We often see posters or receive flyers that invite people to healing meetings, miracle fests, festivals of blessing, etc. It is promised that the sick will be healed. There are lots of great “healers,” preachers, pastors, and prophets who claim to have God’s anointing and so are able to heal all illnesses or raise dead people. In this article, we would like to have a look at what the Bible teaches us regarding signs and miracles performed in the name of Jesus.
Before being impressed by the abovementioned great promises, testimonies of people who were healed, or even personally witnessed miracles, we have to be aware of all the warnings in the Bible in this regard. The warnings call us to be careful, to examine, and not to be too quick with conclusions such as “This healer is definitely a great, anointed man of God, so we can trust and follow him.”
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1–5)
Even if the miraculous sign or wonder takes place, we have to examine the teachings of that person. Nowadays, no preacher would say, “Let us follow other gods…,” but if they teach things contrary to the words of Jesus and the apostles, we have to see them as deceivers who are trying “to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow.”
For non-Catholics, a very clear example could be the healings which happen through “Mother Mary” at various shrines (e.g., Vailankanni, Fatima, Lourdes, etc.) where “Mary” is venerated (in fact worshipped) in a way that is obviously unbiblical. But in the same way, we have to examine the words and teachings of protestant/Pentecostal preachers and healers as well. The above verses from Deuteronomy show that the words and teachings are decisive and much more important in front of God than miraculous signs.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:15–16; 21–23)
In verse 22, Jesus speaks about the Last Judgement. The people who say to him “Lord, Lord…” are preachers and prophets who preached, prophesied, and performed many miracles in Jesus’ name. Yet, they will not be allowed to enter heaven as Jesus has never known them. Why? Because they did not do the will of God. Again a clear warning not to be quickly impressed by miraculous signs but to examine the fruit by which false prophets can be distinguished from true ones. Obviously, fruit cannot mean miracles as in the later verses it is clear that they are condemned in spite of the miraculous signs they performed. The fruit refers to their lives and teachings. It is often well known about famous healers and preachers that they live in great luxury (1 John 3:17), love money (1 Timothy 6:6–10), love the honor of people (John 5:44, Mark 12:38–40), love the world (1 John 2:15–17), and are too busy, so personal relationship is hardly possible with them (1 Thessalonians 2:4–12). However, sometimes it is not so easy to know their lives; therefore, we have to examine their teachings on the basis of the Bible.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, acknowledges the noble character of the Bereans because they examined the teachings of Paul whether they were true. We have to do the same before we trust and follow someone. And we have to be very careful and thorough in this. It is not enough that someone teaches that Jesus is the saviour of the world and he is God (for example), but we have to look at the whole will of God:
Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26–27)
If Paul had not proclaimed to the Ephesians the whole will of God, he would have been guilty of their blood, that is, he would not have shown them the way of eternal life. Still some more Bible passages about being cautious:
For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. (Matthew 24:24–25)
Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. (Revelation 13:11; 12–14)
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10)
This last passage shows the responsibility and guilt of not only the deceivers but also those who believed them. No one can blame the false prophets for being deceived by them. Their punishment will be certainly more severe, but, basically, God has given everyone the ability to distinguish between good and evil. We have the Bible, which guides us if we are open and love the truth. Hence, knowing the Bible and clinging to it are the best protection against being deceived.
Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22)
Jesus healed all—evidently, undoubtedly, completely
As we have seen above, not all miracles are from God, and a clear way to find this out is to examine the teachings (and also the life) of the one who performs them. Apart from this, miracles performed in the name of Jesus should also look like the miracles performed by Jesus himself. In the following, we will look at some characteristics of Jesus’ miracles and compare them with the miracles which we can see or hear of nowadays.
