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Lying Signs and Wonders
By David A. DePra
If any man shall say to you, "Lo, here is Christ," or, "There!," believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. (Matt. 24:23-25)
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, "Master, we would see a sign from thee." But He answered and said unto them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. But there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah." (Matt. 12:38-39)
In both of these passages, signs and wonders are NOT cast in a good light. Did you notice that? In Matthew 24, Jesus says false prophets will show GREAT signs and wonders in order to deceive. Thus, in that passage, signs and wonders are used as tools for deception. In Matthew 12, Jesus warns against seeking after signs and wonders. Indeed, He says that if you do seek after them, you are committing spiritual adultery.
We need to take these passages seriously. What do they tell us about modern signs and wonders – those which dominate Christian television? What do these verses warn us about them, and tell us that our approach ought to be towards them?
Let’s start with some basic questions. What is a sign? What is a wonder? Don’t assume that you know. What did Jesus mean by those terms?
A "sign," in the context we are discussing, is an event or condition that identifies something as being OF GOD. It is a supernatural indication from God, wherein God states, "This is of Me. It could not happen otherwise." In effect, the event in question has a big, "sign," hanging on it, identifying it as being OF GOD.
A "wonder," of course, is closely related. A wonder is something unexplainable by natural laws. It is dubbed, "a wonder," not so much because it makes you, "wonder about it," but because it is too WONDERFUL (full of wonder) to be the product of anyone but God. Thus, the inability to wrap one’s mind around it, or to find reasons for it, "proves" it is a miracle from God.
Of course, it must be clearly acknowledged that God can and does work miracles today. God sometimes works signs and wonders. But that isn’t the point of either of the passages above. Those passages don’t deny the miracle power of God, indeed, the very One who is speaking these warnings worked more of them than anyone ever worked. Rather, the warning to us is that signs and wonders are going to be used to deceive Christians. And it is for that very reason that Jesus tells us to never seek after signs and wonders.
The fact that human beings are fascinated, or even in some cases, obsessed, with the supernatural, hardly needs to be debated. So it should not be surprising that such things can infiltrate the church, all in the name, of course, of the Holy Spirit.
Signs and wonders, by definition, are things which appear to be supernatural. Indeed, Jesus never says that the, "great signs and wonders," are NOT supernatural. Thus, these signs and wonders may be supernatural, or they may be merely the illusion of supernatural. The point is, however, they are used by these deceivers to lead astray Christians.
Now, let’s ask: If Satan – who the Bible calls, "an angel of light," – wanted to infiltrate the church with lying signs and wonders, how would he do it? Would he march down the center aisle and announce, "Hey, everyone, I’m here to deceive you."? Nope. There really is only ONE WAY that Satan could deceive sincere Christian people: Make them believe that what is happening is of God.
It is a fact that if you can get Christian people to believe that God is behind something, they will do almost anything to be part of it. Especially if you promise them blessings if they are part of it. Thus, the perfect deception is to offer what appear to be signs and wonders, get people to believe God is in it, and bingo – they are ripe for anything else you might want to offer with the package.
Now, notice again the warning of Jesus: "False prophets shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." First of all, we see the magnitude of these signs and wonders. Jesus says that these signs and wonders are apparently so persuasive that, "If it were possible, they shall deceive even the very elect." But also, note that term, "the elect." Can we see that Jesus is talking about Christian people when He uses the term, "elect?" Sure. To what other group do, "false prophets," and, "false Christs," apply? Furthermore, Jesus says, "Behold, I have told YOU beforehand." He was talking to His disciples. Jesus is talking to Christian people.
Notice something else – and this may be the most important point of the passage. Jesus said, "If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders." Once we read that passage in it’s entirety, we see the deception towards which the signs and wonders will work: They will claim to BE of Christ. But they won’t be. They will say, "Here is Christ -- He is in these signs and wonders." But Christ won’t be in them. Indeed, the signs and wonders will be geared to leading people AWAY of Christ, not towards Him.
Jesus is talking about false prophets and false anointed ones (which is a false Christ) – in the church – who will work great signs and wonders which are so convincing that even the elect, if possible, could be deceived by them. These signs and wonders, Jesus said, will claim, "Here is Christ." But they will not be of Christ. They will be total deception.
But what DECEPTION? Is this deception merely a matter of thinking that the signs and wonders are of God, when they are not? No. That’s only the bait. The real goal of the deception is to lead you away from Christ, to something that is pretending to be of Him.
Can we see that? Jesus said that if anyone, even if through a great sign or wonder, says to you, "Here is Christ," don’t believe him. Thus, the deception here isn’t simply that the sign and wonder claims to be of God, when it isn’t. The deception has to do with WHERE THE SIGN OR WONDER LEADS YOU. Deception is not leading you in Truth; in Christ. It is leading you OUT of Jesus.
