Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (July-September 1996) 281-307. 

          Copyright © 1996 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                    MIRACLES AND JESUS'

                  PROCLAMATION OF THE

                         KINGDOM OF GOD

 

 

                                                Mark R. Saucy

 

 

            The significance of miracles in the ministry of Jesus

of Nazareth has been discussed frequently. Peter clearly saw the

value of miracles in affirming the faith of the faithful. He de-

scribed Jesus as "a man attested to you by God with miracles and

wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22; cf. 10:38). Later the Gospel writers

referred to the significance of His miracles to both believers and

unbelievers.1 In modern times a number of interpreters agree

that Jesus worked wonders,2 but they remain divided on the sig-

 

Mark R. Saucy is Professor of Systematic Theology, Kiev Theological Seminary,

Kiev, Ukraine.

1 The prominence of miracle stories in the Gospels is the best evidence for the

significance of miracles to the authors. The Gospels record thirty-four miracles by

Jesus. Fifteen texts of Jesus' ministry (e.g., Mark 1:32-34) refer to His miraculous

deeds. Concerning just healings, Morton Kelsey contends almost one-fifth of the

Gospels records Jesus' healings or discussions raised by them. He notes there is

more Gospel data on physical transformation than on moral or spiritual trans-

formation (Healing and Christianity [New York: Harper & Row, 1973], 53-54).

2 Matthew 12:28 is the bedrock of critical scholarship's conclusions as to Jesus'

miracle-working capabilities. Even Joachim Jeremias, who dismisses much of the

Gospel miracles because of the "great powers of imagination of ancient man," con-

cludes that the authenticity of Matthew 12:28 calls for some sort of extraordinary

deeds by Jesus to make the charge of magic meaningful (New Testament Theology,

trans. John Bowden [London: SCM, 1971], 88-91). Arguing the positive case for the

authenticity of the miracle stories in general, A. E. Harvey (Jesus and the Con-

straints of History [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982], 101, n. 15) cites the discus-

sion by R. Latourelle, "Authenticite historique des miracles de Jesus," Gregori-

anum 54 (1973): 225-62.

            External evidence for Jesus' miracles includes Josephus' description of Jesus

as a Worker of paradoxical deeds (The Antiquities of the Jews 18.63 ff.), later rab-

binic censure of Jesus as a "sorcerer who misled the people" (b. Sanh. 43a, cited by

Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, 98, and Pierre Grelot, "Les miracles

de Jesus et la demonologie Juive," Les Miracles de Jesus, ed. Xavier Leon-Dufour

[Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1977], 68), rabbinic prohibition of Jesus' name for use by

their own exorcists (t. Hul. 2:22-23; y. Sabb. 14:4:14d; y. Abod. Zar. 2:2:40d—41a; b.

 



282      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

nificance of the miracles for what Jesus was seeking to do.3

            In contrast to scholars who are critically selective of the

Gospel data, this writer contends that the miracles of Jesus are revelatory

deeds of the eschatological kingdom He preached and that in

the Gospels they provoked people to make decisions regarding Him.

            The Gospel writers knew little of modern notions of the "laws

of nature" so that taking miracles as the abrogation or accelera-

tion of such laws was not meaningful or necessary for them.4

From their perspective the miraculous deeds of Jesus and His dis-

ciples are defined more by their effect on those who witnessed

them. The miracles were the extraordinary actions that evoked

astonishment and awe in the people of first-century Palestine

(Acts 2:22).5 The Synoptic Gospels naturally designate them

therefore as evidences of duna<mij. They were "mighty acts" and

"manifestations of power."6

 

Abod. Zar. 27b, cited by Graham Twelftree, "EI DE . . . EGW EKBALLW TA DAIMONIA,"

in Gospel Perspectives, vol. 6: The Miracles of Jesus, ed. David Wenham and

Craig Blomberg [Sheffield: JSOT, 1986], 367), and the use of Jesus' name in incanta-

tion formulae in the Papyri Graecae Magicae. See B. L. Blackburn, "Miracles and

Miracle Stories," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel, B. Green, Scot

McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 556-57.

3 A sampling of recent offerings includes Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of

History, 98-120, for whom the miracles of Jesus are manifestations of an eschato-

logical figure of the end-time; Morton Smith, for whom miracles confirm Jesus as a

first-century magician who learned His trade in Egypt (Jesus the Magician [San

Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978]; cf. John M. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the

Synoptic Tradition [Naperville, IL: Allenson, 1974]); Geza Vermes, who sees Jesus

as a Galilean charismatic in the rabbinic traditions of Honi, the circle-drawer

(Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels [London: Collins, 1973); John

Dominic Crossan, who interprets Jesus' miracles as events intended to evoke the

first-century peasant table-fellowship, which would ultimately be the basis of a

peasant social movement (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jew-

ish Peasant [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992], 303—53); and Richard A. Horsley,

who sees the miracles as actions of liberation against oppressive social, economic,

religious, and political structures of the first century (Jesus and the Spiral of Vi-

olence [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987], 181-90).

4 Therefore readers of the Gospels today need not contrive unnatural and unbib-

lical categories of miracle stories such as miracles of healing, or exorcism, or na-

ture. In the view of the Gospel writers, each of these deeds had the same effect of

evoking wonder in the witnesses, and each of them was the necessary result of Je-

sus' unified mission against the kingdom of Satan. For a helpful treatment of these

questions and others about miracles see Colin Brown, Miracles and the Critical

Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984). For his perspective on the definition of

miracles see especially 290-92.

5 G. H. Boobyer, "The Gospel Miracles: Views Past and Present," in The Miracles

and the Resurrection (London: SPCK, 1964), 32; Anton Vogtle, "The Miracles of Je-

sus against Their Contemporary Background," in Jesus in His Time, ed. Hans Jur-

gen Schultz, trans. Brian Watchorn (London: SPCK, 1971), 96-97.

6 Birger Gerhardsson, in The Mighty Acts of Jesus according to Matthew, trans.

Robert Dewsnap (Lund: Gleerup, 1979), 18.



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     283

 

           WORD AND DEED IN JESUS' PRESENTATION

                                   OF THE KINGDOM

            The early church did not think of Jesus' miracles as mere

tangents or appendages to His ministry. Peter, for example, told

his audience in Acts 10:36 and 38 that they knew "the word which

He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ

. . . [and] how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with

power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who

were oppressed by the devil." The preaching of peace was inher-

ently accompanied with anointing for miracle-working power.

            In the Gospels the relationship between word and deed is also

clear. Matthew's summary statements in 4:23 and 9:35 point up

Jesus' messianic activity in word and deed.7  Matthew and Luke

referred to Jesus' ministry as both fulfilling the prophetic

proclamations of Isaiah concerning the preaching of liberation

and demonstrating liberation through miracles.8 Mark's first

account of Jesus' ministry (1:21—27)9 shows the inherent interre-

 

7 Jesus went "teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the

kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness" (Matt. 4:23;

9:35). As H. Held observed nearly a generation ago, the strategic position of the

Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) juxtaposed to the miracles in chapters 8 and 9 re-

veals Matthew's intention to show Jesus' mission as involving both word and deed

("Matthew as Interpreter of the Miracle Stories," Tradition and Interpretation in

Matthew [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963], 246. Also see Gerhardsson, The

Mighty Acts of Jesus according to Matthew, 23.

8 In Matthew 11:4-5, Jesus' response to the inquiry of John's disciples that they

should go and report what they had heard and seen makes clear the fulfillment of

Isaiah 35:5 in what they had seen of His miracles. What they had heard concerns

the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2--the gospel being preached to the poor (W. Grimm,

Weil Ich Dich Liebe. Die Verkundigung Jesu and Deuterojesaja [Frankfurt: Lang, 1976], 129).

            Isaiah 61:1-2 holds paradigmatic significance for Jesus' understanding of His

ministry, as recorded in Luke. Jesus was in the synagogue reading and announcing

His own fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:16-30). For Luke this announcement

had reference to not only Jesus' proclamation of liberation and release, but also the

previous demonstration of it by miraculous healings. When He spoke in the syna-

gogue that Sabbath, He already had the reputation of being a miracle-worker. "No

doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician heal yourself! Whatever we

heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your home town as well’" (Luke 4:23). On

the significance of Isaiah 61 for Luke, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel

according to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 529; and

George E. Rice, "Luke 4:31-44: Release for the Captives," Andrews University

Seminary Studies 20 (Spring, 1982): 28.

9 The reaction of the audience to both Jesus' exorcism and His teaching in Mark

1:21-27 shows the close tie between His words and His deeds. In 1:22 the crowds

were "amazed" (e]ceplh<ssonto) at His teaching and in 1:27 they were also "amazed"

(e]qambh<qhsan) at His exorcism. While qauma<zw is typically the term the Synoptics

used to describe the impression people got of Jesus' healing activity, Mundle notes

that the closely related e]kplh<ssqai in 1:22 renders "impossible any clear division

between his acts and teaching" ("Miracle," in The New International Dictionary of

New Testament Theology, 2:623-24).



