Miraculous Healing; Real or Fake?
What do you say about a person who preys on the sick, the disabled, the depressed, the handicapped, the extremely poor people in society, who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars in “donations” from these same disadvantaged people, lives in a mansion, wears the most expensive designer clothes, travels in a private jet, vacations in the most extravagant luxury resorts while all the time claiming to be God’s messenger, like Jesus?
Many modern “prophets” and “evangelists” claim to get their messages directly from God and they also claim to have “miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit” which enables them to perform a variety of miracles. In the case of the more popular “faith healers,” thousands of people flock to their “miracle services” and are promised “healing” from all kinds of diseases and “demons.” Of course these services are also punctuated with one or more “opportunities” to plant enough “seed faith” (code word for money) to insure your miracles. God-fearing people, especially the sick, the disabled and the extremely poor, desperate for a better life, are being fooled into believing these miraculous gifts are real. What does the Bible say?
Let us first define a “miracle.” Since everything in the universe is the miraculous creation of Almighty God, one could say everything is a miracle. Many refer to the sunrise, a beautiful winter snowfall, breathtaking fall colors in the trees as miracles. These are all things that God set in place when he created the heavens and earth. They happen regularly, can be predicted and explained by understanding God’s laws of the universe, and they happen to everyone in the world. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Yes, God creating nature in the beginning was a miracle. Everything that happens as a result of that creation is certainly from God, but not a “miracle” as defined in Scripture.
There is a distinction in the Bible in what is called a “miracle” and the never ending providence of God as He cares for His creation. So what is a miracle? By definition, a miracle is “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” While most of us feel as though our children are “miracles” from God, a miracle is something that happens completely “out of the ordinary;” beyond what is otherwise physically possible. The birth of Jesus was a miracle. When Abraham, age 100, and Sarah, age 90, had a baby…that was a miracle! An omnipotent God is obviously able to do whatever He chooses. God is both the creator and sustainer of the universe. He controls everything and His will reigns supreme. However, He does not reveal to us everything He does or how He does it (Deuteronomy 29:29). God’s providential care over His creation, and specifically for people of faith, is not in question. Exactly how He does it is His business.
When challenging the validity of modern “miracle workers” and “faith healers” they will often say one is attempting to limit God’s power. That is not the case at all. God’s providential care is always at work sustaining and maintaining His creation, with or without our knowledge or understanding. God is still God. We are not questioning His power or ability to do whatever He chooses to do. The question for us is not what God can do, but what does God empower men and women to do in His name. Does He give His power to people to do miracles on His behalf?
Moses encountered God in a burning bush (Exodus 3). When God told Moses to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, Moses asked Him how anyone, Egyptians or Israelites, would believe him. God told Moses to throw his staff on the ground, and it became a snake. Then He told him to put his hand inside his cloak and take it back out. When he did, it was leprous. When he did it again, it was restored to a healthy limb. God also told Moses if the people did not believe those two miracles, take some water from the Nile River, pour it on the ground, and it will turn into blood. God gave Moses the power to perform these miracles. We read in Exodus 4:21 “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do.” God worked many other miracles through His people in the Old Testament. The parting of the Red Sea and the Jordon River (Exodus 14, Joshua 3), raising the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24), iron that floated (2 Kings 6:5-7), the sun going backwards in the sky (2 Kings 20:9-11), are just a few examples.
There were also many occasions in the New Testament when God gave certain men and women the power or “gift” to perform miracles. This is what the New Testament refers to as “miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.” God is able to perform miracles any time He chooses because He is omnipotent. Human beings are not omnipotent; therefore, humans can only perform miracles when empowered by God to do so. There is a big difference between God answering the prayer of one of his servants and God giving that same servant His divine power, through the Holy Spirit, to perform miracles. In the New Testament where we read of Christians possessing these miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, we also find that God carefully explained when, where, and how these “gifts” were to be given and used, so there would be no deception regarding His will versus that of the devil or false teachers. A careful and thorough study of Scripture reveals exactly the time and purpose for the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit spoken about in the New Testament.
