To assume that everything spiritual or supernatural is therefore good and wrought of God is a common and most grievous mistake. We live in a time when many alleged miracles are displayed out of season and supported by Scriptures misapplied to times and conditions where they do not belong. This is a means by which the Adversary seeks to misrepresent the truth and subvert the faith of many. In our day he often fares much better than he did on that notable occasion when he confronted our Lord with a Scripture accurately quoted but misapplied: "Cast Thyself down from hence, for it is written, 'He shall give His angels charge over Thee to keep Thee'" (Luke 4:9-10). Satan had dared our Lord to prematurely appropriate a Scripture out of season, but this evil attempt of the Adversary was parried with another Scripture correctly applied: "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
Another frequent mistake is to assume that the Adversary would be using only evil means to serve His evil purpose, so on that assumption he would not be using and proclaiming the Word of God, yet we are well forewarned that he transforms himself to appear as a messenger of light and for this he misuses the Scriptures. Our Lord reminds us that "from the beginning" Satan abode not in the truth ...for he is a liar" (John 8:44): yet the most deadly of his lies are disguised as if they were truth by a misuse of the sacred Word; and the present misuse of Scripture is often some truth pertaining to a previous time which in a future era will be truth again, but for now it becomes the worst of error.
Today the practice of supernatural signs or miracles out of season is often mistaken as if these were wrought of God. Satan is well able to deceive the unsuspecting through victims he himself has first deceived, yet for those of us who are aware of this there is need for caution lest we condemn ourselves by misjudging some who are not themselves the source of the evil which they serve. Unless one is very careful, there is a tendency to mistake the victim as if he were the principal back of the scenes. We are reminded that our warfare is not with the victim, not "with blood and flesh but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials" (Eph. 6:12 CLNT). Thus Paul entreats us also that we "must not be fighting, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, bearing with evil, with meekness training those who are antagonizing, seeing whether God may be giving them repentance to come into a realization of the truth ... sobering up out of the trap of the Adversary, having been caught alive by him, for that one's will"(II Tim. 2:25,26).
An ingenious mode of deception employed by the Adversary nowadays is to associate his own misuse of Scripture with vigorous campaigns against many present prevailing evils, including much that the Word of God itself condemns. Many have assumed mistakenly that Satan is always opposed to good and disposed to evil as if he takes delight in wars, Violence, Vice, poverty, drugs and disease. While such evils are the fruitage of his own original lie, we should also remember he is the god of this wicked eon (II Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4) wherein he has a limited lease of spiritual power, so we may scarcely assume that he enjoys seeing his dominion in peril of falling apart. He will in fact yet succeed, though only for some temporary time, to display a deceiving likeness of "peace and security" (I Thess. 5.3) shortly before he is to be restrained for a thousand years.
The stratagems of the Adversary are so resourceful and subtle that we of ourselves could not even begin to cope with them, nor could we so much as faintly foresee by what means he will next go about to deceive. This may be why the record of some of his former exploits is preserved in Scripture so that we may learn from these how he may operate in other devious yet similar ways at the present time and in days to come.
In Egypt at the time of Moses the Adversary enabled the magicians of Pharaoh to duplicate some of the supernatural signs whereby Jehovah displayed His own power through Moses and Aaron. When Aaron had cast his rod upon the ground and it became a serpent, the magicians did likewise and their rods, became serpents too, but we read that "Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods," showing that whatever temporary evil God permits for some good and wise purpose of His own He is well able to restrain when that purpose is served. We learn from this also that Satan is endued with much power to deceive by supernatural means through human agencies disguised as if they were commissioned of God. Later when Moses was told how he and Aaron should use the same rod as before, now to signify that the waters of Egypt would be turned into blood, this also came to pass and the magicians of Egypt did likewise. They succeeded even in duplicating a further plague when God had signified through Moses and Aaron that the land would be molested with frogs, but afterward the magicians were unable to duplicate any of the following plagues which God continued to inflict on Egypt through Moses and Aaron.
