Home > New Testament > The Meaning of Jesus’ Miracles

The Meaning of Jesus’ Miracles

Over the years I have heard some really bad sermons on the miracles of Jesus.  To illustrate my frustration let point out two miracles that are often misunderstood and misapplied.  First, Jesus calming the storm is often used to assure the congregation that Jesus is able to calm the storms in their lives (Mark 4:35-5:43).  While that is true (in one sense) that is hardly the point being made in the gospels.  Second, Jesus’ first miracle at Cana when he turns water into wine is often used to assert how drinking alcoholic beverages is permissible, or how Jesus approves of marriages, or even how sons should relate to their mothers (John 2:1-11).  Again, none of these proposals correctly get at the heart of John’s purpose for recording the miracle at Cana.  As I have discussed on several occasions, unless we approach the Scriptures from a redemptive-historical perspective our interpretation and application of the Bible will be seriously skewed.  If the above examples are incorrect conclusions about these two miracles, then what is the correct interpretation?  I will address that below, but first let me make some basic comments about the miracles of Jesus in general.

The miracles of Jesus were not simply displays of might to show how powerful he was, or to simply assert his deity (though that is true).  Rather, his miracles were demonstrations of what the kingdom of God is about.  Miracles of course validated the claims of Christ (Mark 2:1-12), but the miracles of Jesus always served a greater theological purpose.  Jesus’ miracles were freeing people from the curse of the fall, his miracles were demonstrations that the activity and work of Satan was being overthrown (Matt 12:22-32; Mark 5:22-43; Luke 10:1-16; 11:14-28), and his miracles signified the renewal of all things for both the creature and creation.  Jesus began to restore by his miracles God’s kingdom over his creation and began to bring in the time of restoration as promised in the Old Testament.  Two examples from the gospels help demonstrate this point.

1.) Jesus calms the storm, cures the demon possessed man, and heals the sick (Mark 4:35-5:43).  The disciples of Jesus are frantic and afraid.  Jesus calms the storm and announces to them how little faith they possess.  The disciples recognize the authority that Jesus possesses.  However, Jesus is not simply asserting his deity and power over the elements, but with the calming of the storm Jesus shows that through him creation will find its proper restoration (e.g., new heavens and new earth).  In other words, Jesus’ power over the elements demonstrates that with his coming as the promised King with his kingdom, he will even have power over creation, so as to restore it and bring everlasting peace.  Likewise, his cure of the demon possessed man and the healing of the sick demonstrate his authority over the spiritual as well as the physical realms to bring salvation and restoration.  The temporal healing (these people all eventually died) demonstrates that what Jesus did was a foretaste of the greater miracle of renewal in the future age (i.e., the resurrection).  This renewal or redemption is not simply reserved for people, but for all of creation. Creation, too, was marred by sin and despite it being polluted by sin; God will restore his “good” creation one day, just as he will his people (cf., Rom 8:22).

2.) Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12).  Jesus attends a wedding with his mother and disciples.  Jesus is asked to help when the wine runs out.  Jesus responds to his mother by saying that his hour had not yet come.  In other words, his time to bring about the restoration of all things through his death and resurrection has not yet arrived.  However, Jesus still turns the water into wine and that wine is the best wine or new wine.  Jesus turning water into wine is a sign, not simply a work to affirm his deity.  The sign is that of renewal and restoration.  The promise of the Old Testament was that the time of renewal and restoration would be characterized as a time when sweet wine or new wine would flow from the hills (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:14).  Jesus is showing with this miracle a foretaste of the restoration of all things.  At the proper time he will fully manifest his mission and purpose, namely to bring about the renewal of all things and the time of endless abundance.

There are many more miracles from the life of Christ that are misunderstood, but I simply wanted to choose two that are commonly abused in churches today to make a point.  If we do not take upon ourselves the hermeneutic of Scripture, our interpretations will always be provisional and shortsighted.  Unless we understand the theological nature of Christ’s miracles we will have an incomplete picture of him and his redemptive work.

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Categories: New Testament
  1. Kevin Pannebaker
    April 12, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    John 2:11 mentions that Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine was His first “sign.” “He displayed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”

    Not long after, “many trusted His name when they saw the signs He was doing.” (2:23)

    In fact, my Holman Christian Standard Bible says John’s gospel details seven miraculous “signs” that Jesus performed – water into wine; healing an official’s son; healing the sick; feeding 5,000; walking on water; healing a man born blind and raising Lazarus from the dead. Not only that, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.” (20:30)

    What is your take on the meaning of this word “sign” and how it relates to these miracles? Considering this word is seen numerous times throughout the book and is part of the “immediate context,” can’t we (shouldn’t we) draw our cues to the meaning of the miracles from this?

    (This doesn’t mean I disagree with a Biblical or Redemptive-Historical theology/hermeneutic. In actuality, I think it’s right on. I’m just being inquisitive. I hope you can bear with me?)

