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 Miracles - Have they Ceased?

When the Perfect has Come - 1 Corinthians 13:8-12

John Hoole May 31, 2009


Last week we began examining a school of thought among some theologians that says, special revelation - e.g., prophecy, tongues, dreams, visions and miracles, along with the offices of the Apostle and Prophet, have ceased and did so when the first Apostles died. This school of thought is called Cessationism.

Last week we examined one of the major tenants of some of the Cessationists. That is: Miracles ended after the last apostle died. Miracles were needed to authenticate the apostles and show they were trustworthy authors of Scripture. Let me quickly review what we learned, and then add what we were unable to because of time.

Firstly, we examined whether or not we are told miracles were for the purpose of authenticating the apostles. There is no such direct statement claiming this to be the purpose of miracles. Neither do we find any statement by the apostles asserting this. We did, however, find miracles had the purpose of authenticating Jesus and His relationship with the Father.

John 10:37-38 NIV

37 Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.
38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."

Additionally, we also noticed the Word of God telling us that miracles were to authenticate the message about Jesus - that is, the Gospel. When Luke described the ministry of Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, he said that the Lord "confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders." (Acts 14:3)

Once again, we noted that the Word of God tells us that one purpose of miracles was to edify - that is, build up - the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV) adds

26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

So, firstly, miracles were not given to authenticate the ministries of only the apostles.

Secondly, we examined whether or not the apostles were the only believers having miraculous ministries. As a corollary to this, we needed to answer the question: Were the apostles the only people endowed with charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit?

If the primary, or only, purpose of signs and wonders and miracles was to confirm the apostles, then why did Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip do signs and wonders? (Acts 8:6, 7, 13) And why was Agabus used in the supernatural gift of a prophet? Additionally, Paul indicates, in 1 Corinthians 1:7, that all these charismatic gifts were operative among the members of the Corinthian church.

And, from Galatians 3:5, we find those within the local body gifted in the ministry of miracles and signs. And what about when Jesus sent out the 72 - not just the 12 apostles. Luke 10:9 says they were granted authority by Jesus to "heal the sick" wherever they went. And when they returned, they said "Lord, even the demons were subject to us in your name" (Luke 10:17).

What about the unnamed man in Luke 9, who is casting out demons? And what is meant by Luke 9:49-50 (NIV)?

49 "Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."
50 "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."

And how about Ananias in the city of Damascus in Acts 9? Ananias not only prophesied, but was active in a number of gifts.

o Healing of Paul's blind eye.
o Word of Knowledge, knowing that Paul's future was to suffer for the name of Christ.
o Word of Wisdom, knowing what to do and where to go with the information revealed to him.

In addition to these, it was when Ananias laid hands on Paul that he received the Holy Spirit.

In your Bible, the fifth book of the New Testament is called, "Acts of the Apostles." I think most of you are aware these titles were added later. I think most of you realize this book should be more correctly titled, "Acts of the Holy Spirit." This becomes more obvious when we consider the topic of miracles in the Book of Acts.

WHO IS THE PRIMARY CHARACTER OF THE FIRST 12 CHAPTERS OF ACTS?

It is the apostle Peter.

WHO IS THE PRIMARY CHARACTER OF THE LAST 16 CHAPTERS OF ACTS?

It is the apostle Paul.

These are the only two of our founding apostles mentioned in the Book of Acts with ministries involving charismatic gifts and signs and wonders. When I refer to the founding apostles or the original apostles, I include the original twelve, minus Judas Iscariot, plus Matthias and Paul.

Of the original apostles, only two - Peter and Paul - are mentioned with ministries of charismatic gifts and signs and wonders. In fact, except for Acts 1:13, where it lists the names of the remaining 11 of the original 12 disciples, only 2 of the remaining apostles are even mention in the book of Acts - and they once. In Acts 12:2, we read that Herod, "killed James the brother of John with a sword." And yet, there are over a dozen other people mentioned in the book of Acts that were endowed with charismatic gifts and ministries of signs and wonders.

I think it is obvious that the apostles were not the only ones endowed with charismatic gifts as well as having ministries involving signs and wonders.

Now, let's examine another primary argument raised by the cessationists.

God said, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, that these miraculous gifts and signs would cease.

Before discussing this argument further, lets read the Passage.

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 NIV

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

Let me first give you the background and context of this passage. Chapters 12, 13 & 14 are all part of the answer Paul gives to a question raised by some in the church at Corinth concerning spiritual gifts. This passage of Scripture does in fact say that spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy will cease when their purpose has been fulfilled but love will continue to exist. The cessationists see this Scripture telling them that miracles were just a partial or temporary measure put in place until the New Testament was complete.

