More Alternative Theories to the Resurrection of Christ

MORE ALTERNATIVE THEORIES TO THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

by Wayne S. Walker

     The Bible declares that God came into this world as Jesus the Christ, lived as a human being, died for our sins, and was raised from the dead as proof of the claims made by Him and for Him. "Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1.3-4). Eye-witnesses recorded in the scriptures their testimony attesting to Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Therefore, those who would deny that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God must deal with the resurrection.

     Their oldest theory, still most offered by unbelievers even today, is that the tomb of Jesus was empty because the body was stolen. "Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept." And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day" (Matthew 28.11-15).

     However, this raises the question, who stole the body? It may look as if something has been stolen, but we cannot prove that a theft has taken place until we have found the thief and either located the stolen goods or received a full confession. One suggestion is that perhaps the Romans stole it, but the Romans dared not steal it. They are the ones who had been entrusted to make sure that the body stayed in the tomb (Matthew 27:65-66). Also, notice the reaction of the Roman guards who "shook for fear of him, and became like dead men" (Matthew 28.3-4). They would have to have been part of the plot, but they were as surprised as anyone at the resurrection.

     Another suggestion is that perhaps the Jews stole the body, but they would not steal it because an empty tomb was the last thing in the world that they would want. They had asked the Romans to do everything within their power to secure the tomb and keep the body from being stolen (Matthew 27.62-63). Also, they were afraid that any kind of tumult such as the missing body of Jesus might cause would bring down the Romans upon them (John 11.47-50). And if the Jews did, for whatever inane and insane reason, take the body, their silence afterwards is deafening. On Pentecost, Peter said of Jesus, "Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (Acts 2.24). All they would have had to do to stop everything in its tracks was to say, "No, He did not, and we can show the body to prove it!" But they said nothing of the sort.

     So we come back to the suggestion made by the Jewish rulers and proclaimed by the soldiers, that the disciples stole the body, but in point of fact they could not steal it. First, they were really not expecting a resurrection and thus were in no frame of mind to take any such action (Mark 16.9-13, Luke 24.1-26). Second, both the Jews and the Romans had taken every precaution possible to keep the disciples from doing that very thing (Matthew 27:64). Third, the only possible witnesses to this claim are the Roman soldiers, and their testimony is not reliable. It is absurd for anyone to testify about something which he admits took place while he slept. For that matter, sleeping on duty was a capital offense and a Roman soldier would admit to it only under special circumstances. The special circumstance here was the bribe that was given and the assurance of the Jewish leaders to appease the governor. People do not have to be bribed to tell the truth.

     There are a couple of other reasons why it is highly unlikely that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb. This theory does not explain why the disciples continued to preach such a thing if it were lie even in the face of extreme threats and punishment (Acts 5.28-33, 40-42). Not one of them cracked. Not one of them buckled under the pressure. Not one of them even hinted that he believed that things were other than what they were preaching. To a man, they stood by their story under adverse circumstances. And finally, it is incredible that the disciples could have planned and executed this theft, and then still been surprised when they heard that the tomb was empty (John 20.1-7). This is almost more amazing that the resurrection itself!

     Hence, the only acceptable interpretation of the evidence presented by the facts contained in the gospel accounts and admitted by all, which represent our only reliable witnesses in the case, is that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead as He said that He would, as was prophesied in the Old Testament, and as His followers proclaimed. This is the foundation of Christianity. This is the basis for our faith, and the truth upon which rests our hope. (—taken from With All Boldness; Dec., 2001; Vol. 11, No. 12; p. 19)

Alternative Theories to the Resurrection of Christ

ALTERNATIVE THEORIES TO THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

by Wayne S. Walker

     The resurrection of Christ is presented in scripture as an actual event of hisotry. It cannot be explained philosophically as "the resurrection of a cause" because this does not deal with the facts admitted by all–that Jesus died, He was buried, His tomb was sealed and guarded, but it was empty on the third day, and His disciples soon began preaching His resurrection. Very early, alternative theories to the resurrection of Christ began to arise and were promoted by those who refused to believe the facts. Many such theories are still advocated today.

