May 02, 2017 Q & A

Are miracles a specific revelation from God?


Does the OPC recognize miracles as a specific revelation from God?


What a great question! Let me respond with three biblical principles about miracles.

Firstly, miracles in the Bible, especially in the gospel of John, are also called “signs.” This points to their essentially revelatory significance. They are meant to disclose heavenly realities—to point to the presence of a new work and act of God. That is why the occurrence of miracles is clustered around key moments in salvation history; for example, with Moses, Elijah, and especially the coming of Christ and the sending of the Spirit-empowered apostles.

Secondly, miracles are given not as independent and isolated supernatural acts (as if they were fireworks of some kind); they always attend and accompany the word of God which is the primary vehicle for God’s speaking to his people. But because God’s enemies (e.g. Pharaoh and the Egyptians in Exodus) and even God’s people (e.g. the Israelites of Christ’s day) are resistant to hear the voice of the Lord, God sends miracles to confirm that it is indeed he that is present in speaking and acting. The miracles are self-attesting (because they cannot be explained except as God’s doing) and attest to the divine authority of the speaker’s words, yet they also have the effect of highlighting the hardness of heart of those who witness them and yet do not believe. As we read in John 12:37—38, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’” Here we are confronted with the recurring refrain in the gospel accounts that the people “had eyes but did not see, and ears but did not hear.” In the end, those who continually resist God’s truth will become so recalcitrant that even the ultimate miracle of the resurrection will not produce repentance, as Jesus says in Luke 16:31, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Thirdly (and this may be most relevant to what you are asking), the Bible does not teach God’s people to expect miracles in the present day as a revelation of his power, because (as above) the purpose of miracles is to signal the dawning of a new age of revelation. Once that revelation has been given, the need for miracles is no longer there. For example, we read in Hebrews 2:3-4, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

Miracles are like the siren that goes off as a submarine is emerging from the depths of the sea: it is letting everyone know to “watch out”! But once the submarine is above the water, the sound of the siren is no longer needed. In fact, for it to continue to blare would actually prove to be a distraction for what is right in front of us. As the Westminster Confession of Faith indicates with respect to things like miracles, “afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto his people being now ceased” (WCF 1.1).

This does not mean that God cannot work in extraordinary ways today in response to our prayers, and wonderful providences such as the healing of a disease (with or without medical intervention) can occur by the hand of the Lord. But they do not qualify as “miracles” in the more narrow (and arguably biblical) sense of the term, as miracles are rightly described as “God’s headlines,” given so that we will read the rest of the gospel story.



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