Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
This month’s article is “Signs of the Times in the First Century.” The article was transcribed and edited from an audiotape lecture that Dr. Martin gave in 1982. This material expands on a section touched on just briefly in “How to Interpret Biblical Signs” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d980210.htm written in 1998. I recommend that you review that general article before you consider the details Dr. Martin brings forth from the Jewish historian Josephus and that narrative’s connection with Luke chapter 21. The events before the 70 C.E. destruction by the Roman legions of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were typical of what will come in the future. Together the two articles clarify the biblical texts that tell about the future signs and wonders that will occur before the return of Christ to this earth.
Jesus said that some people would not believe unless they see or experience signs and wonders. Such people feel that signs and wonders somehow “prove” the legitimacy to what they should believe. They seek proof, but the proof they are willing to accept can be flawed. The proof can be (and will be) falsified and misinterpreted. Signs and wonders are the weakest of evidence, even though they seem convincing to recipients and observers. Their purpose is to get people to pay attention, not to be proof themselves.
Let me give an example from John chapter 4. Jesus’ preaching in Samaria was very successful. Many Samaritans “believed on Him” on the basis of one woman’s personal testimony of what Jesus told her and not because of signs.
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, ‘He told me all that ever I did.’ So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word.”
She must have been very convincing in her testimony. 1 As a result others sought out Jesus and he stayed to teach them for two days. An even greater number believed. They believed because of Jesus’ own word and not because of signs. After Samaria Jesus and His disciples returned to Galilee where Jesus notes a contrast with regard to signs. The Jews there remembered His deeds in Jerusalem at the last feast. They also remembered what Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine: 2
“Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast. So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. ... [He] went to him and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, ‘Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.’”
Jesus’ statement convicts them as He spoke to the Jewish people of Galilee. He said, “Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The people of Galilee saw great and marvelous signs and wonders (Luke 11:20–25). Even then only a few believed. However, when they heard the testimony of the apostles after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then many more believed. Peter in Acts chapter 2 called this to mind:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and ... And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.’ ...
You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know.”
Acts 2:16–17, 19–20, 22
They knew from their own experience, and Peter reminds them that they knew. The two Greek words “signs” and “wonders” are used together some 16 times in the New Testament. They are used in several contexts, most often by Luke in the book of Acts. Look up all the verses, noting the contexts. 3
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”
God gave signs and wonders performed first by Jesus and then by the apostles, but it was testimony about Christ’s resurrection from the dead (the sign of Jonah), that was most convincing. As I noted above, the ultimate reason for signs and wonders is so that people will take notice and pay attention to the one speaking. It certainly made the Gentiles take notice of Paul and gave evidence of his authority as an apostle:
“For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient [to the Gospel], by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you [Gentile Corinthians] in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
2 Corinthians 12:12
We receive notes from you by letter and email, and we read each one with interest. We wish we could respond to them all, every time. We are gratified at your faithfulness and trust that we are performing work worthy of your prayers, patience, and financial support. It is gratifying to us and we are thankful to God and to you for helping us continue to do what must be done. Little by little, the full measure of Dr. Martin’s studies are being made more presentable and available to a larger audience so that the plain and simple message of the Gospel of God can be understood and appreciated by everyone, everywhere.
1 Although today we might wonder why this is significant, in Jesus’ day a woman’s testimony had far less weight than a man’s testimony. Furthermore she was a woman of questionable background and reputation, making her testimony suspect.
3 See the verses where the both “signs” and “wonders” occur. Note what the signs and wonders are accomplishing in each case: Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; John 4:48 (see above); Acts 2:19, 22 (see above), 43, 4:30, 5:12, 6:8 (“miracles” is really “signs” in Greek), 7:36, 14:3, 15:12; Romans 15:19 (see above); 2 Corinthians 12:12 (see above); 2 Thessalonians 2:9; and Hebrews 2:4 (see above). Note also that in the future some signs and wonders will be used by evil men and spirits to purposely deceive.
David W. Sielaff
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