     One is the "swoon theory," that Jesus did not really die on the cross but merely swooned and was mistaken for dead. Then after resting in the tomb for a couple of days, He awakened and escaped. First, all the evidence testifies to His actual death. The Jews rememberd His predictions of a resurrection, and would want to make sure that He was truly dead (Matthew 27:62-66). The Romans were expert executioners and, given the fact that the soldiers’ lives would be forfeited if they failed, could be trusted to know a dead body when they saw it (Mark 15:43-45). But just so that everyone would be sure that Jesus was dead, a spear was thrust into His side with the separation of blood and water showing beyond doubt that He was dead (John 19:34-35). Furthermore, even if He were not dead, it is unreasonable to believe that having undergone all His previous suffering He could, in such a weakened condition, roll away a stone which a group of women thought was too big for them (Mark 16:2-4).

     Another theory is the "two-tomb" or "wrong-tomb" theory, that the women mistakenly went to another tomb and, not seeing the body of Jesus, jumped to the conclusion that He had been raised from the dead. However, it is unlikely that they would be in error. "When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb" (Matthew 27:59-61). The women took great pains to see exactly where the tomb was because they were planning to return to complete the anointing of the body. Matthew also mentions a couple of other details which are important. It was a new tomb (John 19.41-42). There was no possibility that Jesus’s body could have been confused with others. And it was hewn out of solid rock (Luke 23.53). There was no other way for anyone to enter or leave the tomb.

     Several "psychological" theories have been suggested. Some allege that the resurrection was an optical illusion, saying that the disciples so wanted to see Jesus risen from the dead that they mistook things that they saw for the resurrected Lord. However, the Bible is plain that the disciples were not really expecting a resurrection (Luke 24.9-11). Others contend that when people claimed to see Jesus raised from the dead, it was just a hallucination. However, this so-called "hallucination" appeared to many different people at many different times in many different places, including to 500 people at one time (Acts 1.1-3, 1 Corinthians 15.3-8). That is not the nature of a hallucination. Still others claim that the resurrection appearances were merely visions by people hoping for a resurrection. But, again, the disciples clearly did not understand what the resurrection was all about, nor did they believe it at first (Mark 9.9-10, 10.32-33, 16.9-14). And why did the illusions, hallucinations, or visions suddenly stop?

     A couple of "spiritualist" theories have also been propounded. There is the idea that Jesus did not really rise form the dead but that after His death He appeared to the disciples in some kind of plasma body, like a ghost. However, this denies the facts stated in the Bible account. The disciples at first thought that He was a spirit or a ghost, but He said that He was still flesh and bone (Luke 24.36-40). In fact, the prints of the nails in His hans and of the spear in His side were evidently still quite visible (John 20.24-29). And there is the proposal that the whole thing was done by mental telepathy, that Jesus was sending His mental image from "the great beyond" to the disciples. However, mental images do not consume fish and honeycomb (Luke 24.41-43). Nor are they able to fix breakfast for physical human beings (John 21.1-14).

     There is one other theory, in fact the earliest and perhaps the most popular through the years, that the body of Jesus was stolen. We shall examine that more closely in the next article of this series. But let us again look at the facts as we know them. Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a new tomb hewn out of a rock with a great stone in front of it being watched by a guard. Three days later, a group of women went to that tomb, found it open, and saw that nobody was there. Immediately after that, reports began to surface of people seeing Jesus alive again. And the message of His resurrection changed lives, converted enemies, and fueled a movement that still exists today. What is the most reasonable explanation of these facts? "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel" (2 Timothy 2.8). (—taken from With All Boldness; Oct., 2001; Vol. 11, No. 10; p. 8)

Jesus’s Predictions of His Resurrection

JESUS’S PREDICTIONS OF HIS RESURRECTION

by Wayne S. Walker

     Jesus Christ came into the world that He might accomplish several purposes, all of which had been planned by God before the world began. These purposes included living a perfect life as an example for us, dying for our sins upon the cross of Calvary, and being raised again from the dead as proof of His divine Sonship. The purpose of the resurrection was to produce faith in the hearts of men. In John 20:8, after Peter and the other disciple, most likely John, had gone to the empty tomb, we read, "Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed." In order to prepare His disciples for this event, Jesus had told them several times throughout His earthly ministry that He would rise again after His death. Let us look at Jesus’s predictions of His resurrection.