Now when Paul informs us that the names of Pharaoh's magicians were Jannes and Jambres, he indicates also that what they did in Egypt is closely analogous to methods employed by other deceivers from apostolic days onward, for the purpose, as he said, of "withstanding the truth" (II Tim. 3.8). Yet today Satan employs even bolder means than those he used through Jannes and Jambres, for now he is apparently aware that God foregoes the use of supernatural signs in this present era while we are to walk by faith, "not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7). This affords the Adversary a rare opportunity to deceive by displaying supernatural signs out of season, exhibiting these to unsuspecting eyes as if they were powers wrought of God. Since these are things a true exponent of the Word would not be doing now, it serves to discredit that which is true and authenticate that which is false. Here is where many fail to heed Paul's serious warning that Satan operates through human mediums "with all power and signs and false miracles, and with every seduction of injustice" (II Thess. 2:8-10). Many therefore are "deceiving and being deceived" (II Tim. 3:13). Some can be so unwittingly persuaded by such apparent wonders as to suddenly forget our Lord's solemn warning when His disciples had asked for a sign of His future presence. "Beware" He began, "Beware that no one should be deceiving you for many shall coming in my name....false Christs and false prophets, and they shall be giving great signs and miracles to deceive, if possible, even the chosen" (Matt. 24: 4,5,23,24).
In the person of Balaam—a prophet outside of Israel—the Adversary found a convenient medium through which to work his evil designs, for although Balaam prophesied exactly as he was commanded of God, purely in accord with the Word of God, what he DID afterward was exactly as he was persuaded of Satan in causing Israel to stumble and disobey. We read that he "loved the wages of unrighteousness" (II Pet. 2:15-16), and such wages today are not necessarily those of monetary gain; they can be also some spiritual reward, more subtle and deceiving (Numbers 22,23,24,25; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14).
Since Elijah was to typify a special preparatory work of God just before our Lord returns to Israel (Mal. 4:5), the false prophets of Baal in his day did not prevail as they do on other occasions. They prayed in vain for their god to consume the bullock they had offered on the altar, but when Elijah had offered his own bullock and prayed to the God of Israel, that offering was suddenly consumed by fire from heaven (I Kings 18:25-39). Yet Satan is not always so easily defeated. What the evil prophets of Baal in Elijah's day were unable to do, a future false prophet will do with vengeance ...to all the world's amazement and delight. He will bring down fire from heaven in the sight of men and he will work miracles of dazzling deception (Rev. 13:13,14; 19:20). Some future king represented by one of the seven heads on the beast (Rev. 13:3) will be wounded as it were to death. We are told his deadly wound will be healed, which is only one of many miracles Satan will perform through human mediums in days to come. Whether that stated "wound" will be fatal or not and whether the healing will be true or false, the important fact remains that all the world will believe it and will be deceived as if it were a miracle wrought of God, for we read, "All the world wondered after the beast" (Rev. 13:3, 19:20).
The saints of Israel in that day are well forewarned of such deceptions, but even some among them are to be deceived. Today we are alerted to a different and closely related peril. We are cautioned by Paul that there will be signs and miracles to designed to deceive us also; especially if our interest in a former quiet study of the Word begins to wane and we are attracted to a wider fellowship of strange manifestations and popular appeal. "The era will be," Paul said, "when they will not tolerate sound teaching but, their hearing being tickled, they will heap for themselves teachers in accord with their own desires....turning their hearing away from the truth, yet they will be turned to myths." (II Tim. 4:3,4).
In this era we walk by faith, not by sight; and we, like Paul, should observe that it is better to be "glorying in infirmities" rather than to glory in miracles, whether such be real or false: or, in supernatural signs like a gift of "tongues". These had their appropriate place at Pentecost and briefly thereafter, until the Word of God for this present era had been completed by Paul (Col. 1:25). Peter was inspired to reveal that such phenomena as occurred at Pentecost will reappear in "the last days" when Joel's prophecy is to be fulfilled; thus after God restores His covenant blessings to Israel but NOT TODAY. "This is that, Peter said, "which was spoken by the prophet Joel and it shall come to pass in the last days." Quite plainly there, Peter did not say that "the last days" began at Pentecost but such supernatural signs as occurred then were LIKE UNTO some which will yet appear when Joel's prophecy is to be fulfilled in prophetic "last days" after God's favor returns to Israel. To us it should be obvious that Peter would have had no occasion for alluding to Joel's prophecy if such temporary signs as appeared at Pentecost had been divinely appointed to remain and operate from then on throughout the Christian era. In the light of Peter's speech, the signs at Pentecost were only a likeness to such signs as will yet appear at the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy which Peter clearly assigned to "the last days." Neither Joel nor any other Hebrew prophecy can have any fulfilment now until after this present Christian era expires. When Joel's prophecy is to be fulfilled in "the last days," as Peter called them, the signs of that time will be completely new to the generation of Israel then living; even more amazing than were those which appeared to Jewish descendants at Pentecost.