284      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

lationship of word and miracle and states that both miracles and

parables expose spiritual blindness.10 So close is the connection

between word and miracle in the Gospels, that many scholars do

not hesitate to speak of miracles in "parabolic" terms. Richard-

son thinks of miracles as enacted or concrete parables, living ex-

amples of the content of Jesus' preaching.11 Blomberg also speaks

of the so-called nature miracles as depicting in symbol "the

identical in-breaking kingdom, often with striking parallels in

both imagery and significance to specific parables of Jesus."12

            This close kinship of physical and verbal proclamation of the

kingdom, however, does not mean His miracles have equal

standing with His words as means of revelation. This is because

miracles by nature are mute witnesses; they are dependent on

words to explain their origin and meaning.13 This idea goes back

to Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which states that a prophet's authenticity

was tested not by his miraculous feats but by his word. Miracles

were not required of true prophets. John the Baptist "performed no

sign" (John 10:41), yet the people considered him a prophet of God

(Matt. 21:26; Mark 11:32; Luke 20:6). The fact that one can do

miracles is no guarantee of a true relationship to God (Matt. 7:21-

23). Therefore it is no accident that Jesus' ministry began with

His teachirig.14 It is also not surprising that the miracles are

 

10 A parallel spiritual blindness to both Jesus' miracles and parables is noted in

Mark 6:52 (cf. 8:21) and 4:13 (cf. 7:18). Confirming this is Blomberg's observation

that Jesus used the same Old Testament passage, Isaiah 6:9–10, to rebuke the disci-

ples mildly for their dullness after both a miracle (Mark 8:18) and a parable (4:11–

12) (Craig L. Blomberg, "The Miracles as Parables," in The Miracles of Jesus, ed.

David Wenham and Craig Blomberg [Sheffield: JSOT, 1986], 329)..

11 Alan Richardson, The Miracle-Stories of the Gospels (London: SCM, 1941), 86;

cf. James Kallas, The Significance of the Synoptic Miracles (London: SPCK, 1961),

2.

12 Blomberg, "The Miracles as Parables," 347. Blomberg argues for the specific

parabolic content of the nature miracles. For example he says the fig tree miracle

teaches the impending eschatological destruction of Israel (ibid., 332), and the

transformation of water to wine teaches the purification and transformation of the

Mosaic religion (ibid., 336). Raymond Brown echoes many of these sentiments ("The

Gospel Miracles," in The Bible in Current Catholic Thought, ed. John L. McKenzie

[New York: Herder and Herder, 1962], 190). Similar conclusions are presented by

F. N. Davey ("Healing in the New Testament," in The Miracles and the Resurrec-

tion [London: SPCK, 1964], 52–53), and Colin Brown (Miracles and the Critical

Mind, 316).

13 Albrecht Oepke, "i]a<omai" in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3

(1965): 212; cf. T'welftree, "EI DE . . . EGW EKBALLW TA DAIMONIA," 387–88, and

Gerhard Friedrich, "khru<ssw," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3

(1965): 714.

14 This is not to say that miracles had no intrinsic value as signs or that the Phar-

isees were wrong in their request for a sign (Deut. 18:22), but the sign-value of mir-

acles was certainly qualified by the accompanying proclamation.



  Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God      285

 

more open to other interpretations in the Gospels (e.g., Matt.

12:24: "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of

the demons").15

 

MIRACLES AND THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM

            Jesus' miraculous demonstration of the kingdom of God

cannot be separated from His proclamation of the kingdom.

Therefore, like the parables and the other verbal means of com-

municating the kingdom, miracles have a revelatory function in

the ministry of Jesus and the early church.

 

MIRACLES AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

            Matthew 12:28—"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God

[Luke 11:20 has ‘finger of God’], then the kingdom of God has

come upon you"—establishes the connection between miracles (in

this case exorcism) and the kingdom. It also establishes the

means of the connection, namely, the Holy Spirit. Miracles are

the Spirit's work in Jesus' life, and, as such, they continue an Old

Testament pattern of Yahweh acting redemptively by the Spirit's

miraculous power.

            In the Old Testament the Spirit is "the medium through which

God's presence in the midst of his people becomes a reality."16 Di-

vine power was effected through certain individuals who were

anointed with the Spirit, the result being prophetic utterance, and

at times rniracles.17 The same Spirit of Yahweh will also play a

 

15 See note 3. E. P. Sanders emphasizes the dilemma of unqualified miracles

among the options in the first century. "Miracles were sufficiently common, suffi-

ciently diverse, and sufficiently scattered among holy men, messianic pretenders,

magicians and temples that we cannot draw firm inferences from them in order to

explain what social type Jesus fits best or what his intention really was" (Jesus

and Judaism [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985], 172).

16 Walther Eichrodt cites Psalm 106:33; Zechariah 7:12; Isaiah 34:16; 63:11ff.; and

Haggai 2:5 (Theology of the Old Testament, trans J. A. Baker, 2 vols. [Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1961], 2:61).

17 Max Turner ("The Spirit and the Power of Jesus' Miracles in the Lucan Con-

ception," Novum Testamentum 33 [1991]: 124-52) uses the Septuagint here, Targum

Jonathan at Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14, etc.; 2 Kings 2:15, and the Septuagint's pneu?ma

qeou? in Genesis 1:3 (versus the Targum "wind") to answer Eduard Schweizer 's

attempt ("pneu?ma," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6 [1968]: 407,

409) at positing a distinction in Judaism between the prophetic spirit and the

power-source of miracles. By such distinction Schweizer tried to deny that the

Spirit was the source of miracles in Luke's Gospel. In support of the more

traditional view, Eichrodt notes that though the miracles of Moses and Elijah may

not have been ascribed directly to the Spirit, they were ascribed to those who are

acknowledged elsewhere as being mediators of the Spirit: Moses in Numbers 11:17,

25, and Elijah in 2 Kings 2:9, 15 (Theology of the Old Testament, 2:51, n. 7). He adds

later that in the period of the Judges and prophetic portions of the Old Testament

"the ruach is primarily nothing other than the supra-sensible causality of the



286    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

role in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 36:26-27), toward

the end time when the Spirit will be poured out as the Cleanser and

Renewer of God's people (Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 18:31; 36:25-27;

37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-32). In addition the One specially anointed

by the Spirit will rule as God's Servant during those times (Isa.

11:2; 42:1; 48:16; 59:19-21; 61:1).18

            The New Testament presentation of the kingdom in Jesus'

ministry builds on this foundation of the Spirit's function in the

Old Testament.19 He was conceived by the Spirit (Luke 1:35)—the

divine Word united with the Spirit. At His baptism, He was desig-

nated God's Spirit-anointed Messenger destined to cleanse,

judge, and baptize with the Spirit (Matt. 12:18).20 His ministry in

word and deed is a manifestation of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Acts

10:38),21 which is why rejection of the Spirit was the only issue of

eternal consequence (Mark 3:28-29).22 His resurrection and ex-

altation crowned Him as the Lord of the Spirit (Acts 2:33). His

kingdom is entered through an act of the Spirit (John 3:5, 8), and it

is experienced through the Spirit (Rom. 14:17). The church is em-

powered to preach by the Spirit (Acts 1:8), and it works miracles

through the Spirit (Rom. 15:18-19; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; Gal. 3:5; Heb.

2:2-4).23

 

miraculous" (ibid., 52). He cites Gunkel (Die Wirkungen des Geistes,1899) to say the

operations of the Spirit lie first and foremost in the miraculous. Wonder-working

established the authority of the prophet who was the mediator of the divine life's

entrance into the world (ibid., 1:325, n. 3; 326). To Eichrodt's observations one could

also add the fact that the Septuagint supplies "Spirit of the Lord" to numerous

contexts that must be understood as miraculous (Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14; cf. 1 Kings

18:12; 2 Kings 2:16; Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 5, 24; 37:1; 43 5).

18 On the Spirit in the last times see D. Wilhelm Michaelis, Reich Gottes and

Geist Gottes nach dem Neuen Testament (Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt, n.d.), 3–6;

Erik Sjoberg, "irveiDua," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 6 (1968):

384–86; and Eberhard Kamlah, "Spirit," in The New International Dictionary of

New Testament Theology, 3:692.

19 See James D. G. Dunn, "Spirit and Kingdom," Expository Times 82 (1970–71): 36-40.

20 See Colin Brown's case for the inauguration of Jesus' role as Spirit-baptizer

occurring during His earthly ministry, not His heavenly one (Miracles and the

Critical Mind, 301).

21 Cf. Luke's development of Jesus as a "prophet mighty in deed and word" (24:19).

22 D. Gerhard Delling, "Das Verstandnis des Wunders im Neuen Testament,"

Zeitschrift fur Systematische Theologie 24 (1955), 272–73.

23 O'Reilly argues that the transfer of the prophetic spirit from Elijah to Elisha

in 2 Kings 2:1-12 was paradigmatic for Luke's transfer of power from Jesus to His

disciples at Pentecost. O'Reilly relies on the parallel of Sirach 48:12, which states

"Elisha was filled with his spirit," and on Acts 2:4 along with Elijah's general sig-

nificance as a type for Jesus in Luke (Word and Sign in the Acts of the Apostles: A

Study in Lucan Theology [Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universia; Gregori.ana, 1987],

46-48). Richardson provides a summary of the Spirit and the New Testament

church: "There is plentiful evidence that the early preaching of Christianity was



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     287

 

MIRACLES AND THE NEW AGE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

            Miracles and Old Testament prophetic hope. Beyond Matthew

12:28 the Gospel writers went to great lengths to affirm Jesus'

miracles as revelations of the promised New Age. The Spirit who

worked miracles was present in Jesus, and the effects of that

Spirit, namely, the miracles themselves, spoke of the arrival of

the prophesied New Age. Jesus' healing the lame, deaf, and blind,

and raising the dead (Matt. 11:5) are viewed as typical of the

Gospel miracle accounts, clearly drawing from promises in Isa-

iah 26:19; 29:18; 35:4-7; 42:18; and 61:1-2.24 In Mark 7:32, the

word describing the deaf mute who was "hardly able to talk"

(mogila<lon) is a hapax legomenon found again in the Septuagint

in Isaiah 35:6b: "the tongue of the dumb [mogila<lwn] will shout far

joy." The release of his tongue from its "bond" (desmo>j, Mark

7:35) is prefigured by the release from oppressive bands predicted

in Isaiah 58:6.25 Jesus, who takes mankind's infirmities and

carries away their sickness (Matt. 8:17, quoting Isa. 53:4a), and

who "healed them all" (Matt. 12:15) is Isaiah's Suffering Servant

(Matt. 12:18-21, quoting Isa. 42:1-4).26

            The fact that Jesus' miracles are oriented toward individuals

and not the nation as a whole (like those of Moses) also unites

Him with the eschatological hopes of the prophets who predicted a

new age with only a whole people.27  Gerhardsson has also noted

Matthew's concern to present Jesus ministering in Jewish re-

gions,28 and particularly the region of Galilee, in fulfillment of

 

accompanied by miraculous powers, and that these powers were believed to be man-

ifestations of the presence in the Church of the Holy Spirit, whose outpouring was

regarded as the sign of the drawing nigh of the `last days" (Miracle—Stories of the

Gospels, 39-40).

