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

That twofold ministry of words and works does not stop with the apostle Paul or with the New Testament church. As one moves through the Old Testament, the evidence mounts that God has in mind the creation of a prophetic people, who will be gifted to advance his kingdom by signs and wonders like the prophets of old.

After all, “the testimony of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Those who are living testimonies of Jesus Christ have the Spirit of prophecy within them. This does not mean that all of God’s people will prophesy, or that they are “prophets” in the sense that Agabus was a prophet (Acts 11:27-28, 21:10-11). Rather God will work through his people by that Spirit to do “signs and wonders”—even miraculous healings—on earth, just as he worked through his prophets in the Old Testament, and through his Son, and through the disciples/apostles and early Christians. It was, after all, Jesus (that perfect prophet) who said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40; cf. Mat. 10:25). Jesus’ words are a calling on God’s church. The church can embrace that calling with faith and expectation, because Jesus also promised: “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do (ta erga ha egō poiō),” and he added, “And greater works than these (meizona toutōn) will he do, because I go to the Father” (Jn. 14:12 RSV).




In the Next Issue

The Fall 2006 issue will feature “A Biblical View of the Relationship of Sin and the Fruits of Sin: Sickness, Demonization, Death, Natural Calamity” by Peter H. Davids.



1 The Hebrew word translated “prophet” (nābî’) appears to be a passive participle from a root related to Akkadian nabû, “to call.” The sense seems to be that a prophet is someone called by God to be a spokesman for God (cf. Ex. 4:14-16). The Greek word (prophētēs) which normally translates the Hebrew, and from which our English word “prophet” comes, means, according to Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), p. 1540, “one who speaks for a god and interprets his will to man … revealer of God’s will, prophet.” However, it is clear from what prophets did in the Old Testament that they had far more than a speaking role.

2 Elisha also miraculously caused a lost axehead to float, thus relieving the anxiety of the man who had both borrowed and lost it (2 Kgs. 6:1-7); and by Elisha’s word God struck an army of hostile Aramaeans blind, facilitated their capture, and then restored their sight—with the result that they left off raiding Israel’s territory (2 Kgs. 6:8-23).

3 Cf. C. Fred Dickason, Angels, Elect and Evil (Chicago: Moody, 1975), p. 152.

4 Mat. 4:23; 9:35-36; 10:1, 7-8; 11:5; 12:15, 18; 14:14; 15:30; 19:2 [cf. Mk. 10:1]; 21:14 [cf. Lk. 21:37] Mk. 1: 32-39; 2:2, 11-12; 3:14-15; 6:12-13; 10:1 [cf. Mat. 19:2] Lk. 4:18, 31-36, 40-44; 5:17, 24; 6:6-11, 17-18; 7:22; 9:1-2; 10:9, 13; 13:10-13, 22, 32; 14:4, 7ff.; 21:37 [cf. Mat. 21:14]; Jn. 2:23; 3:2; 7:14-15, 21-23, 31, 38; 10:25, 32, 38; 12:37, 42, 49; 14:10, 12; Acts 1:1; 2:22; 10:38

5 Acts 3:6, 12; 4:29-30; 5:12-16, 20-21, 28, 42; 6:8, 10; 8:4-7, 12; 9:17-18 (cf. 22:13), 34-35; 14:3, 8-10, 15ff.; 15:12, 36; 18:5, 11 (cf. II Cor. 12:12; I Cor. 2:4-5); 19:8-12. Rom. 15:18-19; I Cor. 2:4-5; 11:1; 12:1-11, 28-31; 14:24-25; II Cor. 12:12; Gal. 3:5; Phil. 4:9; I Thes. 1:5-6; Heb. 2:3-4.

6 As George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), p. 115, says of the disciples, “ … the Kingdom of God was at work among men not only in the person of our Lord but also through His disciples as they brought the word and the signs of the Kingdom to the cities of Galilee.”

7 It is also clear, of course, that part of Christ’s work was to send the Spirit to all believers, thus enabling them to live such a “prophetic” lifestyle far beyond what Old Testament believers normally could do (cf. Jn. 7:37-39, 14:16-17).

8 See Gordon D. Fee, The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels (Beverly: Frontline, 1985).

9 In Eph. 5:18 Paul commands us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (cf. I Thes. 5:17; Col. 4:2). Yet, Paul was ill in Galatia for a long enough period that it “was a trial” to the Galatians (Gal. 4:14); Epaphroditus did not experience immediate healing from illness and almost died according to Phil. 2:27; Timothy had chronic illnesses involving his stomach which were not completely healed according to I Tim. 5:23; and Paul had to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus, apparently seeing no healing in response to prayer (II Tim. 4:20).

10 On experiencing healing of illness as a “gift of grace” (I Cor. 12:9, 28, 29) experienced only in part in the Early Church according to the New Testament, see A. Oepke, “iaomai,” TDNT, vol. 3, p. 214; on experiencing spiritual gifts in this age only “in part (ek merous I Cor. 13:9),” see Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT, ed., F. F. Bruce; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 644 and n. 21; Schneider, TDNT, vol. 4, p. 596.

11 Fee, The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, p. 19. Fee goes on to say, “While there are scores of texts that explicitly tell us that our sin has been overcome through Christ’s death and resurrection, there is no text that explicitly says the same thing about healing, not even Isaiah 53 and its New Testament citations.”

12 Naaman may well have appreciated that (in the words of one British New Testament scholar) “miracles of healing are … symbolic demonstrations of God’s forgiveness in action.” Cf. Alan Richardson, The Miracle-Stories of the Gospels (London: SCM Press, 1942), pp. 61ff.

13 The use of pleroō “bring (the Gospel) to full expression” in Rom. 15:19 cannot mean that Paul finished preaching the Gospel, because he was still planning to visit Rome and preach the Gospel further in Spain (Rom. 1:13, 15; 15:23f.). Nor can it mean that he said everything there was to say about the Gospel (J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968], p. 214). But, as G. Friedrich points out, it means that Paul proclaimed the Gospel in the way he described in 15:18-19, “in word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit”: “Again, Rom. 15:19 … does not mean that Paul has concluded his missionary work, but that the Gospel is fulfilled when it has taken full effect. In the preaching of Paul Christ has shown Himself effective in word and sign and miracle (v. 18). Hence the Gospel has been brought to fulfilment from Jerusalem to Illyricum and Christ is named in the communities (v. 20)” (Friedrich, TDNT, vol. 2, p. 732).

14 God shows by signs and wonders in both Testaments that he has invaded our space with his kingdom. As Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp.107, 115, has noted, “When Israel rejected the Kingdom, the blessings which should have been theirs were given to those who would accept them … The Kingdom of God, as the redemptive activity and rule of God in Christ, created the Church and works through the Church in the world. As the disciples of the Lord went throughout the villages of Palestine, they proclaimed that in their mission, the Kingdom of God had come near to these villages (Luke 10:9). They performed the signs of the Kingdom, healing the sick and casting out demons, thus delivering men from the satanic power (vv. 9, 17) … In the same way, the Kingdom of God, the redemptive activity and power of God, is working in the world today through the Church of Jesus Christ.”


Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NIV®.

This chapter is from Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer, eds., The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? A Biblical Look at How to Bring the Gospel to the World with Power (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993). Used with permission.


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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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