The Miracle Majority

The Bible says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1), and after overcoming temptations, he returned “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14), announcing that he was anointed to preach and to heal (4:18-21). Later, we read that “the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all” (6:19; also Mark 5:30). As Peter said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). God performed “miracles, wonders and signs” through him (2:22).

The Gospels testify that Jesus would baptize his people with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). What does this mean? In Acts 1, Jesus calls this baptism with the Holy Spirit “the gift my Father promised” (v. 4). He said, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), and “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (v. 8). He also refers to “what my Father has promised” in another place, and again he says that when it arrives, the disciples would be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, and he had the “power” to preach, to heal, and to work miracles. Now he would pour out the Holy Spirit on the believers, and they would receive the same “power” to preach, to heal, and to work miracles. There is no other meaning for the fullness or baptism of the Holy Spirit, and there is no other meaning for this “power” that results from it. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not for repentance, conversion, or justification, but for power – power for preaching, healing, and miracles.

This is the way the Bible usually talks about the power to work miracles. Cessationists often claim that the “sign” gifts have ceased, but the Bible does not distinguish some gifts as “sign” gifts. The distinction has been invented in order to separate some spiritual manifestations into their own category to be targeted.

In fact, the Bible rarely uses the language of “gifts” to talk about God’s miraculous power at work through men. Paul uses it in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4. In almost all other instances – hundreds of them – the Bible uses terms like “faith,” “grace,” “power,” “the Spirit of the Lord,” “the hand of the Lord,” or it describes what happened, like “Then God said to Abraham,” “The word of the Lord came to me,” “The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him,” “Your faith has healed you,” “The Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,” and so on.

Comparatively speaking, the Bible almost never uses the language of “gifts” when referring to the miraculous power of God working through men. To impose the “gifts” terminology upon the whole debate contrary to the biblical pattern and proportion makes it easier to employ a “divide and conquer” strategy against God’s power. It cuts up what God has never divided, so that what is undesirable could be discarded without appearing to reject the whole thing. However, the way the Bible talks about God’s power prevents this abuse. When this is taken into account, the issue is not whether this or that gift has ceased, but whether God has ceased, whether the Holy Spirit has ceased, whether power has ceased, whether grace has ceased, whether prayer has ceased, and whether faith has ceased.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, and they would receive miraculous power (Acts 1:4-8). When it happened on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4), Peter explained that it was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). So the Holy Spirit infuses believers with power, not only to preach and to heal, but also to receive visions and dreams, and to prophesy.

Thus this also becomes the fulfillment of Moses’ wish that all of God’s people would become prophets: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). This cannot be satisfied by all of God’s people being saved – they had always been saved by faith in the coming of Christ. Moses wished that they would become “prophets” – to have the powers of prophecy, healing, miracles, like he did.

Are the cessationists jealous for the apostles? Is that why they want to make God’s power exclusive to them? But they are working against the apostles. Peter said, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). He refers to “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38), which as we have demonstrated, entails the power to preach, to heal, to receive visions, dreams, prophecies, and to perform miracles.

The Bible says that this baptism of the Holy Spirit comes directly from Jesus – not from the apostles, and not through the apostles. Jesus is the only baptizer. There were about a hundred and twenty people praying together in the upper room (Acts 1:15). They received the Holy Spirit directly from Jesus and at the same time. Each person received independently from the others, and independently from the apostles. The apostles did not receive the Holy Spirit first and then transmit the blessing to the rest of the people. They received at the same time and in the same way as the others.

Moreover, the apostles were a mere ten percent of the group. The ninety percent did not need the apostles’ assistance or permission to receive the Father’s promise. Since Jesus is the one who directly baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and since the Holy Spirit grants power to work miracles to those who receive him, this means that, compared to the number of apostles, there were nine times as many believers who could wield the power to work miracles from the first day Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit. If the apostles had never shown up, they still would have received the power, because they were receiving from Jesus, not from the apostles.

The Bible liberates us to look to Christ alone, and not to men. But for many people, the implication is frightening, even damning. The cessationist doctrine that exalts the apostles into exclusive super-believers in order to shut up God’s power to the first generation in effect makes them into idols. It makes them into mediators that stood between Jesus and his people, so that without them one could not reach the other, or at least the believers could not receive Jesus in all his fullness. It is a wretched reality that some of those who most forcefully castigate Catholic idolatry are also those who most jealously enforce it. Oh, the irony of religious hypocrisy! “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again” (Hebrews 5:12).

Thus what is at stake is not only the place of healing and prophecy and such things, but the place of Jesus Christ. Men baptize with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. The apostles are dead, but men never needed them to receive the Holy Spirit in the first place. On the other hand, Jesus is not dead. If the cessationists suggest that Jesus has been ousted as one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, then they cannot be Christians, for they would be anti-Christ. However, if Jesus is still who he has always been, then he still baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and the only baptism with the Spirit that the Bible knows is one that results in power to work miracles.