24 O. Betz and Werner Grimm, Wesen and Wirklichkeit der Wunder Jesu

(Frankfurt: Lang, 1977), 31; and Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, 115.

Grimm notes from Mekh. 15:1 that the healings of Isaiah 35:5 (Matt. 11:5) were a

messianic expectation among the rabbis (Weil Ich Dich Liebe, 127-28, n. 304). Heal-

ing the blind and the deaf was also thought to include spiritual blindness and deaf-

ness. Cf. the conclusions from Herman L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar

zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 2 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1969),

1:593-95.

25 Betz and Grimm, Wesen and Wirklichkeit, 31, and 31, n. 39; Craig Blomberg,

"Healing," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 302. Luke also said Jesus' exor-

cisms were like release from bondage (Luke 13:16).

26 Held, "Matthew as Interpreter," 261-62. Held says Isaiah 53 is not about suffer-

ing or lowliness, but mighty works of power (ibid., 262, n. 3).

27 Betz and Grimm observe that individuals were not the focus of Old Testament

healings until the prophecies of the coming age. Elijah is the the notable exception,

which possibly explains why Jesus was compared to him (Brown, "The Gospel Mir-

acles," 185, n. 6).

28 Matthew, for example, omitted Mark's mention of the effect in Tyre and Sidon

of Jesus' ministry (Mark 3:1-8).



288     BIBLIOTHEC:A SACRA I July—September 1996

 

Isaiah 9:1-2 (Matt. 4:15-16). "The evangelist is most interested

in illuminating Jesus' association with Galilee, The Messiah

has visited his people."29 Finally, the eschatological divine

judgment of Micah 7:1-6 and Jeremiah 8:13 is prefigured in the

cursing of the fig tree, and the abundance of the forthcoming Mes-

siah feast (Isa. 25:6-9) is taught in the various gift-miracles

(turning water into wine, feeding of the five thousand).30

            Miracles and the Sabbath. The prophesied coming age of sal-

vation is also revealed by Jesus' many miracles. Several times

the Gospel writers noted the Sabbath was the day when Jesus per-

formed many miracles of exorcism or healing (Mark 3:1-6;

Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:1-18; 9:1-14). These occasional

notations, plus Jesus' challenge to the synagogue official about the

woman with the hemorrhage ("Should she not have been released

from this bond on the Sabbath day?" Luke 13:16), seem to demand

some significance for the Sabbath day and Jesus' miracles.

            Observance of the Sabbath day goes back to the Decalogue

(Exod. 20:8-11), but its principle was also extended in Israel's ob-

servance of the Sabbath year (Deut. 15:2) and the year of Jubilee

(Lev. 25:13). In Isaiah, the year of Jubilee was any image associ-

ated with the eternal rest of the future age when all creation will

be released from its captivity into the salvation of Yahweh (Isa.

58; 61:1-3).31 Jesus followed this eschatological theme of Jubilee

when He proclaimed from Isaiah 61 that the "favorable year of the

Lord" was being fulfilled in His teaching and healing ministry

(Luke 4:16-21). Once again proclamation and deed in Jesus'

ministry corroborate one another as His miracles prefigure the

eternal rest and release sought for in the new sabbatical age.32

 

29 Gerhardsson, The Mighty Acts of Jesus according to Mathew, 36. The sum-

mary of Jesus' ministry "among the people" in Matthew 4:23 wad 9:35 is a specific

reference to the Jewish people (ibid., 34, citing T. Zahn, Das Evangelium des

Mattheius [Leipzig: Deichert, 1910], 4:23).

30 See Blomberg, "The Miracles as Parables," passim.

31 R. B. Sloan, "Jubilee," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 396-97. Cf. also

George W. Buchanan's discussion of sabbatical theology in Israel in The Conse-

quences of the Covenant (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 1-15. The year of Jubilee as an escha-

tological theme is also found in Daniel 9:24-27 and the noncanonical Jubilees 1:21—

25. The writings of the Qumran community also confirm this :interpretation of

Isaiah 61:1-2 (11Q Melchizedek; Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 3d

ed. [London: Penguin, 1987], 300), but that community saw Melchizedek as the mes-

sianic figure who would come and establish "the favorable year of the Lord" (M. P.

Miller, "The Function of Is 61:1-2 in 11Q Melchizedek," Journal of Biblical Litera-

ture 88 [1969]: 467—69).

32 The eschatological meaning of Jesus' Sabbath healings is a matter of some dis-

pute. Some scholars see the meaning coming primarily from the occasion of the

first Sabbath when God rested after His creative work. The New Age would be the

 



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God      289

 

            Miracles and divine mercy. Because Yahweh's salvation

was restorative and liberating for His covenant people, the

prophets naturally anticipated it as the supreme expression of His

lovingkindness and mercy (ds,H,).33 Yahweh's favor was guaran-

teed by His commitment under the covenant. His ds,H, meant par-

doning grace as well as faithful and merciful aid to His people.

His covenantal sort was inherently active. Thus miracles from

the wonder-working prophets were viewed as expressions of the

succoring hand of Yahweh (1 Kings 17:16–24; 2 Kings 4:1–7; 7:7.–

2).34 Based on this faithful action35 the prophets portrayed the

coming age as the time when Yahweh's ultimate ds,H,  (cf. Isa. 54:8;

55:3; Mic. 7:20) and compassion (MymiHEra; Isa. 14:1; 49:13; 54:7; Jer.

12:15; 33:26; Ezek. 39:25; Mic. 7:19; Zech. 1:16) would be revealed.

            The New Testament follows up on this idea in such a way that

Christ's First Advent is understood as the expression of God's

mercy to humanity (Titus 3:5), but Jesus' miracles are a particu-

lar demonstration of God's lovingkindness. Based on God's

commitment to the covenant, His mercy issues forth in tangible

action to fulfill the messianic mandate of proclaiming and en-

acting righteousness.36 The miracles are particular and neces-

 

time when Yahweh would work again and create a new world. Jesus' Sabbath mira-

cles then should be seen as the recreative acts of the new salvation time. Raymond

Brown expresses this view, saying the Sabbath miracle "was primarily to empha-

size [Jesus'] miraculous work as a renewed creativity. God had rested from the

work of the first creation on the sabbath; now he had resumed his creative work as

he established his dominion, saved man from Satan, and re-created him in his own

image" ("The Gospel Miracles," 188). Also Hendrickx sees a creative act in Mark

7:37, in which a Sabbath miracle evoked the statement from bystanders, "He has

done all things well," in apparent reflection of the benediction to God's creative

work in Genesis 1 (Herman Hendrickx, The Miracle Stories [San Francisco:

Harper and Row, 1987], 13). Grimm and Betz and Davey see Jesus' healings on the

Sabbath as demonstrations of the final rest anticipated in the eschatological ju-

bilee. For them the creative aspect of Jesus' miracles articulated by Brown does not

uniquely explain the significance of the Sabbath occasion. All Jesus' miracles of

healing and exorcism are creative and restorative acts. They are all His and the Fa-

ther's works (John 5:19), but the special mention of the Sabbath presents specificity

to the rest and release Jesus' miracles gave those who were healed (e.g., the woman

freed from her bonds on the Sabbath, Luke 13:16). The focus is not so much on the

fact that Yahweh works again, but on the rest provided as a result of His work

(Grimm, Weil Ich Dich Liebe, 98-99; Betz and Grimm, Wesen and Wirklichkeit der

Wunder Jesu, 34-35; 35, n. 50; and Davey, "Healing in the New Testament," 54).

33 R. Bultmann, "e@leoj," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2 (1964): 479-87.

34 Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 1:325.

35 Bultmann notes Ion is not primarily a disposition, but "the act or demonstra-

tion of assisting faithfulness" (e@leoj," 480).

36 Righteousness (dikaiosu<nh) is the appropriate fulfillment of a covenant rela-

tionship and therefore is related to mercy (e@leoj).  The end-time expectation of

messianic righteousness was complete satisfaction and enjoyment of the covenant.



290      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996

 

sary expressions of God's covenant commitment and promise for

the future. The idea of the in-breaking of divine love and

kindness in the kingdom without appropriate changes in the

physical well-being of people was impossible under the righteous

demands of covenant-mercy.37 Therefore the Gospel writers often

noted Jesus' covenant-mercy (e@leoj) as the motivation behind His

miraculous deeds (e.g., Matt. 9:13; 20:30, 34).38 His miracles

were not simply proofs for belief; "they were rather the natural

reaction of his spirit to sickness and suffering in the world and

his desire for God's grace to be known in those he touched."39

 

MIRACLES AND THE KINGDOM OF SATAN

            The Old Testament promise of the final Sabbath rest and the

presence of God's eschatological ds,H, in the kingdom. necessitated

the destruction of the forces opposed to the divine order (Isa. 29:20;

33:14; 61:2). All blessings of the age to come will follow after the

people's enemies are subjugated. Isaiah told the captives they

could not be freed unless the mighty man is first subdued and

Yahweh "contends with the one who contends with you" (Isa.

