Seeking a Miraculous Sign as Validation of the Prophetic

On my charismatic voyage, I have encouraged my readers time and time again to seek a sign as validation of prophetic claims. I don’t consider myself a cessationist in the strict sense. What I mean is that I don’t necessarily believe the Bible teaches that the controversial gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healings ceased in the first century. Now, I would not call myself a “continuationist” (one who believes these gifts have definitely continued) or a “charismatic” (one who believes these gifts have continued, are normative, and is personally seeking them out), but I am not a cessationist. I suppose I could be called a “soft” continuationist. This means that while I believe that there is and has been some legitimate expression of these gifts in the church, I have never personally experienced these gifts and am highly skeptical of individuals who claim to possess them. Skeptical. That is a hard word to use in this context. But I don’t really know of a better word. Maybe “discerning,” but that sounds a little self-serving.

When it comes to the gift of prophecy, I am highly suspicious (another good word) when people claim such a gift. Oh wait . . . I need to get this out of the way: prophecy does not necessarily mean that a prediction of the future is on the table. In fact, it rarely means this in the Bible. Prophecy is simply speaking on behalf of God. No, it does not include preachers. Let me rephrase my early definition: prophecy is speaking directly on behalf of God. In the Bible this normally came through dreams, visions, or direct encounters. Heck, one time prophecy was produced through an ass. No, not that kind of ass . . . a donkey! (Numbers 22:28-30). Today, it is normally expressed this way: “God told me to tell you . . .” “This is what God is saying . . .” Or the most direct (in good ol’ King James English), “Thus sayeth the Lord . . .” But it does not have to be so direct. Prophecy can be claimed in less direct ways such as, “I think this is a message from the Lord for you . . .” Or, “This is what your dream may mean . . .” Here is a good example of a very indirect way to claim prophecy: the other day I was praying with a gentleman who came to me for prayer after a service I preached.  I laid my hand on him (a symbolic gesture that has no inherent power) and prayed. Immediately after we were done, he asked me if my chest hurt in a certain spot that he pointed to on his chest. It was as if he was asking me if I had heart problems. I told him the area did not hurt. He looked confused and asked again, “Are you sure it does not hurt right here?” pointing to the same spot. “Not at all,” I responded with confusion. “Why?” “Well,” he responded, “during our prayer, my chest started hurting right here. When you took your hand off, it stopped.” Now, most people like me would not have any prophetic thoughts about such a situation. The only alarm would be for the one who is actually having the chest pain, not the one who is touching him! But this gentleman, being schooled in more charismatic circles, seemed to think that his chest pain had some transcendent message tied to it. I suppose he thought God was telling him I had heart issues.

Another situation arose this morning when I arrived at the Credo House for work. Hanging on the door was a flier from “Christians Against Nike.” And yes, it was serious. The person behind this organization believes it is his God-given calling to take down Nike. Yes, Nike – the shoe maker. Why? Well, you can read most of it for yourself (, but the confirmation of his “calling” came when he asked God a series of questions and then pointed to the first word he saw in the Bible. Each time he took it as God’s direct message to him. This led him to the mission of taking down Nike. He has been blackballed from many churches in this area.

On and on I could go with anecdotes and illustrations. My point is that people often think God is talking to/through them. A lot of people do. And I am not necessarily saying he is not. Maybe he is speaking through some of them. Whether or not you are a charismatic or non-charismatic is not the issue. However, I will go out on a limb and say I don’t believe most of these stories. I will go further out on a limb and say I think that, for the most part, the bar is set way too low for God’s prophetic word in the church today and there is internal pressure to keep it low.

What do you say when someone says, “I think I have a word from God for you”? What do you say when someone asks, “Are you having pain right here?” What is your process for establishing something as truly being from God? Often times we look only for good or encouraging news – “God told me that you are going to do great things for the Lord” or “Marry Natalie” or “start a church” – and hang our hat on that. But from what I have seen in the Scripture, good news is not necessarily a standard for messages from God (Jer 23:16-17; Acts 11:28).  But we like good news, so we are more likely to want to receive such. Before my sister died, my mother believed she got a “word from the Lord” (as she put it) that my sister was not going to die (she had been mentally sick for a while and had attempted suicide a couple of times). When I encouraged her to be skeptical about the “word” she received from God, she would have none of it. She wanted it to be true so badly that she hung onto it until the day my sister died. My mother remained bitter at the Lord until her aneurysm two years later, believing that he had let her down.

