Tag Archives: miracles

How Does The Holy Spirit Work Today? (Part 2)

When one discusses how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians, many in the religious world assume that this is only done so in a miraculous, charismatic way.  For example, many believe that one does not have a relationship with the Holy Spirit unless one is involved in some sort of supposedly miraculous deed, such as “speaking in tongues” (which in most cases is babbling nonsense rather than the biblical definition found in Acts 2:4-11 of speaking in other languages without having previously learned them), “fainting,” handling poisonous snakes or drinking poisonous liquids without harm, or “being healed” of various maladies.

This is understandable, because the Bible does speak of miraculous spiritual gifts that some of the early Christians possessed.  Paul mentions “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:1), and then talks of how there were “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4).  He then lists the different types of spiritual gifts, of which a study of each of them would reveal that they were miraculous in nature (12:8-10), and then specifically notes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12:11).  He then spends the rest of chapter 12 and all of chapters 13 and 14 talking about these miraculous spiritual gifts.

One item worthy of note concerning these miraculous spiritual gifts is that Paul cited that not all of the early Christians had them (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23).  This is interesting, considering that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised to all who would become Christians through obedience to the gospel commands of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 5:32).  Is this a contradiction, or is there a difference between the “spiritual gifts” mentioned by Paul which were miraculous in nature and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised by Peter to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39) through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14)?

A careful study of the totality of scriptural data concerning this question (Ps. 119:160) reveals that there is a difference between the two.  The New Testament teaches that while “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was given to all who obeyed the gospel, miraculous spiritual gifts were given to selected Christians by the apostles through the laying on of hands.  The apostle Paul was known to give people spiritual gifts in this way (Acts 19:5-6; cf. Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6).  We see a more detailed example in Acts 6:1-6, where the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to select from among them seven men to serve in a benevolent work.  Stephen and Philip were among the seven chosen.  We read then that these men were brought before the apostles, who then “laid their hands on them” (6:6).  Only afterwards do we read in the book of Acts of anyone other than the 12 apostles performing miracles, in that Stephen (6:8) and Philip (8:6-7) were able to perform them also.

What is interesting is that Stephen, Philip, and the rest of these seven men had to meet certain qualifications in order to be chosen, among which was that they already be “full of the Spirit” (6:3).  Does that phrase mean that they already had the ability to perform miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit?  Not necessarily, because as stated earlier we read of no one other than the apostles performing miracles until after they laid their hands on these seven men in Acts 6:6.  However, when we remember that all who obeyed the gospel through penitent baptism for forgiveness of sins were promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39), we see that the qualification “full of the Spirit” refers to the promise given to all Christians when they are converted rather than the ability to perform miracles through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

To summarize before moving on, we see that Scripture brings out a difference between “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “spiritual gifts.”  The former was promised by Peter to all who answer God’s call through the gospel by  choosing to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14).  The latter were miraculous in nature (1 Cor. 12:1-11), were not given to all Christians (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23), and were only imparted to certain Christians through the laying on of an apostle’s hands, as exemplified by Paul (Acts 19:5-6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6) and when the apostles laid their hands on Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:1-6).  In order to be chosen, Stephen and Philip had to have already been “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 6:3).  Yet, they did not perform miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7).  Therefore, they had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” at their conversion (Acts 2:38-39), but received miraculous spiritual gifts when the apostles laid their hands on them.

Scripture then records an episode in the life of Philip (Acts 8:5-18) which shows not only how miraculous spiritual gifts were given to Christians, but also how they were temporary in nature.  Philip traveled to Samaria, where he preached Christ and performed miracles (8:5-7).  Many in Samaria believed his preaching and were baptized, including a magician named Simon (8:9-13).  It is noteworthy that Simon, “after being baptized…continued on with Philip…and OBSERVED signs and great miracles taking place…” (8:13).  Simon, after his baptism, didn’t perform any miracles himself, nor did he request that Philip give him the ability to do miracles.  With this in mind, notice that Luke then records that the apostles Peter and John traveled to Samaria for the specific purpose that the Samaritans “might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For he had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (8:14-16).  Once Peter and John arrived, “they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit” (8:17).  Scripture then records how “Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (8:18), and offered them money for the ability to do the same.

Let’s notice several things from this passage.  First, the Samaritans would have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” automatically upon their penitent baptism (Acts 2:38-39), thus making them “filled with the Spirit” just as Stephen and Philip had been before the apostles laid their hands on them (Acts 6:3).  However, just as Stephen and Philip did not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7), the Samaritans would not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts after their baptism until an apostle laid their hands on them.  This is why Peter and John made the trip.  Philip, after having been given miraculous spiritual gifts by the apostles laying their hands on him, couldn’t impart the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit himself.  Otherwise, the Scriptures would have said so, he could have saved Peter and John the trip, and Simon would have come to him with money rather than the apostles.

