WHAT ARE THE 'SIGNS OF AN APOSTLE'?

God has a 'bottom line' on signs for the church era: He has already provided one through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Do You Still Want More "Signs"? Be Careful - You Could Be Led Astray!


The phrase 'signs of an apostle' is taken from 2 Corinthians 12:12 and is a reference to the fact that miracles were a major sign identifying the ministry of the first century apostles. In short, God enabled the apostles to perform various miraculous signs. Let us consider 2 Corinthians 12:12, then look at examples of this in the Book of Acts:

“Here is God's 'bottom line' on signs for our present age: He has already provided one through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
'...A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' (Matthew 12:39-40). ”

'The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance.' (2 Corinthians 12:12, NIV throughout).

'Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.' (Acts 2:43).

'The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.' (Acts 5:12).

'...People brought their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.' (Acts 5:15-16).

'So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.' (Acts 14:3).

'The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.' (Acts 15:12).

'God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.' (Acts 19:11-12).

Neither can we leave out Hebrews 2, which confirms that the first century was a very special time in which the apostles - witnesses of the ministry of Jesus - were granted the ability to perform special signs:

'How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.' (Hebrews 2:3-4).

Yet another charismatic preacher attracts crowds of faithful, although possibly naive, followers.

Please note that these Scriptures strongly appear to indicate that these miraculous gifts were apostolic and unusual. When we say 'apostolic' we plainly mainly refer to that original and first office, however, the original 70 evangelists also shared in these spectacular signs. See Luke 10:17-20.

During the ministry of Jesus, miracles had provided clear evidence for his identity: His miraculous ministry was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Matthew. 11:3-5). Jesus Himself cited his utterly unique miracle ministry as one of the evidences for his Messiahship (Matthew. 11:3-5; Mark 2:9-11; John. 5:36; 10:37,38).

Then, following the ministry of Jesus, the ministry of the apostles was also spectacular and often stunning, it had to be, for it was God's intention for the name of Jesus to become famous very quickly. We sometimes forget that they operated in a world of many diverse religious claims. Therefore, God empowered them (Matthew 10:1; Luke 10:17-20), to have a ministry of miracles which would stun many people and cause the name of Jesus to acquire fame far more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

So the apostles were specifically required to be witnesses to the ministry of Jesus and were empowered for this purpose. They had experienced the ministry of Jesus and they could provide direct testimony of the incredible things which they witnessed - none of us can do that today. Other Scriptures to carefully consult here are Matthew 10:1,8 Mark 16:20 and Luke 9:1-2. Also, in Acts 1:21, when the apostle's noted that Judas needed to be replaced, that verse is clear about the qualifications of an apostle.

But this was a ministry for a particular time, indeed, even the New Testament writers usually referred to the miraculous 'signs of an apostle' in the past tense (note Hebrews 2:3-4, for instance) - this tends to show us that they themselves knew that it was a spectacular ministry for a special time, and as the apostles began to pass from the scene, that particular ministry would cease. Moreover, the 'church fathers' who wrote in the first few centuries of the church, also seem to have understood and accepted this.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming majority do not receive supernatural healing in our age simply because the extensive presence of that particular Gift only accompanied the apostolic age. The New Testament seems to frankly tell us that, so why can't we just believe it?"

Of course, some modern-day preachers erroneously describe themselves as "apostles" (although they were not personal witnesses to the earthly ministry of Jesus), and claim that they too can work signs and wonders. They claim it is all a matter of faith and that if you "believe" enough you too can have your miracle (thereby indicating their serious misunderstanding of biblical doctrine).

To just take healing, whilst I do not believe that miracles are now impossible (and I myself have witnessed some incredible occurrences), everything I have seen of modern-day 'healing evangelists' causes me to be unconvinced that any of them have been granted particular gifts of healing - this does not surprise me since I feel that the fullest manifestation of this Gift has now passed. After all, why look for what the New Testament refers to as 'the signs of an apostle' in an age in which the apostles have long since departed?

But (it could be asked), are not some sick people still healed in a sudden and possibly dynamic way? Undoubtedly, and I myself have witnessed several examples of that (although over many years), but I tend to put that down to the faith of the sick person, or to the faith of the person praying for the sick person, or to the faith of a group of people involved in such prayers - but that in itself still does not necessarily mean that the 'Gift of Healing' has - in our day - been granted to any one person or to any one ministry! If it had been, this would surely grab the attention of even this sceptical world; Just think of it: every child and adult with 'down's syndrome' dramatically healed, every blind person receiving sight, every cancer sufferer instantly healed! Every amputee finding a new arm or leg miraculously reappearing! Yes, I really mean 'every'- not just claims by a tiny minority who attend 'healing meetings.' I have heard of the desperate sadness and depression of hundreds of mentally and physically handicapped persons leaving typical large charismatic healing meetings. These people had been told that they would be healed “as long as you have the faith” and since no healing occurred then people who had thought themselves to be rich in faith, leave in a doubly depressed state. Truth is: they had fallen victims to some pretty poor biblical teaching. This teaching blames the failure for God to heal on a lack of faith - but this is entirely wrong. If such people lacked faith they almost certainly would not have attended the healing meeting in the first place! No - The problem is that the theology is wrong in the first place.