49:24-25). In the Gospels, Jesus' role as the One who contends with

the enemy of Yahweh's people is the fundamental drama of His

ministry. Its importance to the complete picture of Jesus' miracles

and proclamation of the kingdom cannot be overstated.40

            Without doubt Jesus came to make "open war on the reign of

Satan."41 In Matthew and Luke it is significant that the drama of

 

See G. Schrenk, "dikaiosunh<," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2

(1964): 195; and Gunther Bornkamm, "End-Expectation and the Church in Mat-

thew," in Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew, ed. Gunt her Bornkamm,

Gerhard Barth, and Heinz J. Held (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963).

37 O. Betz, "Heilung," in Theologische Realenzyklopadie (Berlin: de Gruyter,

1985), 14:766.

38 Held, "Matthew as Interpreter," 263.

39 Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, 99.

40 On Jesus' ministry as confrontation with the kingdom of Satan see Kailas, Sig-

nificance of the Synoptic Miracles, 78ff.; Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of

History, 114; Brown, "The Gospel Miracles," 187; Grimm, Weil Ich Lich Liebe, 88-93;

H. C. Kee, "The Terminology of Mark's Exorcism Stories," New Testament Studies

14 (1967-1968): 232-46; idem, Miracle in the Early Christian World (New Haven,

CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 156–70; Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 92;

Gerhardsson, The Mighty Acts of Jesus according to Matthew, 33; Philippe

Menoud ("La Signification du miracle selon le Nouveau Testament," Revue

d'Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses 28–29 [1948–1949]: 176-79; Grelot, "Les

Miracles de Jesus," 68–70; Latourelle, The Miracles of Jesus, 284; Rudolf Pesch, Jesus Ureigene

Taten? (Freiburg: Herder, 1970), 151–55; and Hendrickx, The Miracle Stories, 25–28.

41 Franz Mussner, The Miracles of Jesus, trans. Albert Wimmer (Notre Dame,

IN: University of Notre Dame, 1968), 43.

            Pre-Christian sources for the eschatological warfare of Yahweh and His ene-

mies come predominantly from the intertestamental period. Often thought to be a



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God       291

 

Jesus' ministry opens in conflict with Satan in His temptations

(Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). In Mark 1:23-28 exorcism follows

soon after the programmatic declaration of the kingdom's ad-

vent. The cries of the demons, "Have You come to destroy us?"

(Luke 4:34; Mark 1:24), are naturally understood as tokens of the

conflict. The connection between the kingdom of God and exor-

cism is made more explicit in Matthew 12:28, which, as already

seen, brings together the Holy Spirit, the kingdom, and exorcism.

Luke also revealed the kingdom's nexus with exorcism in the ac-

count of the ministry of the seventy (Luke 10:18). In Luke 13:82,

Jesus summarized His whole ministry before the Cross in refer-

ence to exorcism and healing: "Behold, I cast out demons and per-

form cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal."

            The cosmic dimensions of the conflict are underscored by the

New Testament's presumption that every malady and disorder of

the creation was ultimately rooted in the chaos of Satan's king-

dom. For example, though sickness in the Old Testament was the

result of sin,42 Jesus understood illness as being related to Satan

as well. The sick woman of Luke 13 was one "whom Satan has

bound for eighteen long years" (13:16).43 In Matthew the lines

between disease and demons blur as qerapeu<ein ("to heal") speaks

of both healing diseases and casting out demons (4:24; 10:8).44 Je-

sus' rebuke (e]pitima<w) of the storm (Mark 4:37-41) was the same

 

relatively late development in Judaism (depending on one's dating of Daniel; see

Adolf von Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries,

trans. and ed. James Moffatt [reprint, New York: Books for Libraries, 1972], 155;

and Kee, Miracle in the Early Christian World, 155), spiritual warfare of the same

caliber as the New Testament reached a zenith in these centuries just before Chris-

tianity. During this period the antagonism between Satan and his agents and God

and His agents developed in intensity and specificity from the Old Testament.

Josephus, for example, reported unusual legends of the Jews about Solomon's great

learning that enabled him to defeat demonic powers in exorcism (The Antiquities

of the Jews 8.45). In works such as 1 Enoch 10:11-15, 54-55; Testament of Levi 18:12;

Testament of Moses 10:1-2; Testament of Asher 7:3; and Benjamin 3:3, the advent of

the kingdom of God means the end of Satan and his unholy reign during this age.

There will be cataclysmic and cosmic upheaval as the supernatural minions of the

evil one do battle with the Messiah and His forces. The earth of the devil goes

through its final throes before the messianic reign of peace begins. The priestly

sect at Qumran had similar exegesis of the Old Testament prophetic hope. In 11Q

Melchizedek, Isaiah 61 is exegeted according to the dualistic worldview of the

other apocalyptic writers, which connected exorcism, the kingdom of God, and the

anointing of the Spirit (See Grimm, Weil Ich Dich Liebe, 97).

42 See Brown's discussion in "The Gospel Miracles," 187-88.

43 Kallas argues a similar case for Mark 3:10; 5:29, 34; and Luke 7:21, in which the

Greek word for disease (ma<stic) also means "whip" or "scourge." He puts this forth

as a possible link between physical sickness and the devil's oppression of his sub-

jects (Kallas, The Significance of the Synoptic Miracles, 79).

44 Noted by Gerhardsson, The Mighty Acts of Jesus according to Matthew, 33.



292     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

as His rebuke of demons (Mark 1:25), which was the same as His

rebuke of illness (Luke 4:39).45 Finally, Jesus conquered the last

weapon of Satan, namely, death. Death is the ultimate enemy and

stands in the ultimate position in Jesus' summary of His liberat-

ing miracles in Matthew 11:5. For John the resurrection of

Lazarus marks the climax of Jesus' ministry before His own

death and resurrection.46 Thus by His miracles Jesus waged war

on many fronts against a hostile force.

 

MIRACLES AND PURITY

            Three specific points of contact call for consideration of the

subject of purity. First, Jesus' miracles of exorcism necessarily

brought the "holy" Spirit in contact with "unclean." spirits (e.g.,

Mark 1:21-28), which were the ultimate source of all impurity.47

Second, the primary subjects of Jesus' miracles were those

deemed "unclean" in His day.48 Third, according to His ene-

mies, Jesus' ministry to the unclean compromised His own purity

by the standards of His day.49

 

45 Grimm sees the divine rebuke in the Gospel exorcism accounts as going back to

the Old Testament tradition of the powerful words of Yahweh commanding order

from chaos at the creation (Weil Ich Dich Liebe, 110; cf. Isa. 50:2; 51.:9–10; 54:9). Paul

and Peter both referred to nature as affected by sin (Rom. 8:22; 2 Pet. 3:12–13).

46 For Paul, death is the last enemy (1 Cor 15:26). For the first Christians Jesus'

victory over death was the critical blow to Satan's kingdom (Acts '2:32–33, 36; 5:31).

See Brown, "The Gospel Miracles," 188–89.

47 Demons themselves were thought to be unclean by their association with

corpses and graves as well as their personal immorality (Friedrich Hauck,

"a]ka<qartoj, a]kaqarsi<a," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 [1965]:

428). The source of all impurity in general was thought to be their destructive

working against God's will (Baruch A. Levine, In the Presence of the Lord: Aspects

of Ritual in Ancient Israel [1974], cited by Jacob Neusner, The Idea of Purity in

Ancient Judaism [Leiden: Brill, 1973], 8).

48 Gerhard Delling ("Botschaft and Wunder im Wirken Jesu," Der historische

Jesus and der kerygmatische Christus, ed. Helmut Ristow and Karl Matthiae

[Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1961], 397) notes that it is no mere coinci-

dence that Jesus healed the blind, the lame, and lepers as well as eating with tax

gatherers and sinners, given the purity system as evidenced in Josephus (The Jew-

ish Wars 6.425–27), Qumran (1QSa 2:3–9; the Temple Scroll 11QT 1, and the rabbinic

materials (Menachoth 9:8). Neusner summarizes Josephus on the classes prohib-

ited from the temple: foreigners; those with gonorrhea; menstruating women; any-

one unclean by contact with a corpse; lepers; and men not thoroughly clean from

other defect (The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism, 41).

49 Some examples in Mark's account are these: Jesus touched lepers (1:41); He

was touched by the woman with the issue of blood (5:25–29); He entered the house

where a girl lay dead (5:35–43); He touched her corpse (5:35–43); He healed a Gen-

tile (7:24–30); He used spittle in healing (7:31–36; 8:22–26); He healed on the Sabbath

(1:29–31; 3:1–6); and He fellowshiped with the unclean (2:15–17; 8 1-10). For a more

complete enumeration of Jesus "offenses," see David Rhoads, "Social Criticism:

Crossing Boundaries," in Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies,



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     293

 

            It is difficult to overestimate the impact the purity system had

on the religious life and culture of Israel in the first century.

Ideas of purity and impurity are woven as deeply into the fabric of

life then as was the dualism that saw everything in terms of the

conflict between God's kingdom and Satan's.50 The source of Is-

rael's ideas of purity was ultimately the holiness of Yahweh as set

forth in the Mosaic law: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God

am holy" (e.g., Lev. 19:2).51 From this standard the Israelites

gained and maintained boundaries that regulated and protected

the cosmological, social, and personal aspects of their lives.52

The cosmological boundaries in Israel were the ones that distin-

guished and protected the holiness of God from defilement. These

boundaries governed human approach to God and kept God from

withdrawing His presence. They are the basis of all that was

clean and unclean, and they were centered around the temple

where God dwelt on the earth. The prodigious practical impact of

all uncleanness, therefore, was that one was denied entrance to

the temple and shut off from the center of Israel's life.53 The socio-

logical boundaries were essentially the cosmological ones real-.

ized horizontally. The sanctity of what happened in the temple

 

ed. Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992),

149–50; and Stephen Westerholm, Jesus and Scribal Authority (Lund: Gleerup,

1978), 67-69.

