The Times of the SignsB. Kelson
During the Acts period, in approximate chronological order, the following epistles were written by Paul—Galatians, Hebrews, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Corinthians and Romans.
At the end of Acts we have in 28:25-27 the terrible words from Isaiah 6 quoted for the third and last time in the New Testament. Throughout the Gospels and the Acts, the message was always for the Jew first—for Israel—over and over we are told this right up to the end of Acts. In Acts 28:20 it was still “for the hope of Israel”, but after those words from Isaiah 6 we have in verse 28;
“Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God
is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
At the end of the book of Acts, Israel as a nation is set aside for the time being.
Any Bible student realises that this is no small event in God’s plan. Paul’s epistles that follow this event bear witness to this.
In approximate chronological order they are— Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy.
In Ephesians and Colossians there is much about;
“…the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…” Eph. 3:9.
Both these epistles should be read. In Eph. 3 this particular “mystery” appears four times and Paul tells us it was made known to him by “revelation” Eph. 3:3.
The evidential miracles of Mark 16:17-18 —”the signs”— like Israel, are set aside for the time being. Compare 1 Cor. 12 (written before Acts 28:28) and Eph. 4 (written after Acts 28:28). In the former “the signs” which were for Israel are listed—in the later the list is much shorter— “the signs” are omitted. In these seven epistles we find no mention of “the signs” but rather Epaphroditus in Phil. 2:25-30;
“…Because of the work of Christ he was nigh unto death…”
These six verses say much about the work of Paul’s “fellow-soldier” —yet Paul, whose handkerchiefs were sufficient for healing once, Acts 19:11-12—was unable to heal him. We find in 1 Tim. 5:23 that Timothy had a “stomach” problem and “often infirmities”. In 2 Tim. 4:20, Paul left Trophimus “at Miletum sick”. How different from the Acts period.
Today there are people and even Christians, who are preoccupied with performing just as they did in the Acts. Their reading of the Scriptures is often shallow—much time being spent in the many support books, video and audio cassettes put out by their favourite leaders of the movement. They fail to see how they are giving a greater allegiance to these “leaders” and the “words” from their lips than to the Scriptures. In recent years so many of these “leaders” have fallen. Remember 2 Timothy 2:15;
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God,
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.”
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him,
If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
and ye shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free.” John 8 :31-32.
Many do realise that “God’s hand” does seem somewhat “shortened” but rationalize this away as lack of faith on the recipient’s part. Here they fail to see that when Peter raised Dorcas from the dead, Acts 9:40, and Paul likewise Eutychus, Acts 20:10, they would hardly have been relying on the faith of the recipient. Many to their sorrow, blame their own lack of faith. It is interesting to note that personal ill health and the ill health of near and dear relatives often accompanies these “healers”. A Scripture often supplied by these “support books” when on this subject is 1 Peter 2:24 with the punch line being “by whose stripes ye were healed”.
A careful reading of the context will reveal that “sin,” is the subject, not physical illness—His “stripes” were for our “sins”—and so “heal” us from the “sickness of sin”— if we believe on Him.
Peter is quoting here from Isaiah 53. A useful exercise would be to read all this prophecy chapter and note; How we treated Him, verses 2, 3 & 4; Why He was “wounded” & “bruised” verse 5; What was “laid on him” verse 6; How we treated Him (again) verse 7; Why He was “stricken” verse 8; How “it pleased the Lord to bruise him” to “put him to grief” and “make his soul an offering” verse 10; What “he shall bear” verse 11; And what He did “bare” and who He made “intercession for” verse 12. We have purposely left out the key words—they are all summed up by “sin”, “sins” or “sinners”.
Now for those who can’t handle this analogy of “healed” meaning “healed from the sickness of sin”, let’s go to the Saviour’s own words in Luke 5:30-32 where we get more of the same.
“But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying,
Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
If there are those who cannot see that the word “sick” used here, is once again referring to the “sickness of sin”, then, words no longer have meaning—we might just as well give up reading the Scriptures and write our own—as indeed some are really doing.
In the Acts, people’s needs were met spontaneously. As the apostles moved about they encountered those requiring healing or people would be brought to where the apostles would pass by. The healing was always instantaneous, complete and covered the extremes of illness such as death. The news spread abroad and many turned to the Lord. Acts 9:42. Today we have the organized “healing service”. These may be held regularly over a period of years in a town without anyone knowing if anything really happened or not. Multiple laying on of hands is the norm for such trivia as headaches, colds, bruises, cuts and abrasions—things that our bodies heal naturally in due course.
Having a “word of knowledge” is the go in these groups, sometimes with accompanying embarrassment where some members just seem to have “endless knowledge”. Trusting people, with problems of life, to their sorrow, have suffered from receiving this dubious “knowledge”—particularly when received from several sources. These present day “Isaiahs” often fail to meet a person’s greatest need, a “word of knowledge” regarding the salvation that is available through faith in Christ. Their “knowledge” was insufficient to reveal whether Christ was in the person’s life or not, and they didn’t have the courage to come alongside in the one to one situation and go over this matter in depth. They would take the easy way out and assume the person to be a Christian—to be OH so wrong!
