The Place of Sign Gifts Today
There is a lot of confusion today, as to the place of the sign gifts. By this I mean such gifts as speaking in other tongues without having studied the language, as well as miraculous gifts such as healing the sick, raising the dead and giving sight to the blind. Some think that they have ceased since the completion of the canon of Scripture. Others believe that they are still around and believe that we should be teaching what they have called "the full Gospel."
Many teach that speaking in tongues is a second work of grace given to those who have attained to a higher level of spirituality. But what do the Scriptures say? Let us examine this and see if we can shed some insights on this subject.
I. Signs Were Temporary or Transitional
In order to fully comprehend these gifts, we need to understand their place in God's plan throughout Israel's history. It is then that we will find out that there is no need for them in this Age that we are living in today. That doesn't mean, however, that God cannot, or does not perform miracles today. God never changes, and He is certainly capable of doing anything that He wants to do. However, He hasn't given these special gifts to men and women today of speaking in tongues and the other sign gifts. They were rather temporary, or transitional in nature and given for a specific purpose. When the purpose was no longer needed, neither was there a need for these gifts.
II. Miraculous Signs were Not a Regular Ingredient In Israel's History
When people read the Bible, they get the idea that miracles were going on all of the time. But the truth is, they occurred rarely at a few critical points in Israel's history. If they happened all of the time, then they would cease to be miracles. Miracles are events that are inexplicable by natural and scientific laws ,that demonstrate the power of God. They have never been a regular part of every-day life in history. And for good reason. They were meant to demonstrate that God is furthering His plan in history as a fulfillment of Scripture.
1. Miracles Under Moses and Joshua
There are three, or possibly four major times in history when God dealt with His people Israel where miracles abounded. The time of Moses and Joshua was the first. During this time there was the burning bush with God in the midst, the ten plagues of Egypt, the Red Sea being parted, Manna given to Israel during their time in the wilderness, water coming out of a rock in the desert, and God writing the ten commandments with His own finger on Mt. Sinai. There was also the ground opening up and swallowing up people, and the walls of Jericho falling down.
This was a time of transition and change when God was taking a bunch of people and transforming them into a nation. After the people got into the land and Moses and Joshua were gone, the sign gifts ceased.
2. Miraculous Signs Under Elijah and Elisha
The second time that miraculous signs were given are found in the books of First and Second Kings. Elijah and Elisha prophesied during a time when the Northern tribes were making some crucial decisions as to whether or not they were going to worship the Baals and follow them, or follow the one true God, Yahweh.
In order to demonstrate to Israel that Elijah and Elisha were speaking on behalf of God, the Lord made it possible for them to perform miracles. Elijah prophesied that for three years God would send a drought on the land and it happened. There was an incident with the prophets of Baal and fire coming from heaven to prove that God was the Lord. Also, there was the miracle of the widow's oil that lasted, allowing her to be able to cook with it and stay alive. Later Elijah raised the widow's son from the dead.
Elijah and Elisha prophesied to the people of Israel that they were making a mistake in following other gods. Israel ultimately chose the wrong path, and they went into captivity.
3. Miraculous Signs Under Daniel and the Exiles
It could be argued that there were miracles that took place after exile in the time of Daniel, such as Daniel in the Lion's den and Shadrach, Meshach and Abnego in the fiery furnace. Once again a time of major transition. These men were showing Israel how to remain faithful to God in exile despite great opposition and persecution, and of course God was giving great prophecies of the future to Daniel.
4. Miraculous Signs Under Jesus and the Apostles
The next major period of a great outpouring of sign gifts occurred during the time of Jesus and the Apostles. In between the last book of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ 400 years had passed where, as far as we know, there weren't any miracles.
With the coming of Jesus we have water turned to wine, a storm calmed, 5000 fed, diseases healed, eyes opened, the lame walking and men speaking in tongues.
This was the next major time in God's plan where the Messiah was presenting Himself to Israel. He was ushering in the last days when the Kingdom was to come, if Israel would but accept her Messiah. The Old Testament talked a lot about what would happen when the Messiah would come (e.g. Isaiah 35:4-6). If the people wanted to know that Christ was who he said He was, all they had to do was read the Scriptures.
III. Israel Was Not Behaving as God Intended in Demanding Signs
Many of the Jews were too busy looking for signs to recognize that the Scriptures were being fulfilled right before their eyes. Jesus told Israel that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a sign in Matthew 16:1-4. The people should have been looking at Scripture and not for signs. The book of Deuteronomy boldly tells Israel not to listen to a prophet, even if they did signs, if they taught them against the Lord's will (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). They were to stone that prophet.
The purpose of signs was not to lure the unbeliever to faith, but to clearly indicate God's present activity in fulfillment of Scripture. An indication of this is the fact that Jesus didn't do many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). Clearly, if the purpose of His miracles was for unbelievers, He would have done more, not less.
IV. Miraculous Signs, Pentecost and Paul
Miracles by the twelve Apostles were in fulfillment of Joel 2:28,29. At Pentecost Peter tells the people that this prophecy of Joel was coming to pass before their eyes (Acts 2:14-36). The miracles became a sign to believing Israel that the last days were here, and they were the evidence that Israel was now at the point in history that God wanted them to be, preparing them for His Kingdom.
Later in the book of Acts we see the pouring out of the Spirit on the Gentiles as well, followed by miraculous signs and tongues. The Gentiles got all these signs because the signs told believing Israel that God is now at work amongst the Gentiles, just like He was amongst the Jews (Acts 10:44-48). Peter also makes this conclusion in Acts 11:15-18. Also, we see them saying the same thing at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:6-20.
Once again the presence of signs was not proof to an unbelieving Jew and Gentile world. It was rather the expected accompaniment of the salvation of Jesus Christ at this point in history. And it verified Paul's new Gentile mission to believing Israel.
Signs are evidence of God's activity and not man's attainment. It isn't because of a greater spirituality on the part of the one's who receive the signs. The Corinthians are evidence of that. They had a lot of tongues and sign gifts in their midst, yet there was much carnality in Corinth.
Paul said that there would come a point when tongues and the sign gifts would cease (I Corinthians 13:8,9). That took place when the purpose for these tongues and signs was completed. Israel rejected her King, and they have been temporarily set aside. The Body of Christ came on the scene. Paul's new Gentile work was accepted by believing Israel. So there is no more need for all the miracles and sign gifts that accompanied the beginning of the Age of Grace in which we now live. Therefore we no longer have them today.
The next major sign period is yet future. That will take place after the Body of Christ is taken out of the earth, and the Tribulation and later Millenial Kingdom occur. Then once again God will demonstrate that He is moving His plans forward for this world. And He will prove that it is He who is in control of it all. So let us not look for miraculous signs, or men speaking in tongues today. But rather, may we simply trust God's Word that He has given us, and remain faithful to His commands that have been revealed to us in the Bible.