Jesus healed all
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. (Matthew 8:16)
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick. (Matthew 12:15)
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. (Mark 6:53–56)
As is visible from the above passages, Jesus healed all the sick, not only some. Whoever went to him in the hope to be healed was really healed by him, whatever illness he had. At nowadays’ healing meetings, it is very sad to see that lots of sick people go to the “healer” full of hope and expectation, but they have to go back home in the same condition as they came. The reason the “healers” usually give is the lack of faith of the sick person. However, Jesus healed also such people who showed with their later actions that they did not have a strong faith:
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11–19)
All the ten were healed; yet, Jesus acknowledges the faith of only that one who came back to him to give praise to God. This situation shows that Jesus did not expect special faith of those whom he healed. It was enough if they believed and had hope that Jesus can heal them.
Jesus never treated people in such that first he gave hope to someone and then failed to heal them. He never failed in his healings because of the lack of faith of the sick person. We never see reports that he would have tried to heal someone but he could not because they did not have enough faith. It cannot be that the multitudes nowadays who have to go home after great healing meetings without being healed all did not have enough faith. The problem must be somewhere else.
Another frequently heard reason given by “healers” is that it is not always God’s will to heal someone. However, if the “healer” is a man of God, why can he not understand in advance before he gives hope to the “patient” and before he starts his healing attempt that this is not God’s will now. If their reasoning is valid at all, then it rather testifies that they are not connected with God because they are not able to know God’s will in advance, only by trial and error. Jesus and later the apostles (after receiving the Holy Spirit) never made such unsuccessful attempts.
Still a further attempt of the “healers” to justify their failures is to refer to the situation in Nazareth, where Jesus did not do many miracles:
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matthew 13:53–58)
As we see, in Nazareth, the unbelief was very obvious: “They took offense at him.” The lack of faith refers to their negative and skeptical attitude towards Jesus and that because of this Jesus did not have a chance to help them. Jesus, seeing their attitude, did not want to do miracles among them. This is a very different situation from the failed healing attempts of today’s “healers.”
Jesus’ healings were evident, beyond any doubt, and complete
The diseases which Jesus healed, and about which we have detailed reports in the gospels, were mostly very serious ones: stroke, blindness (even from birth), muteness, leprosy, internal bleeding (for 12 years), paralysis (for 38 years), etc. The gospels also report about three cases, in which he raised people from the dead. All the cases were so evident that even Jesus’ enemies could not deny them, though they tried very hard to prove that Jesus was a deceiver. For example, when Jesus raised Lazarus, who had been dead for 4 days, the miracle was so evident that the Jewish leaders seriously had to consider what to do:
Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him […]. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (John 11:43–48; 53)
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (John 11:9–11)
When Jesus healed a man who had been born blind, the Pharisees tried to disprove the miracle, but it was not successful:
Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. (John 9:17–20)
As mentioned above, the illnesses which Jesus healed were very serious ones and the healings were very obvious to everyone. Nowadays’ “healers,” however, mostly heal headaches, back pain, neck pain, chest pain, stomach pain, etc.—illnesses which are not very evident, and so also the healing cannot be clearly proved (we do not want to deal now with the many previously arranged or later proved fake healings). The only witness is the patient. Also, mostly we do not know how long the pain is absent after the “healing.” As the above passages and many other cases in the gospels show, Jesus’ healings were very different.
Jesus’ approach to miracles
Jesus knew that the worst “disease” that makes people’s lives miserable is sin. His aim was to call people to repentance from their sins and to show them the way which leads to heaven. He wanted to heal the wounds of their hearts so that their relationships with God can be restored.
But after he [Joseph, Jesus’ father] had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20–21)
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14–15)
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Jesus called the people to follow him, which is only possible if they are ready to deny themselves and put to death their old corrupt selves and allow the Holy Spirit, whom the believers were to receive, to transform their lives (Ephesians 4:22–24). This was the healing that Jesus offered, and he knew that even if people’s bodily diseases are cured or their hunger is satisfied, their lives can be really restored only if they are ready to go his way. The miracles that he performed had the aim (1) to confirm that he is the savior of the world whom God sent and (2) to point to God’s ultimate purpose and give a certain foretaste of heaven, where there will be no suffering anymore (Revelation 21:4). He never wanted followers who are impressed by his miracles but do not understand his actual message. He knew that such faith is superficial and is very short-lived:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (John 2:23–25)
In a later situation, this became very evident:
Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:24–35)
Jesus saw that people were interested in him because of the physical food they received from him. However, when Jesus directed their attention to the spiritual food, to the bread of life, many of his enthusiastic followers left him:
“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:57–58; 59–63; 66)
Jesus was not afraid of losing many of his disciples by confronting them with what it means to follow him, although it was certainly painful for him.
