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Chapter 3

HUMAN POWER AND AUTHORITY

            Thus, in summary, the immediate, direct divine miracles have restored faith in the majesty of God’s omnipotence, in His power and authority over a nature that had gone berserk under the curse.  Likewise, in Christ’s miracles human rule over nature was restored.  It is important that we distinguish sharply between these two series of miracles.  In God’s direct, immediate miracles we see the revelation of the majesty of the Lord of Lords, but when Jesus restrains the angry waves of the Sea of Galilee, we witness the Son of Man subduing nature to His will as the King of nature.

            Then there is the unique significance of the miracle of Jesus’ giving His disciples the ability to do likewise and even more, as in His promise to them that they would do even greater things that He did (John 14:12).  The first time we hear about this is when Jesus sent His disciples out in order to announce to the children of Israel the coming of His kingdom.  Matthew tells us that Jesus “gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Mat. 10:1).  The disciples crisscrossed the country and returned to Jesus in holy ecstasy, rejoicing that the spirits submitted to them and that they had been able to perform miracles (Luke 10:17).  It appears that they attached too much significance to this new experience, for Jesus had to warn them not to “rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  This warning clearly implies that the power they displayed during their ministry of healing and miracles belonged to the sphere of this earthly life and that they were to pursue the highest state that was not to be found in this stage of their earthly life, but in the coming state of human glorification. 

We receive further explanation about this miraculous power given to the disciples after Jesus’ descent from the mountain of transfiguration.  Only three of His disciples were present at this wonderful event, while the others were left at the foot of the mountain.  While Jesus and the three were on the mountain, an agonizing father turned to the waiting disciples at the foot of the mountain with his epileptic son.  He begged them to deliver his son from the demon that possessed him.  The disciples tried, but they were not successful.  When Jesus came down from the mountain, the man turned to Him for help and told Him the disciples could not deliver him.  Jesus rebuked the demon and it left the boy.  He reprimanded the disciples with these strange words, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move” (Mat. 17:20).  In the account of Mark, Jesus adds, “This kind can come out only by fasting and prayer” (Mark 9:29).

            There are three clear implications in these words of Jesus. (1) The power of healing given them was not a magical power, but an ability that requires the foundation of faith. (2) This power of faith was to serve as an exercise of the power of the spirit over the power of the material in its demonic substratum. (3) This ability or gift can be developed or improved by means of fasting and prayer.  The gift or ability to perform such miracles was not merely an outflow of divine power for which this gift served as a mere funnel.  Rather, it was an ability or gift that emerged from human nature, though a nature sanctified by faith and strengthened by fasting and prayer.

            We ought not to circumvent the strong statement of Jesus that the disciples would be able to move mountains if they had faith.  Usually people explain this statement moralistically by referring to a “mountain-moving faith.”  What is meant with this explanation is merely that faith will ultimately triumph over all difficulties of life, even if such difficulties appear to us like high mountains.  This explanation does not fit the context.  The story here is about an epileptic boy, possessed by demons, that the disciples tried to deliver but failed.  Jesus located the reason for their failure in their lack of faith.  Over against this lack and subsequent failure, Jesus pointed out which faith and what power of faith was required for them to be able to heal such people and to perform such miracles.  Jesus’ reference to moving mountains is not about a faith that can overcome moral problems, but about one that is able to heal the diseased.  The moralistic interpretation is irrelevant in this context.  The subject here is that of power to perform miracles and of unlimited power over disease.

            Neither is the explanation acceptable that turns “faith like a grain of mustard seed” into an extremely weak faith, one that is in its beginning phase.  True, a grain of mustard seed is a very small seed, but Jesus’ point here is not about a weak, beginning faith.  In no way does Jesus deny that the disciples had faith.  Their faith was proven by the many miracles and healings they already had performed.  Jesus rebuked them because their faith was not strong enough.  That is to say, it was not strong enough to cope with this special kind of demon.  This specific kind was so powerful that it could not be driven out by faith except it was accompanied by fasting and prayer.  Thus the mustard seed is not regarded here in terms of its small size compared to other seeds, but from the point of view of its power, that in such an exceedingly small seed there is a power resident that can turn it into a tree.  It is also this aspect of the power of this small seed that impressed Jesus the most, as in Mat.13:31. There Jesus emphasized that though it is the smallest of seeds, it grows into “the largest of garden plants” and eventually turns into a tree large enough to house birds.  The disciples did have faith, but it lacked power to deal with this special kind of demon.  Like the mustard seed, their faith may have been small, but out of the small faith a power was to be developed so unbelievably strong that it would grow into a tree in which the birds would nest.  The emphasis is on the surprising and unexpected power of the tiny mustard seed, the same surprising and unexpected power to be resident in and to develop out of the small faith of the disciples.  They definitely had faith, but the stem did not shoot up from the seed of their faith with sufficient power.