The Old Testament contains the same warning:
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, which he spoke unto thee, saying, "Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them," you shall not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proves you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. (Deut. 13:1-4)
Here we are being told by God that it is totally possible that a false prophet can be RIGHT about what he says is going to happen. Note that. We know that in another place in the OT, God says that if a prophecy doesn’t come to pass that it was given by a false prophet. That is easy. But this is something else. Here is a possibility where a false prophet can give a true prophecy. So clearly, whether a sign or wonder is supernatural, or whether a prophecy comes true, is NOT – I say, NOT – the test.
We must see this. The terrible possibility exists that false prophets CAN give true prophecies about the future. Even work actual signs and wonders. No "wonder" such things might deceive even the elect! But wait. God tells us the real issue – He tells us what makes this false prophet false: He leads you away from God. He is trying to deceive you into walking in error and in darkness.
The test here is whether someone is telling the Truth about God Himself. The test is whether they are turning you to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ. According to both the NT and the OT, it does not matter how many signs and wonders a prophet does, not even if he calls fire down from heaven, or raises the dead – not even if he makes a thousand prophecies and every one of them come true – we are to ignore all of that and ask only one question: Does he teach the Truth? About God? About Jesus Christ? If he does not, he is not sent of God. He is a false prophet.
What this really boils down to, when everything is said and done, is whether the teaching of the prophet is scriptural. In the end, it comes down to that.
We get this backwards, and that opens us to deception. We look at the sign or wonder, and think it means that what is being taught must be of God -- because the sign or wonder is of God. God says to look at the teaching, and it will tell you whether the sign or wonder is of God. To seek signs and wonders, or to go by them, is exactly what we are being told NEVER TO DO. It matters not how convincing they might be, or how many people believe them.
No New Revelation
Incidentally, God does not give NEW revelation. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a whole lot more of God than He has revealed to us in the Bible. I’m sure there must be. But I am suggesting that God won’t give us anymore than what is in scripture. And I am saying that whatever more there is to know of God will harmonize completely with the revelation which is given of Him in the Bible. Truth always agrees with Truth, and any revelation not given about God is certainly going to be in agreement with that which is already given. Thus, scripture is always the final word.
Now, as an aside, it is a fact that God does speak to people today. There is such a thing as Divine guidance. God speaks to us, and leads us, in many ways. He certain can and does do miracles in our lives. Furthermore, we all must have a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. But every bit of this must be verified in the Bible. There must be something in scripture which teaches it as a work of the Spirit, or which is illustrated as a work of the Spirit, or which is clearly suggested in the text.
I say this because there are many today who attribute many things to the work of the Spirit which, while not directly forbidden in scripture, are not found there at all. Things like, "holy laugher," making noises like animals, rolling on the floor, shaking, and other similar things, are NOT in the Bible. These things are not taught at all in the Bible, although you won’t find a verse which directly forbids them. About such things we ought to therefore be wary.
But what is taught? Well, in the very chapter which talks about spiritual gifts and the possible misuse of them, we read Paul’s admonitions," Let all things be done decently and in order," (1 Cor. 14:40), and, "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (1 Cor 14:32-33), it ought to raise serious questions about these things. They are NOT Biblical.
What is the most common effect that supposed miracles have on people? Well, they think they are signs and wonders indicating that GOD is present. Right? Sure. What else would they suggest to gullible people? That God isn’t there? No. That He IS there, and thus, putting His stamp of approval on everything else which is taught and practiced.
These are the kinds of things that can lead people astray – maybe not directly or right away. But they set the stage for greater deception by saying, "Here is Christ." And once people believe that, then they will listen to the error which is taught in such an atmosphere, and be taken up with whatever the false prophet teaches.
Signs and wonders, no matter how convincing – indeed, even if they ARE supernatural – are NO PROOF that God is working. None. The test is whether the Truth is being taught BY THEM, or by the one who is bringing them. In fact, God says in our passage from Deut. 13 that He allows such things in order to wake us up to what is going on among His people, and to give us the opportunity to learn how to spot and reject deception. Paul agrees. He said, "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are genuine may be made manifest among you. "(1 Cor. 11:19) God allows error and deception in His church so that those who truly want Christ might be proven and shown to be want Him.
So the question which arises is this: Are those preachers on television who promote these signs and wonders, and say they are of God, teaching the Truth? Well, first of all, you won’t find much teaching at all. But that which is taught, is it scriptural? Is it scriptural to tell people that if you send money to your ministry, that God will reward you ten-fold? Is it scriptural to tell people that if they, "plant a seed," in your ministry that God will heal you? Bring salvation to a family member? Is that the Truth? It is not the Truth. In fact, it leads people completely away from a walk of faith in Christ, into a spiritual darkness – which only begins there. So again we must ask: What is the mark of a false prophet, other than signs and wonders? False teaching.