Now we enter into examining another of the major tenants proposed by cessationists. We have addressed if the charismatic gifts and signs and wonders were only to authenticate the apostles, and then were not needed after the last apostle died. We now examine the cessationist assertion that the gifts and signs and wonders ended when the Bible was completed.

As an introduction, let me quote a Baptist pastor, Ron M. Phillips.

"Some church leaders in our day lift certain doctrines and belief systems higher than the Word of God. I was guilty of doing this. I clung for years to the trend toward Cessationism, or the belief that the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing) ceased at the close of the biblical canon. There is little support for that position in the major commentaries, church history, and Christianity as a whole. Nevertheless, a few evangelicals continue printing books and writing articles as if it were the orthodox view of conservative Christianity. The truth is - it is the minority view. I was blinded to that fact, however, and stubbornly refused to study it out for myself, perhaps because I was afraid of what I would discover."

C.S. Lewis noticed what he called the "conspiracy against the supernatural." 50 years ago he wrote that when a person's philosophy or theology excludes the miraculous, no miracle will ever change his or her mind. He continues by saying that they will find a method to explain away the miracle by calling it a coincidence or saying it was simply the force of nature acting in an unusual way. Or they may attribute it to latent powers within the human mind bringing forth the supposed miracle. They may even attack the credibility of the report, saying the event never really happened or was grossly exaggerated. Or they may simply ignore the event as though it never happened.

Let's now return and examine this passage in 1 Corinthians 13. As I mentioned in our last lesson, this passage is used by both sides to support their position.

Let's read the passage again.

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 NIV

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

First of all, nowhere in the immediate context of this passage does Paul talk about Scripture or the collection of books that became Scripture. Where do the cessationist get the idea that the "perfect" thing mentioned here is the Bible. The cessationist will sometimes point to James 1:25 which speaks of "the perfect law of liberty."

There are a number of things mentioned in the Bible which are perfect beside the Scripture - Perfect atonement, perfect sacrifice, perfect heart, perfect day, perfect will of God, perfect gift from above, perfect love, perfect works, etc. How do they come to the conclusion that 1 Cor. 13:10 is speaking of the completed Scriptures - especially when the context of this passage gives no hint of the Scripture.

A moment ago, I read only verse 8 - 10. Let's read it again, but this time we will add verses 11 & 12 to have a better idea of the full context.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 NKJV

8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

I do believe this passage does tell us when supernatural gifts, like prophecy and tongues, will cease. But is not when the cessationists believe - that is, when the New Testament is complete. The main point of this passage, as it is for the entire chapter, is that love is superior to spiritual gifts like "prophecies," and "tongues" and "knowledge". The basic argument for the superiority of love is that it lasts forever - while the gifts do not. We are told they will cease "when the perfect comes," - but love goes on forever.

The reason given for why these gifts cease is that they are "imperfect." But when the "perfect" comes, the imperfect will pass away. So the key question is: When does the "perfect" come which will mark the end of the imperfects gifts.

The answer is plain in the text if we follow Paul's line of reasoning. Verse 8 says, "Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away" (RSV). Why are these gifts temporary? The answer is given in verse 9: "For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect." So the reason these spiritual gifts are temporary is their incompleteness or imperfection.

Well then, how long will they last? Verse 10 gives us the answer: "When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away." But when is that? When will the perfect come?

The answer is given is verse 12:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood."

The "now" of incompleteness and imperfection is contrasted with the "then" of seeing face to face and understanding even as we are understood.

Verse 12 must be taken into consideration to understand "when the perfect is come." We have to consider the phrase "then we shall see face to face." The word "then" refers back to the phrase "when the perfect comes." The context tells us that 'seeing face to face" occurs "when the perfect comes."

Since the only infallible interpreter of Scripture is Scripture, a quick examination of how God uses the phrase "face to face" will help us. This is a phrase which is used throughout the Bible - both Old and New Testaments. When God uses it in reference to Himself, it means a visual, personal encounter with Him.

Genesis 32:30 NAS

30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."

Exodus 33:11 NKJV

11 So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

(See also Num. 12:8; Deut. 5:4; Jer. 32:4)

Likewise, the New Testament also uses this phrase to indicate personal encounter.

2 Corinthians 10:1 NAS

1 Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ-- I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!