The fact that only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts upon certain Christians is very significant when determining how the Holy Spirit works today. Many are not aware that the New Testament teaches that miracles would cease.  In the middle of his discourse to Corinth about miraculous spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), Paul prophesied, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.  For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will be done away” (13:8-10).

“Prophecy,” “tongues,” and “knowledge” all refer to miraculous spiritual gifts mentioned earlier in the epistle (12:4-11).  Notice that Paul foretold that these miracles (which he calls “the partial”) will be done away with when “the perfect” comes.  Some, understandably, believe “the perfect” to be Jesus Christ…but the original Greek word – teleios – refers to something which is fully complete or mature.  It is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), something which was not yet complete at the time Paul wrote his letter to Corinth and yet would become complete within a few years afterwards.  Therefore, Paul was prophesying to the Corinthians that when God’s Word become “complete/perfect” (teleios), miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.  This makes even more sense when one remembers that the purpose of miraculous spiritual gifts in the first place was to confirm the Word of God that was being initially preached during that time (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4).

History tells us that by the time the Word of God was complete at the close of the first century AD, all of the apostles either had died or were about to pass away.  This is relevant to the question of when miracles ceased, because we’ve seen in this study how a Christian could only receive miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of an apostle’s hands.  Philip, one of those whom the apostles gave miraculous spiritual gifts in this manner (Acts 6:1-6; 8:5-7), could not impart the same to those whom he converted, which is why two apostles came to Samaria (Acts 8:14-19).  Only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts to others.  Therefore, when all of the apostles passed away, and all those on whom they laid their hands and bestowed miraculous spiritual gifts passed away, miracles ceased…all around the time Paul said that they would:  “when that which is perfect has come,” when God’s Word became complete.

So what is “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised to all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39)?  The next article in this series will study the answer to that question.

Why Did God Give People The Ability To Perform Miracles?

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

John 3:1-2 – Scripture of the Day (March 21, 2014)

Why did God allow man to perform miracles?  Have you ever wondered that?

Nicodemus tells us why.  Why would a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, one of the religious elite of the day, pay any attention to a carpenter from backwater Nazareth who was claiming to be the Messiah?  It was because of the miracles done by this Man.

That’s why people paid attention to his apostles and the other early Christians.  Picture this.  You came into Jerusalem for the Passover and just happened to witness the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  You decide to come back to Jerusalem fifty days later to observe the holiday of Pentecost, and suddenly you see this Galilean roughneck fisherman talking to thousands of people about how “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36) and how God had raised him from the dead (Acts 2:32).

“Wait a second,” you think.  “That’s the same guy I saw dying on a cross fifty days ago!  This guy can’t be telling the truth!”

An obvious and understandable conclusion, one that obviously would keep you from buying what this guy is selling and becoming a follower of a dead guy who is supposedly resurrected.  Why would anyone believe this man or anyone else who’s preaching the same message?

What if you were standing there listening to him and the other uneducated hicks from Galilee, when you suddenly realized that all the other Jews surrounding you from places all over the world could understand them because they were effortlessly speaking to them in their own languages (Acts 2:4)?  True, it could be possible, however unlikely, for uneducated fisherfolk from Galilee to…maybe…learn one or two different languages over time?  But twenty?  Thirty?  And to be completely fluent in them, switching back and forth from one to the other effortlessly depending on the person to whom they were speaking and the place from where he had come?

Say in the days following you keep running into these guys who keep preaching about a resurrected, crucified carpenter from Nazareth who is the Son of God…and you notice more unexplainable oddities…

How that fisherman was talking to that lame guy on Solomon’s Portico whom you’ve seen begging for food at that same spot for years, and suddenly reaches down and pulls him to his feet…and now the lame guy can walk, and not only walk but leap around, praising God!  (Acts 3:1ff)

How people were carrying obviously sick people out into the streets, as well as those afflicted with unclean spirits, and how this fisherman would just simply walk past them at noon with his shadow passing over them, and suddenly they would be completely better!  (Acts 5:12-16)

Now, if you were a complete cynic whose heart was completely hardened and your mind was already made up that these guys were frauds, then you would write these supposed “miracles” off as frauds.  You might even attribute their ability to perform these signs as evidence that they were followers of Satan (Matt. 12:22-30)!  If you were so far gone that you were attributing the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to Satan, there would be no hope for you whatsoever that you would believe in Jesus as the Son of God, and so you would never be forgiven (Matt. 12:31-32).