Incidentally, never think that simply because someone seems to be, “helped,” that it proves that God is in anything. Why? Because first of all, “being helped,” is a subjective observation. Do we realize that there are people who think the cult they are in, “helped them,” or, “changed their lives for the better.” What is REAL help in God’s eyes? Know what I mean? But more importantly, it does not matter whether someone seems to be helped, or whether their lives have been changed. Even if they are helped, the glory goes to God. Not to any movement. God can help people DESPITE error all around. Thus, the question remains: Is what is happening, and what is being taught scriptural?
Evil and Adulterous
Jesus said, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign." But from whom are they seeking signs? From HIM! Read it. The Pharisees demanded a sign from HIM. And His words are His response to them: "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign."
There has to be a reason why it is evil and adulterous to seek after signs and wonders FROM GOD. I offer two reasons here. First, it is wrong because God has provided enough to know Him, and to know His will, OUTSIDE of signs and wonders. How about the Bible? How about prayer? Second, it is wrong because if you are SEEKING signs and wonders, it betrays the fact that you have little or no faith. You continue to ask God to prove to you, through signs and wonders, what He has already told you is the Truth.
Note that Jesus does not say that signs and wonders themselves are wrong, or never of God. No. He worked signs and wonders. He may even do some today. But He said it was wrong to SEEK after them. The fact is, most people who SEEK after signs and wonders aren’t really seeking God at all. They want the experience.
The fact is, if you seek after signs and wonders, and they are what you need to believe God is in something, you are already ripe for deception. Why? Because all that is needed to prove to you that God is in something is the sign and wonder. So if it is provided, you will jump into something – because you think God showed you a sign or wonder. Few who fall for this trap ever stop to check things out with scripture, or prayer to God. They have their sign – the sign they wanted from God. So it must be God who is leading them.
We need to understand that because God has already told us NOT to seek signs and wonders, that if we ignore His warning, and DO seek signs and wonders, God guarantees no protection from deception. No. He has already given us what we need: His warning. Ignore that and you are in disobedience and unbelief. You will be deceived.
But now we come to an even bigger question: If God specifically warns us against seeking signs and wonders, indeed, calls doing so, "evil and adulterous," how likely is it that He is going to perform many of them, knowing that we will be tempted to seek them? I am talking about the kind of signs and wonders which we see today on television and campaigns. Would God warn us against seeking such things, and then turn around and do them? That is nonsense. God can work miracles, and do anything He likes. But the notion that He would warn against seeking what He performs is ridiculous.
Think about it. God wants us to seek, not after signs and wonders, but after HIMSELF. But would He encourage us to seek after HIMSELF by giving us the very signs and wonders which He tells us NOT to seek after. End of argument.
The Real Issue
If you examine closely the teachings which predominate the signs and wonders movement today, there is a common thread. It has to do with how to get God to do what you want Him to do. It has a general flavor of YOU being the center of your universe, and how to get God to service YOU. It usually isn’t put in those words, but that is the bottom line.
For example, they teach how to become rich. Just give to their ministry. They tell you how to get healed. Again, give to their ministry, or just, "name it and claim it." Others talk about how to find, "your true self." Or how to get into God to promote your success, prosperity, well-being, happiness, and emotional or spiritual healing. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Indeed, most of those who teach these things tell you that you can get them by COMING TO JESUS. Indeed, by giving your life to Jesus. Again, sounds good, even Biblical. But peel away the promises and you will find that what they really mean by this, as proven by how they practice it, isn’t what the Bible teaches at all.
The idea that if we come to Jesus, that we can get all kinds of blessings from Him, has a dark, deceptive, side to it. What happens is that people come to Jesus FOR blessings. But they come on THEIR terms – to GET from Him what they want. They don’t come on God’s terms.
And what are God’s terms. Well, you can only come to Jesus as a sinner who wants deliverance from sin. Note what that means: It means you are coming to Him precisely because the Holy Spirit has convicted you of your true condition, and you want deliverance. Contrast this over and against coming to Jesus for His stamp of approval on you the way you are. If THAT is why you are coming to Jesus, you really aren’t coming to Him. You are deceived.
This speaks to a deception that is running rampant through the churches. Today, we are being told that God accepts us just as we are. But what that is made to mean is that no matter what sin you are living in, well, God loves you and accepts you the way you are. Because love, after all, never tells anyone that they are a bad person, or needs help. Love simply affirms us the way we are, and is fine that we stay that way. Today’s, "love," has been depleted of all morality, holiness, and Truth. It is, in fact, man’s love for himself, pasted on the face of God. We have thoroughly succeeded in created God in our image.