            When Jesus applied the same thought to the mountain that could be cast into the sea, He was not referring to magical experiments, but to the tiny seed of faith that can develop itself into a mighty power that can withstand all opposition of flesh, material and nature and that can defy the demonic powers hiding behind these.  The gift of Jesus to His disciples to perform miracles was the power of the spirit that was natural to the human race at creation, that was lost through sin, but can be restored through faith.  More even, through faith this power can be enhanced to a higher level.  It is also clear that Jesus directed this ability of theirs first of all to doing away with the effects of the curse.  They would drive out demons and heal the sick.  The spiritual character of the power of their faith was emphasized to such an extent that Jesus, who in all diseases always penetrated to the demonic effects of the curse, ensured that in their spiritual power the holy would triumph over the demonic.

            It will be useful for us to pay attention to the comments of Jesus in John 14:11-12.  There Jesus pointed to His works and invited people to “believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”  He added, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these.”  Here, too, it is clear that Jesus located His own powers to perform miracles within human nature and did not attribute them to His divine nature.  If His miracles derived from His divine nature, it would not have been possible for the disciples to inherit these same powers, for they shared only His human nature.  Jesus did not separate Himself from the disciples, but He chose a terrain where He and His disciples had common ground, He as the Son of Man and they as the children of men.  In this same passage it is also clear that the works the believers were to carry out, would include having spiritual power over nature in order to free the latter from the curse itself and from the demonic activities that are activated by the curse.  This power was to be exercised on basis of the power resident in their faith.

            There is still more to it.  Jesus said that the disciples would have this power BECAUSE He is going to the Father.  As they performed these works and even greater ones, they were doing so in relation to Christ.  They were seen in unity with Christ, as being in Him, as mystically being present in His body, as working out of Him as their Head.  However, this relationship or condition would not be in place till after He had died, risen, gone up to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God.  That is what He meant, when He said, “I will do whatsoever you ask in My Name.”  Again, “You may ask Me for anything in My Name, and I will do it.”  Jesus presented Himself as the source of this power that would operate in His believers and that would inspire them.  He did not say that God would do it, but He, the Son of Man, their Head and Lord, would be active in the members of His spiritual Body. Neither was there any reference to a power or gift over which they themselves would have independent control.  This was a royal-human power that resided in the Son of Man and that would be revealed as it radiated from Him to the believers as members of the spiritual Body.  This was the royal authority of mankind at work, but that, because of the curse upon creation, was lost by the sinful race.  This authority was revived in Jesus as the Son of Man and radiated from Him as Head of the Body, to His believers.

            In all this it becomes convincingly clear how extremely superficial the opinion is that Jesus’ words were intended solely to reveal His divine power.  Such an opinion would not leave room for the fact that the disciples also received this power of miracles, even though they were ordinary human beings.  This opinion would render it totally impossible that the disciples would do even greater works that Jesus Himself.  This whole development makes sense only if you regard the miracles performed by Jesus as done by the Messiah, that is, as done by the One promised by the Father, who came from God and who shared in our human nature.  Furthermore, this development can be appreciated only if you recognize in this Son of Man the restoration and the further elevation of powers that at creation were impressed on the human race by God.  Only when seen in this perspective can you relate the miracles of Jesus with creation itself, with the fall, with the curse and with the penetration of demonic powers into this world.  In this perspective these miracles form an indispensable link in the history of salvation.  Only then can one see the miracles of Jesus in the framework of this history.  And only then can they be shown to have controlled the further development of human domination over the material element of creation, over nature, over the curse and over the demonic powers that operate in and through this curse.

            As soon as the apostles became public witnesses to the Lord, they showed they had the same kind of miraculous power as Jesus.  The first specific apostolic miracle about which we read is the healing of the cripple (Acts 3).  The apostle Peter showed his strong consciousness that the secret of their authority was not in magic, but in their communion with Christ their King. “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” Peter asked the crowd.  “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.”  Faith makes possible the restoration of spiritual power to human nature.  It is not something independent, but is valid only in relationship to the Son of Man.  That faith was operative in this event in both Peter and in the lame man.  This faith that breaks the power of demons and that reconciles us to God through Christ, was given to the apostles and to the lame.  That is why Peter added, “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”  The revelation of the apostles’ miraculous power made such an impression on the people, that they carried all their sick to them wherever the apostles went.

