Would you like to know a surefire way to be deceived? Depend on signs and wonders to authenticate the message of a teacher or pastor. Signs and wonders by themselves are completely useless to use in determining the authority or authenticity of a person or message. This week, I have been studying the Torah portion in Deuteronomy and this section from chapter 13 caught my eye:
1“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
My sermon from last Sunday touched on this principle. It doesn’t matter what kind of signs or wonders or miracles a person does; if their message contradicts the Word of God, they are a liar and a deceiver and we shouldn’t listen to them if we love God. Christians should know this as a matter of course, since Scripture has already warned us ahead of time. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica to tell them (and us as well):
7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:7-9)
The man of lawlessness (read antichrist) is going to show plenty of signs and wonders. He will be impressive and deceive a lot of people with the show. His trademark for those who are paying attention will be his “lawlessness.” It might be helpful to understand this term better.
The Greek word for lawless in this passage is anomos, which literally means “without law.” Paul doesn’t use this term often, but it is used by him to denote those who are not observant of God’s “Law” i.e. the Law of Moses. Thessalonians thus tells us that the one who will deceive many with signs and wonders will fail this test that was mentioned all the way back in Deuteronomy 13. The early church didn’t flaunt God’s law or say it was nullified or done away with or they would have failed this test as well. Look for instance at the story of Stephen in Acts 6-7. The text makes it plain that the accusations that Stephen was not speaking against the law:
8And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:8-15, emphasis mine)
Let me take three things from this passage. First, note that Stephen was speaking in the synagogue. The early church met among their fellow Jews and this would necessitate them continuing to observe the Law (including the Sabbath by the way) to maintain good fellowship and witness with the people that Acts reports they had. Second, note that the charges that Steven was speaking against the holy place and the law were false charges. This means that he was still speaking well of God’s law and the law of Moses (see Matthew 5:18). Third, note that they emphasized that it was the customs that Moses delivered to the Jews that they said Jesus wanted to change. Their statement in this regard is true (Jesus did predict the destruction of the Temple and also cited problems with the customs of Moses that the Pharisees and others followed), but the customs of Moses refer to the unwritten instructions that Jews believe were handed down. Jesus didn’t nullify the Word of God or the Law; it would be like contradicting Himself (since He is the Word of John 1:1). Jesus did set them straight on their “traditions of men.”
The reason that I bring this up is that there are many people today (even in the church) who would suggest that God’s Law is null and void or done away with somehow. This is patently absurd (see Matthew 5:18 again) and even if they can do amazing miracles to back up their claim, you should not listen to them or believe them. Signs and wonders don’t mean a thing, God’s Word is what counts.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)