Understanding the Commissions: Part 4

In the last study, we began looking at the Lord’s apostolic commission at the end of Mark’s Gospel account:

Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen. And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My Name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:14-18)

In the last study we discussed the gospel spoken of in this passage and how the baptism spoken of was related to this gospel. Now this command has a second part as well.  It speaks of how

Signs Shall Follow.

When we come to verse 17, our Lord very clearly states: And these signs shall follow them that believe…

In this verse, we would have to ask “Did He mean what He said?”  This is a rhetorical question, because of course the answer is YES!

These signs are often thought of as the “foundational gifts” that were in place until “the Church” was established.  It is a much more scriptural statement to call them the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4-5).  What is this age to come?  Peter, by inspiration, even filled with the Holy Spirit, explained the sign gifts during his address at Pentecost this way:

But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew 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: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:16-21)

These are not spoken of as the “foundational gifts for the establishment of  the Church”, but of things that will come to pass in the last days.  These are things that would come to pass before the “great and the terrible day of the LORD” would come (Joel 2:31).  Peter, by inspiration states that “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”.  It was not “This is the birth of the Church”, but the “last days…before that great and notable day of the Lord come”.  This outpouring of the spirit was fulfillment of prophecy, not the beginning of the so-called “Church Age”.  The Church which is His Body, the Body of Christ, was still a “mystery, hid in God” (See Ephesians 3:1-12).  The Body of Christ would be revealed by the Apostle Paul, and to find truth regarding the Church which is His Body, we need to find it in his epistles.

So signs would follow those that believe.  They absolutely did.  Look at how Mark’s Gospel ends:

And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:20)

The book of Acts bears witness to this fact with more details.  Were devils cast out in the Name of the Lord Jesus?  Yes!  See Acts 16:18.  Did they speak with new tongues?  Yes!  See Acts 2:4. Did they take up serpents?  Yes, see Acts 28:3-5, and what is more, in the coming Kingdom:

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. (Isaiah 11:8)

Did anyone drink a deadly thing and find that it did not hurt them? The record in Acts does not mention this, but Elisha the prophet did in 2 Kings 4:38-41, and this same type of sign would follow the Apostles’ preaching of the gospel.  Did anyone lay hands on the sick and cause them to recover?  Yes!  Was this new power?  No!  These apostles were first given these signs when they were first commissioned early in the Lord’s earthly ministry:

 When the Twelve were first called and instructed, the Lord gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. … Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give (Matthew 10:1, 8).

Now some may also say that several examples that are given above were not from the ministry of the Twelve, but from Paul’s ministry.  That is true—in fact, he said himself to the Corinthians that the signs of an apostle were wrought among [them] in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds (2 Corinthians 12:12).  These “signs of an apostle” were very much to confirm the Apostles’ ministry to Israel.  See what Paul says to the Hebrews:

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? (Hebrews 2:3-4)

The “we” and “us” in this passage should be interpreted to mean “we Hebrews”, and we can understand this passage without it arguing against Paul’s authorship of this epistle.  Now the signs and miracles were intended for Israel:  “The Jews require a sign” (1 Corinthians 1:22).  Miracles exercised in the presence of gentiles in Acts 14 did not have the effect of bringing them to Christ, but they treated Paul and Barnabas as though they were gods.  The signs exercised by Paul confirmed to Israel that he was indeed an apostle, one sent by Christ.

Now the sign gifts did not continue.  Israel rejected God’s Christ who is still to reign over the Nations on David’s throne.  The signs stopped being a witness to the Jews, for the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles (Acts 28:28).  Jews are now saved just as Gentiles (Acts 15:11), not because of the covenants of promise, but because of His mercy—in one body, by the cross.  During the period covered by the book of Acts, we go from prisons in Jerusalem and Philippi that could not hold God’s servants to His apostle in a Roman prison.  At the end of 2 Timothy, we see Paul seemingly rejected by all, in prison without rescue.  And healing? Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick (2 Timothy 4:20).  Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities (1 Timothy 5:23).

If tongues are still a gift now, why do we need Bible translators?  If healings, why are faith healers not at hospitals, and why is health care a daily issue in our world?  The dead are not raised to life and the lepers are not cleansed, at least not miraculously.  It is interesting too that the disciples were told that they were to freely give because they freely received, and yet the so-called healers are always asking for a donation if people want to be healed.

As to whether having enough faith would cause these signs to return, it was not faith that caused them to be manifest to begin with.  They were gifts.  They were manifest in the recipients whether they had faith that they would get them or not.

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you… (Acts 1:8)

They were not given because of “saintly” behavior or superior spirituality. The sign gifts were given because the gift of the baptism with the Holy Spirit was “promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).  The assembly at Corinth was described as “carnal”, “babes in Christ”, and “puffed up” (1 Corinthians 3:1; 5:2), yet they possessed the sign gifts, and the way for them to properly exercise the gift of tongues, and all the spiritual gifts (gifts given by the Holy Spirit), was laid out for them because of their misuse of them.  One way that the Corinthians were told to “express” their spirituality was this:

If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37)

Indeed, words to take to heart.  Let us also remember that Satan, the great counterfeiter, loves showing his counterfeit power.  Some “miracles” are easy to fake.  Some take work and a little bit of help.  Remember the scriptural teaching on how the man of sin will deceive:

For there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:24)

Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

We must remember not to look for signs, but to put our faith in the written word of God.  The administration of the sign gifts has passed, and the gifts that the Lord has given to His Body are these:

And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-12)

In the next study, we will look closer at the commissioning of the apostles in the last chapter of Luke.  Until then, have you heard of the gospel of your salvation, how that Christ died for your sins and rose again for your justification (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 4:25).  If you have, what have you done with this message of glad tidings?

BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED!

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