Salvation, Spiritual Gifts, and Seeing the Son8
I often hear from my cessationist friends that Hebrews 2:3-4 speaks against the notion that the so-called miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative today. Continue reading . . .
I often hear from my cessationist friends that Hebrews 2:3-4 speaks against the notion that the so-called miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative today. The author of Hebrews says that the gospel message “was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” So let’s look more closely at this important passage.
The urgency of paying close attention to this great salvation and fixing our faith on Jesus alone is of massive importance because of the way God confirmed the truth of the gospel. Notice that there are three stages in this process of confirmation.
(1) Jesus Christ himself declared that he had come to save sinners. His word of forgiveness and redemption for those who trust and treasure him was proclaimed loudly and clearly and with the self-authenticating power of his divine authority.
(2) Those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus while he was on the earth, who saw him and heard him and walked with him, in turn told us about their experience. They bore testimony that all he did and said was real and true. They were present when he cleansed the lepers and drove out demons and walked on water and refuted the Pharisees and raised the dead.
(3) In turn, God the Father also bore witness to the truth of this message of salvation by granting signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such displays of divine power confirmed and attested to the reality of all that Jesus claimed to be.
Let me say three quick things about this that many misunderstand.
First, there is nothing in this passage that suggests God cannot or does not or will not continue to attest to and confirm the truth of the gospel through supernatural spiritual displays of power. Some try to argue that since we have the Bible we no longer need such miracles or spiritual gifts to confirm the truth of the gospel. But the Bible itself nowhere says that! Nowhere in Scripture are we told that the Bible replaces miracles or that the gospel cannot still be confirmed by supernatural displays of power. Nowhere! If supernatural displays of power and the operation of spiritual gifts confirmed the truth of the gospel of salvation back then, why could they not continue to do so today?
Second, the word translated “bore witness” sounds as if it is in the past tense, as if to suggest that God used to do this, that in the past he formerly bore witness by signs and wonders, but that he no longer does so in the present day. But the participle translated “bore witness” is in the present tense in Greek. Although that doesn’t prove my point, it certainly makes room for it (both grammatically and theologically). It means that it is entirely within the realm of possibility that even in the time during which the recipients of this letter were living God was still bearing witness to the truth of the gospel through signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts.
Third, even if God no longer uses miraculous events to confirm or attest to the truth of the gospel (although I believe he does), such spiritual gifts have other purposes they serve. Paul clearly teaches that all spiritual gifts, even the more overtly miraculous ones, serve the “common good” or are for the benefit and building up of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12:7-10). The gift of prophecy is designed by God to encourage, console, and edify believers (1 Cor. 14:3). Every spiritual gift is used to strengthen and build up believers in the church. And that is a purpose they serve that will never come to an end until Jesus himself returns in the clouds.
In other words, while acknowledging that supernatural displays of miraculous power served to authenticate and confirm the truth of the gospel, never think that such was their only purpose. Nowhere does the NT reduce the purpose of the miraculous to attestation and confirmation. Nowhere!
Of course, it is always possible for you to doubt the truthfulness of such claims. You may be inclined to say, “Why should I believe anything Jesus said? Maybe he was lying. Or maybe he never even said what the NT says he said; after all, it could have been fabricated by the early church. And why should we believe what his followers said about him? Maybe they made it up. It could all have been a conspiracy on their part to elevate Jesus to the status of God. And maybe all those alleged miracles and spiritual gifts were sleight of hand. I’ve seen magicians in Las Vegas do some incredible things, all of which were just misdirection and deception.”
Sure, there is always the possibility that such is the case. So why do I affirm the high degree of probability that Jesus is who Hebrews says he is and that he accomplished for sinners what it says he accomplished?
I could begin by enumerating for you the countless lines of historical, archaeological, philosophical, and logical evidence for the truth claims of Christ. I could talk about how OT prophecy is so remarkably fulfilled in the NT, how only a bodily resurrection accounts for the empty tomb, how Christian theism alone makes sense of the existence of the universe and its undeniably remarkable design, how we have no other way to explain the emergence of the early Christian movement and its phenomenal growth through the centuries, and so on seemingly without end.
But in the final analysis the only thing that will lead you to embrace the truth of who Jesus Christ claims to be so that you will put your faith in what he has claimed to do is the work of the Holy Spirit in opening your eyes and shining into your heart and soul the knowledge of the glory of God as revealed in Jesus. This is Paul’s word to us in 2 Corinthians 4:6, and it is my prayer as well if you do not yet see in Jesus the Son of God, the heir of all things, the creator of the universe, the radiant expression of God’s glory and exact imprint of his character, the one who is carrying all things to their proper end by the word of his power, the one who has made purification for sins and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
We pray, O Father, shine this light into every heart and drive out the darkness of rebellion, skepticism, and unbelief, and grant us sight of your glory as revealed in the face of Jesus.