Miracles in the Bible
If we have a look at the entire Holy Scripture, it is visible that miraculous signs and wonders did not happen throughout the history of God’s nation. God acted in this way in special times but not always: particularly, in the time of Moses, in the time of Elijah and Elisha, and in the time of Jesus and the apostles. These were very important times in the history of salvation. The time of Moses was the beginning of Israel as a nation and the Old Covenant. The time of Elijah and Elisha was a very critical time when the spiritual survival of Israel was at stake due to the godless rule of the Omri dynasty and Jezebel’s efforts to totally extinguish the worship of Yahweh. Jesus and the apostles marked the beginning of the New Israel and the New Covenant. In these special times, God wanted to help his people to believe in Him also through miraculous signs.
In the time of Moses, the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea were very special experiences for the Israelites.
That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. (Exodus 14:30–31)
However, God did not work in this miraculous way among them constantly. He expected them to remember and pass on these great events to their children from generation to generation.
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
The great things were not repeated again and again. God expected faith based on the testimonies. In a similar way, the miracles that Jesus and the apostles performed are written down in the New Testament for all later generations so that we can also read them and believe even if we cannot see them with our own eyes. As John expresses it at the end of his gospel:
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)
Just before this remark of John, there was an incident in which Jesus rebuked Thomas because he was not ready to believe that Jesus had risen without seeing him with his own eyes:
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24–29)
Jesus did not expect Thomas to believe blindly. He had enough evidence to believe that Jesus had risen as he had heard the testimony of the other apostles. The admonishment of Jesus is valid also for us. We too have a lot of evidence written down in the Bible about God’s miraculous acting. We should not demand more but believe based on the Scripture.
Important signs other than miracles
As mentioned above, miracles are often referred to as clear evidence that a preacher, pastor, organization, or church is from God. However, as we have seen, miracles can be imitated and misused to claim divine authority and deceive others. Therefore, we have to be very cautious when hearing of or seeing such things.
Nevertheless, Jesus spoke also about some other signs by which a sincere seeker or believer can identify whether people who claim to belong to God are really God’s people.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35)
The sign of brotherly love cannot be imitated. Loving one another as Jesus did requires full devotion to God and deep interest in the spiritual lives of my brothers and sisters. Christians live in brotherly fellowship just as the first Christians did, giving their lives daily for one another. There are lots of so-called churches where great miracles are claimed to happen, yet brotherly love is missing. If, for example, those who are rich supported those who are poor to receive proper medical care or to live in healthier conditions, then perhaps many of the illnesses could be avoided or healed in an ordinary way. Also, if Christian brothers and sisters surround their sick brother or sister with love, care, comfort, and spiritual encouragement, they can receive much strength to bear their suffering with patience and thankfulness. This love and care for one another is a clear sign to the world that Jesus is really present among the believers. You can read more about Christian church and brotherly love in our topic What does Christian church look like?
Another important sign, other than supernatural miracles, is the unity of the believers:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20–21)
Jesus prayed that the believers should be one, just as he is one with the Father. This unity can exist only if every believer is ready to submit to Jesus and does not cling to his/her own thoughts and wishes. A superficial agreement in a few so-called essential things (e.g., Trinity, salvation by faith alone, the Bible is God’s word…) cannot be called unity in the sense of Jesus’ prayer. Such unity can be found also in the world. The uniqueness of the unity among true Christians is that they are truly one heart and mind (Acts 4:32). To reach and maintain this, Christians endeavor to know each other deeply and spend time with each other, that is, love one another as Jesus did. Since this deep unity cannot be imitated, it is another unmistakable sign of God’s acting.
Let us not be deceived by miraculous signs performed in the name of Jesus. Let us seek the true signs of God’s work: obedience to God’s word, humility, holy life, brotherly love, unity.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:7–10)