… Continued from Part 1
It is worthy to note that the word “miracle” does not even exist in the Greek text. A sign is meant to point to something outside of itself, to an object. In the case of sign gifts, the object is God, and the subject is corroborated and authenticated by the object of said sign (God).
So, what is Jesus truly saying? Is He talking about a sign, wonder, or is He talking about works of righteousness? Is Jesus merely saying that His perfect morality and His perfect, loving obedience to His Father are the works which establish Him as The Messiah? Yes, but that would be a simplistic conclusion and too many threads would end up loose. If this were to be our conclusion–indeed it can because it doesn’t violate the immediate text or any logic–we would have to ignore the overarching context of what “works” (regardless of the Greek term) mean throughout the whole of Scripture.
The Biblical concept of signs and wonders are revealed as early as in Exodus 4. Moses was trying to excuse himself from returning to Egypt in order to deliver the people of Israel out of Pharaoh’s grip. After asking God for His personal name, “יְהוָ֞ה,” Moses keeps hiding in his defeated self-confidence. Then God introduces what would become the pattern for authenticating the true spokesmen of God, namely, sign gifts.
Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Exodus 4:1-6 ESV
“That they may believe…” As we have said earlier, signs point to an external object, to a source of power. They work as the presentation card for anyone who claims to speak for God.
Nearly 600 years after Moses, Elijah the Tishbite is introduced. Elijah bears the mantle of Moses. As he rebukes the people of Israel represented by its wicked kings, Ahab and Jezebel, the water (rain) ceases to fall and the people beg for water. He proclaims the words of Yahweh on Mount Carmel against the idolaters; he meets with Yahweh on Mount Horeb, exhausted and afraid of the people. A striking similarity between Elijah and Moses is his ability to work signs. The first sign produces by Elijah was that of stopping rainfall as a judgement on Israel (1 Kings 17:1). He raised a dead child from the dead (1 Kings 17:8-24) and the child’s mother said some incredibly enlightening words:
And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” 1 Kings 17:24
How much amazement should it brings to our eyes the fact that this pagan woman from Zarephath, a city in Sidon, had a better theology of sign gifts that most Evangelicals have today. After Elijah had resurrected the boy by the power of God working in him, the woman recognized him as a man through whom an extraordinary Being displayed His awesome power.
The next time we witness similar accounts is with Elijah’s successor, Elisha. God was pleased to concede a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. Soon after Elijah was taken up into heaven by flaming horses (interesting bit), he grabbed ahold of Elijah’s mantle–a garment which he used to part the waters of the Jordan river–and used it himself. He called upon the God of Elijah and parted the waters of the Jordan. Thus, being successfully categorized as a legitimate spokesman (prophet) of the one true God. It is crucial to note that godly men of Israel immediately recognized Elisha as having the same endowment as Elijah:
Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 2 Kings 2:15
Since we already know that Jesus used this same method to authenticate His signs and wonders, we won’t be expounding that in this opportunity. It has been established that the few times the Old Testament mentions the use of sign gifts–and their respective nature–it is to verify a newly called prophet. Contrary to popular thought, sign gifts are a rare occurrence in the Old Testament. Miracles are not found in every page. In fact, we can count only around 120 years’ worth of miracle-working in the entire 1,100-year span between Moses and the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi.
What then, are the “greater works”? Given the whole Biblical concept and the use of Jesus’ words in the text surrounding John 14:12-14, we cannot simply conclude that the works are “works of righteousness.” They sure encompass that, but it is broader. Jesus is indeed referring to signs and wonders. The Father’s witness about Christ included the sign gifts (Matthew 11:1-6; Luke 7:18-23; John 5:35-37; 9:4; 10:37-38; Acts 2:22).
Part 3 of the study is to be posted during this or next week. The final part is an exegesis of the passage.
Written by Paul Tkaczuk, @reformed.wretch