Arminian Today

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The Purpose of Signs and Wonders In the Ministry of Jesus

Why did Jesus do miracles?  What was the point of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  In Matthew 8 we get a reason from Matthew about why Jesus did miracles (at least just one among others as we shall see but this point is the overwhelming reason why Jesus did miracles).  In Matthew 8:16-17 we read:

16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Here Matthew quotes from Isaiah 53:4.  Adam Clarke commented on Matthew 8:17:

Christ fulfils the prophecies in all respects, and is himself the completion and truth of them, as being the lamb and victim of God, which, bears and takes away the sin of the world. The text in Isaiah refers properly to the taking away of sin; and this in the evangelist, to the removal of corporeal afflictions: but, as the diseases of the body are the emblems of the sin of the soul, Matthew, referring to the prediction of the prophet, considered the miraculous healing of the body as an emblem of the soul’s salvation by Christ Jesus.

The Messiah would come and He would bear the sins of Israel (and the world; see John 1:29).  Part of this was to “reverse the curse” (Romans 5:17-18).  Part of the fall into sin is suffering, pain, and sickness.  In Revelation 21:4 assures us that in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no more pain, suffering, crying, death.  In fact, death will be destroyed completely according to Revelation 20:14.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and part of that work is death itself whom He abolished (2 Timothy 1:10).  Death has been swallowed up in victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54) so that Jesus could say to Martha that He was the resurrection and the life even before the cross (John 11:25-26).

What point then does signs and wonders serve for the Messiah?  They point to Him being the true Messiah.  John the Apostle mentions “signs” in John 2:23.  The Greek word here is “semeion” which can be translated “sign, signal, mark.”  Jesus, by doing signs and wonders, was giving a sign, a signal, and a mark that He was in fact the Son of God.  In John 2:11 John the Apostle states that Jesus did these signs or signals or marks and His disciples put their faith in Him.  The signs and wonders of Jesus were not for a show.  They were to point to a greater, deeper meaning and that was that Jesus was the Messiah of God.  Jesus was the promised one from the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15).

When Jesus appeared on the scene, He was unlike any other who had ever been or will be.  I know some charismatics like to quote John 14:12 to say that we as believers can do greater works than Jesus but that was not the point of John 14:12.  I know of no charismatics who would claim to do greater miracles than Jesus.  Who can claim to be sinless?  Who can claim toward others that if they destroy them, they will raise themselves up again?  Who can truly make blind eyes open just by a touch?  Who can raise the dead by a word?  Who can claim to seeing the lame walk just by taking them by the hand?  Even the Apostles pointed to the Lord Jesus with their signs and wonders in Acts (more on that in the next post).

In the Bible, God allowed signs and wonders for a purpose.  In biblical history we only find three main times when miracles were rampant.  Moses.  Elijah and Elisha.  The Gospels and Acts.  In each case, the purpose was a sign from God.  For example, in Moses’ case the Lord was delivering His people out of Egypt and He gave great power to Moses as he led God’s people out.  While the Lord allowed Joshua, Moses’ aid and successor, to do miracles, they were not on the same level nor quantity as Moses.  The point of the signs and wonders was to point to Moses as God’s faithful servant and deliver (Exodus 4:1-9).

In the case of the Lord Jesus, He did miracles to point to Him being the true Messiah.  In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus appeals to the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 as about Himself.  The Jews take an exception to this (Luke 4:29) but Jesus escapes from their grasps (Luke 4:30).  Jesus points to the Old Testament Scriptures about Himself and to His miracles (John 5:36-40).  The purpose of the signs and wonders was to reveal that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who came down from heaven to do His Father’s will (John 5:30; 6:32).

So let me return to my original question: what is the purpose of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus?  They were to validate Him as the Messiah.  Yet if divine determinism is true, why is this necessary?  If God can make a person believe and make another not believe by His own determinism then why do we need signs and wonders?  The elect would believe because God makes them believe and not because of signs and wonders!

The very nature of signs and wonders in the life of Jesus points to the reality of contra-casual free will.  God was not making people believe or disbelieve.  He was sending His Son to redeem fallen humanity just as Isaiah stated in Isaiah 53.  This good news (gospel) would be for all people and not just the Jews (Luke 2:10).  All of humanity is under the curse of sin but Christ came to redeem us who were under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13-14).  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on the poll to redeem all who would look upon the poll, so the Lord Jesus was lifted up for all sinners so that whosoever can come and be saved by looking to Him alone to save them (John 3:14-15).  The purpose of signs and wonders is to point to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31).  The signs and wonders are signs, signals, and marks that Jesus is the Son of God who gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 1 Peter 3:18).

If unconditional election were true what point would signs and wonders play?  The elect will believe because God makes them to believe (or at least makes them irresistibly willing to believe).  A Calvinist may argue that the purpose of signs and wonders is so that the elect will believe but if God chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn, the elect will believe no matter what by God’s determined decree.  The signs are not true signs then but just merely a show for the purpose of the Bible.  Even if Jesus never did miracles, the elect would believe if in fact divine determinism is true.  The very reason for signs and wonders points to free will.  The signs are to invoke people to consider Jesus and His claims.  The wonders are to cause people to question if Jesus is truly the Messiah.  Read John 9 and notice how signs and wonders play into the reasoning of the people about Jesus.  Jesus healed the blind man to provoke people to debating about Him.  The signs provoked the people as well in John 7:31 to consider Jesus.

One final point about signs and wonders.  The purpose of signs and wonders in the Gospels seems to me to be three-fold.  First and most obvious, the signs point to Jesus as the Messiah.  This is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) so we expect Him to do miracles since He is God.  This is the anointed one (Christ) of God who is sinless and is the perfect Son of God.  He does miracles to point to Him being both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22, 36).

Secondly, signs and wonders provoked the Jews to consider Jesus as the Messiah.  I point again to John 9 as a case in point.  I would also point to Acts 10:38.

Thirdly, I believe that signs and wonders also provoked the Jews to kill Jesus.  We read this in John 12:36-43.  Some of the Jews (such as the Apostles) believed in Jesus because of His signs and wonders and His teachings but many Jews rejected Him as the Messiah and killed Him for it.  The signs worked to provoke some to faith while others to rejection.  This is still true today.  Why does God do this if in fact divine determinism is true?  Why does God need to harden the Jews according to John 12:40 if total depravity (in the Calvinist sense) is true?  If man is born depraved, dead in their sins, wicked sinners from birth then why would God need to provoke the Jews to harden their hearts toward His Messiah?  There is no logical answer for the Calvinist here.

In my next post I will jump into the purpose of signs and wonders among the Apostles.

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  1. […] the previous post, I pointed out that Jesus did signs to point to Him being the Messiah sent from God.  Certainly […]


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