Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 1)
February 7, 2017
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 1)
One of the key aspects of Jesus’ ministry was the miracles He performed. The Gospels tell us of no less than 34 specific miracles. Fifteen other distinct times they refer to Jesus’ miraculous activity in more general ways,1 such as:
He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.2
He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.3
When they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.4
Besides the miracles He performed, the Gospels also tell us of miracles in which Jesus was the object of miraculous action, such as the virginal conception, the transfiguration, His resurrection and ascension, as well as the several times He appeared to His followers after His resurrection. Clearly miracles played an important role in Jesus’ ministry and in the telling of His story within the Gospels and the New Testament.
Before delving into Jesus’ miracles in upcoming articles, it might be helpful to explore some general information about them. Let’s begin with looking at what a miracle is.
A miracle is defined as an extraordinary event in the physical world that is contrary to the laws of nature and surpasses all known human or natural powers, and which demonstrates God’s involvement in the course of human affairs. Miracles are extraordinary events that constitute inexplicable manifestations of God’s power. Within Scripture, miracles occur either through the direct intervention of God in human affairs, or they can be wrought through human intermediaries who function as divinely empowered miracle workers.
Let’s take a look at some miracles in the Old Testament.
Miracles in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, we read of miracles in which God acted directly as well as times when the miracle was done through God’s power working through a prophet or man of God. An example of God acting directly is seen in His providing manna for the people of Israel.
“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.5
The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.6
And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.7
An Old Testament example of God working through a person who was empowered as a miracle worker is seen in the story of the widow who was housing the prophet Elijah. Her son died, and when she told Elijah, he carried the boy to his room and laid him on the bed.
Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived … 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.”8
In the book of Genesis, there were both miracles of God’s blessing, such as various barren women giving birth,9 as well as others related to God’s anger and judgment, such as the Great Flood,10 the confusing of languages at Babel,11 and causing the people in Sodom to go blind.12 Miracles in the book of Exodus focus on two things. The first is the absolute power of God, as seen in the plagues He sent to the Egyptian people when the Israelites were their slaves. He told Moses, The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.13 The plagues showed the Egyptians that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was more powerful than their gods, while at the same time showing the Israelites that He was powerful enough to free them from their oppressors; and in the crossing of the Red Sea, showing that He could avenge them by destroying the army of Egypt. God made three points through His miracles in Egypt: that people shall know that I am the LORD; that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth;14 that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.15
The second focus of the miracles in Exodus was on God’s care and protection of His people when they turned to Him. He fed them, gave them water, manna, meat, protection, kept their clothes from wearing out, gave guidance by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, etc., for 40 years. During these years the faithfulness of the people to the One who supplied their needs was tested. God revealed Himself as His people’s protector and provider, and also showed them that they needed to obey His commands.16
During the reigns of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon—known as the time of the united monarchy—less miraculous activity is recorded in the Bible. This changed during the time of Elijah and Elisha. Miracles were needed then, as faith in God had faded and there was much idolatry throughout the land of Israel. During this period we read of Elijah’s challenge to the priests of Baal,17 the widow of Zarephath’s meal,18 the raising of her son from death,19 the river Jordan divided,20 curing of leprosy,21 raising the dead,22 and other miracles. Later, in the times of the major and minor prophets—who are known as the “writing prophets” because their writings are recorded in the Bible—there were few miracles, with exceptions in the books of Jonah and Daniel.