I have suggested some criteria before for establishing a prophetic word. Basically, it comes down to two things, one easy and one not so easy. 1) Mark of orthodoxy.  Whatever is said must square with previously revealed Scripture. I get this from Deut. 13:1-2. This one is relatively simple, as most modern prophets speak to the adiaphora (things that the Scripture is indifferent to or does not speak about such as who God wants you to marry, where he wants you to work, or whether to start this church or that ministry. 2) Mark of transcendence. This one is not so easy. This is where you have to perform some sort of attesting sign. I get this primarily from Deut. 18:21-22. After all, anyone can claim to speak on behalf of God or suppose that they might have a word from God, but how would we know if they are really from God if they are not able to provide evidence that they had borrowed from God? Again, anyone can make the claim to be God’s mouthpiece at will, but not everyone can produce a miracle at will.

In my through-the-year Bible reading today, I came across an instance where Hezekiah, on his deathbed, receives a prophecy from Isaiah that his prayers have been heard and he is going to recover and live a bonus fifteen years. Now, considering the source (Isaiah), I probably would have bitten and put a whole coat rack up here (or I would have just waited a few days to see if I actually got better!). However, Hezekiah wanted more. He said, “What sign will the Lord give to prove that he will heal me?” (2 Kings 20:8).  Isaiah proceeds to give him an attesting miracle demonstrating that he really had been talking to God (2 Kings 20:9-10). It was a pretty good indication that Isaiah was from God. After all, who has the power to move the sun backwards but God! (Or the earth, for those of you who need scientific precision!)

Christ had the same issue. He faced a dilemma after forgiving some poor man’s sins (a definite no-no if you are not God). The Pharisees did not like that he forgave a man’s sins. They called him to account, saying that no one could do that but God (Matt. 9:5). Christ, aware of this, knew he needed a game-changer if he were to legitimize his exercise of an outstandingly divine prerogative. After all, anyone can claim to forgive sins. What you may not know is that this man whose sins had just been forgiven was paralyzed. “So Christ said, ‘For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – then He said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home.’ ” (Mat 9:5-6). And guess what? The man rose and walked. Christ’s words were substantiated. It is easy to say, “Your sins have been forgiven,” just like it is easy to say, “I have a message from God for you.” But Christ was making a point. He was going to substantiate what he said with what he did – an attesting miracle. I could go on and on with examples from other Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles and prophets. The point is that when God sends his message through someone he will always accompany it with a mark of transcendence, so as to establish the prophet, the individual message, or both.

The most common objection I hear to this “you must perform an attesting sign” criteria is based on the passage in Mark where the Pharisees seek a sign and are reprimanded for it:

Mar 8:11-12
And the Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. And sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.

Seems clear enough, right? Hold on. There are four problems with relating this to what I have been speaking about. 1) It is already well established that people are to expect signs to accompany God’s message. 2) John took Christ’s signs as a definite and necessary validation of his claims (John 20:30-31). 3) In other similar passages, Christ says that “no sign will be given to this generation except the sign of his resurrection” (Luke 11:29ff; Matt. 16:4ff), so there was a sign to be given. 4) Because of these things, most commentators agree that the problem was not asking for a sign, but asking for a sign when so many signs had already been given. It has to do with the insatiability of their skepticism, not their request for a sign. R.T. France puts it best:

The concept of a (usually miraculous) sign to authenticate a prophet or other person claiming divine authorisation is a thoroughly biblical and Jewish one (cf. Paul’s comment on the Jewish demand for σημεῖα in 1 Cor. 1:22). Such signs are a prominent feature in the story of Moses (Ex. 4:1–9, 29–31; 7:8–22, etc.), and are clearly intended to be accepted as proof of his divine mission, though it should be noted that not all miraculous ‘signs’ are to be trusted (Ex. 7:11–12, 22; 8:7; Dt. 13:1–3). Elijah’s calling down fire from heaven (1 Ki. 18:38) was a further spectacular example of the sort of authentication the Pharisees may have had in mind; cf. also Is. 7:10–17; 38:7–8. In the NT both Luke (in Acts) and John frequently use σημεῖον in a totally positive sense to denote the miracles of Jesus and of his followers, understood as visible indications of the power of God at work through his chosen servants (though again, as in the OT, ‘signs’ can also be performed by the opposition: Mk. 13:22; 2 Thes. 2:9; Rev. 13:11–15).