All of this is a denial of the CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS. The only way to God is through the Cross. I will not come to the Cross unless I want deliverance from sin – and that necessitates that I confess it IS SIN. It necessitates that I want to change. Isn’t that what deliverance from sin means? Thus, any suggestion that I can come to Jesus without coming to the Cross is heresy of the worst sort. It is a denial of Jesus Himself.
Many of the teachings today in our churches, which tell us that if we come to Jesus that He will to make us better people, or make us successful, or make us rich, are denials of the Cross in disguise. For the first thing that must happen if we come to Jesus is that we will DIE to every bit of that. We are no longer our own. What Jesus does for us AFTER THAT is not something we have the right to decide or dictate. The fact is, God has a purpose which completely supercedes anything we might want in this life: He wants to conform us to Christ and prepare us for the eternal ages. And He will sacrifice anything in our lives to get that job done.
Some of the most successful churches today are those which focus on Jesus as a, "blessing machine," who will do all kinds of things for you, if you will simply come to Him. Almost as if we, "cut a deal," with God – we come to Him, and He blesses us. And people respond to that because they WANT things from God. If only we would teach people that what they really want is new life – the power of His resurrection. But again -- it only comes through fellowshipping with Christ in His death on the Cross.
Can we see why Jesus said that those who seek after signs and wonders are, "an evil and adulterous generation." Spiritual adultery, committed against God, is to be devoted to someone or something OTHER than God. Namely, things we WANT from God. Or signs and wonders as experiences. It is everywhere today and growing.
Today, we are being told, mostly by the SAME group who are into the signs and wonders, that we are in the beginning of a great, end-time revival. And to look at what is going on, and how the gospel – at least the one they preach – is spreading, one might be tempted to believe them. But ask: Does the Bible say that there is going to be an end-time revival? Or an end-time apostasy?
Let’s read just four passages:
When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)
Be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. (2 Thes. 2:2-3)
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
But as the days of Noah were, (i.e., they were evil) so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Mat 24:37-39)
You cannot find a single passage in the Bible that suggests that there is going to be an end-time revival that sweeps the earth. We are told only that the gospel will be preach IN all nations as a WITNESS. We are told that those who do believe will be saved. But no hint of a great revival. Instead, the overwhelming indication is that there is going to be a great end-time deception, or counterfeit revival – filled with signs and wonders. False prophets will abound and deceive many. Indeed, the deception will be so supernatural and convincing that even the elect, if possible, could be deceived.
Undoubtedly, there are many people caught up in this, even including some pastors or teachers, that are sincere, and who would never be involved if they knew what spirit was behind it. There are also many people who are not part of this deception, and who DO honor God, and who DO move in the Holy Spirit. We cannot brushstroke any group or movement. This isn’t about a group, denomination, or worship style. It’s about a spirit of deception that all of us are capable of getting caught in.
Some Christians insulate themselves from the terrible ramifications of what is going on today by assuring themselves that, “all these people cannot be wrong.” Well, they CAN all be wrong if they are all teaching error. Furthermore, if there is to be an end-time apostasy, doesn’t that mean there are going to be MANY who are wrong? Yep. WE need to come to terms with reality.
Christians everywhere need to wake up. All of this is predicted in the Bible. All of it. The warnings are there. The solution is therefore to return to God’s Word without compromise. To get on our knees and ask God to reveal to us the Truth – not through signs and wonders – but through the real Holy Spirit.
God Does Miracles
The greatest miracles are those God does in people's personal lives. Start with salvation. But there is more. God DOES THINGS in our lives. He solves problems, brings blessings, and sets people free. He moves and works. Some of those things are miracles of the supernatural variety, but many of them are of the seemingly natural variety -- although nevertheless just as supernatural, and from God.
We should never deny miracle possibilities, or signs and wonders -- if they POINT TO JESUS!!! If they are all within God's will and unto HIS glory. But note: I am not here talking about a, "miracle service." I am not talking about some kind of, "miracle road show." I am not talking about attaching giving money to God's willingness to work miracles. I am talking about the power of the Holy Spirit which works in and through people who seek Him. Who surrender to Him. Those are the kinds of miracles God wants to do today.
If Christian people would truly seek God for Himself, and open themselves up to Him, then God would be free to do miracles, for He could then trust us with them. We wouldn't turn them into a profit center, or a side show. Miracles wouldn't be an IT. They would be OF HIM. Thus, if you want to know the key to REAL MIRACLES -- there it is. The key is to get into personal business with Jesus Christ.
Signs and wonders which point to Jesus will likewise completely agree with scripture -- for scripture points to Jesus. They are of God. But signs and wonders which are clothed in false teaching, are used to raise money, and which lead people away from Christ, and the Bible, are not of God. And the source from which they come is too terrible to contemplate. *
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