I stand with Arminius and denounce the Roman Catholic Church, I denounce the Roman Papacy, I denounce the Popish mass, I denounce the Popish rituals and traditions. I denounce the Roman Catholic idolatry and their beatification of the saints. I denounce their view of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Arminius stated about the Pope:
He is the Adulterer of the church, both by the public and mutual profession of each other; because he calls the [Roman Catholic] church his and she neither disowns the arrogance of this title nor is afraid of the odium [attached to such assumption,] and he is the adulterer in reality. For he practices spiritual adultery with the church, and she in return with him. He commands the apocryphal writings to be accounted divine and canonical; the ancient Latin version of the Scriptures, [commonly called] the Vulgate, to be everywhere received as the true original, and under no pretense whatever to be rejected; his own interpretations of the Scriptures to be embraced with the most undoubting faith; and unwritten traditions to be honoured with an affection and reverence equal to that evinced for the written word of God. He enacts and rescinds laws that pertain to faith and morals, and binds them as fetters on consciences. He promises and offers plenary indulgences, and the remission of all sins, through the plenitude of his power. “He exalteth himself above all that is worshipped,” and offers himself as some god to be adored with religious worship. In all these acts the church, deceived by his artifices, complies with his wishes. He is, therefore, the Adulterer of the church.
But he is also the Pimp or Pander of the church, because he acts towards her as the author, persuader, impelling exciter and procurer of various spiritual adulteries committed, or to be hereafter committed, with different husbands, with angels, Mary and other deceased saints, with images of God, of Christ, of the Holy Ghost, of the cross, of angels, of Mary, and of saints; with the bread in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; and with other inanimate objects.
Arminius wrote about the true foundation of the Church of God:
The Foundation of the church universal is only one, because there is but one house of God and Christ. Its properties are these: It stands by its own power, and does not rest on any extrinsic foundation. (1 Tim. iii, 15.) The whole house, consisting of two people, the Jews and the Gentiles, is built upon this foundation, as upon a chief corner-stone, and is sustained, by the power implanted in it, against all things which can assail it from without, whether from above or from below, on its sides, on the right hand and on the left; it continues immovable, does not totter, is not sunk or overwhelmed, and does not fall. (Heb. iii, 6; Ephes. ii, 20-22; Matt. xvi, 18.) This foundation is the immediate fulcrum or prop and firm support to all the lively stones that are built upon it; “they who believe on Him shall not be ashamed;” but it is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to those who do not believe and are disobedient; it dashes them in pieces, and they perish. (Isa. xxviii, 16; 1 Pet. ii, 4-6.) All these properties, both generally and severally, belong to Christ alone. But the Roman Pontiff is not Christ. Therefore, neither is he the foundation of the church. But the metonymy, by which the Prophets and Apostles are called “the foundations of the church,” (Rev. xxi, 14,) and by which the saints are said to be “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets,” (Ephes. ii, 20,) attributes nothing more to them, than their being “labourers together with God” in laying down Christ as this foundation, and in building up the whole house on Him. (1 Cor. iii, 5- 12.) But St. Peter was also among these; yet he excelled none of the other Apostles in any prerogative, but was inferior to St. Paul, not indeed in power, but in “the more abundant labour” of the latter in building up the church. (1 Cor. xv, 10.)
Arminius viewed the Roman church as apostate as he writes:
By the term, “the Church of Rome,” we understand, not that congregation of men, who, confined within the walls of the city of Rome, profess the Christian faith, (although this is the only proper interpretation of that term;) not the court of Rome, which consists of the pope and of the cardinals united with him — not the representative church, assembled together in council, and having the Roman pontiff as president, nor the pope of Rome himself, who, under the cover of that title, extols and makes merchandise of his power. But by “the church of Rome” we understand a congregation of Christian, which was formerly dispersed through nearly the whole of Europe, but which is now become more contracted, and in which the Roman pontiff sits, either as the head of the church under Christ, but placed above a general council, or as the principal bishop inferior to a general council, the inspector and guardian of the whole church. This congregation professes, according to the canons contained in the council of Trent, that it believes in God and Christ, and performs acts of worship to them; and it approves of those canons, either because they were composed by the council of Trent, which could not err — or because it thinks that they are agreeable to the holy Scriptures and to the doctrine of the ancient fathers, without any regard to that council.
I find it hard to imagine then that Arminians today would associate with Rome. We are not “separate” brethren from the Roman church. Arminius viewed the Roman church as apostate and in need of the gospel. The Reformed churches that Arminius spoke of were not separated from the Roman church but he understood them to be the church and Rome to be apostate and a false church.