In the Old Testament, the two main words used to refer to miracles are signs and wonders. They are often used together. There is more than one Hebrew term translated as “wonder”—one refers to an act of supernatural power, and another to something being beyond man’s understanding. These terms are generally used when referring to God acting within human history. The Hebrew word translated as “sign” refers to an act which occurs as a token or pledge of God’s control over events and as a revelation of God’s presence with His people.23
Miracles in the New Testament
As in the Old Testament, miracles in the New Testament are signs and wonders which show the presence of God. The difference is that in the Gospels, the presence of God is incarnate in Jesus, the Son of God. The Incarnation can be seen as the greatest miracle of all, as God not only acted in human history, but entered it. As miracles in the Exodus events led to the covenant between God and the Hebrew people, the miracles of Jesus in a similar fashion paved the way for the entrance of the new covenant.24
In the first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the Greek word translated as miracles is dynamis, which means power or deeds of power, sometimes also translated as mighty works, wonders, and wonderful works.25 In the Gospel of John, miracles are not called dynamis. This Gospel instead refers to miracles as signs, using the Greek word semeia. For example:
A large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.26
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”27
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.28
John used the word signs because the miracles of Jesus pointed beyond themselves to the truth about God that Jesus came to reveal. They are signs which show that Jesus has divine power and authority.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”29
Many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”30
Besides performing miracles Himself, Jesus gave His disciples the power to work miracles as well:
He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.31
He told them that they would do even greater works than He had done:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.32
We read of the “signs and wonders” done by His disciples and others who were empowered by the Holy Spirit and who, in performing miracles, showed that the gospel they preached was authentic.
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.33
Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.34
They remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.35
As we’ll see as we read more about His miracles, Jesus performed many different types of miracles—including healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, and miracles which showed His power over natural forces, such as feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, walking on water, calming a storm, and turning water into wine.
The Gospels speak of several reasons or purposes given for Jesus’ miracles:
To bring glory to God
When Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”36
The crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.37
To bring healing and wholeness to people
Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.38
When he [Jesus] saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.39
Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.40
To reveal God’s kingdom
If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.41
When John [the Baptist] heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”42
To fulfill God’s Word
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”43
Many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”44
To show that Jesus was the Messiah
The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me.45
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.46
The very works that I am doing bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.47
As Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He prayed: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”48
The miracles of Jesus were a major part of His ministry and they powerfully attested to who He was, in whose name He came, and that He was filled with the power and anointing of God, His Father. In this and other upcoming articles in this series, Jesus, His Life and Message, we will explore the miracles He performed and the message they portrayed.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 B. L. Blackburn, “Miracles and Miracle Stories,” in J. B. Green and S. McKnight (eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 549–59.
2 Mark 3:9–10.
3 Mark 1:34.
4 Mark 6:54–56.
5 Exodus 16:12–14.
6 Exodus 16:35.
7 Joshua 5:12.
8 1 Kings 17:21–22, 24.
9 Sarah, the wife of Abraham: Genesis 17:15–17, 21; 21:1–3. Rebekah, the wife of Isaac: Genesis 25:21. Rachel, the younger wife of Jacob: Genesis 29:31; 30:22–24. Hannah, the mother of Samuel: 1 Samuel 1:1–20.
10 Genesis 6–7.
11 Genesis 11.
12 Genesis 19:11.
13 Exodus 7:5.
14 Exodus 8:22.
15 Exodus 9:14.
16 Points in this and the preceding paragraphs are from Walter Elwell and Barry Beitzel, eds., in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 1468–1473.
17 1 Kings 18:30–38.
18 1 Kings 17:14–16.
19 1 Kings 17:17–24.
20 2 Kings 2:7–8, 14.
21 2 Kings 5:10–14.
22 2 Kings 4:18–37.
23 Elwell and Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1468–1473.
25 Matthew 11:20–23; Mark 6:2, 5.
26 John 6:2.
27 John 6:14.
28 John 20:30.
29 John 3:2.
30 John 7:31.
31 Matthew 10:1.
32 John 14:12.
33 Acts 5:12.
34 Acts 6:8.
35 Acts 14:3.
36 John 11:4.
37 Matthew 15:31.
38 Matthew 15:28.
39 Luke 17:14.
40 Luke 8:35.
41 Matthew 12:27–28.
42 Matthew 11:2–5.
43 Matthew 8:16–17.
44 Matthew 12:15–18.
45 John 10:25.
46 John 10:37–38.
47 John 5:36.
48 John 11:41–43.