So the desire for a σημεῖον [sign]is not in itself self-evidently wrong. By adding πειράζοντες αὐτόν, however, Mark indicates that the request was disingenuous, and thus prepares the way for Jesus’ refusal of what might seem, on the face of it, a reasonable request. Coming from the Pharisees, the request denotes not a readiness to be convinced, but an excuse for refusing to respond to the clear evidence already available in Jesus’ teaching and ministry. (The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, p. 312)

God understands the dilemma that we face. This is why he set up the “system” the way he did. This is why he is so protective of his word, his reputation, and his name. This is why when he speaks, there is a significant footprint made. This is why his messages are accompanied by signs so extraordinary that to deny they are from God would represent the pinnacle of insatiability and irrationalism.

I write this not only to protect the receiver of supposed prophecy, but to protect the “prophets” themselves. I think we can be self-deceived and pressured into finding prophetic messages from the Lord everywhere. If you think you have had a dream, vision, or message from God, honor God by requiring a sign. Don’t play “lucky lotto” Bible study and point to the first word you see to get God’s message. That is no sign or wonder. Anyone can do that. If you are praying for someone and you feel a pain in your chest, go to the doctor – don’t suppose God is telling you something about the one whose hand is on your shoulder. These types of things can totally destroy lives. These types of things bring paranoia, hope where there is none, marriage proposals that ought not be, crusades hell-bent on destroying shoe manufacturers, and (most personally), hope for a life saved when it is not God’s plan. I am not saying that there are no prophets or prophecies today, I am just saying that we have a big God who has set the bar very high for his word. Indeed, so high that no one can possibly meet it, except someone that is truly from God and can say, “pick up this pallet and walk.” Demand such a sign in your life and others’. If none is present, you should never yield your precious beliefs over to such claims. It dishonors God and redirects thoughts and lives for the worse.

12 Responses to “Seeking a Miraculous Sign as Validation of the Prophetic”

  1. I formerly attended Benny Hinn’s church when he was in Orlando. Since the late 80’s, my family was involved in the Word of Faith movement and some of my family still are. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to get out and see the folly of that way of thinking.
    The issues I see with many in that movement are how they view signs and wonders. Many of the leaders of that movement have elaborate testimonies of visions or signs or wonders. One of my former youth pastors was on TBN in the past year speaking of his being taken to heaven and made privy to a conversation between the Father and the Son. (Today, these kinds of testimonies make me sick.)
    However, the first verse that came to mind after hearing this “vision” was the one you stated in your post about the wicked generation seeking a sign. It seems you say this isn’t applicable here.
    I would say that in the Word of Faith movement signs are extremely important to establish your credibility, but I think it’s all wickedness. I think many are in that movement because they are seeking for signs.
    I think of Thomas when he had to see for himself the risen Christ. However, Christ said blessed are those who haven’t seen and yet believe.
    Personally, I’m sick of seeking for signs because for many years I didn’t care about the greatest sign given and that was of the crucified and risen Christ.
    Hopefully, what I’ve said here makes sense.

    One last thing to add: I really appreciate your ministry. It has been a real blessing to me in the past couple of years. Your podcasts are very helpful and relevant.

  2. Thanks Matt.

    I am not saying that people should seeks signs. But that they should seek validation for someone who claims to speak on behalf of God. These signs must go beyond tricks and psychological manipulation. For example, if someone claims to speak on behalf of God and then raises a dead person, we should certainly listen to him (so long as he passes the test of orthodoxy. But if someone claims to speak on behalf of God and ordo ts it will rain tomorrow, this is something different.

    I have been around claims to the prophetic all my life and never seen someone pass this second test. It is not an easy test to pass.

  3. Agreed. Passing the test of orthodoxy is key. Even the magicians in Egypt turned their sticks into snakes, but obviously they weren’t from God.

    Thanks for your reply,

  4. Makes me think of angels. Angels are real. But this culture has more of a fascination with angels and their mysteries and powers than the mysteries and power of God. It appears that what we get from God, all the givens, the sacrifices just aren’t enough. I am guarded about these things because I have a fear of them leading me away from the legacy Christ has entrusted to me. I consider them a distraction. I don’t want my ears tickled. My gut tells me to not go there. That’s good theology, right?

  5. Setting aside for the moment the virtual parade of straw-dogs set up only to be shot to pieces by your merciless BB-gun of doctrinal mastery, here’s an assertion I MUST take issue with: “This is why his messages are accompanied by signs so extraordinary that to deny that it is from God would represent the pinnacle of insatiability and irrationalism.”