Let us pray for the Roman Catholics to hear the gospel and repent. I have personally seen the damage the Roman church has done in most parts of the third world. Their idolatry and wickedness surround you in many Latin American nations. The Catholics are not to be joined with. They are to be preached to and evangelized. Let us stand with Arminius and preach the gospel to the lost souls in the Roman Catholic religion (Matthew 28:19-20).
I have often said that whenever the doctrine of the Trinity is denied, the group that does the denying must do something with Jesus. The Father is usually not attacked. The Father is usually held up as the eternal God but groups who deny the doctrine of the Trinity must do something with Jesus and it is Jesus who is usually attacked and demoted. The Holy Spirit is often altogether ignored.
Consider two groups who are similar in many ways: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Oneness Pentecostals. Both are Arians. Both find the theological heritage in Arius and his condemned teachings. Arius said that there was a time when the Son was not. Arius viewed God the Father as the eternal God and the one that we must worship but Jesus is viewed as a created being and less than the Father though still the Son of God. Arius reasoned that since God is one and the Father is God, the Son cannot be God logically lest there be another god. Therefore, the Son is a created being though exalted by the Father.
Now consider the Jehovah’s Witness (JW hereafter). The JW’s teach that Jehovah God alone is God. Jehovah is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the supreme creation of God and He is Michael in the Old Testament. JW’s (after 1954) forbid people for worshipping Jesus Christ. They teach that Jesus is wonderful, our example, our Savior but He is not God. He is a creation of God and the firstborn of Jehovah’s creation (Colossians 1:15). The New World Translation follows the JW bias but denying the Lord Jesus His full deity in passages such as John 1:1. In JW teaching, Jesus is the Son of God but He had a beginning and He has an ending as well when in eternity Jehovah alone will be worshiped as the true and living God (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 15:24). The point here is that Jesus is less than the Father (Jehovah) and He is a created being.
Oneness Pentecostals are not much different. They will declare that Jesus is God which makes them separate from JW’s but Jesus the Son is not eternal. Only the Father is eternal. In Oneness teaching, there is only one God (which is biblically true) and since there is only one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all the same God (true) but not persons but instead are manifestations of the one true God (this is a heresy called Sabellianism). Jesus is the one true God in Oneness Pentecostal teaching but only Jesus is God. Thus Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, and Jesus is the Holy Ghost. Jesus the Father alone is eternal. The Son had a beginning in Oneness teaching. The Son is not eternal but only came to be in Luke 1:35. Until Jesus the Son was born in Bethlehem, He did not exist as the Son but only as the Father. So the Son is not the eternal God but only the Father is the eternal God (Jehovah).
Do you see the link? The JW’s teach that Jehovah alone is God (the Father) and the Oneness Pentecostals teach that only Jesus the Father is eternal. Both deny that the Son is eternal. Both teach that the Son had a beginning and has an ending. Jesus the Son is not important as much as the Father is.
In Trinitarian theology, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the one true and living God. There is only one God and He is revealed in Scripture as three persons in the one Godhead. While the mystery of the Trinity is not easy to grasp, we must do something with Jesus. Jesus is called God in the Bible (John 1:1, 14, 18; 20:28; Romans 9:5) and He shares in many aspects of divinity along with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus spoke of His Father as distant from Him but He never made Himself less than the Father. Jesus viewed Himself equal to His Father (John 10:30) and yet as the Messiah, He was perfectly obedient to His Father (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus said He came from heaven (John 3:13) and He said He came from the Father (John 17:5). Hebrews 1:3 says that the Father created the entire worlds though Jesus Christ the Son. If Jesus is a created being, how can this be? Philippians 2:5-11 is clear that Jesus is equal to God and He took upon Himself the form of a servant to do the will of His Father.
Time does not permit me to defend the deity of the Spirit but He too shares in the personality of God. The Spirit is not a force as in JW teaching or a part of Jesus the Father but instead the Spirit is very much a Person who does the works of God. The Spirit is co-equal, co-eternal with the Father and with the Son.
Jesus is where we find our problems. Those who deny the Trinity must denounce and dethrone Jesus. Jesus has to become less than the Father or less than God. In Islam, Jesus is a great prophet but certainly not God. In JW, Jesus is a created being but not the eternal God. In Oneness Pentecostalism, Jesus is the name of the one true God but Jesus the Son only came to be when the Holy Ghost caused Mary to be impregnated. In Mormonism, Jesus is a son of God like we all are and in fact He is a son along with Lucifer. In Arianism, Jesus was a created being who is less than the Father. In Sabellianism Jesus is part of a manifestation or mode of God but certainly there is no Trinity.