     Early in His ministry, Jesus was challenged by the Jewish authorities to show a sign to produce authority for His cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-22). The sign that He gave them was that if they would destroy "this temple," He would raise it up in three days. Their unbelieving thoughts went immediately to the physical temple which Herod had spent forty-six years in rebuilding, but the inspired writer tells us that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body. Thus we understand the meaning that they would kill Him and three days later He would rise. After His resurrection, His disciples remembered this prediction, but even before that so did the Jews (Matthew 26:61, 27:40).

     Later, during His Galilean ministry, Jesus was again asked for a sign (Matthew 12:38-40). These people had already been privileged to see many signs, so at this point Jesus said that the only sign left for them was that of the prophet Jonah, that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the fish’s belly, so would the Christ be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The fact that Jonah was safely returned from the whale after the three days and nights implies that Jesus would be safely returned from the heart of the earth after His three days and three nights.

     Sometime after this, Jesus and His disciples went into the regions of Caesarea Philippi. He asked them who men said that He was, and they replied with the popular answers. Then, He asked them who they thought that He was, and Peter made the good confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. As the conversation continued, Jesus told them what would prove His deity. "From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day" (Matthew 16:13-21).

     Following this, Jesus took three of the disciples on a high mountain, perhaps Mt. Hermon which is in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, There He was transfigured before them, but on the way down He told them to tell no one about it until the Son of Man was risen from the dead (Matthew 17:1-9). Then, when they had returned to Galilee, He again told them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up" (Matthew 17:22-23).

     As Jesus began His final journey through Perea towards Jerusalem, He told the disciples once more about His resurrection. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and the will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again." Everything that Jesus predicted came true exactly as He said, including His resurrection from the dead.

     Finally, on the night of His betrayal, He said, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you into Galilee (Matthew 26:31-32). And meet them in Galilee He did–after His resurrection (Matthew 27:7-10, 16-20). Jesus knew ahead of time, in great detail, the events surrounding His death, burial, and resurrection. He predicted that He would rise again and staked His claim to Deity upon that fact. "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father" (John 10:17-18). (—taken from With All Boldness; Sept., 2001; Vol. 11, No. 9; p. 10)

Imperatives of the Empty Tomb

IMPERATIVES OF THE EMPTY TOMB

by Wayne S. Walker

     As we consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we see that the empty tomb is more than just a fact of history. It is an even about which and upon the basis of which each person must reach conclusions and make decisions. The Bible affirms that there was an empty tomb (Mark 16:1-7). What does the empty tomb mean? What does it tell us? Here are some imperatives of the empty tomb.

    The first is that Jesus is risen. Why do we believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States? No one alive today was around at that time, yet we accept it as a fact because of incontrovertible eyewitness testimony in historical records. Likewise, we have substantial testimony in scripture that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. A couple of angels said so (Matthew 28:5-6). Mary Magdalene was the first to see Him alive and reported it (John 20:11-18). Several other women also saw Him after His resurrection and told their story (Luke 24:9-11). Two disciples met Him on the road to Emmaus later that same day and ran back to Jerusalem to share their news (Luke 24:33-43). That evening He appeared to the ten apostles (John 20:10-15).

