NextLevel Online: Miracles

Session 3: Jesus' Miracles and Miracles in the Ancient World (OT and Greco-Roman)

We are soon to look at the actual Gospel material concerning the miracles of Jesus. But in this third lesson, I want us to consider the historical backdrop to those miracles.


Classroom Instructions

Materials: Lesson Outline
  • We are soon to look at the actual Gospel material concerning the miracles of Jesus. But in this third lesson, I want us to consider the historical backdrop to those miracles.

  • If we are to understand the miracles of Jesus we will need to see them in concert with the miracles of the OT and in contrast with the miracles in the Greco-Roman world of which he was a part.

  • The Miracles of the OT and Jesus’ Continuity with Those:

    • The OT has many more “nature” miracles than the NT:

      • Exo. 3:2—Bush that wouldn’t burn up.
      • Exo. 4:3-4—Rod that became a serpent.
      • Exo. 7:17—Nile River turning to blood.
      • Exo. 16:4-6—Manna from heaven.
      • 1 Ki. 18:33-38—Elijah and fire from heaven on altar.
      • 2 Ki. 20:8-11—Hezekiah’s shadow goes back to steps.
    • But the Gospels have enough “nature” miracles to undergird that Jesus is like the God of the OT who walks on the seas and rains down blessings on high.

    • Another thing about OT miracles is that they can’t be imitated (Exo. 8:16-19). The magicians were able to imitate some of Moses’ miracles. But when they got to the gnats Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. 3:8) couldn’t do it. There comes a point when the power of heaven can’t be matched. In the Gospels, we read that things like, “Nothing in Israel like this had been seen.”

    • Finally one more thing about OT miracles. The heaviest concentration of them was in the ministries of Moses (32) and Elijah/Elisha (23). In fact, Exo. 34:10 and Judg. 6:13 underline this—even in the OT. The significance of this is that Jesus is the New Moses, and he comes as “The Prophet.”

    • So…most of the miracles in the OT were over nature, came to the aid of people, or showed the power of God over the other powers. Jesus’ miracles are right in sync with those ideas.

  • The Miracles of Jesus in Contrast with the Miracles in the Greco-Roman World:

    • It may sound odd but Jesus admits that miracles exist outside of his own ministry: Matt. 12:27, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?” And the only event in the Gospels that features John by himself (Mk. 9:38-41), Jesus seems to endorse the man who is casting out demons but not following Jesus as being “for Jesus.”
  • So...Jesus acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is at work in universal ways.

  • However, does this mean that Jesus endorses every miraculous claim in the ancient world? Every incantation? Every exorcism? Every supposed healing or miracle?

  • Well, hardly. The miracles of Jesus stand in contrast to most of the miraculous claims in the ancient world. Wendy Cotter has traced these supposed miracles in her book, Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity. When you read these accounts and compare them to the Gospel miracles you note the following contrasts:

    • Absence of salvation language.
    • Length.
    • Context of dreams.
    • Incantations (formulas).
    • Weird offerings.
    • Cosmic phenomena.
    • Language approaches poetry.
    • Weird antics—e.g. stomping on spleen.
    • Disposition of narrator as opposed to theological bent of the biblical writer.
    • No distinction of good and evil. Moral factor seems absent.
    • Some apocalyptic language.
    • More creation examples are reserved for biblical ones.
  • Probably one huge exception is the Roman writer, Philostratus, as he tells the story of Appolonius of Tyana. Philostratus lived (170-244). He told of Appolonius who lived in Cappadocia during the early Christian era. He supposed raised the dead, healed the sick, and ascended bodily into heaven. He was also a bit of a nonconformist. There is an account of him raising a boy from the dead that is a dead ringer for Lk. 7 (widow’s boy at Nain). But there are huge differences, too:

    • Lack of consensus on important events.
    • Characterized by polytheism and deception.
    • Believed in the transmigration of the soul.
    • Devoted to philosophy.
    • Involved in politics.
    • Hated enemies.
  • Jesus, on the other hand, was characterized by monotheism, innocence of wrong-doing, emphasis on the new birth, devotion to Scripture, aloofness from political intrigue, belief in eternal life for the whole person, love for enemies, sacrificial death, and the founding of the church.

  • Fortunately, skepticism was alive and well in Jesus’ day, too. So other healers got the same critique that Jesus got, and we can compare the two. Jesus’ miracles have continuity to the OT but stand in contrast to many of the miracles in the ancient world.

  • Next we will turn to the terminology and purposes of Jesus’ miracles. Recognizing those varied terms and purposes should equip us for seeing the miracles as acts of war against the enemy.

About NextLevel Online

The vision of Ozark Christian College is to glorify God by evangelizing the lost and edifying Christians worldwide. The mission of Ozark Christian College is to train men and women for Christian service as a degree-granting institution of biblical higher education.