July 14, 2015

The Matchless Miracles of Christ

by Nathan Busenitz

In the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus

  • healed diseases
  • cast out demons
  • calmed storms
  • raised the dead
  • fed thousands at one time
  • walked on water
  • turned water into wine
  • and even controlled the placement of fish (e.g. Matt. 17:23–27; Luke 5: 1–11).

Because His miracles were so well-known, Jesus Himself pointed to them as verification that He came from God. As He told His critics, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36; cf. Matthew 11:5; John 10:38).

Significantly, Jesus’ opponents never denied His miracles. Though they questioned the divine origin of His power (Matthew 12:24), they were never able to deny that the works He and His apostles performed were supernatural (John 11:47–48; Acts 4:16). Even today, “the fact that miracle working belongs to the historical Jesus is no longer disputed.” [1]

In the words of the German scholar, Wolfgang Trilling: “We are convinced and hold it for historically certain that Jesus did in fact perform miracles. . . . The miracle reports occupy so much space in the Gospels that it is impossible that all could have been subsequently invented or transferred to Jesus.” [2]

Jewish literature from the first few centuries A.D. confirms that the Jews, like the Christians, accepted the fact that Jesus performed supernatural acts. Unlike many of the pseudo-miracles done today in the name of Jesus, the actual miracles of Jesus were irrefutable. But while they could not deny His power, the Jewish religious leaders rejected the idea that God was the source behind it.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day attributed His power directly to Satan (Matthew 12:24). In later centuries, the rabbis attempted to pass it off as sorcery and magic. [3] Thus, in the Babylonian Talmud we read this accusation: “Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.” [4] Though intended pejoratively, that statement provides backhanded confirmation of the fact that Jesus performed amazing wonders (which His enemies misconstrued as “magic”). The statement also indicates that His miracles were so compelling that many in Israel believed in Him.

Jewish sources further acknowledge that Jesus’ immediate followers also had the power to heal in His name. [5] Princeton Scholar Peter Schäfer comments on one particular account in the Talmud, in which the grandson of an unbelieving Jewish man named Yehoshua b. Levi was miraculously healed by a Christian. Though the healing was successful, Yehoshua b. Levi was mortified that his grandson had been subjected to such “magical” powers. Based on that account, Schäfer explains the Jewish perspective of Jesus’ miracles:

The story about Yehoshua b. Levi and his grandson . . . presents an ironical critique of Jesus’ and his [apostle’s] power [to perform miracles]. True, it argues, their magical power is undeniable: it works, and one cannot do anything against its effectiveness. But it is [in the minds of the Jews] an unauthorized and misused power. [6]

Again, the opponents of Christ (and the apostles) could not deny His miracle-working ability. The best they could do was try to deny the heavenly source of that power.

Faced with the reality that Jesus and His immediate followers could perform miraculous deeds, the Jewish leaders (both in Jesus’ day and in the generations that followed) had a clear choice. But rather than attribute “the chaste, ethical, and redemptive nature of the miracles of Christ” [7] to God, they chose instead to attribute them (either directly or indirectly) to Satan. Their wild accusations exposed the irrational nature of their blinding unbelief.

Jesus Himself pointed out the self-contradictory nature of their claim (cf. Matt. 12:25–32): Why would He use His miracle-working power to fight against Satan, if He was in fact empowered by Satan? That Jesus used His miracles to further the kingdom of God clearly revealed the true source of His power. [8]

Though neither the Pharisees nor the later rabbis responded in belief, their writings (from the first few centuries of church history) provide historical confirmation of Jesus as a miracle worker. [9] His ability to perform mighty wonders was undeniable.

Thus Christians today can look to Christ’s miracles as verification that He is indeed the Son of God (John 3:2; Acts 2:22). As the early Christian leader Justin Martyr (d. 165) explained to the Jewish antagonists of his day,

“[Jesus] was manifested to your race and healed those who were from birth physically maimed and deaf and lame, causing one to leap and another to hear and a third to see at his word. And he raised the dead and gave them life and by his actions challenged the men of his time to recognize him.” [10]

Even today, two millennia later, the accounts of Jesus’ miracles leave us in amazed wonder as we reflect on the majesty of who He really is.

(Today’s post was adapted from Reasons We Believe, published by Crossway.)

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Thanks for this preview from a book that’s new to me! I’m teaching the life of Jesus to the kids at our summer day camp next week, and love this perspective on His miracles.

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Nathan.
    “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.” John 12:37, which adequately demonstrates the depth of darkness; and the fact that being shut away in spiritual darkness, it is impossible to comprehend spiritual Light.
    Thus the best we can do is continue planting Seed; and the Lord will decide who will See His light.