(See also 2 John 12; 3 John 14)

I believe "when the perfect comes...then we shall see face to face" which I take to be a personal encounter. It seems to me that the more accurate thought here is the coming of the "perfect" is referring to Christ, and when He comes, then we shall see Him face to face. In my opinion, these verses tell us that at the return of Christ, is when spiritual gifts will cease - and will have fulfilled their purposes.

But that's not all, there really are other arguments from Scripture to indicate the coming of the "Perfect" is the return of Christ. One is found in the last phrase of verse 12. Again it uses the word "then", which also refers back to the phrase "when the perfect is come." "...then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known."

Earlier, in verse 9, it said, at present [now], "we know in part" But in verse 12, we are told that the Christian will "know fully" when the perfect comes. For me, the only place this makes sense is when Jesus comes and we are changed to be like Him, only then will the limitation of our knowledge be removed. It is also at that time that we who currently "see through a glass dimly" will see Christ face to face, and know him more fully than we do today.

So the answer to the question of when the perfect comes and when the imperfect gifts pass away is the "then" of verse 12, namely, the time of seeing "face to face" and "understanding as we are understood." And when will this happen?

Both of these phrases ("seeing face to face" and "understanding as we have been understood") are stretched beyond the breaking point if we say that they refer to the closing of the New Testament canon or the close of the apostolic age. Rather, they refer to our experience at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Then "we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2).

As we have already noted, the phrase "face to face" most often refers to seeing God personally. Thomas Edwards, in his 100-year-old commentary, is right to say, "When the perfect is come at the advent of Christ, then the Christian will know God intuitively and directly, even as he was before known of God." (Commentary on 1 Cor.)

What we have discovered so far means that verse 10 can be paraphrased: "When Christ returns, the imperfect will pass away." And since "the imperfect" refers to spiritual gifts like prophecy and knowledge and tongues, we may paraphrase further, "When Christ returns, then prophecy and knowledge and tongues will pass away."

I believe this passage in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 gives us a definite statement about the time of the cessation of spiritual gifts, and that time is the second coming of Christ.

There is yet one more indicator that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians connecting spiritual gifts to the return of Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:4-8

4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.
5 For in him you have been enriched in every way - in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-
6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.
7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
8 He will confirm you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul begins by giving genuine thanks for the Corinthians themselves. And then he directs their focus to Christ Jesus. Paul is christocentric in his salutation to this congregation. Then, in verses 6 and forward, Paul mentions that his testimony of Christ to them is confirmed by God through the impartation of all of the spiritual gifts in this congregation.

It is interesting that Paul uses the same root word for confirm in both verses 6 & 8. This may indicate that "confirming to the end" in verse 8 is the same means by which God confirmed the testimony of Christ in them, that is, through spiritual gifts. Thus, Paul seems to promise that through spiritual gifts, Christ will progressively strengthen and confirm believers until His coming.

In Verse 7, the Greek word for "revealed" is apokalupsis. This is exactly the same word from which we get the title to the book of Revelation. It is a word from which we get our English word apocalypse which is a common word to denote the end-times and the return of Christ.

In summary, I believe the verses we have looked at today indicate that all spiritual gifts will continue to be operative in the body of Christ until He returns. There doesn't seem to be any indication in the words of Paul that he expected these gifts to cease their operation soon. Why would he have given so much attention to spiritual gifts and their proper use if he knew they would not be operative in the body in just a few short years.

Why would Paulů

o say that God commands us to zealously pursue spiritual gifts (12:31; 14:1)

o warn us not to prohibit speaking in tongues (14:39)

o tells us to be eager to prophesy (14:39)

o say he valued tongues himself (14:5, 18)

o teach that spiritual gifts are necessary for the health of the body of Christ (12:12-27)

o tell the church at Thessalonica not to quench prophecies, a supernatural gift (1 Thess. 5:19-22)

His only caution was that things should be tested rather than just gullibly accepted ()1 Cor. 14:29) and "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." (14:40) That still seems to be good advice.

In addition to the question just addressed, several others also arise. In verse 12, Paul speaks of himself personally. To paraphrase it; "...Now I know in part; but when the perfect is come, then I will know fully, even as I am known."

If this passage is speaking of the completed New Testament, it would have had no meaning to Paul, since in all probability, he died before the completion of the Bible. And yet, Paul said he would experience the things mentioned in this passage. This would only make sense if Paul is speaking of standing face-to-face with Christ.

I think it is plainly shown that all spiritual gifts will be, and should be, operative in the body until Christ's second coming. The charismatic gifts will be just as active at the end of the age as they were at the beginning. These gifts will both confirm and strengthen the believer as the end of the age draws near.