50 Neusner notes that purity was an "essential element" in the interpretation of

the culture of Israel from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 600 (The Idea of Purity in Ancient Ju-

daism, 28). In the twentieth century there has been debate as to the importance of

ritual purity in the second temple period. Buehler argued that only a few priests

observed high level ritual purity (Der galilaische 'Am-ha 'Ares des zweiten

Jahrhunderts [1906]). Scholarship, however, is moving against this position on the

strength of G. Alon, Jews, Judaism and the Classical World, trans. Israel Abra-

ham (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1977), 146-89, 190-234. See Neusner, The Idea of Purity in

Ancient Judaism, x; and Westerholm, Jesus and Scribal Authority, 62-65.

51 Mary Douglas argues convincingly that holiness, defined as separateness and

completeness, is the basis for everything that is categorized clean and unclean in

the Levitical law. The issue is not hygiene, aesthetics, separation from pagan prac-

tices, nor simply divine whim, but orderliness and conformity to class (Purity and

Danger [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966], 40-51).

52 See Rhoads, "Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries," 152–54; and Jacob Mil-

grom, "Purity and Impurity," in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 13:1405–14.

53 On the significance of the temple, Neusner states, "The Temple supplied to pu-

rity its importance in the religious life. As the Temple signified divine favor, and

as the cult supplied the nexus between Israel and God, so purity, associated so

closely to both, could readily serve as an image of either divine favor or man's loy-

alty to God. From that fact followed the assignment of impurity to all that stood

against the Temple, the cult, and God: idolatry first of all" (The Idea of Purity in

Ancient Judaism, 15). Neusner adds later, "All rites of purification aimed at one

goal: to permit participation in the cult" (ibid., 118). Also see Roger P. Booth, Jesus

and the Laws of Purity: Tradition History and Legal History in Mark 7 (Sheffield:

JSOT, 1986), 152.



294     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

was what separated Jews from Gentiles, and these boundaries

came to be the means of keeping Gentiles out.54 The bodily

"boundary" of an individual was his or her skin. Personal purity

was violated by the presence outside the body of what normally

should be inside. Breaks in the skin, issues of blood, or semen

made one unclean.

            In the first century the Sadducees and the Pharisees were two

sects that enforced the purity of worship and the temple.55 Anyone

who violated this purity standard and therefore threatened the

temple would naturally be confronted by them. Considered in this

light, it is easier to understand the prominence of these groups in

the miracles stories and also their antagonism. In their view,

Jesus' disregard for purity where His miracles were concerned

(see notes 48 and 49) was an assault on the temple and God

Himself. Of course many other incidents in Jesus' ministry were

offensive to the temple, in their opinion,56 but the violation of

purity in the miracles raises an issue regarding the kingdom of

God. How does the kingdom interface with the purity system of Is-

rael? Do the miracles demonstrate anything about Jesus' under-

standing of purity where the kingdom of God is concerned?

            Berger discusses the interface of purity, kingdom, and mira-

cles in Jesus' "offensive holiness," as he calls it.57  Berger shows

that while Jesus and the early Christians had much in common

with first-century Pharisees, particularly in the belief that purity

was the fundamental eschatological problem,58 their views on the

relationship of purity to impurity differed. Purity for the Phar-

 

54 Rhoads, "Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries," 153. The New Testament pic-

ture of Gentile impurity (Acts 10:28; 11:3; Gal. 2:12–13) may not have been a strong

tenet of ancient Israel, but was a pervasive and long-held view of Judaism by the

first century (Westerholm, Jesus and Scribal Authority, 65). The early Halakah

condemned association with non-Jews on the grounds that idols and their atten-

dants were unclean (Alon, Jews, Judaism and the Classical World, 147–48).

55 Of these two, the Pharisees were the more strict in their observance of purity

rites. The ground of their identity as a distinct sect was their belief that temple

purity rites were normative beyond the priesthood. Their particular views here

were manifested in daily life around the' taking of meals, which was supposed to be

done in a state of ritual purity and only with others of similar "pure" status, and

the careful giving of tithes and offerings. For a concise summary of what is known

of first-century P'harisaism, see Klaus Berger, "Jesus als Pharisaer and Friihe

Christen als Pharisaer," Novum Testamentum 30 (1988): 231–37.

56 Jesus assaulted the temple in His teaching (e.g., Mark 14:58: "I will destroy this

temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without

hands") and in His prophetic actions ("cleansing" the temple, Mark 11:15--17).

57 Berger, "Jesus als Pharisaer and Fruhe Christen als Pharisaer," 240–41.

58 Ibid. 239. See for example the metaphors of cleansing in John's prophecy of Je-

sus' ministry in Luke 3:16-17.



    Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     295

 

isees was a matter of defense; it was a hedge, a means of protec-

tion against being contaminated by what was impure. It de-

manded separation from the polluted. Purity was something

fragile and vulnerable.

            Jesus, on the other hand, demonstrated an offensive holiness

"that is not threatened or damaged by impurity, it is not a passive

quality only to be established, which is liable to pollution and al-

ways needs to be protected."59 Armed with the holy power of the

kingdom He represented (i.e., the Holy Spirit), Jesus crossed the

boundaries of the purity, reached into the realm of the unclean,

and instead of being polluted Himself, He made others pure. Je-

sus showed that the purity of the kingdom is not in danger from

anything outside the individual. Purity of the kingdom is some-

thing far more penetrating; purity is an issue of the heart (Matt.

15:1-3, 25-28; Mark 7:15). This is why Jesus' healings were an

outward sign of the forgiveness of sin offered from God (Mark

2:1-12; John 5:14).60 Jesus, as Bearer of the purity of the kingdom,

made the external condition clean without suffering pollution

Himself, and He went beyond that and healed the heart. The issue

of the heart was why the purity of temple worship came up short

and received Jesus' condemnation. On the one hand external ob-

servance may too easily overshadow demands God makes on the

heart; on the other hand external demands are too simple a crite-

rion for judging the heart.61 So the kingdom is inherently ori-

ented toward purity, but it is a purity that operates in the deepest

regions of the human heart,62 and Jesus' miracles are indirect

testimony to that fact.

            This discussion about the nature of the kingdom as revealed

by Jesus' miracles, including their Old Testament prophetic an-

tecedents, their occasion (viz., on the Sabbath), and their objects

(viz., the impure), point up three facts about the kingdom. Escha-

tologically, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament

prophetic hope for Israel. Soteriologically, in the kingdom there

will ultimately be rest, restoration, liberation, deliverance, and

redemption for all God's creation. Physically, Jesus' miracles of

 

59 Ibid., 240.

60 Betz, "Heilung," 14:766.

61 Westerholm, Jesus and Scribal Authority, 91; cf. idem, "Clean and Unclean," in

Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 126-28; and Rhoads, "Social Criticism: Cross-

ing Boundaries," 155-59.

62 Paul wrote about the kingdom and purity: "I know and am convinced in the

Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be

unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom. 14:14), and "the kingdom of God is not eating

and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (v. 17).



296     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996

 

human needs point toward a physical fulfillment of the Old

Testament promises for human society, including national

promises for Israel. The miracles show that the kingdom has a

physical side; Old Testament promises to Israel will not be ful-

filled only in the spiritual realm. Just as miracles show that the

lame and the blind experienced a physical restoration, so the

promises to national Israel ought not be spiritualized.

 

MIRACLES AND THE INAUGURATOR OF THE KINGDOM

            Another element of the kingdom revealed by the miracles

was the messianic identity of the Miracle-worker. In the Gospel

of John especially there can be no doubt that miracles serve this

Christological function (John 2:11; 4:53; 6:14; 7:31; 9:38; 11:4, 15,

45; 12:11; 20:30; cf. Matt. 14:22-33 and Mark 6:47-56). The mira-

cles in the Gospels first confirm the message of God's in-break-

ing rule and then reveal the identity of the messianic Ruler.63

They are first eschatological and soteriological and then Christo-

logical, despite the subsequent reversal of this paradigm in the

church's later apologetics.64 Given that Jesus' miracles did have

some Christological and apologetic significance in the New

Testament, the question may be raised whether this significance

was a product of the Gospel writers, or whether miracles were le-

gitimate messianic credentials of the first century. Was the Mes-

siah expected to be a Miracle-worker?

 

EXTRACANONICAL WITNESSES

            Any discussion of the Messiah in the first century must tra-

verse the murky waters of Jewish eschatological beliefs before

Christianity. Recent studies have shown that in pre-Christian

times there was less uniformity in the expectations of "the Mes-

siah" than has usually been thought.65 In the first place scholars

 

63 Delling, "Botschaft and Wunder," 393-95; idem, "Das Verse:andnis des blun-

ders," 275; Boobyer, "The Gospel Miracles," 42; Brown, "The Gospel Miracles," 186-

87. Whether asked by the devil, Herod, the Pharisees, or the crowds, Jesus refused

to do miracles for His own credentials (Matt. 4:5; 12:38-42; Mark 6:1-6; 8:11-13;

15:31-32; Luke 23:6-12).

64 Colin Brown details the church's heavy use of the miracles in defense of Jesus'

identity (Miracles and the Critical Mind, 3-20). Cf. Eric R. Dodds, Pagan and

Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965),

124-25. Similarly, Brown notes how this apologetic function of miracles is overem-

phasized ("The Gospel Miracles," 186).