We stumble over Jesus just as Scripture predicts (1 Peter 2:6-8). We must do something with Jesus. I choose to worship Him and adore Him and praise Him and preach Him (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
In my previous post on this chapter, I noted that the author is building a case that divine determinism simply does not fit into a cursory reading of the Bible. One gets the feeling from reading the Bible that free will is implied though not stated. Calvinists often build their case against free will by saying that the term does not appear in the Bible. I would agree but many theological notions we have are not found in the Bible though implied. This is true of the holy Trinity for example. This is true of free will as well. While I would argue that the issue of free will is not the main issue regarding Arminianism, free will plays a part because we believe that our sovereign God has sovereignly chosen to give those made in His image the true capacity to love and interact with Him as their God and creator. True loving relationships are not created by bondage and force but through wooing, caring, and true interaction.
The author points out that one of the problems with Calvinism is the moral exhortations in the New Testament. The author writes:
Every text in the New Testament contains a wealth of moral exhortations as to how God’s people are to live, e.g. remain committed to their marriages (Matthew 5:31-32), forgive those who wrong them (Matthew 6:14-15), be other focused rather than self-centered (Philippians 2:1-4), love and care for their wives (Ephesians 5:25-33), live worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), resist sin (Romans 6:12). These moral exhortations are comprehensible on the assumption that God has gifted His people with libertarian freedom and extends the grace that enables them to obey. God’s people are challenged to respond to God’s grace by daily striving to live obediently.
Remember that within Calvinism, everything happens because God not only allows it (permission) but He ordains it. All that comes to pass comes to pass because God wills it so and He renders it certain. Many Calvinists use this to teach a positive view instead of the obvious negative. They imply that the reason that we can trust Romans 8:28 is because of the sovereignty of God (all determiner in this case). Dr. James White likes to call this “evil with a purpose.” White teaches that if God is not willing all things, there is no purpose to evil. Of course, the Arminian reply is that there is a purpose to evil: it makes heaven that much glorious (Revelation 21:1-4)!
When it comes to Christians sinning, the determinist view is that God did not give a person sufficient grace to overcome that sin so as to render that sin certain. In other words, when a Christian looks at porn, they are looking at porn because God did not give them the ability to freely reject the sin of porn. The Christian then is looking at porn because God knew that the Christian would and for His glory God wanted the Christian to sin so in order to render the sin certain, God withdrew His grace that would have enabled the believer to resist the porn. I had a Calvinist friend who very much knew this struggle and he continued in his sin of looking at porn (eventually moving on to prostitutes) because he resigned to the fact that God did not want him to overcome his lust and this was his thorn in his side to keep him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7).
One Calvinist noted, “God sovereignly directs and ordains our sinful acts as well as the good that we do.” And they see no problem with this.
The moral exhortations toward believers is to bring God glory (Ephesians 1:12). Believers are called to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), to do what pleases God (Philippians 2:13), to be holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), to love God and others (Luke 10:27), and to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Yet if these are all true and divine determinism is true then it logically follows that the reason that a Christian does not do these is because God wills them not by not giving them the grace necessary to do what He has called them to do in the New Testament. If a Christian is not living holy, it is not because the Christian is neglecting the command to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) but because God has willed that the Christian not be holy and thus He has rendered certain whatsoever comes to pass.
The many exhortations to holiness, to prayer, to fasting, to evangelize, to love our wives, to worship God, to obey God, to not sin, to live a godly life, to preach the Word, etc. are all rather pointless if in fact God is the one who must give us the grace to live them and if He lifts His grace, we are unable to obey them and thus whatever happens happens because God ordains it by His sovereign will.
The gospel empowers people to live righteous lives (Philippians 1:11) and enables us both to will and do what pleases the Lord (Philippians 2:13) but these only make sense in a grace-enabled libertarian freedom sense. God’s grace is sufficient to help us to be holy and to live lives that honor the Lord. When we sin, we sin because we choose to walk in the flesh and disobey the Lord (Galatians 5:16-17).
The author goes on in this chapter to talk about the sins in the Church (1 Corinthians 5 for example) and how does this fit into a divine determinism view. Again, if divine determinism is true then Paul’s rebuking of the Corinthians is in vain since it was God who rendered their sinfulness certain by withdrawing the necessary grace to overcome their sins. The author also looks at over New Testament exhortations such as in James (Jacob) and even the Lord’s prayer. He also briefly writes about apostasy and how apostasy makes no sense if freedom is not allowed.