     A week later he appeared to the apostles again, this time with Thomas, who had been absent before and doubted, present (John 20:26-28). On one occasion He appeared to over five hundred people at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). And one of the greatest opponents of Christ’s way, Saul of Tarsus, saw Him on the road to Damascus and became a believer as a result (1 Corinthians 15:8-11). One might choose to challenge the integrity of these witnesses, and we shall look at that idea in a future article. But there can be no doubt that there is sufficient testimony to establish at least that something dramatic happened which caused all of these witnesses to give their testimony.

     The second imperative of the empty tomb is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Peter had made such a confession based on the evidence that he had even before the resurrection (Matthew 16:13-16). However, since we were not alive then, John tells us concerning the miracles of Christ that "these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31). These miracles of Christ surely include His resurrection. In fact, Paul affirms that Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

     The third imperative of the empty tomb is that the word of Jesus is true. He said that He would be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21). And He was! After His resurrection, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to His apostles (John 15:26, 16:7). This promise was made by His authority as the So nof God, which fact, as we have seen, was declared by His resurrection. The Spirit revealed His word to the apostles and prophets who recorded it for us as the New Testament scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:12-13, Ephesians 3:3-5, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Thus, the scriptures teach that because of Jesus’s resurrection, we can trust Him and His word for salvation (Romans 5:10-11).

     The fourth imperative of the empty tomb is that Jesus is the Head of the church. Following His resurrection, He claimed to have all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul affirms that it was when God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places that He gave Him to be head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:20-23). The fact that Jesus is the Head of the body, the church, is directly connected to the fact that He is the firstborn from the dead, which means that He was the first to be raised from the dead never to die again (Colossians 1:18).

     The fifth and final imperative of the empty tomb is that there will be another resurrection. When Jesus ascended into heaven following His resurrection, two angels promised that He would return (Acts 1:11). When He comes back, all will be raised and judged (John 5:28-29, Acts 17:30-31). Of course, at that time the wicked will be punished and the righteous rewarded (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, 1 Peter 1:3-5). And our hope for this future resurrection from the dead is based on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. "But if the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:11). This is what the resurrection of Christ and the resultant empty tomb mean, or should mean, to the Christian. (—taken from With All Boldness; Aug., 2001; Vol. 11, No. 8; p. 19)

The Resurrection of Christ

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

by Wayne S. Walker

     "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). One of the momentous, if not the single most momentous, event in all human history, has to be the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Paul says that it is so important that we must believe it to be saved. If the resurrection were not an actual event, then everything else in the scriptures is false and falls as a giant hoax. However, if the resurrection is true, then Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is the inspired revelation from the Lord, and we can trust in the power of Jehovah Almighty to save us.

     The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is central to the message of the New Testament. It is the concluding scene in each of the gospels. Every other biography of human beings ends with the death and burial of the subject, perhaps some things that people said after his death, and maybe a few result of the fact that this person lived. However, this is not the case with Jesus Christ. After He died and was buried, three days later the tomb was empty and angels told some women, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!" (Luke 24:6-7). And no one has ever produced any evidence to the contrary which demonstrates this claim to be false.

     The resurrection was a central point of every gospel sermon recorded in Acts save one. When the gospel was preached for the very first time, Peter said of Jesus, "Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He would be held by it.," and then provided the evidence to back up his claim, including the statement, "This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:24, 32). And it is mentioned in nearly every book in the New Testament. Even in the final inspired writing of God’s word, John affirmed that the Apocalypse was from One who lived, was dead, and is now alive forevermore (Revelation 1:18). Truly, the Bible becomes less than meaningless without the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

      In fact, many new Testament concepts are based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We believe that Jesus Christ is divine because He was "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-4). Christ’s headship over the church is based on the fact that God "raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Ephesians 1:20-23). He is our High Priest through whom people can be saved to the uttermost because "He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:20-25). And whatever hope of heaven that we can have, we have been begotten to it "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3-5).

