Jesus said: “These signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17) (Part 6)
(This article is part of a continuing series. The previous article can be found here).
What, if any, limitations did God put upon miracles, according to the Scripture? We noted in the previous article that miracles were certainly limited in that only apostles could confer miraculous gifts to others.
But someone might respond, “If there are still apostles living today, then miraculous gifts could still be exercised and passed on by them.”
The Mormon religion, for example, believes that there are modern-day apostles. If this was the case, then it would seem at least possible for miracles to be both performed and passed on by the laying on of their hands. Could this be true?
There is good evidence that apostolic office did not continue beyond the first century. When Judas hanged himself following his betrayal of Jesus, it was under Divine guidance and prophetic foreknowledge that he was replaced (Acts 1:15-26; cf. Psalm 69:25; Psalm 109:8). However, when James was executed by beheading (Acts 12:1-2), such replacement was not called for. Nor is there any such instruction or record of such happening after Judas.
Further, when this small band of disciples (who later became known as apostles) is mentioned as a unit – even in the interim between Judas’ suicide and replacement – they are referred to as “the twelve” (cf. John 20:24). This was the intended number of apostles, with one exception.
Paul refers to himself as “one born out of due season,” because he had persecuted the church, and had not taken part in the ministry of the Lord from the beginning, apparently a standard qualification (1 Corinthians 15:8-9; cf. Acts 1:17,21).
So we note the following:
1. The miraculous gifts of the early church age were conferred upon the apostles by the Holy Spirit.
2. Afterward, only the apostles could confer this gift upon other disciples (see previous article in this series)
3. Only one apostle was ever replaced, and that, as a matter of fulfillment of Scripture.
4. As the others died, they were not replaced.
5. We do not know how long miraculous gifts resided in those on whom the apostles laid hands, but we know from Philip’s ministry – himself a miracle worker, but who did not pass on such gifts to others (Acts 8) – that those on whom the apostles conferred miraculous gifts were not able to further convey those gifts to others.
Thus, the reasonable conclusion is that once all the apostles died, or at the latest, once all those on whom they had conferred miraculous gifts died, then the miraculous demonstrations of which Jesus spoke, died with them.
If the date of Revelation is late 1st century (A.D. 95-96), in combination with the purpose of miracles we listed in previous articles (to confirm the word), and the limitations we have noted as well, miracles could only have lasted until around A.D. 100, give or take a few years.
But is there any other biblical evidence that the miracles Jesus promised in Mark 16:17-20 ceased long ago? We will tackle two crucial texts in our final article in this series.