Speaking in tongues is also absent from these epistles written after the Acts. Many today seek after this experience, either by their own choice or pressure from others. The first Biblical record of this gift is in Acts 2:1-4 at Pentecost. Eight years later, Peter was sent to the Gentile, Cornelius and his house, and the same gift was given to the Gentiles Acts 10:44-48. It is interesting to note Peter’s words when reporting back to Jerusalem on this matter in Acts 11:1-18, particularly verse 15;
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.”
GOD WITH HIS UNFOLDING PLAN down through the ages has chosen to change the way He operates from time to time. During those intervening eight years, it is obvious that conversions were not the same as for Pentecost and Cornelius—else there was no need for Peter’s words underlined above.
There are those who uphold the Acts for today with such Scriptures as;
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever.”
but we have just shown that there was change even during Acts. Many of the “support books” cite this Scripture, but it is a gross misuse. This Scripture refers to The Lord’s unchanging nature. We have only to go back to Heb.1:10-12 for an example of this;
“And, thou, Lord, in the beginning hath laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
they shall perish; but thou remainest;
and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up,
and they shall be changed: but thou art the same,
and thy years shall not fail.”
The Lord has continually changed the way in which He does things, else Israel might still be eating manna and tramping in the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
It is worth noting that miraculous instant judgment occurred during Acts—by Peter with death for Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1, 11, and by Paul with blindness for Elymas Acts 13:8-11. In between these two events, “the angel of the Lord smote” Herod, Acts 12:20-23.
There is another practice which is around today, and not found in the Acts at all and that is where the recipient falls down backwards— usually after the laying on of hands—some have given it a name, “slain in the spirit”. There are those “seekers” who are almost demented until they have partaken of this experience. It is interesting to note, that the only precedent for such behaviour in the New Testament, is when a very unbelieving crowd came to arrest Jesus,
“As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he,
they went backward, and fell to the ground”. (John 18:6)
If we go to the Old Testament in search of instances of falling down backwards, it is all bad news again, for those wishing to associate with this practice. The Priest Eli,
“…because his sons made themselves vile,
and he restrained them not.” 1 Sam. 3:13.
heard of the partial fulfillment of prophecy on his house, when his sons were both killed the same day. When he received this news we have in 1 Sam. 4:18,
“And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died…”
God has an unfolding plan and in Acts 28:28, Israel as a nation, is set aside for the time being. The post Acts epistles by Paul have previously been listed. When they are read with this knowledge of the time frame, the revelation of “the mystery” is better understood—all Scripture fits into place neatly and we become aware of the TIMES OF THE SIGNS. God sees our present place as sitting;
“…together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” Eph. 2:6
“…Christ is all…” Col. 3:11.
In 1 Cor. 1:22 we have;
“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:”
Throughout the Gospels the Jews were forever wanting a sign—in Matthew 12:38-39;
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign;…”
They enjoyed the miracles for the wrong reason, John 6:15, 26. It was so bad that after the miracles of the loaves and fishes we have them asking Jesus in verse 30;
“…What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?”
How this must have grieved the Lord.
We should consider anew Jesus’ words to Thomas—they are really for us;
“blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”.
This is the faith the Lord longs to see in His children.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.” Hebs. 11:1.
God’s Word tells us;
“But without faith it is impossible to please him…” Hebs. 11:6.
And there is only one place in the Bible that tells us how to have faith, Rom. 10:17;
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
So if you have felt that you are not quite performing like they did in Acts— if it’s a while since you last raised someone from the dead Acts 9:36-41, or healed a forty year old man, “lame from his mother’s womb”, Acts 3:1-8; Acts 4:22— if you have been party to multiple laying on of hands for things that will and did heal in their own time, and you didn’t have enough faith to send a “handkerchief” instead, Acts 19:11-12— if you are aware of the mental traumas that you or others have been through regarding not speaking in tongues, and know of the sessions some are put through until they do—if you are one of those who don’t speak in tongues but tell others you do in private—if you have thought today’s “gift of knowledge” can sometimes be an embarrassment and just a read of God’s Word would have done more good—if you have been concerned about;
“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them;…” Mark 16:18.
“And all that believed were together and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Acts 2:44-45.
(This takes real faith—just look around at your spiritual leaders and friends—how many have done these?)
“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together;…” Acts 4:31.
(Do you have prayer meetings like this?)
“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more:…” Acts 8:39.
(Have you ever been transported like this?)
So if you do honestly feel that you are not quite performing as they did in the Acts—then please think over this writing—it is for you.
In God’s unfolding plan, you are living in “the times of the Gentiles”—He has for you, something far surpassing the beggarly existence you are trying to live with pathetic performances of “the signs” that are not for you—they were for “the times” prior to Acts 28:28 when the message of salvation was sent to the nation Israel first.