65 See James H. Charlesworth, "The Messiah in the Pseudepigrapha," in Aufstieg

and Niedergang der Romischen Welt (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1979), 19.1.188-218; Rus-

sell, Method and Message, 308-9; and Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson,

Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (San

Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 88-92. Horsely and Hanson note also how the term



  Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God      297

 

are now seeing intertestamental Judaism as a complex and

richly varied phenomenon that had no orthodox center before A D.

70.66 In the second place, given the breadth and history of the term

itself, there is serious doubt "Messiah" was used as a specific title

in the intertestamental literature.67 Third, when the royal

anointed figure does show up in the literature, his appearance is a

notably secondary element of the apocalyptic hope and somewhat

amorphous in the details.68

            Many scholars deny that this eschatological royal figure was

expected to work miracles. It is ironic that much of this verdict is

founded on post-A.D. 70 rabbinic literature, which may be charac-

terized as somewhat anticharismatic,69 anti-Christian,70 and in

most cases at least a century too late. Still, Delling maintains

this conclusion from the silence of Judaism for a miracle-work-

ing Messiah, as reported in the studies of Strack and Biller-

beck.71 The editors of Schurer's The History of the Jewish People

in the Age of Jesus Christ back up their view with Klausner's fa

mous statement that "the Messiah is never mentioned anywhere

in the Tannaitic literature as a wonder-worker per se."72

 

"Messiah" has been synthesized into one monolithic category under the weight; of

Christian theology.

66 The Tannaitic works representing orthodoxy in Judaism are dated one or two

centuries after A.D. 70, thereby giving some credence to Charlesworth's conclusion

that "Judaism did not flow unilaterally and without development from the frst

century B.C. to the third century A.D." ("The Messiah in the Pseudepigrapha," 194).

67 Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, 90. Horsley and Han-

son observe that the term "Messiah," meaning "an anointed one," was used for

prophets and priests as well as kings (cf. Russell, Method and Message, 304-7).

Charlesworth cites the studies of M. de Jonge ("The Use of the Word `Anointed' in

the Time of Jesus," Novum Testamentum 8 [1966]: 132–48) and Morton Smith

("Messiahs: Robbers, Jurists, Prophets, and Magicians," Proceedings of the Ameri-

can Academy for Jewish Research 44 [1977]: 185–95) to caution against careless use

of the term for only an eschatological royal figure (idem, "The Messiah in the Pseu-

depigrapha," 196, n. 22). Smith notes that in the pseudepigraphical literature of

that time "there were both messiahs without ends of the world and ends of the

world without messiahs" (Ibid.).

68 References to an eschatological Messiah are missing altogether from the Apoc-

rypha. The "Messiah," the "Anointed One," or the "Christ" are mentioned in only

five of the other Jewish pseudepigraphical documents. As to the difference of de-

tails one need only consider the Melchizedekian Messiah of Qumran (11Q

Melchizedek), the Levitical Messiah of the Hasmoneans, and the prevailing no-

tions of the Davidic Messiah.

69 See Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 80–82.

70 Cf. the curses in the Eighteen Benedictions and the portrayal of Jesus as a sor-

cerer.

71 "Der Verstandnis des Wunders," 274, n. 18. Pesch also agrees with Delling

(Jesu Ureigene Taten? 151).

72 Emil Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175

BC–35 AD), rev. and ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, 3 vols.



298     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

            In addition to the questionable foundation of these opinions,

several points can be raised that present the subject in a different

light. First, in accord with the Old Testament the intertestamen-

tal literature did affirm the messianic age as a miraculous time.

In fact miracles are quite the norm. Second Baruch 72, for exam-

ple, gives a full litany of miraculous blessings of the Messiah's

kingdom, characterizing it as the time when “joy shall then be

revealed, and rest shall appear. And then healing shall descend

in dew, and disease shall withdraw."73

            Second, from His secondary role in the apocalyptic dramas

the Messiah is often not in view where the implementation of

these blessings is concerned. God is the main figure of the apoca-

lyptic kingdom and the writers have little need of a human Mes-

siah.74 Sometimes when the Messiah does appear, it is only after

God has already acted (e.g., 1 Enoch 90). The Messiah has a pre-

dominantly passive status. Russell concludes that the emphasis

in these works is "not so much on the Messiah and his ushering

in of the kingdom as it is on the kingdom itself as a mighty act of

God."75 However, nothing of the intertestamental period ex-

pressly states the Messiah figure would not work miracles.

            Third, one allusion in the rabbinic materials, cited by Bam-

mel,76 implies the necessity of the Messiah working miracles. In

Threni R. ad Lam 2:2, Rabbi Akiba is reported as believing in the

messiahship of Bar Kochba on account of his mi:racles.77 Nicol

attempts to discredit this by noting that miracles were not widely

reported of Bar Kochba,78 but even if the story was invented, it re-

mains that the Messiah was expected to do miracles.

            Fourth, it may be justified to broaden the scope of the inquiry

 

(Edinburgh: Clark, 1973-87), 2:525, n. 42; and Joseph Klausner, The Messianic Idea

in Israel, trans. W. F. Stinespring (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 506.

73 Quoted in Charlesworth, "The Messiah in the Pseudepigrapha," 201. The Tar-

gums (Tg Is 53:8) also expect many miracles in the day of the Messiah (Betz,

"Heilung," 14:766).

74 Russell, Method and Message, 309; and Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Is-

rael, 524.

75 Russell, Method and Message, 309-10.

76 E. Bammel, "John Did No Miracle," in Miracles, ed. C. F. D. Moue (London:

Mowbray, 1965), 188–89.

77 "Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai taught: Akiba, my master, was interpreting, A star

(bkvk) stepped forth from Jacob (Num 24:17): Cozbah (xbzvk) stepped forth from Ja-

cob. When Rabbi Akiba saw Cozbah, he said, ‘He is the messianic king!’" (J Taanit

IV.68d, in Revelation and Redemption: Jewish Documents of Deliverance from the

Fall of Jerusalem to the Death of Nahmanides, intro., trans., and notes by George

Wesley Buchanan [Dillsboro, NC: Western Carolina, 1978], 174).

78 W. Nicol, The Semeia in the Fourth Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 1972), 80, n. 1.



  Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     299

 

to include themes inherent to the working of miracles—like the

possession of prophetic power. Though possessing the spirit of

prophecy did not guarantee that one could work miracles, all le-

gitimate miracles did come from it.79 If the Messiah did possess

the prophetic Spirit, at least the necessary mechanism for doing

miracles would be present. The question here would be, Does the

intertestamental literature see messianic figures as the bearers

of God's prophetic Spirit?

            The Psalms of Solomon point in the right direction when it

describes the Messiah in terms of divine power.

              And gird him with might to defeat unrighteous rulers, to purify

              Jerusalem of the heathen who trample it to destruction. . . . God

              has made him strong in the Holy Spirit and wise in counsel with

              power and righteousness. And the good pleasure of the Lord is

              with him in strength and he will not be weak . . . strong is he in

              his works and might in the fear of God.80

            Besides the implicit opening this statement gives to the possibility

of a wonder-working Messiah who is "strong in the Holy Spirit,"

Nicol has attempted to make the case more explicit through the

Moses-Messiah typology of the intertestamental period.81 He

contends that as Moses was a great prophet and liberator, all the

expectations of the Messiah as a second Moses would naturally

assume the Messiah was anointed with the same prophetic Spirit.

The office of the prophet is joined to that of king by way of second-

Moses typology.82 Along the same lines Josephus wrote of several

messianic figures of the first century who not only claimed to be

prophets but also appeared to follow the Moses-Messiah typology in

 

79 There was a significant connection between prophets/prophecy and attestation

by miracles. See, for example, the appeal to a miracle as a test to a prophet's mes-

sage in Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 8:408. Anitra Bingham Kolenkow says

that for Jews the "major motif is proof of prophecy by miracle-sign" ("Relationship

between Miracle and Prophecy in the Greco-Roman World and Early Christianity,"

in Aufstieg and Niedergang der Romische Welt [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980],

23.2.1471).

80 Psalms of Solomon 17:24, 42-43, 47 (cited by W. Grundmann, "du<namai," in Theo-

logical Dictionary of the New Testament, 2 [1964]: 299).

81 Moses was a popular if not official antitype for the end-time Messiah. He was

Israel's first deliverer and the Messiah will be her last. On the prominence of the

Moses and Messiah typology in the intertestamental period, Joachim Jeremias says

it "was very much alive in the NT period and repeatedly exercised a decisive influ-

ence on the course of events" ("Mwush?j," in Theological Dictionary of the New Tes-

tament, 4 [1969]: 863). Cf. Barnett, "Jewish Sign Prophets," 682–83; and Blackburn,

"Miracles," 558.

82 Nicol, The Semeia of the Fourth Gospel, 83-86. To a lesser degree a similar case

could be made for an Elijah and Messiah typology in the intertestamental period,

though the Elijah figure was usually seen as the forerunner of the Messiah, not the

Messiah Himself. See Joachim Jeremias, " Hl(e)i<aj," in Theological Dictionary of

the New Testament, 2 (1964): 931.



300     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

their actions.83

            In the intertestamental literature a miracle-working Mes-

siah is not explicitly affirmed, but He is also never explicitly de-

nied. However, there does seem to be evidence of a general expec-

tation that the Messiah's age would be miraculous, that those mir-

acles would be effected through the prophetic Spirit, and that the

Messiah would be anointed with that same Holy Spirit. So, though

the Messiah is not spoken of in the intertestamental literature as

performing miracles, the lacunae could be accounted for on other

grounds, and there is nothing inherently incompatible with a

miracle-working Messiah in the pre-Christian hopes of Ju-

daism.84

 

NEW TESTAMENT WITNESSES

            As already noted, Jesus' messianic identity was revealed by

His miracles. Though Old Testament prophets did not need to

perform miracles, miracles could serve to attest the authenticity

of their message. The New Testament makes a concerted effort to

affirm Jesus' prophetic office by miracles. For example accord-

ing to Philo's contention that the forecast of a prophet's own death

was the prophet's greatest proof,85 Jesus predicted His own death

on numerous occasions (e.g., Mark 8:31; 10:32-34). Also there is

little doubt the crowds considered Jesus a prophet because of His

miracles (Mark 6:14–16; Luke 7:14–17; John 6:14). Jesus at-

tributed His own inability to heal in His hometown to the fact that

"a prophet is not without honor except in his home town and

among his own relatives and in his own household" (Mark 6:4).

