To substantiate further the fact of miracles one must also consider how and under what circumstances they occurred.
- Miracles occurred before unbelievers. Miracles occurred many times before the eyes of those who did not believe. They were not “done in a corner” and hidden from the unbelievers (At 26:26). God’s power was no obscure or hidden thing when He poured down fire on Mount Carmel in answer to Elijah’s prayer (1 Kg 18:30-40). The raising of Lazarus by Jesus caused many to believe, but there were also many unbelievers who witnessed the event (Jn 11:45,46). The miracles of the apostles were “manifested to all that dwell in Jerusalem” and the unbelievers could not deny them (At 4:16). The validity of no miracle of Jesus depended on its concealment from the unbeliever’s eye.
There are those who would now make the objection that the witness of unbelievers is evidence that the miraculous events were questionable. In other words, if unbelievers actually experienced true miracles, then why did not all who experienced miracles become believers?
We would answer the preceding objection by saying that one must never underestimate the amount of prejudice that was against Jesus and the other disciples. The enemies of Jesus hated Him because He stood against their positions of power among the Jews. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, therefore, devised and carried out a plot to kill Jesus. These were religious leaders who schemed this plot. They schemed murder, and then, had to relinquish to the rule of Roman law. They thus moved the multitudes to cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus.
The extremity of their prejudice against Jesus blinded them to the fact of the miracles that Jesus and the disciples worked. In fact, they confessed that miracles actually occurred, but they just would not accept those who worked the miracles (See At 4:14-16). The power of unbelief that is based on prejudice is stronger than the empirical evidence of a miraculous event.
- Miracles were recorded without any denials either by unbelievers or believers. In the gospel records there is not one denial of the miracles worked by Jesus. Many could and would have denied the fact of miracles if they were only performances of magic and fraud. But the absence of denial leads us to believe in their authenticity. Judas Iscariot walked with Jesus for over three years. He could have denied the miracles before the Pharisees, but he did not. The other disciples also experienced the miracles of Jesus. During their ministries they underwent severe persecution. Would it not be reasonable to believe that in the heat of persecution at least one of the apostles would have denied the authenticity of the miraculous works of Jesus? On the contrary, we hear them stating in times of persecution, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (At 4:19,20).
Those who believed in the miracles wrote the inspired records of the gospel event. If the miracles were deceptions, it would be reasonable to believe that these writers would have contradicted themselves when they recorded the facts surrounding the miraculous events? The fact that there is no contradiction in the recorded accounts is evidence that both miracle and inspiration are true.
The very existence of Christianity is based upon miracles. In other words, Christianity would not exist if it had not first been proved by miracles (See Mk 16:17-20; Hb 2:3,4). We would assume, therefore, that there would be countless contemporary records of secular history that would record denials of these miracles by the enemies of Christianity. Those records do not exist. We have contemporary records that misinterpret and misunderstand Christianity. In this confusion there is the denial of the supernatural. However, no unbeliever who was familiar with the facts ever denied the validity of the miraculous.
- Miracles had the testimony of reliable witnesses. The apostles had everything in this world to lose because of their testimony that Jesus was the Christ. Why would they give their lives for one who had deceived the world? Could they also have been deceived? They had been with Jesus for over three years. Would they have suffered so great a persecution for One they had known to have performed only tricks and not real miracles?
The point is that the lives of the apostles that were affected by Jesus cannot be answered without the historicity of Jesus’ miracles. There is no logical reason why they would be so transformed and bold if they had not actually experienced the work of God in the life of Jesus and in their own lives. If they did not actually experience the work of God, then the New Testament is a record of lunacy and lies. It is a record of several lunatics who schemed together in order to preach a message that would bring upon them persecution and death. We would of necessity have to affirm, therefore, that their courage stemmed from the “brotherhood pack” to not forsake the message upon which all of them agreed to preach. However, when one reads the New Testament, is this the impression he or she receives when reading passages that exhort honesty and integrity?
In this context, consider the early death of James at the hand of Herod in Acts 12. Why would God allow such to happen to a Christ-sent apostle in the early establishment of the church. The answer lies in the purpose for which the documents of Luke and Acts were written (See Book 4 in the Biblical Research Library). God allowed James to be killed in order to strengthen for us the testimony of the apostles He preserved.
We have no inspired records of the martyrs of any of the other Christ-sent apostles. How would we know that they were willing to go to death for what they believed if we did not have at least a record of one who did? If there was no record of at least one martyred apostle, then we might conclude that they all went off into obscurity. But the fact that James was willing to die for his faith reaffirms the strength of the tesimony of the living apostles. Because they had actually experienced the miraculous work of God in their lives, they were willing to die for their faith. Therefore, we appreciate the Holy Spirit providing for us a testimony through the death of James, that James and the apostles truly believed that God had miraculously revealed that Jesus was the Christ and Son of God (Mt 16:13-19; see Jn 20:30,31).
- Miracles have the testimony of those who were healed. In substantiating the fact of miracles we also have the testimony of those who were healed. Jesus brought sight to a man who had been born blind (Jn 9). This man was brought before the Pharisees and questioned concerning his healing. Though he was pressured and threatened by the Pharisees, neither he nor his parents would deny that he had been healed (Jn 9:25). In other words, he could not have denied that which actually happened.
Thousands of people were healed in the first century. Would it not be reasonable to believe that if deceiving performances were used in these “healings” that at least one of those who was healed would confess that he was not really healed? The fact that there are no denials or confessions of fraud is proof that the healings were real.
[Next in series: July 27]