If we now fail to observe a clear distinction between the present era for the calling of those who will constitute the body of Christ (a time therefore when spiritual blessings alone would predominate) in contrast to the future era of Israel's renascence when earthly as well as spiritual blessings will be normal, one consequence of that is inevitable ...the enemy will NOT fail to observe that vitally important distinction! Foreseeing that true signs and miracles will be in season for the forthcoming era of Israel's renascence, the enemy seeks now in advance to counterfeit these; to discredit what will be true later by a previous display of that which is false!
There are of course quite different reasons why God may answer the prayer of faith even now by the healing of some physical infirmity, though not for the same reason as in apostolic days when miracles were sometimes performed to serve as "the signs of an apostle" (II Cor. 12:12). Today there are NEITHER apostles nor prophets. Now the prayer of faith will be tendered only in deference to God's will and wisdom, always subject to some purpose of His own which is often unknown to us. Scripture indicates also that each one of us has an appointed time, known to God but not to us, and no wish or petition of ours should presume to improve on God's infinite wisdom. Paul himself prayed thrice for the healing of some unnamed personal infirmity and he yielded in faith-obedience to the only answer he received, "Sufficient for you is My grace, for My power in infirmity is being perfected" (II Cor. 12:8-9).
These are critical times when we should be "reclaiming the era for the days are wicked" (Eph. 5:16) and that may involve the necessary risk of offending even our dearest friends if any such have been enticed by supernatural signs displayed out of season. Even then we are well admonished "not to be fighting, but with meekness training those who are antagonizing, seeing whether God may be giving them repentance to be sobering up out of the trap of the Adversery, having been caught alive by him for that one's will." The vital words there would appear to be "caught alive." Undoubtedly the Adversary is less concerned now with deceiving the world at large than he is in deceiving the chosen. Only they who have passed from death unto life; only they can be "caught alive" (II Tim. 2:26).
Since many deceptions are often promoted in the name of some certain "Jesus," we recall that in Paul's day he warned those at Corinth about someone who had appeared there after his own visit; and that one was heralding what Paul called "another Jesus" unlike the One he himself had proclaimed. He said such were false apostles, deceitful workers, and ministers of Satan who had transformed himself as a messenger of light (II Cor. 11:1-15). We are not to presume that the saints at Corinth were deceived by someone who would plainly admit he was heralding "another Jesus" unlike the One Paul had proclaimed. We are to remember it was PAUL who warned them they were being deceived. The deceiver himself would scarcely divulge that he was heralding ANOTHER Jesus. He would have had little or no success in persuading true believers if his message had been totally false. More conceivably it did contain much truth, though mingled with error, and we are reminded that "A little leaven is leavening the whole kneading" (I Cor. 5:7).
Among the saints at Corinth some were spiritually immature. These were such as Paul said he had nourished with milk, not with solid food (I Cor. 3:2); yet he had betrothed them all as a pure virgin to Christ (II Cor. 11:2,3). It was especially because of those immature ones that he said he feared the "serpent" would deceive them by similar means as when he beguiled Eve with a cunning mixture of truth and falsehood. In that day there was a valid and useful purpose for oral revelations of truths not yet written; also a temporary use for the gift of tongues. Of those two Paul said the gift of prophecy was greater than the gift of tongues, but both were to be discarded when the written Word of God would be completed. "Tongues," he said, would "cease" (I Cor. 13:8).
