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

The Old Testament contains prophecies and yearnings for God’s extension of his kingdom by signs and wonders—of which the church age is a fulfillment. Moses first gave voice to this yearning during the wilderness wanderings of Israel. In the book of Numbers we read how God had the elders of Israel stand around the tent of meeting. God then “took of the Spirit that was on [Moses] and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied” (Num. 11:25). Two other men, Eldad and Medad, were also listed among the elders, but had not come to the tent. But God also let his Spirit rest on them, “and they prophesied in the camp” (Num. 11:26). Joshua, who was Moses’ helper, was jealous for his great leader. He wanted Moses to be the sole prophet. He complained to Moses about what was happening. But Moses, with God’s heart, replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (Num. 11:29).

We know that Moses had God’s point of view when he said this, because God later promised to fulfill Moses’ wish in a prophecy well-known not only to Pentecostals and charismatics but to Christians everywhere:

And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days (Joel 2:28-29)

The democratization of the Spirit from Pentecost onward means that signs and wonders are to be a normal part of kingdom life.

Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17ff), to explain how it came to pass that believers in Christ could be proclaiming the wonders of God in various tongues, “as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). The outpouring of the Spirit which began there continued as the church grew and God continued to gift his people for the work of his kingdom. The gift of the Spirit for kingdom work is what Jesus promised just before he ascended: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). In other words, they could not be Jesus’ “witnesses” until the “power” of the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Holy Spirit—the “Spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10)—was necessary to enable God’s people to advance his kingdom. That Spirit was necessary in the Old Testament (as the prophets and their signs and wonders illustrate) and was necessary in the New Testament as well. And, since Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), the same “Spirit of prophecy” which is the “testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 19:10) is necessary today, to make God’s people faithful testimonies or witnesses of Christ.

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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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