However, these signs and wonders performed by Jesus and his followers would make a big impression on you as to the validity of their message if you had an open and honest heart (Luke 8:15).  That’s a big reason why God allowed Jesus and his followers to perform miracles.  It was, as Nicodemus said, to convince observers that God was with them.

For more scriptural information, read also Mark 16:17-20 and Hebrews 2:1-4.

“…He Saw The Spirit of God Descending Like A Dove…”

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16 – Scripture of the Day (February 7, 2014)

We’re going into deep waters in our study of today’s Scripture of the Day.  Undoubtedly those of us who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God wish we could have witnessed his immersion in the Jordan River by John, the heavens opening and the Holy Spirit descending upon him “in bodily form, like a dove” (Matt. 3:16; cf. Luke 3:22).  Scripture reveals how the Holy Spirit did several things of great significance when he came to rest upon Christ on that day.  By careful study and proper handling of everything the Scriptures reveal about this topic, we can get proper insight into this particular mystery of Christ (2 Tim. 2:15; Ps. 119:160; Eph. 3:4) and increase our knowledge about the third member of the Godhead (2 Cor. 13:14), of whom there is much confusion and error taught.

 Fulfillment of Prophecy

When the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus, two prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled which were given by a man long before who, like many other prophets, “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet. 1:10-11).  Isaiah, who lived about seven hundred years before Jesus was born, wrote, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…” (Is. 11:1-4a).

Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in many ways.  He was a descendant of David, the son of Jesse (Matt. 1:1-17).  He taught his followers to fear the Lord (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5).  His enemies who tried to entrap him with trick questions and the crowds who listened to his teachings marveled at his wisdom, counsel, and understanding (Matt. 7:28-29; 22:22; John 7:15).  He did not judge according to appearance, but with righteousness (John 7:24) because he “knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).  All of this was due to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when “the Spirit of the Lord” – also referred to by Isaiah as “the Spirit of wisdom and understand…of counsel and might…of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” – came to rest upon Jesus at his baptism.  Jesus recognized this fact, and acknowledged it when he came to Nazareth, read a similar prophecy of Isaiah which said, in part, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:16-10; cf. Is. 61:1-2a), and then declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

 “…And It Remained On Him.”

 When John testified about what he witnessed when he baptized his cousin, he declared, “…I saw  the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:32-33).  While it is true that all the gospel accounts describe the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the bodily form of a dove (cf. Luke 3:22), the fact that it “remained on him” does not refer to the dove continually resting upon his person from that time onward.    In order for us to fully understand what it meant for the Holy Spirit to “rest” upon Jesus or “descend and remain” upon him, we must study something else John the Immerser said about Christ:  “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34).  What did it mean for God to give to Jesus “the Spirit WITHOUT measure”?

Definition of “measure.”   The Greek word for “measure” in John 3:34 is metron, and one of Thayer’s definitions of this word is:  “determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit” (blb.org).  Therefore, John was saying that God gave the Spirit to Jesus without any determined extent, without any portion measured off, without any measure or limit.  This is significant, especially when we read that after the church began God gave the Spirit to the followers of Christ WITH various determined extents, portions measured off, measures and limits.

“…to each one individually as he wills.”  In his discussion of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), Paul informed the saints in Corinth that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4).  The fact that the Corinthian brethren had “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” shows that none of them had the Spirit given to them “without measure” as was the case with Jesus.  Paul would go on to write that some of them had the spiritual gift of wisdom, some had the spiritual gift of knowledge, some had the spiritual gift of faith (cf. Matt. 21:21-22), others could perform miracles, miraculously heal others, prophecy, or distinguish between spirits (cf. 1 John 4:1), while still others of them could miraculously speak in other languages or interpret what was being said in that language (12:7-10).  The Holy Spirit distributed each of these gifts to each of the saints at Corinth as he saw fit (12:11), something in direct contrast to Christ receiving the Spirit “without measure.”

Paul later wrote to them, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing?  Do all speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts…” (12:28-31a).  These rhetorical questions ending with Paul’s plea for them to earnestly seek after “the higher gifts” also show that not every saint in Corinth possessed all or even the same spiritual gifts.  Later, Paul would again encourage the Corinthians to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts,” especially the gift of prophecy rather than the gift of miraculously speaking in foreign languages(14:1-5, 39), and would also encourage the one who had the spiritual gift of speaking in other languages to also “pray for the power to interpret” (14:13).  This also shows that God gave the Spirit to these saints in portions, with some determined extent in mind, in a manner different than what he did with Jesus when he gave him the Spirit “without measure.”

