Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The End of the Miraculous Age

In recent Sunday evening sermons at Central I focused our attention on the "gift of the Holy Spirit" as discussed in Acts 2:38. I pointed out how there is a difference between the ordinary indwelling (non-miraculous) gift of the Holy Spirit people receive after they have repented and have been baptized into Christ (cf. Acts 2:38; 5:32; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 6:19) and the supernatural miraculous gift(s) of the Holy. It must always be remembered that miracles had very specific purposes in the first century. Miracles performed by Jesus were performed and designed to be the proof that Jesus was the Divine Son of God (John 20:30-31; cf. Acts 2:22). As the apostles went about teaching the message of Jesus, the fact that they were messengers from God was established by the miracles they performed (2 Cor. 12:12).

Miracles were not performed to satisfy people’s curiosity (Matt. 12:38ff; 13:58; John 6:30ff; 1 Cor. 1:22). True faith is not produced by witnessing a miracle (Luke 16:30-31; John 12:37ff; Acts 4:16-17); rather faith is developed by absorbing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Miracles were intended to confirm the word of God. It was (and is) the confirmed word of God, not the miracles themselves, that produced faith.

The ability to perform miracles was transmitted by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, giving them the ability to perform miracles (Luke 9:1-2; 10:19-20; Acts 1:8). They were given this ability to demonstrate to the hearers that their message was true (Acts 4:29-30; Heb. 2:1-4; John 15:26). These miracles were given “first” (1 Cor. 12:28) so that the foundation of the church would be established by the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). The Apostles had the power to transfer miraculous power to other believers (Acts 8:18; 14:3; 2 Tim. 1:6). Miraculous powers (the miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit) were only obtained by the laying on of an Apostle’s hand (Acts 8:14-24).

The only exception to this is found in the case of Cornelius who received a baptism of the Holy Spirit directly from heaven before he became a Christian in order to prove to the Jews that the Gentiles too had a right to hear the gospel and become a part of Christ’ kingdom. (cf. Acts 10:45-47; 11:17-18) Others (besides the Apostles) that had miraculous abilities were unable to pass this gift on to others. Philip could perform miracles himself (Acts 8:6), but he was unable to give this ability to others (Acts 8:18-19). With the death of the Apostles and those who had miraculous ability, miracles through human agency rapidly ceased.

A key in understanding the end of the miraculous age is Paul’s use of “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13. The inspired apostle states that there would be an end to miracles. He wrote to the Corinthian brethren, " 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 prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away" (1 Cor 13:8-10). This passage explicitly says that there would be a time when miraculous gifts would be "done away" and would "cease." The question, however, is when would this occur? Again, the text is clear; this would happen when "the perfect" comes. But to what does "the perfect" refer?

We must investigate what the original Greek text says and how its terminology is used in this passage and in others using the same term. In the original text, the phrase is "to teleion." The word is from "telios" which means "to bring to an end, finish" or it can mean "full-grown, adult, of full-age, mature." To properly understand what Paul means by using this word in this passage, it proves helpful to examine his usage of the same terminology in a very similar passage in another of his letters.

The same word is used once in the book of Ephesians. The book of Ephesians deals with the nature of the Lord's church. In the discussion of the development and growth of the church, Paul lists the various roles of service and leadership that existed as the church developed (4:11). The purpose of these various roles was to "equip the saints" for the work of the ministry. The work of these leaders were crucial in helping an infintile church grow into adulthood (4:13). Having only a portion of God's message revealed, the church would easily be "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (4:14). God's message was given progressively over the decades from time of the church's establishment.

Eventually, the complete message would be completely given (around A.D. 96 with the completion of the last book of the New Testament). Thus, there was no longer any need for the miraculous confirmation of oral teaching (a major purpose of miracles as we previously noted, cf. Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:2-4).

The complete record was finished and the church had matured and was complete (until some would begin falling away from the faith once delivered for all--see 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff; Jude 3). When "the perfect" mature church developed with a complete message from God, the "partial" of miraculous gifts ceased.

Keep in mind also that once a message is confirmed as true, there is no longer any need for further confirmation. God’s word was revealed in “bits and pieces” through various prophets and inspired teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29-33). Once the complete message of God was revealed and the church was no longer in its infancy (Eph. 4:11-16), there was no longer a need for the confirming purpose of miracles. he “partial” of miracles gave way to the “completeness” of God’s revealed will (1 Cor. 13:8-13; Eph. 4:13; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Surely, if one has the same power that the apostles had, then that one can do the same things that the apostles did. If not, why not? The fact that none can do what the apostles did in the first century speaks loud and clear. It simply says that mankind today does not possess the power that the apostles had.

This is not to say that God no longer works in powerfully in the lives of His people. (cf. Eph. 3:20-21) This applies especially to God’s healing of sickness in answer to prayer. Through prayer we can call upon our Heavenly Father in times of sickness and need, with the assurance that He will answer providentially the prayer that is offered in faith and in harmony with His revealed will. (cf. James 1:6-8; 5:13-16; 1 John 5:14-15)

We must not “deny the power” of God when we pray by limiting what He will and will not do (2 Tim. 3:5) God’s ways are indescribable and amazing. (Rom. 11:33-36)! Do you believe it?

God bless,
Robert Prater

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