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The Power of the Cross: Old Testament Foundations: Signs, Wonders and the People

God also performed healings through his prophets so that non-Israelites could know him as the true God. So the widow of Zarephath, a suburb of pagan Sidon (a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast) exclaimed when Elijah raised her son from the dead, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is truth” (1 Kgs. 17:24). Naaman the Syrian was converted to the true God when the Lord healed him by the word of the prophet Elisha: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel … [and I] will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other God but the Lord” (2 Kgs. 5:15.17). These Old Testament examples show that God has always wanted to reach people of all nations and bring them to salvation. Through prophets like Abraham, Elijah and Elisha, he showed this desire by healing those who were not Hebrews and, at least in some cases, turning them to himself. There can be no doubt that such healings were not only acts of mercy, but also acts of evangelism (which is the greatest mercy, Lk. 10:20).

We know that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Nowhere is such destruction more obvious than in the salvation of a sinner, when the Spirit of Christ brings a person out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God.

Yet God also did (and does) signs and wonders out of compassion for his own people. God did many miracles through Moses, both to free and to provide for his people. Through Elisha God healed the waters of Jericho so that his people could drink it (2 Kgs. 2:19-22), miraculously reproduced oil for a wife of one of the prophets (2 Kgs. 4:1-7), and made a poisonous stew safe for his people to eat (2 Kgs. 4:38-41).2

God worked miracles of healing and provision through his prophets as part of his care for his own people, but also to show people that he alone was God—so they must turn to him and be saved. Whatever signs or wonders God did he always got glory for his Name, because he alone could do them. All of this foreshadows what God did through Jesus Christ, who showed God’s compassion and provision for his own people, but also touched “foreigners” for God (e.g., a Roman, a Samaritan, a Syro-Phoenician), and always displayed his Father’s glory and glorified his Father. In addition to being the Son of God, Jesus was also the greatest of all prophets.


The Old Testament and Deliverance Ministry

The David who delivered Saul was an anointed, prophetic figure, who not only became king of Israel, but also spoke prophetically of Christ on a number of occasions.

One way that God healed people through the ministry of Jesus involved a blatant disruption of the demonic realm. We know that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). Nowhere is such destruction more obvious than in the salvation of a sinner, when the Spirit of Christ brings a person out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13), and gives that person “authority to become [a child] of God” (Jn. 1:12). But it was also a very obvious, even dramatic thing when Jesus “destroyed the devil’s work” by casting out demons.

The Old Testament does not say much directly about the demonic realm, but what it says is intriguing. From it we learn that the power behind pagan religion is demonic. Before Joshua led them into the promised land, Moses spoke in a prophetic poem (Deuteronomy 32) about the sins which future generations of Israelites would commit. His words are a theological commentary on pagan worship:

They sacrificed to demons, which are not God—
gods they had not known,
gods that recently appeared,
gods your fathers did not fear (Deut. 32:17)

Later in the history of Israel, we read the sad fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy:

They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to demons.
They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan (Ps. 106:37-38)

God has always intended kingdom life in both Old and New Testaments to be “prophetic”—a life that includes signs and wonders.

The apostle Paul wrote about the same spiritual dynamic when he warned the church in Corinth, “Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:19-20). The point in both Old and New Testaments is that the power behind idolatry is demonic.3

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2006

About the Author: Jeffrey J. Niehaus, A.M., Ph.D. (Harvard University), M.Div. (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), is Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, Dr. Niehaus ministers and lectures in various churches on such topics as spiritual warfare and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Regularly presenting papers on higher critical issues and Ancient Near Eastern backgrounds, Dr. Niehaus’ scholarly interests include biblical theology and the idea of covenant and covenant schemes in the Bible. Faculty page

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