Here is where many go astray by assuming there is still some valid need for a gift of tongues for the benefit of many believers who now, as in Paul's day, are yet immature. Though he referred to these in the same context where he said that tongues would cease, we must not infer from this, as some mistakenly may, that "tongues" were to remain throughout the Christian era as a means whereby immature believers were to become mature. Paul said definitely that tongues were to "cease;" then by comparing that earlier revelation in Corinthians with his subsequent revelation in Ephesians, it becomes manifest they had ceased already in Paul's own lifetime; as soon as the present written Word had been completed (Col. 1:25).
That is something which especially every new reader should verify from Scripture by comparing Paul's former revelation in Corinthians with his subsequent revelation in Ephesians, written years later from the Roman prison. In I Cor. 12:28-29 he named all the various gifts which were useful and needful at that earlier time and he also placed these in the order of their importance, beginning with apostles. Second to these, he said, were the prophets of that day and then the teachers. These were followed by other gifts which we shall NOT find any longer in his subsequent revelation. At that earlier time when Paul wrote Corinthians the gifts did include oral prophecy and, last of all, the gift of "tongues."
Then as we turn to Paul's subsequent revelation in Ephesians 4:11-13, written years later in the Roman prison, where he mentioned the gifts which remained at that later day, we find there were five of these, including only the first three which had been named in Corinthians and two not mentioned before at all. There in Ephesians we sse first the apostles and prophets, then evangelists, pastors and teachers; but otherwise none of the gifts remained which appear in Paul's earlier revelation of Corinthians, neither oral prophecies nor the gift of tongues nor any others. Seeing also that Scripture recognizes no successors either to apostles or prophets, this ultimately left no remaining gifts other than evangelists, pastors and teachers; and none of those were commissioned to receive or proclaim nay other revelations than the written Word of God itself contains; no assumed private revelations; rather, as Paul instructed Timothy: "Do the work of an evangelist" and "Herald the Word."
In the same passage of Ephesians where Paul confirms the gifts which now remain, he shows also that these and these alone are by themselves entirely sufficient for the spiritual development of all believers in this present era. These gifts alone are declared "for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, unto the end that we should ALL attain to the unity of the faith...to a mature man, the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ, and that we by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about in every wind of teaching" (Eph. 4:12-14 CLNT).
This, of course, is not new to many of our present readers but hopefully it is they who will join with us in reminding others that the gift of tongues was caused to "cease" as long ago as in Paul's day, so now there is no longer any valid use for the revival of supernatural powers during the remainder of this present era while we are to walk by fanh and not by sight. Unlike the Lord's supper, Paul said the gift of tongues would cease and it did cease. The Lord's supper, he said, would continue "until He should be coming" (I Cor. 11:26) and so it will. Comparing either of those with the other, there is no equivocation as to that which would cease and that which would remain. If oral prophecies or "tongues" had been permitted to remain as valid gifts, equal to the authority of Scripture, it is obvious by now that ingenious imitations could be imposed on us and we would be vulnerable to many deceptions.
Our first concern now is an urgent appeal to all who have not yet sought or accepted any present allurement by which some have been persuaded to seek a gift of tongues or some other supernatural power. To them we would earnestly entreat, that they may consider this well: Ever since the apostles fell asleep, the saints of many centuries—reformers and martyrs included—have lived and died in the faith of Christ, never seeking or desiring any further revelation apart from the sacred Word itself. Thus we would plead with such of you—be content with that alone and, as Paul said, "Study to be quiet" (I Thess. 4:11).
Our further concern is for certain others; some who already have resorted to a quest for strange and untimely revelations, even teachers who long may have loved the Lord as they still may well intend to do. To all such we sincerely appeal: May you pause to reflect and reconsider if you are not seeking to appropriate what belongs to Israel in a future era but is not for present-day saints; thus building with materials that will have to be burned; wood, hay and straw rather than gold, silver and precious stones (I Cor. 3:12,13). Paul reminds us that we should "look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen;" not at temporary things but those which endure for the eons and beyond. Any present pursuit of "things which are seen" is not in accord with Scripture rightly divided.
Melvin E. Johnson (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Five, June 1972)