Jesus promised miraculous gifts would follow his apostles and early disciples. In Mark 16:15-18 he said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
We read of many instances where the apostles, and others, healed the sick, spoke in foreign languages, raised the dead, and were unharmed when bitten by deadly snakes. We know that, beginning on the day of Pentecost, miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were part of the early church experience. The Bible also tells us the purpose of these gifts. In Hebrews 2:1-4 the writer says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 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 also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” The Apostle Paul says essentially the same thing in Rom 15:18-20. “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.”
In the early days of the church there were no New Testaments. The Scripture was being revealed by the Holy Spirit to these men and women as they went about teaching and preaching. God gave these people “gifts” that enabled them to perform miracles to confirm that what they received was from Him in much the same way as He enabled Moses to perform miracles to prove He had sent him to Egypt to deliver the Israelites (Exodus 4).
How long were these “gifts” to last? According to the prophet in Micah 7:15, “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders.” The physical kingdom of Israel began with deliverance from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. From the time of the crossing of the Red Sea to entering the “promised land” was a period of forty years. During these years Moses and a few others were given “miraculous gifts” that included graphic demonstrations to confirm His will, which was revealed during this period. This physical kingdom had “first days” and it also had “last days.” The “last days” of physical Israel were also the “first days” of the spiritual kingdom, the church, which was also a period of forty years.
Just like the beginning of the physical kingdom, the spiritual kingdom began with signs, wonders, and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the forty year period from the preaching of John the Baptist until the destruction of Jerusalem the New Testament was revealed; God confirming it with these miracles. This was the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. The physical kingdom of Israel had a beginning and an end, first days and last days. The spiritual kingdom of heaven is eternal; it can have no “last days” because it will never end. “The end,” of which the Bible speaks, is the end of the physical kingdom of Israel, not the end of the physical universe.
Were these miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit to continue past the “last days” of Israel? What was the purpose of these gifts? The only purpose the Bible ever gives for people having miraculous gifts was to confirm God’s word. Moses was given the power to perform miracles to convince Pharaoh, as well as the Israelites, that his message was from God. Old Testament prophets were inspired by the Holy Spirit and performed miracles to prove their messages were from God. The same is true in the New Testament (Hebrews 2:3-4 noted above). The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were specifically given to confirm that the revelation given to the early Christians was from God.
Were these gifts to last forever, or were they to come to an end? According to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 he writes, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Paul called these miraculous gifts “childish things” which will cease. When will they cease? When “perfection comes.” The Greek word here is “teleios” which means, “having reached its end” (telos), “finished, complete, perfect.”
For Paul’s analogy to make sense, something in his discussion was in its infancy and, like a child learning to walk, needed special assistance until it could mature to a point when it could walk on its own. The entire letter is about the church. The church was in its infancy. With no written New Testament, Christians needed special assistance to know what God’s will was. Miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were the “special helps” necessary to guide them through this “childish” period. That which was “imperfect” or incomplete was the Bible. The New Testament was in the process of being revealed. According to Paul, once the entire Bible was complete, these special helps, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, would no longer be needed, so they would cease.
What could possibly be the purpose of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church today? Is the word of God not complete? If the Bible is the complete, fully revealed word of God, there is no need for further revelation or for God to confirm such. Divine revelation and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit to confirm it were promised “during the last days” (Joel 2-3, Acts 2). In view of all Biblical prophecy and evidence, the last inspired message from God had to be received prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Daniel 9:24). Beyond that event there can be no divine inspiration. Also, there is no Scriptural basis for miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit beyond that point. Using the Apostle Paul’s analogy, a Christian (or church) today who still desires “miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit” is like a grown man still wanting a baby walker.
