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Topic: Faith

The Deception of the Miraculous

by Darrel Cline

I have often pondered Jesus' words in Luke 16:19-31 where Jesus' story about the request of the rich man in the flames of Hell is recorded. The rich man was quoted as requesting that Father Abraham provide his brothers with a foundation for faith by sending them one raised from the dead. Abraham's response was that they had Moses and the prophets and if they would not listen to them, they would not be persuaded if someone rose from the dead to tell them the truth. I have pondered that in respect to the apparent contradiction that exists between the truth of Abraham's words and the records of the Gospels, especially John's. John presented seven miraculous signs that, according to his own words, were designed to give us a basis for faith (...these were written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ...).

In a nutshell, the problem looks like this: Jesus did miracles so that men might believe He is the Christ, but Abraham claims that miracles are ineffectual in producing faith.

This morning I believe the answer came. It finally dawned on me that Jesus never was into the creation of faith based upon the miraculous in spite of the appearances in the Gospels. The truth I had overlooked all these years is that the Gospels have a "context" which arises out of the progressive revelation that began in the Old Testament. In Isaiah, God's apologetic, which He repeats over and over, is that men can know that they have heard from the true God when they have heard the end from the beginning. What that means is that fulfilled prophecy is God's apologetic. The logic is simple: no one can prophesy accurately unless he is in contact with omniscience. Therefore, if one does prophesy accurately, he must be speaking for the true omniscient God. Given the Old Testament reality that prophecy covered time from just a few years to well over several millennia, the fulfillment of prophecy has always been a demonstrated claim that could be validated. Since God Himself says that we can know if we have the right God or not on the basis of the "god's" ability to tell the future accurately, Jesus had to have come into history in that context.

The significance of this? Simply this: prophecy had identified Messiah in terms of certain works of power that He would accomplish. Jesus' works of power were not in themselves an argument for His identity. However, as fulfillment of prophecy, they contained powerful apologetical foundations for legitimate persuasion based upon the logic of the necessity of contact with omniscience for legitimate and accurate prophecy that covered all manner of spans of time.

Works of power alone are no more legitimate than magic. The problem with works of power is that they appear to be miraculous if the observers do not know the mechanisms that produce them. If they know those mechanisms, the works of power cease to be persuasive. If they do not know those mechanisms and they have a gullible streak in them, they may switch their allegiances from one magician to another. But, Jesus was more than a magician. He was a fulfillment of written prophecy. That it was written made it indisputable that the prophecy was actually given in time prior to the fulfillment. Then, when the fulfillment came, it was easy to compare what had been predicted and what had happened. If the two were in harmony, prophecy was fulfilled. If prophecy was fulfilled, it argued for revelation from an omniscient source. The only omniscient source that exists is the God of infinite knowledge.

The reason that Father Abraham said that those who rejected Moses and the prophets would also reject the miraculous is simply that the former is far greater as a foundation for faith than the latter. If people can look at the evidence of fulfilled prophecy from a comparison of Moses' writings and Jesus' life and walk away, what good will an act of power do--especially since everyone knows that works of power may well be nothing more than special magic?

That powerful works are not a sufficient basis for faith in themselves is revealed by the Book of the Revelation where we are told that the false prophet to come will be able to call fire down from heaven. If powerful ability argues for loyalty, men ought to follow the false prophet. But powerful ability is only a legitimate argument for loyalty if the abilities have been prophesied from long ages past. In fact, it is the prophecy of the Book of Revelation about the abilities of the false prophet that will enable God's people to be discerning in the days when the prophecy is fulfilled. Thus, it is not power than convinces us; it is omniscience revealed in prophecy followed by history.

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This is article #311.
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