Are Miracles Signs?

In the second sermon of his apologetics series, my priest spoke about miracles. According to him, miracles confirm that a message is from God. The priest asserted that only God can raise the dead or create ex nihilo, whereas a demon can only simulate such miracles. His sermon concluded that miracles exist for the glory of God, primarily to confirm his message. For the priest, Christianity is the only religion that has been confirmed with credible miracles.

The priest is wrestling with a difficult issue here. It can be summed up as follows:

1. Throughout Scripture, miracles serve as signs that a person or message is sent by God (e.g., Hebrews 2:4; John 5, 9).

2. Yet, Satan, demons, and false prophets can also do miracles (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13-14).

3. Therefore, can miracles truly demonstrate the divine authority of a person or message, since the bad side can do them too?

The priest tried to solve this problem by claiming that the bad side’s miracles are not real. The Antichrist will appear to be raised from the dead, for example, but his resurrection will be a sham, a trick. The priest may have had in mind a scene from Prince of Egypt, in which the Pharaoh’s magicians pretended to turn water into blood by putting some red powder into the water bowl.

The priest is not the only one to wrestle with this problem. R.C. Sproul also said that Satan cannot raise the dead. His argument was that, if miracles are indeed signs, then Satan cannot do them, since otherwise they wouldn’t be signs anymore. One plus in his favor was his partial preterist eschatology, which said that the “resurrection” of the Antichrist was actually the rise of a Roman emperor, who reminded people of a previous emperor. So R.C. Sproul doesn’t take the Antichrist’s “resurrection” literally.

The priest does not believe in partial preterism, however, because he sees the Antichrist as a future figure. That creates problems for him. What makes him think that the Antichrist’s resurrection will be fake? By “fake,” the priest means making a person seem alive when he actually is not. The resurrected Antichrist will be alive for 3 and 1/2 years. Can life be simulated for that long? Maybe the priest believes like Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, who claim that the Antichrist after his death will be indwelt by Satan. Maybe, but Revelation 13:4 says that Satan will give power to the Beast. The Beast can’t be Satan and receive power from Satan at the same time, can he?

Another problem is that the priest’s attempted solution leaves us back where we started. How are we to tell the difference between a real miracle and a simulated one? If we can’t distinguish one from the other, then the miracles cannot be signs for us.

Is Christianity the only religion that purports to have miracles? I’m not an expert on this subject, but my hunch is “no.” There are rabbinic stories about miracles. There were supposedly miracles that accompanied Mohammad. One thing that Christianity may have going for it is that it has sources about people who experienced miracles that were written during their lifetimes. Paul talks about miracles and supernatural gifts of the Spirit existing in the very churches to which he was writing. He also refers to living witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in I Corinthians 15. Why would he say these things if people could easily deny them?

Can we identify a miracle as legitimate if it leads to God’s glory? In some sense, Jesus made this very argument when he responded to the Pharisees’ accusations. The Pharisees said that Jesus was casting out demons through Satan, but Jesus replied that Satan would not fight his own kingdom (Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 11). So can we identify a miracle as divinely authentic if it leads to good and sets people free from Satanic domination (e.g., disease, possession, etc.)? Perhaps, though Frank Peretti presents false prophets as able to heal. Plus, some people may not think that Jesus’ religion accomplished only good, since it split apart families (Matthew 10:34).

So maybe there is an answer to the priest’s dilemma somewhere, but I’m not sure where.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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