The cessation of the miraculous measure.  What I find most significant in this comparison between Christ’s reception of the Spirit “without measure” and the Corinthians’ measured, proportioned reception of spiritual gifts is Paul’s prophecy that the Corinthians’ spiritual gifts would eventually cease (13:8-10).  This would happen when “that which is perfect has come” (13:10, NKJV).  The term “perfect” comes from the Greek word telios.  Several of its definitions include “brought to its end, finished” and “wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (blb.org), thus showing that the Corinthians passage would be better translated as “that which is complete has come,” or “that which has been finished has come.”  The same word is used elsewhere to describe God’s Word as “the perfect (telios, complete, finished) law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25).  Therefore, Paul is basically stating that when God’s Word was complete or finished, miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.

A study of how Christians received various measures of the Spirit, including miraculous spiritual gifts, reveals when miraculous spiritual gifts passed away.  On Pentecost, the twelve apostles received the Holy Spirit in a way similar to how Jesus received it at his immersion, with the difference being that the Spirit seems to have appeared as “divided tongues as of fire…rest(ing) on each one of them” (Acts 2:3-4) rather than taking the form of a dove.  Acts would reveal that as a result of this, the twelve seemed to have all the spiritual gifts Paul would later list to the Corinthians, thus indicating that they too received the Spirit “without measure” (cf. Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:12-15).  They were able to miraculously speak in other languages (2:4-12) with miraculous wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy (2:4, 14-36).  They were able to miraculously heal (3:1-10) and perform other miracles (5:12), including the gift of discernment of spirits (5:1-11; cf. 1 John 4:1).  On that same day, they promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to any who repented and were immersed in Jesus’ name for forgiveness of sins (2:38).  This promise would apply to those listening to them on that day, their children, “and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (2:39).  Therefore, everyone who obeyed the gospel from then until now has received the Holy Spirit and is led by him via his sword, the Word of God which came from him (cf. 2 Thess. 2:14; Rom. 8:9-11, 14; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 3:16; 6:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

However, was the Spirit given “without measure” to those who obeyed the gospel?  No, as 1 Corinthians 12-14 have already revealed.  In addition, Acts records only the twelve apostles doing anything miraculous for several chapters after Pentecost until the day when the Jerusalem congregation chose from among them seven men, including Stephen and Philip, who were already “full of the Spirit” to feed Hellenistic widows (6:1-5).  They were already “full of the Spirit” because they had obeyed the gospel (2:38-39).  However, upon being chosen the apostles “laid their hands on them” (6:6).  After this event, we then read of Stephen and Philip also performing miracles in Jerusalem and in Samaria (6:8; 7:55-56; 8:5-7).

When the Samaritans believed Philip’s message confirmed to them by his miracles (cf. Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4), they were baptized (8:12).  According to the promise given on Pentecost (2:38-39), they received “the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  However, Acts then records how two apostles had to travel to Samaria to pray and lay their hands on the Samaritan converts so they could “receive the Holy Spirit” (8:14-18).

This tells of something of great significance about when the miraculous measure of the Spirit would cease to be given.  God gave the Spirit to Jesus and to the apostles “without measure,” and as a result they miraculously had full wisdom, knowledge, faith, discernment, and could work various miracles.  Those whom the apostles converted also received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38-39), but not “without measure” since they still needed to be taught by the apostles (2:42) and could not perform miracles until the apostles laid their hands on them (6:1-6, 8; 7:55-56; 8:5-7, 12-18).  Therefore, the miraculous measure of the Spirit would cease to be given upon the deaths of the apostles and all those upon whom they laid their hands.  Historically, this took place around the same time when God’s Word – “that which is perfect (telios, complete, finished) has come” (I Cor. 13:8-10; James 1:25) – was finished with the completion of the New Testament writings.

“…he will give you another Helper to be with you forever…”  In making this promise (John 14:16-17), Jesus was promising the apostles that the Spirit basically would “remain” on them, just as he “remained” on Jesus after his immersion (John 1:32-33).  He, and apparently they also, received the Spirit “without measure” (John 3:34).  This explains the wisdom, knowledge, and miraculous discernment and power both Christ and his apostles displayed during their ministries.  It also makes more distinct the contrast between how the Spirit was given “without measure” to them and how it was given with various degrees of measure to those converted by their message.

Conclusion

Any topic concerning the Holy Spirit is certainly worthy of our continued study and meditation.  My only goal in this particular study is to present nothing but what God’s Word says, and I pray I have done so for the benefit of all who read, including myself.  May we all strive to do nothing more or less, with humility, love, and patience with each other.

Jesus certainly was led by the Spirit, in some ways in a more direct fashion than us.  We also are to let the Spirit lead us through the Word he inspired.  May we do so each and every day!