            Although Paul was not among the original disciples of Jesus, after his conversion it soon became clear that this same power was also operative in him.  After all, this power did not depend on the physical presence of Jesus, but it was given by Him and could be developed to its highest level only after His elevation to the right hand of God.  It could radiate from Him fully only as Head of the Body, as the King of the new humanity.  In James 5, we read that the elders would anoint the sick, pray with them and heal them.  This practise was merely the continuation of the practise of Jesus and the apostles.  This power to heal through prayer is available to us even today; it has not been abrogated.

            It is not possible to attribute all these stories of miracles and healing to imagination and deceit.  If these healings of specific persons in specific places had not really taken place, they would have been discredited long ago.  Without having conducted careful research, no one has the authority or right to deny the possibility that this same miraculous power is still available to us today.  Some might reason that, since these miracles are not as common today as they were in that distant past, they did not take place then either.  However, anyone reasoning along that line does not understand the unique character of revelation.  Israel became a nation of God’s people by means of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and the provision of the law at Mount Horeb.  But this does not mean that all people have to have originated in the same way.  In Israel a new faith had to be developed.  Other nations have inherited it from them.

            Even in the developments of nature it is recognized that there are certain climatic events of special importance.  A tree develops from a seed that may go through various stages that never re-occur.  The characteristics of a child are very different from those of an adult, while the adult displays qualities that would be unthinkable in a child.  Similarly, age brings unique qualities to people that are not found among those of middle age.  The same holds true for all historical developments.  All historical developments go through various stages, each with their own peculiarities.  Here, too, there is the parallel of the tree that begins as a seed and ends up bearing fruit.

            As far as revelation is concerned, in its first period the miraculous has a special meaning and function, but it should not be concluded that in the next phase of revelation, that is, its dispersion among the nations, the same phenomena must repeat themselves in the same way.  Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that, according to the Scriptures, seducers and tempters and even the Antichrist himself could perform miracles.  For this reason, it is necessary that whenever we hear reports of miracles, we must pay close attention to the source of power that is said to have performed such miracles.

            There is no reason at all to deny the existence of a spiritual healing power in our present day, provided we keep in mind both the special character of the first historical phase of revelation and the danger of demonic miracles.  We may not deny the possibility that it could please God to perform miracles today or that a power could radiate from faith in Christ to heal the sick.  This statement does not mean that we have simply to accept in good faith all the stories about miracles and healings that we hear about these days.  The facts must be investigated and established objectively.  Gullibility has no place in this context.

            There are two questions on which the whole matter depends.  First, the kind of power that our souls have over our bodies.  Secondly, the kind of power faith can raise in our souls.  The relationship between soul and body is until this day all but clear.  We have earlier pointed to the doubling of muscular strength that may take place in a mentally disturbed person.  Though it may be hidden to us, somewhere within us there is a point where the soul makes contact with our nervous system.  Through that contact point the soul exercises influence on our muscular system.  It is not our body that sees, hears, moves, lifts or drops, but it is the soul that uses the body as its medium.  In the sleepwalker it is the soul that guides the body while the latter is unconscious of it.  Courage has its seat in the soul and it has been shown that courage can perform greater miracles than the most muscular giant.  Joshua and the people of Israel had their spirits lifted seven times by words, “Be strong and of good courage.”  This admonition was given on the assumption of the powerful influence of the soul on the body.  Who then will deny that under certain circumstances the soul has powers to evoke superior strength in the body?  Even medical doctors value the role of the patients’ morale in the healing process more than you may think.  The soul can be subjected to intense cultivation so as to exert healing influence on the body.  This cultivation can be the result of faith that, in turn, can have a special focus on one’s own healing.  Faith in the possibility of one’s own healing can have various sources in the hearts of the sick.  It can be inspired by what they hear from or see in others.  It can originate in the prayer impulse in one’s soul.  Another factor to be considered here is the spiritual influence of one soul on another.  It is possible to approach the soul of another without having physical contact.  Napoleon, for example, inspired his armies from long distances by the mere sound of his name.  Both biology and hypnotism have demonstrated beyond any doubt that one spirit can exert direct influence on another spirit.  Faith on the part of the one spirit can directly evoke faith on the part of the other.

            We do not intend here to trespass on psychology.  Faith in healing always requires faith in Christ as the basis.  This faith that turns the soul or converts it comes only from above.  As Peter expressed it, this kind of healing comes about only in communion with Christ and through His name.  Thus we resist all attempts to declare healing by spiritual power as impossible for our day or as based purely on deceit.  At the same time, we admit that deceit and fabrication are not infrequently used to pretend the possession of healing power.  We also realize that there has never been a lack of unique individuals who possess great biological strength that they have confused with a spiritual consciousness so as to regard themselves as miracle workers and abuse the gullibility of the people for their own glory and to their advantage.

            However, as we shall soon see, it is not to such spiritual healing that we must look for the further development of Christ’s rule over the powers of nature.  For that development we must look elsewhere.

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