These happenings, contrary to the natural order of things, are divine interventions that point people to God. The plagues instigated against Egypt are an example (Ex 4:28, 7:3, 8:23). Although the magicians were able by their occult practices to replicate two of the same extraordinary events, they were powerless to imitate or reverse the others. The Bible says false prophets will perform great signs and miracles that will deceive many and the Satanic beast mentioned in Revelation will also deceive people by his miraculous signs (Mt 24:24; 2Thes 2:9; Rev 13:13,14, 16:14). Since Satan can duplicate some miracles it is unwise to rely solely on them, for although sensory evidence is helpful, faith in Jesus is always to be our focus, along with an unshakeable belief in the Word of God. The actions of anyone claiming to speak or act on God’s behalf must point towards Him, bringing people into a closer relationship with Him, and not detracting from what is right or pointing towards themselves (Deut 13:1-3).
John records that when Jesus performed miracles or ‘signs and wonders’ the people began to understand He was “the prophet who is to come”, yet “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence they still would not believe in Him” (Jn 2:11, 4:48,54, 6:14, 12:37). They had a mental understanding but this did not result in embracing Him as Saviour; this same mindset continues in people today.
Although the NT scribes had plenty of previous evidence, they wanted to see another miraculous sign from Jesus, yet further proof He was the Son of God would not have altered their opinion of Him (Mt 16:1-4). Jesus said ‘the sign of Jonah’ was all they would see. This sign was that just as this OT prophet was three days and nights in the great fish then released, so Jesus would also be in the grave for three days then rise again (Mt 12:39-41).
Signs are pointers to something else, not ends in themselves. When people’s attention is diverted from God (to whom they point), and onto the miracle the manifestation of His power can become an idol. This was illustrated in the OT when the brazen serpent was a ‘saviour’ to those bitten in the wilderness, but tragically, later worshipped as an idol (Num 21:4-9; 2 Kgs 18:4).
Gideon’s faith was weak and God graciously gave him two more visible proofs, using a sheep’s fleece as he requested, because he was genuinely desiring to do God’s will, but visible signs are unnecessary if they are confirming what we already know is correct (Jdg 6:36-40). Asking God for a sign is in fact manipulating Him. Often God will bring about confirming indicators, but our main means of guidance should be ‘hearing from God’ and conforming it from the Bible. Rather than chasing after visible manifestations the better approach is to seek the Lord Himself – “that I might know Him” (1 Cor 1:22,23; Phil 3:10). His promise is “I will be found of you” (1 Chr 28:9; Jer 29:13,14). We are to live by faith, which comes from diligent studying of His Word and obedience to His voice.
Is my focus on God or the visible sign?
desirable spiritual fruit will result; the fruit is a sign of His life within. While physical experiences can be valid demonstrations of the Spirit, we should not seek them – rather concentrate on loving God, and if He gives them, thank Him yet keep them in the correct perspective for human nature tends to focus on the visible, physical realm, losing sight of the spiritual. Signs are supposed to follow the believer, not the believer follow signs (Mt 12:38; Mk 16:17,18).
Jesus said various signs, indicating a power beyond human ability, will accompany believers and will testify to us being His children (Mk 16:17,18,20; Act 2:43, 4:30, 5:12). Then, at the end of the world various undeniable evidences will be seen in a scale never before experienced (Joel 2:30,31; Mt 24:6-31; 2 Tim 3:1-7).
Signs of human origin are informative and relate directly to objects or ideas, conveying a distinctive message, such as the stones taken from the river Jordan which were to be reminders of the Lord’s miraculous power (Josh 4:6).