Does this mean we do not have the Holy Spirit with us today? Absolutely not! When one becomes a Christian the Spirit of God comes to live within us. We are “led by the Spirit,” “walk by the Spirit,” and are “guided by the Spirit.” There is a distinct difference in Scripture between the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, which is available to every child of His, and having the “miraculous gifts” of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles, speak in tongues, heal the sick, raise the dead, etc. The confusion of these differences is a direct result of our failure to understand the times in which we live. Since miraculous gifts were promised for the “last days,” if we are still living in the last days, then we still have miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and God’s word is still being miraculously revealed. If the last days ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, as Jesus and His apostles taught, so did the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some people today teach we are now living in the “last days” yet claim we do not have the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is not possible. The two go together. Miraculous gifts were specifically given for the “last days.”
So, if we do not have miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, does this mean there is no such thing as a miracle today? Absolutely not! God is still God and can and will do whatever He chooses. And He chooses to continually listen to his people and answer our prayers. It is very Biblical to ask God to do things that are “out of the ordinary.” Should we pray for God to heal someone who is sick? Yes! Can He do it? Yes! Will He? Herein lies the difference between believing that God answers prayer and someone having the “miraculous gift” of healing. We should pray in faith, believing that God can and will do what we ask, as long as it is in our best interest. That means we pray…and leave it in His hands. What we ask may happen at any time, or not at all. “No” is still an answer. Whatever happens is His will. True faith requires no miracles!
But has God given His miraculous power to some men and women of faith today to perform miracles on His behalf? There is no evidence in the Bible to support such a claim. And though many evangelists today say they have such healing powers, they cannot produce one single verifiable example of having done so.
A word of caution is appropriate as we consider what may appear to be “divine miraculous powers” claimed by humans. The Scriptures warn us not to be fooled by those who falsely claim to be following Christ and claim to have powers from God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23, “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!’ ” In Matthew 24:24 he said, “For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” And Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, “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…” In every generation, not everything that appears to be from God actually is. There have always been false prophets and false healers claiming to have the power of God.
A close examination of the miracles of Jesus and His disciples reveals sharp contrasts between them and the so-called miracles of men and women today who claim to have the same powers of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament we see people being healed of hemorrhaging (Matthew 9:20-22), blindness (Matthew 20:30-34), fever (Luke 4:38-39), leprosy (Luke 5:12-13), paralysis (Luke 5:17-25), deformity (Luke 13:11-13), infirmity (John 5:5-9), even death (Luke 8:49-55). Jesus walked on water, calmed the stormy seas, and took a sack lunch and fed thousands. Paul was bitten by a deadly snake and suffered no harm (Acts 28:1-6). The miracles of the New Testament had the following characteristics:
- The conditions were clearly visible and verifiable.
- The result was instantaneous and complete.
- They were never staged.
- They required no fanfare or emotional frenzy, only a simple prayer, statement or command.
- No “offering” or payment of any kind was ever required or collected.
The miracles of “faith healers” today are dubious at best. The healers only perform a select few types of miracles. The vast majority of the conditions they claim to heal cannot be perceived by others. Many claim to “heal” some anonymous person in the audience. “Someone in the audience has just been healed of pancreatic cancer!” Really? Who? Individual candidates for healing at their services are carefully screened. You will never see a healer drink deadly poison or be unharmed by the bite of a venomous snake. They will not raise the dead. Success for the few conditions they do claim to heal requires a highly emotional, almost hysterical atmosphere, where people are “slain in the Spirit;” something never seen in Scripture.
These healing services are carefully staged. They always collect money! Here is a wise tip; if someone offers you healing or blessings in the name of Jesus and is asking you for money or taking up a collection…RUN!Today’s healers will not submit their work to verification or testing. They become indignant when questioned. They avoid investigation and they commonly teach false doctrine. These false “prophets” and “healers” are interested in your money, not your health. Miraculous “healing services” today are nothing more than a religious magic show performed by false teachers “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Timothy 4:5). The Apostle John warned the early Christians, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Do not be misled by wolves in sheep’s clothing!