By Irvin Himmel
That is what Jesus told the apostles. Jesus does not lie. Two preachers drank deadly poison in Tennessee and became fatalities. They misapplied the words of Jesus and went to their graves. Moral of the story: It is serious business to tamper with the word of the Lord!
In the interval between the resurrection and the ascension, Jesus appeared to the eleven (Judas had committed suicide and Matthias was yet to be chosen), upbraiding them for their unbelief and hardness of heart. They had discredited Mary Magdalene’s report that she had seen the Lord alive (Mk. 16:9-11). They viewed the earlier report of certain women who saw and heard an angel at the empty tomb as if their words were idle tales (Lk. 24: 1-11). They believed not the report of the two disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Mk. 10: 12-13). The apostles did not expect Jesus to arise, their doubts reflected their disappointment resulting from his death, and he strongly rebuked them for failing to accept the reports of reliable witnesses.
Jesus told the apostles to go and preach the gospel to every creature, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This is what we popularly call the Great Commission.
“And these signs shall follow them that believe,” said Jesus. Please observe the following: (1) Jesus did not say that each believer would be able to perform these signs. (2) He (lid not say that these signs would be to test the faith of believers. (3) He did not promise that signs would be performed as long as people believed and being baptized. He merely announced that these signs would accompany the believers.
1. “In my name shall they cast out devils.” The devil was allowed the power to put demons into the bodies of people in the apostolic age. Just as Jesus had cast out demons (Mk. 15: 120; Matt. 12:20-30), Paul expelled evil spirits at Ephesus (Acts 19: 12) and a spirit of divination at Philippi (Acts 16:16-18).
2. “They shall speak with new tongues.” A tongue is a language (Dan. 1: 4; Acts 21: 40). Any language which one has not been taught is to him a new tongue. On Pentecost the apostles spoke with “other tongues” (languages to which they were unaccustomed) “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Their speaking was intelligible to the multitudes from various nations (Acts 2:4-6).
3. “They shall take up serpents.” Paul was accidentally bitten by a viper while picking tip sticks on the island of Melita (Acts 28:1-6). He shook off the beast into the fire and felt no harm.
4. “And if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” The New Testament gives no example of this particular sign.
5. “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” The apostles healed sick people in Jerusalem (Acts 5:12-16). Peter even raised Dorcas to life after she was sick and had died (Acts 9:36-42). Paul worked similar miracles of healing (Acts 19:11-12).
The last verse of Mark 16 says, “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” Clearly, the signs which followed the believers were for the confirmation of the word. Once the word was duty confirmed and that verification recorded, such signs would (-ease to be needed. Paul taught in 1 Cor. 13:8-10 that miraculous endowments would be done away when “that which is perfect” came. Today, we have the perfect (complete) revelation of God’s will in the New Testament writings, including the documented signs that confirm the gospel. It is foolish to demand a miracle to confirm what was verified by signs and wonders in the apostolic age.
A Recent Incident
The Tampa Tribune of April 10, 1973 carried a news story about two preachers of a “Holiness” sect in Newport, Tenn., who drank strychnine at a religious service “to test their faith.” They died.
Jesus did not tell the apostles to deliberately handle serpents and drink poison. When a viper fastened itself on Paul’s hand, he shook it off into the fire. He did not carry it around with him to handle it in church services. The New Testament says absolutely nothing about the apostles bringing rattlesnakes or copperheads or vipers into church meetings, or willfully drinking poison to test their faith. Signs were to produce faith in unbelievers, not to test the faith of the Christians.
The Lord Jesus had unlimited miracle working power, but when Satan tried to persuade him to deliberately expose himself to danger by jumping from a pinnacle of the temple, Jesus refused. Such action would have been tempting God, or putting him on trial (Matt. 4:5-7; Deut. 6:16). Many of the Israelites tempted the Lord (1 Cor. 10:9) by exploiting his goodness, and were destroyed of serpents. The two preachers at Newport put the Lord on trial by misapplying Mark 16:18 and by exposing themselves to deliberate danger, and were destroyed of strychnine.
It is to be regretted that some men know so little about the Bible, or else have such little regard for God’s will, that they endanger themselves and sometimes others who are perfectly innocent. Their fanaticism is reported far and wide, and some people will incline themselves toward judging all religion on the basis of such senselessness. True Christianity, however, cannot be judged by the ridiculous acts of enthusiasts who misapply the Bible. We resent attempts to judge America on the basis of the lawless element running loose in our country, and in like manner true Christians do not wish to be judged by the irresponsible, reckless, absurd doctrines and practices of many religious zealots.
The two preachers who took their own lives while professing to honor God-the parents who refuse medical attention for their children while claiming faith in God-the leaders who teach their people that a blood transfusion is wrong the fake healers that extract large sums of money from poor, ignorant people-the deceivers who promise eternal security without obedience to the gospel-the pious pretenders who endorse immorality-the devotees who say it is a sin to salute the flag: God forbid that such as these be confused with faithful disciples of Christ!
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 44, pp. 2-3
September 13, 1973