Every aspect of the Christian life is to be governed by an ongoing fullness of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). Paul's own preaching came not "in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit." (1st Thessalonians 1:5) Later Paul warned the church, "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). All of Paul's letters validate the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

When the Perfect comes, then there will be no necessity for the gifts. The perfect is not the canon of Scripture - but the coming of Jesus. Here is a personal opinion of mine: Cessationism as a doctrine gives the dead church an excuse for its lack of power.

There are many things in the Old Testament that were types and shadows of things to come later. Colossians 2:17 tells us they were "shadows of things to come, but the substance is Christ." Hebrews 10:1 informs us that the Old Testament Law was a "shadow of the good things to come."

A type is a divinely purposed illustration of some truth to later be fulfilled. It may be: a person - an event - a thing - an institution - or a ceremony. Types and shadows are more frequent in the books of Moses - the Torah - the Pentateuch. They are found elsewhere in the Old Testament, but more sparingly. And the fulfillment of the "type" is generally found in the New Testament.

I want to take you back to the father of the Jews. I am talking about Abraham. Keep in mind that when Abraham erroneously tried to help God fulfill a promise, he also became the father of much of the Arabs today.

Abraham is a type of God the Father. And his son Isaac was the promised child, and is a type of the promised Son, Jesus Christ.

Genesis 24:1-4 NKJV

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, ... "go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

In this verse we are not told the name of this servant. All we are told is that he managed all that Abraham had. You have to go back to Genesis 15 to find his name.

In this chapter you find Abraham and God having a conversation. In the conversation, God is making his famous covenant from Abraham. Abraham says this:

Genesis 15:2 NKJV

2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD , what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

Here, the head of his estate is a man named Eliezer, from Damascus. I believe this is the same servant of Abraham mentioned in Genesis 24. Carrying a fortune, Eliezer, chief steward of his master's wealthy estate, journeyed from Kiriath-arba to distant Aram Naharaim. He sought a bride, but not for himself. A chaste virgin was needed for the son of the household. Ready for when she was found, Eliezer carried rich gifts from the father to adorn her. Then Eliezer would bring her back for the marriage.

If Abraham is a type of God, the Father, and Isaac is a type of Christ, the Son, who is Eliezer a type of? Sure, he is a type of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Holy Spirit right now is to find and prepare a bride for the Son.

Eventually, Eliezer's road led him to Rebekah, a lovely and intelligent girl. She proved willing to share the life of a man she had never seen - Isaac, the only son of Abraham. Eliezer covered her with the golden treasures (Genesis 24:53) and immediately began the return journey to Kiriath-arba.

It took many weary days, but at last the journey ended and she is presented to Isaac. Genesis 24:65 tells us Rebekah had veiled herself prior to the meeting. How did Isaac know it was her? He recognized the jewelry she word - the gifts his father had chosen. This was no doubt his bride.

This real life story reflects the greatest story ever told. God the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to seek and prepare a chaste bride for His Son - Jesus. It is by the Spirit of God that we are drawn to Christ, whom, according to 1 Peter 1:8, "having not seen we love."

WHO IS REBEKAH A TYPE OF?

She is a type of the Church, who is the Bride of Christ. The Holy Spirit has gone into a far country - the earth, to find and prepare a bride for Christ. The Holy Spirit does not speak of Himself, but of the Son. He is the One who walks along side us - the One who accompanies the bride on the long journey of life until she joins the heavenly bridegroom.

This Holy Spirit also has gifts to bestow lavishly upon the bride of Christ. This adorning of the bride itself holds a wonderful significance. When Rebekah accepted the gifts from Eliezer, it meant that soon she would meet Isaac. Is that the real meaning today as we see the Spirit bestowing His gifts upon the church? Is the bride now being prepared to meet the bridegroom? Is the marriage of the Lamb at hand?

The bride is still veiled now - but then face to face. According to Matthew 25:6, the cry goes out, "Behold, the bridegroom is coming." The Church is wearing the Father's gifts. Each member of the Bride has been adorned with spiritual gifts. Is this one way Christ will recognize His bride? If so, they must continue until He comes.

The gifts given to us are love tokens, like Rebekah's jewelry. They declare our heavenly Lover's serious intentions to take us to Himself. They are the "earnest" (the down payment) of things to come.

For Rebekah, the excitement was not merely the glittering bracelets or finger rings. But it was the waiting bridegroom whose face she had never seen. Drawing nearer to her future home in the care of Eliezer she scanned the road ahead for her first glimpse of Isaac. She was not absorbed merely in admiring her gifts.

Neither should we !

   
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