            Luke especially seems to have portrayed Jesus as a prophet,

but most notably as a prophet like Moses.86 Similar to the in-

tertestmental Moses typology, which said the Messiah would be a

 

83 The Antiquities of the Jews 20.97, 167–69. The parallel to Moses is seen in their

drawing their followers into the wilderness, and, to a lesser degree their perfor-

mance of miracles like Moses (Jeremias, "Mwush?j," 4:861-62).

84 Rudolf Bultmann makes a similar conclusion (The Gospel of John, trans. G. R.

Beasley-Murray, R. W. N. Hoare, and J. K. Riches [Philadelphia: Westminster,

1971], 306, n. 3).

85 Kolenkow, "Relationship between Miracle and Prophecy," 1494–95, citing Philo,

Moses 2:290.

86 Turner says Luke's concern to portray Jesus as the Mosaic Prophet and the

church as the true disciples of Moses "is a concern which is central to Luke's

whole purpose in writing" ("The Spirit and the Power of Jesus' Miracles," 146, n.

59). He cites agreement from R. Maddox, The Purpose of Luke Acts (Edinburgh:

Clark, 1982); D. L. Tiede, Prophecy and History in Luke Acts (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1980); D. Juel, Luke-Acts (London: SCM, 1983); and R. L. Brawley, Luke–

Acts and the Jews: Conflict, Apology and Conciliation (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987).

Cf. Barnett, "Jewish Sign Prophets," 691, and O'Reilly, Sign and Word, 180, n. 68.



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     301

 

redeeming prophet, the disciples on the Emmaus Road spoke of

their hope in Jesus, whom they considered a prophet and Israel's

Redeemer (Luke 24:19-21). Several commentators have observed

the connection between the crowd's adulation of Jesus as a prophet

for raising the dead (Luke 7:14-16) and the prompt question from

John about Jesus' possible messianic connections (vv. 19-22).87

Twice in Acts 1-12 Jesus is considered "the prophet" like Moses

(Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). Stephen's sermon in particular seems to

draw parallels between Jesus and Moses in their rejection

(Moses: 7:25, 35, 39; Jesus: 7:51) and their function as redeemers

(v. 35) and workers of signs and wonders (v. 36).88

            Jesus' miracles also resembled those of the prophets Elijah

and Elisha.89 At the beginning of His ministry Jesus indicated

that their deeds are parallel to His own ministry as the anointed

Herald of the gospel (Luke 4:16-27). The quotation of Isaiah 61:1-

2 in Luke 4:18-19 grounds His ministry in the Old Testament

prophetic hope, but Jesus understood the following statements

about the miracles of the two Old Testament prophets as a prefig-

urement of His own rejection and ultimate ministry outside of Is-

rael (4:24-27).90 So, in keeping with the healing of Naaman, the

Aramean (2 Kings 5), Jesus healed the Samaritan leper (Luke

17:11-19) and cast out the demon from the Syrophoenician

woman's daughter (Mark 7:24-30).91 Like Elijah and Elisha, Je-

 

87 For example O'Reilly, Sign and Word, 180, n. 68; and I. Howard Marshall, Luke:

Historian and Theologian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 126–27.

88 "Quite clearly, Stephen and the community which he represented believed and

affirmed that Jesus was a Mosaic figure" (Barnett, "Jewish Sign Prophets," 691). On

the parallel to Moses as a miracle-worker, Gerhardsson is probably correct in see-

ing Jesus' miracles parallel to Moses' deeds during the wilderness wanderings

rather than the Exodus event in Egypt (The Mighty Acts of Jesus according to

Matthew, 17). Barnett suggests that the difference between the Greek texts of Acts

3:22 and 7:37 and the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 18:15 means "there was a firm tra-

dition among the first Christians which held that Jesus was ‘the Prophet’," not just

any prophet for whom Moses could be the pattern ("Jewish Sign Prophets," 691).

89 Betz and Grimm, Wesen and Wirklichkeit, 31–42; Raymond E. Brown, "Jesus

and Elisha," Perspective 12 (1971): 85–104; and Thomas Louis Brodie, "Jesus as the

New Elisha: Cracking the Code," Expository Times 93 (1981–1982): 39-42.

90 Another equally broad parallel between Jesus and Elisha has been observed by

Roth, who notes that Elisha's miracles ultimately climaxed in the renewal of the

rule of Yahweh in Israel through Joash and Jehu (2 Kings 10–12). Jesus' miracles

have the same function on a much grander scale (Wolfgang M. W. Roth, "The Secret

of the Kingdom," Christian Century, March 2, 1983, 182).

91 Brodie has made the case that John consciously reported the healing of the

blind man in John 9 in order to parallel Elisha's healing of Naaman. Brodie sees

common elements in the subjects of the healing (both were instruments of a greater

message), the cure (the command to wash), the double reaction (Gehazi versus

Naaman; the Pharisees versus the blind man), and the confrontation (transferral of



302     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

sus has significant power to raise the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2

Kings 4:18-37; Mark 5:21-23, 35-43; Luke 7:11-17) and cleanse

lepers (2 Kings 5; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 17:11-19). Demons at-

tempted to ward Jesus off with the same words tie widow used of

Elisha in 1 Kings 17:18 ("What do we have to do with you?" Mark

1:24; 5:7). And Jesus' disciples failed to exorcize demons (Mark

9:18-28) the way Gehazi failed to heal (2 Kings 4:31-33).

 

            MIRACLES AND THE TIMING OF THE KINGDOM

 

            The works of Weiss and Schweitzer92 also touched off debate

about the timing of the kingdom, and the miracles of Jesus were

discussed in this larger context. In the so-called "consistent es-

chatology" of Schweitzer, Jesus' miracles were viewed as signs

that the kingdom was about to break forth and the end of the age

was imminent. Schweitzer said Jesus believed the miracles were

pointers to a soon-coming cataclysmic finale. In answer to this

view Dodd articulated a so-called "realized eschatology,"93 argu-

ing from the parables and Matthew 12:28 that the miracles showed

the full presence of the kingdom in Jesus' ministry. It was not

imminent, he said, because it had already arrived. Most scholars

place themselves somewhere in the middle, claiming features of

both an apocalyptic and a partially realized kingdom.94

            Subsequent discussions of this kingdom that is "already" but

still "not yet" have not succeeded entirely in clearing the fog

where miracles are concerned. In some cases miracles still are

only heralds of the ultimate end of the world. For example

Jeremias refers to Jesus' exorcisms as "foretastes," and "an-

ticipations" of the eschatological hour when Satan will be visibly

robbed of his power.95 Similarly Fuller calls them "foreshad-

ows,"96 and Harvey understands them as proleptic transforma-

tions in light of an imminent future.97 On the other hand a sig-

 

leprosy to Gehazi and blindness to the Pharisees) (Brodie, "Jesus as the New

Elisha," 40).

92 Johannes Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

& Ruprecht, 1892); and Albert Schweitzer, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (Tubingen:

Mohr, 1906).

93 C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, 3d ed. (New York: Scribner, 1936).

94 See the discussion and bibliography in George E. Ladd, The Presence of the Fu-

ture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 138–45, and G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and

the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 75–80.

95 Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 95.

96 R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (London: SCM, 1963;, 40.

97 Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, 97.



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     303

 

nificant number of scholars are saying that such language does

not go far enough. They say Jesus' miracles were not

preparations, illustrations, signs, or indicators of the kingdom;

they were the kingdom itself. Brown echoes this thinking when

he says the miracles were "one of the means by which the King-

dom came."98 Van der Loos also concludes, "We do not regard

miracles primarily as signs, seals, additions, attendant phe-

nomena or however they are described, but see them as a function

sui generis of the Kingdom of God."99

            While there is obvious merit to the middle way being forged

in regard to the kingdom's timing, the miracles suggest that

overly broad statements about the kingdom's presence in Jesus'

ministry should be avoided. First, care must be exercised so that

the operation of the kingdom in the miracles does not obliterate

their stated function as signs (John 20:30-31). A sign, understood

through the tradition of the Old Testament, points to something

else. It either authenticates or predicts a coming event (e.g.,

Exod. 4:8-9; Isa. 7:14), but it is not to be identified with that

event.100 In the Gospels the miracles of Jesus and His disciples

follow this pattern in relation to the kingdom by their provisional

nature. Jesus' miracles did not bring about the final rest and

restoration of the kingdom promised in the Old Testament. Those

who were healed would again fall sick and die; the demons would

escape complete subjugation until their "hour," and the creation

would continue to suffer under the cosmic oppression of the evil

one—all indications that the kingdom was not yet established.101

 

98 Brown, "The Gospel Miracles," 187.

99 Van der Loos, The Miracles of Jesus, 250-51. Others in agreement with Brown

and Van der Loos include Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 80–83;

Betz and Grimm, Wesen and Wirklichkeit, 30; Davey, "Healing in the New Testa-

ment," 55; Rudolf Schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom (New York: Herder

and Herder, 1963), 127; and Oepke, "i]a<omai," 3:213.

100 Richardson, Miracle-Stories of the Gospels, 57; and Colin Brown, Miracles

and the Critical Mind, 322-23.