    Uh, ever heard of the parting of the Red Sea and its aftermath? The countless instances of deliverance, given by God, to Israel over her enemies, only to be forgotten for sake of idolatry galore? And her sister, “Kitty”?

    (Oh, and here’s my flavor-flavio favorite) – the Prince of peace. Our Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting Father & Almighty God Himself (after seemingly endless appearances that included “signs so extraordinary that to deny that it [was] from God would[‘ve] represent[ed] {some big words & such-like}” kept His date w/ a crucifixion that was not only accompanied by irrationalism (sic) but HAD to include the derision, mocking and literal forsaking of the benefactors of his marvelous miraculousness – His disciples playing the staring role(s) in that motley crew heretofore known as, “humanity”.

    Sorry, but this is one of those rare (okay, it happens every stanka-dankin day round here) instances when ALL parties are guilty. God didn’t/doesn’t work miracles on earth – then or now – for benefit of proving ANYTHING to anyone. He did/does them because His sheep enjoy it and He takes pleasure in sharing his joy w/ them.

    A miracle never “saved” anyone who didn’t already have a heart claimed by their Saviour. Not sure of that? Check the loaves & fishes story – not sure which one, just read the Book, you’ll find it.

    Oops, almost forgot – Greetings, Earthlings!~ have a nice hat :)

  6. I am a Pentecostal (A/G) minister, and inclined to agree with much of what you wrote. The bar for prophecy is often set too low, and I cringe whenever I hear someone prophesy regarding someone else’s healing, for example. That said, I firmly believe in the gift of prophecy, and I have experienced it and seen it used biblically.

    I would say one of the greatest blessings of prophecy is listed in 1 Cor. 14:24-25: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

    Prophecy is a blessing when God uses it to confirm or reveal what He is already doing in someone’s heart, and of course, it must line up with Scripture.

  7. Michael, what you are doing is good. For a really long time the teachers in the church have led the people in a collective cry of “I have no need of you” toward the prophets. As a teacher, you are striving to bring correction and balance here. So good on you.

    Let me put in a good word though for the Lord speaking through subjective pain in one’s body as an indication to pray for someone’s healing. This is not uncommon and it does “work.” It doesn’t bring “paranoia,” much less “destroy lives.” (Tad melodramatic ??!!) It isn’t telling someone “you have a heart condition,” but pointing out who to pray for. The person already knows they hurt somewhere. YOU know you DON’T. But all of a sudden you do. Then you ask. Then you find. And it is so sweet when you find the person and pray for them.

    Sure, if you do it like a jerk you can cause problems. But one can cause problems evangelizing, teaching, or blogging like a jerk.

    So just encouragement to keep at it.

    BTW, what would qualify as a “sign” for you? We had an interesting one the other day. Seemed pretty sign-y to me, but maybe not everyone would agree.

  8. Michael,

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart on these matters. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts as well as listening to your podcasts.

    If validation of prophecy by signs and wonders was the norm in the early church, you would think we would find it talked about in various places in the NT. 1 John 4:1-3 is one place where I would think it would have been mentioned but it’s not – although it does seem to promote the “Mark of Orthodoxy”.

    I agree Scripture is infallible but not man’s interpretation of it. Peter has a vision to eat unclean animals (Acts 10:11-16). That seemed unorthodox at the time. Salvation of the Gentiles was unorthodox too.

    I hear many say God was silent from Malachi to John the Baptist but then what is the prophetess Anna doing in Luke 2:36? Why aren’t they writing down everything she says and turning it into Scripture. What is Simeon doing in Luke? Why don’t Mary and Joseph ask him for a sign to validate his prophecy about Jesus?

    I suspect that there is a difference between NT prophecy and the “Word of the Lord”. It’s interesting that NT prophecy is never referred to as the “Word of the Lord” like it does in the OT. What is referred to as the “Word of the Lord” is the Gospel message (Acts 13:49). It might even be argued that NT prophecy bears witness to the “Word of the Lord” (Hebrews 2:4).

