Some people are anti-supernatural. They insist that there must be a natural explanation for everything that happens, whether it is the healing of a child with cancer, the safe landing of a damaged aircraft, or even the very origin of our universe.
Others are convinced of the reality of the supernatural and that miracles are happening today. They point to apparitions of Mary, faith healers, healings at Lourdes, or visitations by angels.
Our purpose in this brief article is to think about the question of miracles, and to bring the light of God’s Holy Scriptures to bear on the subject.
Obviously, acceptance of the Bible’s authority presupposes a belief in the supernatural. God by definition is Someone outside of the natural world. He is super (above) nature. However, a miracle is not merely God acting in this world, since the Bible teaches that He is constantly active in this world. Rather, it is God working in an extraordinary way, outside of the normal laws of nature that He established.
The Bible records many miracles in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. We remember the mighty miracles performed by Moses in Pharaoh’s court; the power demonstrated by Elijah in his contest with the prophets of Baal; and especially of the many miracles performed by the Lord Jesus Himself. The Apostle John refers to these miracles of Jesus as “signs” because they pointed to the truth of who Jesus is. The ultimate of these miracles was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, something He had personally foretold on numerous occasions before His death on the cross.
But we also need to remember that the Bible warns about “powers, signs, and lying wonders” that are performed “according to the working of Satan” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). It warns that in the last days “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive” (Matthew 24:24). Satan is not a mythical figure but the Bible presents him as a real and powerful (though fallen) angel.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we know how to distinguish between a miracle performed by the power of God and a lying wonder performed by the power of Satan. The Bible teaches us that Satan is a master of deception and can transform himself into an angel of light, and his ministers (servants) are also able to transform themselves to appear good when they are actually evil (2 Corinthians 2:13-15).
Moses warned about the possibility of false prophets performing miracles in Deuteronomy 13. His warning provides us with a very important tool for evaluating the source of any miracle or prophecy and it is vital that we heed this warning that is nearly 3,500 years old, as this truth remains unchanged today.
If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’ -which you have not known-‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.Deuteronomy 13:1-5
Notice several points that Moses is making here. First, it is possible for miraculous signs to accompany a prophecy or teaching and not be from God. Indeed, the Egyptian magicians were able to reproduce many of the miracles that Moses performed, but that doesn’t mean they were performed by the power of God. In fact, when Moses brought the third plague on Egypt, the plague of lice, the magicians were unable to perform the same miracle and declared to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” (Exodus 8:19).
Second, God permits the miracle by the false prophet as a test of the people’s loyalty and devotion to God Himself. While Satan is a powerful being, he is not as powerful as Almighty God who is all-powerful. The Old Testament book of Job indicates that Satan could not touch Job without God’s permission but that God allowed Satan to afflict Job to refute Satan’s accusation that Job’s loyalty to God was based solely on the physical blessings that God had bestowed on him (see Job 1-2).
Third, anything that leads us away from God and His Word must be dealt with radically. God was so concerned for the purity of His people’s faith that He commanded the death penalty for those who would seek to lead them away from listening to God’s voice as recorded in Scripture. We must each personally deal radically with anything supernatural that is not from God.
Here is the most important test of the source of truth: Does the miracle draw me closer to God and His unique Son, Jesus Christ? Or does it focus my attention and devotion on someone else. If it brings glory to someone other than God, then it is not of God, for He declared: “I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images” (Isaiah 42:8). When the people of Lystra (Acts 14:8-18) tried to worship Paul and Barnabas because they had performed a miracle in their town, the apostles tore their own clothes and tried to stop the people from worshipping them. As true servants of God, they knew that God was the source of the power and that He had given it to them to demonstrate His greatness and to confirm the truth of the apostolic gospel they preached.
Many people today base their beliefs on what works. They pray to a particular god or angel or saint, their prayer is answered, and so they direct their future prayers and petitions to that source. But as wise King Solomon pointed out long ago, there is nothing new under the sun! The prophet Jeremiah, hundreds of years before the time of Christ, spoke to Jews living in Egypt and told them to stop praying to a false god known as “the queen of heaven” (Jeremiah 44:15-23). For a while they listened to the prophet, but found that their prayers to God were not as effective as their prayers to the queen of heaven, and so they went back to their idolatrous ways. And so God, through the voice of the prophet, condemned the Jews for their sin of praying to false gods, and declared that they would be judged for their rebellion.
Please remember that we can never judge truth by experience. We cannot even judge it by whether it is accompanied by a miracle. Rather, both teaching and experience must be judged by the Word of God. As the prophet Isaiah said: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). David said: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). Don’t be deceived by faith healers or miraculous wonders. Test the message and the miracles by the only trustworthy guide, God’s unchanging and holy Bible.