101 The incomplete nature of Satan's subjugation showed to the ancient world that

Jesus did not establish the kingdom in His miracles. One of the dominant features

of the oriental monarch in ancient Israel and her environs was his position as head

of the army. As guarantor of the nation's domestic and national security, the king

led the army against all who would threaten the country's borders. The submission

of his enemies would naturally entail their forcible disarmament and the annihila-

tion of their threat to his governance. See Gerhard Delling, "u[opita<ssw," in Theolog-

ical Dictionary of the New Testament, 8 (1972): 42; Ludwig Schmidt, "Konigtum," in

Theologische Realenzyklopadie, 19:328; and H. Lesetre, "Roi," in Dictionnaire de la

Bible, ed. F. Vigouroux (Paris: Letouzey & Ane, 1912), col. 1122. Per Beskow summa-

rizes the functions normally associated with the concept of "king" as exalted judge,

ruler, and conqueror (Rex Gloriae: The Kingship of Christ in the Early Church,

trans. Eric J. Sharpe [Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksells, 1962], 38).



304     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1996

 

So in one sense there is a disjunction between what Jesus' mira-

cles were and what they pointed to. As Ridderbos wrote, miracles

            indicate the coming of the kingdom and point to the cosmic palin-

            genesis. . . . But they are not the beginning of this palingenesis,

            as if the latter were the completion of the miracles. For this

            palingenesis is something of the future world aeon; because it

            embodies the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of the

            world, it does not belong to the present dispensation. It even pre-

            supposes the precedence of the cosmic catastrophe.102

 

            Second, the Holy Spirit's role in Jesus' miracles indicates

that the eschatological kingdom was present in some way.103 The

long-awaited outpouring of God's Spirit was being fulfilled.

However, in view of the Spirit's role in creation and the giving of

life, His role in connection with the kingdom may best be viewed

in terms of His power or animating principle. Thus in light of

Hebrews 6:5, the kingdom's presence in Jesus' miracles was the

presence of the power of the eschatological kingdom, and not

technically the presence of the kingdom itself. Jesus' miracles

are then seen as signs of the kingdom, because in His ministry

each partial victory over chaos was a foretaste of the final king-

dom to come.

 

 

        MIRACLES AND THE OFFER OF THE KINGDOM

 

            Closely associated with the kingdom's timing is the element

of human decision. For the Gospel writers, Jesus' acts and words

were intended to provoke a decision in those to whom the revela-

tions were made. He did not come simply working wonders and

teaching with new authority; He came demanding response.

"Repent and believe" (Mark 1:15) was the gospel proclamation

from the beginning. To this demand for repentance, miracles

gave a sense of urgency.104 They were the awe-inspiring object

lessons about which no one could be apathetic. In other words by

their wondrous and signatory qualities they forced the issue:

Was this message really what the messenger claimed or not?

Miracles necessarily created a division in Jesus audience ac-

cording to whether they believed or refused to believe.

 

102 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, 119-20.

103 The Spirit's unique presence in Jesus helps one avoid making the meaning of

e@fqasen in Matthew 12:28 bear too heavy a burden for the kingdom's establishment

in Jesus. Sanders's caution to this effect is well taken (Jesus and Judaism, 134).

104 Johannes Rehm notes that as miracles were observable demonstrations of the

kingdom's presence, they gave an urgency to Jesus' ministry ("metanoe<w," in Theo-

logical Dictionary of the New Testament, 4 [1967]: 1001).



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     305

 

            Such a division is clearly indicated in the Gospel of

Matthew.105 The combination of Jesus' words and miracles in

chapters 11-12 elicits such rejection of His message by His own

family and the people and leaders of Israel that Jesus began to

change His message for them. Beginning in chapter 13 Jesus

shrouded His teaching about the kingdom in enigmatic parables,

and, as Baird has demonstrated, the parables of the kingdom

function in different ways depending on whether Jesus was

teaching those in belief or those in unbelief.106 Beginning in

Matthew 13 Jesus always made sure His parables of the kingdom

were understood by those who believed in Him (i.e., the disciples),

and He never explained His parables to those who were rejecting

Him.107 Furthermore the nature of the kingdom revealed in the

parables is different from the nature of the kingdom sought in the

prophetic hope. Ladd has observed this difference in content for

the parables: "That there should be a coming of God's Kingdom in

the way Jesus proclaimed, in a hidden, secret form, working

quietly among men, was utterly novel to Jesus' contemporaries.

The Old Testament gave no such promise."108

            If Jesus' teaching of the kingdom is directly related to the re-

sponse He received, what about His miracles? Since they are in-

herently tied to His message, do they follow the same pattern as

the parables in hiding the kingdom and pronouncing judgment

on those who reject Him?

            On the question of concealment, miracles do not necessarily

follow the track of the kingdom parables, but they are not incom-

patible with it either. Miracles are by nature silent witnesses that

need the word for understanding. With no specific word they are

 

105 Cf. Mark R. Saucy, "The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew," Bibliotheca

Sacra 151 (April–June 1994): 175–97.

106 J. Arthur Baird, "A Pragmatic Approach to Parable Exegesis: Some New Evi-

dence on Mark 4:11, 33–34," Journal of Biblical Literature 76 (1957): 201–7. Cf.

Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term "Mystery" in the New

Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 35, n. 110.

107 Matthew 13:34 seems to indicate that Jesus told more "kingdom" parables to

the crowds, but they remained unexplained and enigmatic for the most part. After

chapter 12 the crowds (including the leaders) understood only three parables about

the kingdom of God (21:27–32; 21:33–45; 22:1–14), all of which explain how the king-

dom was taken from them. Thus no positive information about the kingdom of God

is revealed in parabolic form to those in rejection, though the disciples were privy

to every kingdom parable. Kingdom (basilei<a)-language follows the same pattern.

Jesus' only public statement about the kingdom to the crowds (in addition to the

parables above) is in 23:13, which again was directed to the leaders and was nega-

tive: "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the

kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow

those who are entering to go in."

108 Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 225.



306    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1996

 

more open to diverse and perverse interpretations. After an indi-

vidual made a decision about Christ, a new dimension of the

message was added only for those insiders (i.e., the information

in the kingdom parables). However, in accord with this new di-

mension that Jesus was revealing by word, miracles have only

limited participation. To insiders, miracles confirm that His

message is what He says it is, but they do not specifically affirm

the details of the new message. As always, they point to the mes-

sage, whatever it may be, and the messenger. Thus in contrast to

Jesus' verbal proclamation, which did vary according to the spiri-

tual receptivity of the audience, few changes occurred in Jesus'

miracles. He still publicly healed and cast out demons in Israel

(e.g., Matt. 17:14–18; Luke 17:11–19). He fed the multitudes

(Matt. 14:13–21) and walked on the sea (Mark 6:45-52). Miracles

continued to reassure the faithful and to harden the opponents.109

            While Jesus did give information about the kingdom to the

crowds after Matthew 13, He never gave positive information to

anyone other than the spiritually receptive. They alone were

given to understand the "mysteries" of the kingdom in the

"kingdom parables." On the negative side Jesus also had a mes-

sage about the kingdom for those who rejected Him. Sometimes

He needed to explain it (Matt. 21:27–32) and sometimes He did

not need to do so (21:33–45), but always the message was one of

judgment. The spiritually hardened who have rejected the king-

dom will not be allowed to enter it (21:31); the kingdom is taken

away from them (21:43) and they face the wrath of God (22:7). In

both Matthew (21:18–22) and Mark (11:12–14, 20–25) this negative

message is authenticated with the miraculous withering of the fig

tree. Following the parable of the same subject in Luke 13:6–9 and

the rich tradition of Old Testament and intertestamental texts on

fig trees, the plight of the tree foreshadows the eschatological

judgment on the nation in its spiritually blind and deaf condi-

tion.110 Coming after the people's rejection of Jesus (Matt. 12;

Mark 3), this miracle of the fig tree clearly illustrates their rejec-

tion of Him and His message.

 

                                    CONCLUSION

            Jesus' many miracles were significant revelations of the

kingdom of God that Jesus preached. They revealed the king-

 

109 Compare the reaction by Jesus' enemies exemplified in the resurrection of

Lazarus (John 12:10-11).

110 See Blomberg, "The Miracles as Parables," 330-33; and Delling, "Der Verstand-

nis des blunders," 270. But Kallas argues the withered fig tree shows the judgment

of Satan, not Israel (Significance of Gospel Miracles, 95).



Miracles and Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God     307

 

dom's eschatological and soteriological nature according to

promises in the Old Testament about the Spirit-anointed New

Age. Miracles demonstrated that the kingdom Jesus announced

would be Yahweh's promised Sabbath rest, the end of Satan's

chaotic exploitation of the creation, the final actualization of di-

vine mercy, and the perfect realization of purity from the heart.

They also revealed the kingdom's inherent physicality. They

showed that the Old Testament promises regarding the creation,

human societies, and individuals called for physical and thus

literal fulfillment in this kingdom. The kingdom of God is not a

spiritual entity only.

            A secondary function of miracles was to reveal the identity of

Jesus as Miracle-worker. By the testimony of His miracles Jesus

could legitimately lay claim to a messianic role as presented in

canonical and noncanonical witnesses. His miracles also show

the kingdom's interface with human decision about His min-

istry. Jesus' miracles indicate the presence of kingdom power,

and yet they are not the presence of the kingdom because they are

not the kingdom itself in its fullness; of this reality they are only

signs. Also miracles show why the eschatological kingdom was

not established in Jesus' First Advent. They provide a unique an-

gle from which to observe Jesus' initial offer of the Old Testament

prophetic hope, its rejection by all quadrants of Israel, and finally

its subsequent change and delay.

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:       x

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu