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Imagine that you are going to listen to an evangelist in person. You’re one of hundreds, maybe thousands, who’ve come to hear the Word of God. Then, amid the preaching, this evangelist suddenly calls your name. He says, “I know that John Doe is here tonight.

” You’re stunned. How did he know that? Is this just a coincidence? Then he gives your address. Now you know it isn’t just a coincidence!

And there’s more. To your utter amazement, he says he knows that you’re suffering from a terrible ailment, which you are. The evangelist says that the Spirit of the Lord revealed these facts to him, and he calls you to come forward so he can pray for you.

What are you supposed to think—that you have seen a miracle unfold before your very eyes?

This story really happened. Over the years, many people have experienced the same phenomenon when attending this particular evangelist’s meetings. Imagine the hope that must have surged through their hearts: the Lord was truly doing something miraculous in their lives!

As it turns out, the “miracle” was actually a con game. Earlier in the evening, the evangelist’s wife wandered about in the audience with a secret radio transmitter. She talked to these people, got their information, and then quietly called it back to her husband, who had a tiny receiver in his ear. The “Spirit of the Lord” turned out to be the evangelist’s wife using a39.17 MHz bandwidth radio.

Though outright fraud, this case of spiritual chicanery does lead to the question of miracles and their place in the Christian world today. Should we expect miracles? Do miracles prove that the miracle worker is definitely from God? Or can Satan perform miracles, and, if so, how can you avoid being deceived by them?

The reality of miracles

Even the most cursory reading of the Bible shows the reality of miracles— events that defy any explanation other than God’s supernatural intervention. From the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) to Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14); from the feeding of the Israelites with manna in the desert for 40 years (Exodus 16:35) to Christ’s feeding five thousand people (Luke 9:12–17); from Elijah being taken to heaven in a “chariot of fire” (2 Kings 2:11) to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Matthew 28); all of these Bible stories present a worldview that clearly includes the supernatural. Much of today’s intellectual elite has no place for such things, but the Bible is permeated with the miraculous.

This has caused some people to ask, “How come we don’t see as many miracles today as there were in Bible times?”

First, we must remember that Bible chronology covers all of human history, from Creation to the second coming of Jesus. The prophecies in the Bible reach to the end of our world—and even beyond. Thus, a huge span of time is compressed into this one Book, which makes it seem to us that the miracles happen one right after the other, when in fact, centuries can pass between them.

Second, the Bible covers only the major events in all this history, especially those events that deal with God’s actions in the lives of His people. And many of those actions did involve the supernatural. But this doesn’t mean that miracles occurred in everyone’s life the way they did in the events depicted in the Bible. In fact, many of those events were recorded precisely because they were miraculous and therefore so unusual.

And third, who says that there aren’t as many miracles today as in Bible times? Christians all over the world still report miracles. Some are outright fraud, as in the case of the evangelist mentioned above. But many Christians can testify to the genuinely miraculous work of God in their lives. Are these people lying? Are they all frauds? Though it’s not always easy to document such cases, for those who hold a Christian worldview, miracles can and do occur. In many instances, a supernatural explanation—a miracle— seems to be the only viable one.

False miracles

Of course, one can take the idea of miracles too far. One evangelist recently said that only a ministry “validated” by miracles could truly be from God. I know of no Bible text to defend such a statement, but it does raise an important question: if a miracle occurs, does it have to be from God?

It’s true that the Bible presents a world in which miracles are real. Christ’s ministry on earth, in particular, was filled with the supernatural, and these miracles helped to convince many that He was the Messiah.

But the devil is also very real, and he can perform miracles as well. After all, he’s a fallen angel, a powerful supernatural being. In fact, the Bible’s first recorded miracle was performed by Satan in Eden. Eve must have been amazed to see a snake talking to her. However, the talking snake turned out to be Satan, who used the “miracle” of a talking snake to deceive Eve.

Here’s how Revelation describes him: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:9, NKJV, italics added).*

The key word in this text is deceive. Satan deceives the whole world, and one way he does that is through miracles. Jesus Himself made it clear that in the last days, supernatural events will lead millions astray. He said, “ ‘For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible’ ” (Matthew 24:24).

The book of Revelation also talks about an evil end-time power and the supernatural manifestations that will accompany it. The second half of chapter 13 describes an innocent looking beast that “had two horns like a lamb.” However, it “spoke like a dragon,” which is a symbol of Satan. Revelation goes on to say that this beast “performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men,” and with these signs, “he deceived the inhabitants of the earth” (verses 11–14).

Though many questions remain about exactly how these manifestations will occur, one point seems clear. Satan is an evil supernatural being who has the ability to do things that appear to be supernatural to us. What makes them false miracles is not that they are mere sleight of hand, though in some cases, they may be. What makes them false miracles is that Satan uses them to deceive people.

Paul also warned that at the very end of time Satan will work through human agents to perform deceptive miracles. “The coming of the lawless one,” he said, “is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders . . . with all unrighteous deception among those who perish” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10, NKJV).

How much more clearly can God say it? Miracles are not necessarily from Him! All of this should cause us to evaluate carefully every event that appears to be supernatural in order to determine whose side the miracle worker is on.

Test the spirits

The important question, then, is this, How can we know whether a miracle is truly from the Lord or from the other side? The good news is that if we surrender our hearts to God and earnestly seek both to know His will and to do it, we don’t have to be deceived. The Bible says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). But how do you test a spirit to determine whether it’s from God or the evil one?

The very best way is to check the teachings of the miracle worker by what the Bible says. If the two don’t line up, then you need to be very cautious about accepting that miracle as a genuine one from God.

Another good question to ask is whether the miracle leads you to serve Jesus as Lord and Savior, in whose righteousness alone you have salvation. Does it tend to lead you to a life of faith and obedience, as revealed in the Bible? If it doesn’t, run away from the miracle and the one who performed it as fast as you can.

Finally, Revelation describes God’s end-time people as those who “obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). If something miraculous happens that doesn’t move you in this direction, it could easily be one of Satan’s lying wonders.

The only true test is the Bible. You must test all experiences, especially supernatural ones, by the Word of God. Isaiah stated this principle more than 2,800 years ago, and it’s as valid today as it was then: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20, NKJV).

* Scriptures quoted from NKJV are from The New King James Version, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

Miracles: The True and the False

by Clifford Goldstein
From the August 2009 Signs