There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming majority do not receive supernatural healing in our age simply because the extensive presence of that particular Gift only accompanied the apostolic age. The New Testament seems to frankly tell us that, so why can't we just believe it?

As I have stated elsewhere, the major reason that the Restorationism of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements has failed is because it has not understood that our Lord, and the apostles, never promised that the stunning and miraculous would always be the 'norm' for the New Testament Church of God! Please note 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working in a quieter way among believers. Paul is quite clear that our Lord alone decides which Gifts of the Spirit go where; 'Pleading (and screaming) down the gifts' will make no difference! The testimony of the record of Scripture itself is also often ignored by these naive people; indeed Scripture clearly indicates that the abundantly miraculous only accompanied certain vital stages in God's Plan - most notably, of course, the ministries of Jesus and the apostles. At other times our Lord prefers to work with people through the laws of nature which He Himself so carefully designed and now upholds. Moreover, the New Testament indicates that 'miraculous signs' are in God's hands and cannot be demanded by the people. Jesus rejected the Pharisees plea for a miraculous sign, saying,

'"...A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."' (Matthew 12:39-40).

Here is God's 'bottom line' on signs: He has already provided one through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

One noted charismatic writer wrote,

"Miracles should now be normal for God's people. If they are not, the church is at fault!"

But - wait a minute - this is illogical. If miracles were 'now normal' two points could be made:
1. They would no longer be miracles.
2. People would be just 'lining up' to 'join' the church - for all the wrong reasons!

The first century is now a closed chapter. It cannot recur, just as we cannot make the Gospel message a new proclamation all over again. Pentecost was never intended to be an ongoing phenomenon: it occurred in the first century AD (although the evidence is strong that the Lord undoubtedly allowed some of the miracles of the apostolic ministry to still occasionally occur as the dynamic gospel proclamation reached new parts of the world with the Name of Christ for the very first time).

Through a sheer lack of biblical understanding, some charismatic preachers teach that you and I can be part of the apostolic ministry in our day - we cannot be. Pentecost has now passed. The first century apostolic ministry has now passed. Please don't listen to these loud but unbiblical preachers! Please carefully read Matthew 7:21-23.

But can the sick still be healed?

Of course they can!! But this is now a matter of prayer and faith, and I have noticed that group prayers for the sick seem especially effective, but we must understand that our Lord is more concerned about the spiritual salvation of the sick person than their physical salvation. But large group healings in so-called "healing crusades" will not be effective since we do not live in the apostolic age, neither can that age be revived or restored. If we want to move on to maturity in the Christian Faith we should recognise and accept some of these things.

Now, it is true that, in John 14:12 Jesus also said, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to My Father.' (NKJV) However, does this comment necessarily refer to the spectacular apostolic signs? Let us briefly consider that.

The evidence is strong that this remark was directed towards - not only the original apostles - but to those who would spread the name of Christ to the nations rather than being applicable to every Christian of every age. That is, the comment was aimed primarily to those around Jesus who would take the gospel out, mainly to the Mediterranean world following Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension. This was much more (in a sense) than Jesus could have accomplished in His brief earthly ministry. However, the comment could also have a relevance to those who would work to complete the New Testament canon, as well as for those who would tirelessly work to interpret the Bible into many, many languages. Go here for a deeper consideration of that.

We must handle the Word of God responsibly. It tends to be an indication of immaturity when the Bible student feels that most every statement or instruction which they discover in Scripture must apply equally to them, that is to say, that almost everything which they read should apply equally to the modern reader; the errors of Jehovah's Witnesses here are well-documented and should stand as an example to all: This group has picked up biblical comments about blood drainage and about the life-giving properties of blood which are applicable to entirely different circumstances, to an entirely different age and to an entirely different covenant - and decided to apply these comments to modern-day blood transfusion. To be frank, it is incompetence in biblical interpretation of almost farcical level. This may be an extreme example but it should caution us all of the paramount importance of considering context, applying wide scriptural comparison and of the value of seasoned doctrinal understanding in how we apply Scripture.

Our conclusion should be that the 'signs of an apostle' (miraculous signs and wonders) were for another day which has now passed. While certain of these signs could recur (during periods of revival, for example), they should not be expected to be the normal Christian experience during this age of the church.

Robin A. Brace, 2007.

It might also prove helpful to read:
All About Faith; What IS Faith? What ISN'T Faith?

Signs and Wonders: Don't Believe Every Claim!

More About John 14:12

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