Overall this was a great chapter. I commend brother Glen Shellrude for this chapter. He has logically thought through the Bible and how does the exhortations line up with divine determinism as compared to libertarian free will. In the end, his case is strong that God has indeed given His creatures free will to choose to obey Him, follow Him, love Him, seek Him, glorify Him, and worship Him.
You can purchase the book here.
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
– 2 Corinthians 12:12
While God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
– Hebrews 2:4
In the previous post, I pointed out that Jesus did signs to point to Him being the Messiah sent from God. Certainly one could also agree that Jesus healed people because He was God and He loves people (Matthew 4:24). This is true of God hearing our prayers and answering them even for healing. If God heals, He heals because He loves us and desires to glorify His name through our healing. I also pointed out that Jesus’ signs and wonders provoked people to faith (John 2:11, 23) and the Jews to anger (John 12:37-38). My question was, if divine determinism is true, why would Jesus need signs and wonders at all? If the elect are chosen by God before time, why does the elect need a sign? Will the elect not believe simply because God has chosen them beforehand? Signs and wonders point to the reality of free choice among humans. God is giving people signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus to cause them to question and either come to Jesus for life or reject Him. Whenever a person reads the Gospels now, the same is still true regarding signs and wonders. They point to Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 10:38) but they cause people to either accept Jesus as the Messiah of God or reject Him but one cannot be neutral about Jesus.
In this post, I want to examine the purpose of signs and wonders done by the Apostles. I am not debating whether signs and wonders continue today. That is not my point here. My point is simply to point to signs and wonders done by the Apostles and why God allowed them.
We must remember that the Apostles were chosen by Jesus Himself (John 15:16). Matthew 10:1 tells us that Jesus gave His Apostles the authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. This power came from God and was given by the Lord to those whom He had chosen. Even Judas (Matthew 10:4). Signs and wonders then do not prove one is elected to salvation despite the choosing here by Jesus. Signs and wonders do not prove one is a true disciple (Matthew 7:21-23).
The Apostles continued this display of unique power after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. The Book of Acts is filled with healings and signs and wonders. Acts 14:3 tells us:
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
The Lord was bearing witness to His Word by allowing the Apostles to do signs and wonders. Acts 19:11-12 reads:
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
The signs and wonders were true signs to point to two truths. First, the Apostles were preaching without a New Testament. The signs validated their gospel message as we read in Acts 14:3 or Hebrews 2:4. The signs pointed to the Apostles being chosen by Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 12:12).
Secondly, the signs pointed to the risen Messiah. Peter the Apostle is clear in Acts 3:12-16 after the healing of the lame beggar:
12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
The signs continued to point to Jesus. The Apostles did not make money off the signs nor did they advertise their signs. They simply obeyed the Lord, He granted them power to perform miracles, and the signs pointed to the greatest sign of all: Jesus Christ, the mighty Son of God.
But again, why? If divine determinism is true then why did God allow for signs and wonders? Could not God have merely granted faith and repentance to His elect without signs? If men are born totally dead in their sins without any ability whatsoever to come to faith in Christ, why does God need signs and wonders? Who are the signs for? The elect need none. The elect in Calvinism will come no matter what. One need not even preach for the elect to come. Calvinists, to be fair, are not consistent here and preach the gospel to all and even call all to repent while believing that only the elect will come and be saved. They hold that God has sovereignly chosen both the elect and the means to their election. However, in the end, God, in His arbitrary choice, chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn (or pass over and leave in their sins). The means, while sovereignly chosen by God, is not what saves the elect. What saves the elect is the election of God before time. I believe that consistent Calvinism should hold to eternal justification since God foreknows His elect and counted them as justified in Christ (the Lamb chosen by God’s sovereign choice even before time).
Yet why signs and wonders? Would could argue that God has merely chosen in His sovereignty to allow for signs and wonders among the Apostles but this ignores the question of why. It simply takes Deuteronomy 29:29 and applies it here too. The elect will be saved. This not debatable among Calvinists. The elect will come to faith in Christ when God sovereignly decrees it so. Whether the elect comes by hearing a gospel sermon or seeing a sign is not the point. The point is that God chose the sinner for salvation by His own sovereign decree and placed the elect’s sins on Christ even from the foundation of the world.
The Arminian answer is easy and simple. Signs and wonders are given by God to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah of God sent to die for our sins. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17) and the gospel saves sinners who repent and believe (John 3:16). Signs and wonders in Acts are pointing to the reality of the gospel and God is bearing witness to the message of His grace (Acts 14:3). Signs then validate the Apostles as from God.