    As far as testing prophecy, I think Paul offers interesting advice in 2 Corinthians. He seemed to be dealing with people who wanted him to validate himself:

    “since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.” – 2 Corinthians 13:3

    He responds by saying:

    “Test your own selves, whether you are in the faith. Test your own selves. Or don’t you know as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you are disqualified.” 2 Corinthians 13:5

    I very much appreciate you articulating your thoughts on the matter,…

  9. I am a recently-converted, reluctant unbeliever. One of the unfortunate planks of my unbelief is such credulity as you describe in this article. Even in a skeptical age, it is easy for many to convince themselves they’ve heard from the Lord. In the first century and the centuries before, belief in omens and many superstitions was near universal. It is not hard to imagine that many people could be convinced by an internal “word from the Lord” to alter their story or spice it up with the miraculous to make it more convincing. I can imagine bishops compromising on the makeup of the canon to preserve the unity of the church because they privately “felt the prompting of the Spirit.” (This is one interpretation of why (if memory serves me correctly) Hebrews was Pauline in Carthage, under the authority of Augustine.) One can even imagine people giving prophcies and or writing them down, being sure that these are words of the Lord.

    Even the type of miraculous intervention mentioned in the post is not a perfect defense against this folly. The number of false faith-healers testifies that it may not be as hard as one would otherwise think to get someone credibly “rise and walk.” If it doesn’t work 99% of the time and 100 people try it, odds are one of them will have success. A shyster, of course, will have 100% success rates.

  10. Whilst I certainly appreciate your caution, I’m not sure I agree with your Biblical analysis – I find too many exceptions to make this a rule. I can find no indication that John the Baptist performed any miraculous signs. Nor, for that matter, Agabus, one of the other New Testament characters who is described as a ‘prophet’. Paul seems to distinctly separate the “gift of prophecy” from the “gift of miracles”. Even the first verse you mention from Deuteronomy does not ascribe miracles to the prophet, merely the wisdom to wait and see if his prophecies come true.

    RC Sproul is a great advocate of the miracles==proof of a ‘bona fide agent of revelation’, but he is very much a hard cessationist. I find this view somewhat contradictory to Matthew 7:21-23 that seems to advise that not only are there false prophets, but also false workers of miracles, which, contrary to what Sproul advises, makes me think that the working of miracles cannot be the bottom line when it comes to identifying “agents of revelation”.

  11. First of all, thanks for all you (and the rest of your team at Credo House) do for the Church. I glean a great deal from your writings & videos as does our church (we use all boot camp & basic doctrine videos for foundation studies).

    I am a leader in a church that would be labeled Charismatic but we are ardent about scriptural honesty and integrity. It doesn’t mean we’ve always been. I, myself, have fallen into the hyper-charismatic ditch alongside the path of grace. I’ve seen countless “prophecies” that have borne the fruit of their ungodly origin… best… the well intended human imagination… worst… prideful self-promotion. But I’ve also shared in study group in the OTHER ditch; People so pridefully cessationist that they would deny the relationship of sincere believers based on their beliefs in the gifts and flagrantly sow discord. These were like white washed tombs… they acted the part but out from their mouths came pride, hateful speech, condemnation, division and mockery.

    From someone whose shared in both errors… thank you for the way you present your thoughts on these topics.

    My question is regarding a sign that validates the Godly origin of a prophetic message. What if it is a message from God to me? In essence my intellectual ability to interpret the message… be it words, dream or vision… would, in some degree be the prophetic messenger. Do I ask God for a sign before I believe and follow a prophetic directive? Gideon did this (Judges 6) but Paul did not (Acts 16). Paul immediately, after seeing the “vision of the night” of the Macedonian man responded in obedience. Some argue that the distinction is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    It would be of great value to me to hear your thoughts.

  12. This is a very good topic. Mike you brought up very good points and explanations. Being charismatic and around pentacostal churches for 30 + years, prophecy is a very valuable gift from God to be utilized correctly in the church. God can use different spiritual avenues to bring the message to an individual or group and that His by his plan not ours. The point is here that prophecy in the Old Testament is not necessarily done in the same manner for the current believer because now Christ is in us. God desires to speak to us and then he brings assistance to establish His plan and purposes. I will just say this…It has been my experience that God has already revealed to me personally what would be mentioned by the one who prophecies…. if not, I don’t do anything with that prophetic word or acknowledgement. And I don’t go around yelling”false prophet, false prophet” either because they may NOT be. I act Godly about it and wait on God to answer me because it is on a personal level most times. Everything needs to be tested. So I don’t get my panties out of wack if I may say that phrase seeing God used an ass to get his point across. We all need to be taught how to handle prophecy if it is occurring your local church. All things should be done in a Godly perspective.

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