     So the issue boils down to the question, is the resurrection of Christ from the dead a historical fact? There are several theories that have been advanced in an attempt to explain the circumstances while still denying the actuality of the resurrection–Jesus merely swooned, the women went to the wrong tomb, people just thought they saw the resurrected Lord, Jesus appeared after His death but only as a spirit, someone stole the body–and we shall examine some of these in future articles. However, there is much solid evidence to validate the resurrection. There were Old Testament prophecies concerning it, such as in Psalm 16:8-11, which is quoted by Peter on Pentecost as having been fulfilled in Christ. Again, there is the repeated witness of the apostles (Acts 10:38-42). And there is even the testimony of one of the greatest persecutors of the church, Saul of Tarsus, who claimed to have seen Jesus after His death and became one of the greatest promoters of the faith (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

     Once more, we shall study all this evidence with greater detail in succeeding articles. However, the basic purpose of this introductory article on the subject has been to show the supremacy of the resurrection to the lives of those who claim to believe in and follow Jesus. One cannot truly be a Christian without believing what the Bible says about Christ, and that includes His resurrection from the dead. As Christians, we believe in a God who is able to raise the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, it is no great thing that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, confess it openly before men, and stake our very lives upon its truthfulness. (—taken from With All Boldness; July, 2001; Vol. 11, No. 7; p. 14)

Christ in Prophecy

CHRIST IN PROPHECY

by Wayne S. Walker

     The Bible teaches that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. The Greek term "Christ" is equivalent to the Hebrew "Messiah" and means the anointed one of Jehovah. The coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom were clearly prophesied in the Old Testament. The word "prophecy" comes from a term that means to speak forth and thus refers to a declaration of God’s will and word. It often involved the prediction of future events because the foretelling of things and their fulfilment were sometimes necessary to provide evidence that the speaker was sent by God. Jesus claimed to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. "…O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and entered into His glory?" (Luke 24:25-26). To understand Jesus’s deity, we must understand Christ in prophecy.

     The first prophecy of the Messiah is found in Genesis 3:15, where God told Satan, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." To refer to the seed of woman is different from the normal way of speaking in the Bible, yet it reminds us that Jesus was "born of a woman" in a special way (Galatians 4:4). This "Seed of woman" becomes personalized. Satan would "bruise His feet" while God said, "He shall bruise your head." While this passage is never directly quoted in the New Testament, it is easy to make the application that Satan seemed to defeat Christ by having Him crucified on the cross, but this turned out to be only a minor blow because Christ, by His resurrection from the dead, gave Satan a crushing blow from which he can never recover.

     The next prophecy of the Messiah was made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, where God said that Abraham would receive a land, which was Canaan and was ultimately conquered by his descendants under Joshua; that his descendants would become a great nation, which they did at Mt. Sinai; and that through him all the families of the world would be blessed. In Genesis 22:17-18, this promise is repeated with the added note that in his seed all nations of the world would be blessed. Paul explains this prophecy as referring specifically to Christ (Galatians 3:16-19). The promise was repeated to Isaac (Genesis 26:3-4) and Jacob (Genesis 28:14), both of whom appear in the genealogy of Christ (Luke 3). Then a prophecy was made to Judah that the scepter would not depart from him until Shiloh comes (Genesis 49:8-10). There is some debate as to what this prophecy specifically means, but many scholars understand it generally to mean that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:11-17).

     Another prophecy of the Messiah was made to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-17. There is a possible dual fulfilment. In an immediate sense, many of the predictions were fulfilled physically by Solomon, perhaps as a type, but in a more remote sense, they were fulfilled spiritually by Christ, and the part about the kingdom being established forever could apply only to Christ. Jesus was indeed of the seed of David (Matthew 1:1). He did come to establish God’s spiritual kingdom, the church (Matthew 16:18-19, Colossians 1:13). He did build a house, which is another figure of speech for the church (Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Timothy 3:15). And indeed His throne was established forever (Hebrews 12:2, Revelation 3:21).