  2. Chad
    April 13, 2007 at 7:09 am

    Kevin,

    Jesus’ miracles were signs of his glory, power, and majesty; however, those miracles were signs that what was wrong with the world and the hope of God’s people could only be properly restored in Jesus, God’s glorious, majestic, and powerful king. Just as God did mighty acts in the OT and then explained those acts (e.g., the Exodus and the song of Moses), so Jesus did mighty acts (i.e., miracles that are signs) and gave the explanation of those acts. When he feeds the 5000 he tells the crowd he is the true bread from heaven (contra the OT manna). When he raises Lazarus from the dead he declares that in him an individual will live, even though they may die. Even our greatest enemy (death itself, due to the fall) cannot win if we trust in Jesus. Jesus miracles always served a redemptive-historical purpose. Even when Jesus binds the strong man (i.e., Satan, Matt 12) he is declaring that the gospel is going to go to all the nations and the power that Satan once had is now taken away (cf., Matt 28:18-20; Luke 10; Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Jesus miracles are signs of his power to overthrow sin and death that had plauged humanity for all these years. Read the book of Acts and see how miracles were freeing people from the sin and the darkness they lived in. While we are freed already, we await the final consummation when our bodies will be made whole. The final enemy to be defeated is death itself (1 Cor 15).

    I hope that helps some.

    Chad

  3. Kevin Pannebaker
    April 13, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    Works for me! Thanks.

    So if I’m reading/hearing you right, you’re allowing a redemptive-historical approach to the whole of scripture drive your exegesis of individual verses and/or passages so as to avoid misguided or pragmatic attempts to explain the word that result in really bad sermons and misapplied texts.

  4. Chad
    April 13, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Kevin,

    Yes. However, let me add a few comments.

    When I read the Scriptures I see that Jesus interpreted the OT in light of himself. Furthermore, I see the apostles interpret the OT in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is my conviction that we should seek to understand and reproduce that method of exegesis when reading our Bibles (both OT and NT), which is a redemptive-historical perspective. I am not trying to hoist some foreign hermenetic on the Scriptures, I am simply trying to understand and apply the apostles method. This is not an easy task, but takes hardwork in the context of the church. The redemptive-historical method is not random or arbitrary, but it is organic, progressive, and consummative. The redemptive-historical hermeneutic guards against mis-interpretation and mis-application, because it forces us to understand the Bible on its own terms. These terms are defined throughout the biblical plotline and brought to full growth in the New Testament.

    One problem I have with so much preaching is that it takes people 2-3 years to preach through one book of the Bible, which can often lead to mis-understandings and mis-applications of the text. The Bible did not come to us in bits and pieces, but as books; thus, we should understand them as such. I am not suggesting that someone preach through the book of John in one month, but give people the big picture. How does the book fit within redemptive-history? What are the major plot points in John that tie into the OT? What is John’s redemptive or theological message? It is my fear that many preachers miss the forest for the trees and end up trying to strain out every supposed “nugget of truth,” when such truths are really have nothing to do with the text.

    I think a large problem facing churches today is that people simply don’t know their Bibles. No one has ever taught them what the Bible is really about. Its not a manual on parenting or economics or morals, its God’s redemptive-history. Everything (e.g., nations, institutions, people, kings, etc) in the storyline of Scripture serves God’s greater purpose of salvation in Jesus Christ. For example the story of Noah is not there for me to figure out all the geological changes to the earth because of the flood nor is it there for me to live my life like Noah because Noah ultimately failed, but it fits within a larger context that I must understand as I read that story (the tree) in light of the rest of Scripture (the forest) and ultimately Jesus (the goal). Most people have never been taught this stuff and it is very sad. We need to teach people the Bible. We need to show people how to read and put their Bibles together. If we don’t read our Bibles in light of Jesus we will always mis-understand and mis-apply the Scriptures.

    That is probably more than you wanted, but I tend to ramble.

    Chad

  5. Kevin Pannebaker
    April 14, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    No. No. That’s not more than I wanted to know. I actually want to know more! I think you’re on to something really important in how we go about reading and interpreting the scriptures. I mentioned this before…if it’s good enough for Jesus and the apostles, it’s good enough for me!

    Do you have any reading recommendations that would be simple and foundational for a person (me!) in getting a better understanding of the redemptive-historical approach to reading the scriptures?

  6. Chad
    April 15, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the encouragment, but my understanding of these things is only a credit to the men God has used to bring these things to bear. There are many other men from the past and the present who are much wiser and skilled in BT (Vos, Gaffin, Clowney, Kline, Goldsworthy, Carson, Moo, Beale, Dempster, etc, etc.). It is a ongoing process, but a fantastic and exciting one.

    Thanks again for your feedback.

    Chad

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