     Also there are other prophecies of the Messiah found throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah 7:14 predicts the nature of His birth, that "a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son." Evidence is presented to establish the fact that Jesus was born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit rather than through the natural agency of the male seed (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:30-31). If anyone could testify that Mary was a virgin, she herself would know. Micah 5:2 predicts the place of His birth, that out of Bethlehem Ephrathah would come forth "the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting." The Jews understood that this particular Bethlehem, in Judea, was to be the birthplace of the Messiah (Matthew 2:1-6). And that is exactly where Jesus was born (Luke 2:1-6).

     Indeed, all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me" (Luke 24:44). Since the Old Testament also plainly declared that the Messiah would partake of the very nature of Jehovah and thus Himself be divine, our conclusion based on this evidence is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. (—taken from With All Boldness; June, 2001; Vol. 11, No. 6; p. 11)

The Miracles of Jesus

THE MIRACLES OF JESUS

by Wayne S. Walker

     One of the evidences that Jesus used to confirm His message that He is the divine Son of God was the miracles that He performed. Even the people of His day understood that the working of miracles would be a sign of the Messiah. "And many of the people believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs that these which this Man has done?’" (John 7:31). Jesus claims to have done miracles, invites us to investigate the evidence, and then asks us to believe on Him because of His works. Thus, we would do well to give serious consideration to the miracles of Jesus.

     Before we can discuss this subject thoroughly, we must have a usable definition of miracles. There are five words used in the New Testament to describe those actions which we commonly refer to as miracles. Four of them are found in Hebrews 2:4 where we read, "God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" The word "sign" refers to the purpose of these deeds, to point as a portent to something or someone special. The disciples prayed and asked God to work, "By stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus" (Acts 4:30).

     The word "wonder" refers to the effect that the deed has, to cause amazement and awe on the part of the witnesses. "Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles" (Acts 2:43). The word "miracle" refers to the power that is behind the deed, to identify it as coming from someone mighty. "Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done" (Acts 8:13).

     The word "gift" refers to the source, the fact that the power was given by some specific individual, in this case the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit," and went on to mention some of those gifts, saying, "to another the working of miracles" (1 Corinthians 12:4-9). Another word not found in the Hebrews passage is "work" which refers to the nature of the deed, that it was something done. Jesus said, "But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish–the very works that I do–bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me" (John 5:36). While it is clear that the words "gift" and "work" can be used in contexts where they refer to the miraculous, they can also be used of things that are not necessarily miraculous. However, in scripture, the other words are almost always used of that which we commonly call miraculous.

     It is also instructive to identify what miracles are not. They are not natural phenomena, even though they may be amazing. In Genesis 1:14-18 God ordered that the heavenly bodies move in accordance with natural law. Eclipses are not miracles, even though Christopher Columbus made it appear so with the Indians. In Genesis 1:26-28 God ordered that human beings should reproduce in harmony with natural law. The birth of a baby, however wonderful and amazing it may be, is not a miracle, even though some people often use that word to describe it.

     Nor are miracles acts of God’s providence. God has promised to provide for our needs, of mankind generally and His people specifically (Matthew 6:33, Acts 14:17, James 1:18). When a Christian who has lost his job and is just about to lose his house suddenly finds work, or when it rains after months of drought just in time to save the crops, that is certainly God’s providence but it is not a miracle even though we may not fully understand the how or why of what happened. And finally, miracles are not just forms of magic and trickery. In Acts 8:9-11, Simon the sorcerer had been doing magic and bewitching the people, but when they saw the real miracles of Philip, they immediately recognized Simon’s tricks for what they were and turned to Philip.

     Thus, for the purposes of this study, we may define a miracles as a deed by which God temporarily sets aside the normal laws of nature which He has set in motion to govern the affairs of the universe in order to act directly and supernaturally as a sign of His divine power and approval. In future articles, we shall discuss the nature of miracles in the Bible, and especially those performed by Jesus, along with their purpose and historicalness. "Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did" (John 2:23).  (—taken from With All Boldness; May, 2001; Vol. 11, No. 5; p. 12)