Just over one hundred years ago, B.B. Warfield delivered the Thomas Symth Lectures at Columbia Theological Seminary in Columbia, S.C. The transcription of those lectures forms the content of Warfield’s book Counterfeit Miracles, which opens with these words: “When our Lord came down to earth He drew heaven with Him. The signs which accompanied His ministry were but the trailing clouds of glory which He brought from heaven, which is His home.” Taking up the subject of miraculous healings in particular, Warfield summarized his assessment of contemporary claims to the continuation of healings when he stated: “All Christians believe in healing in answer to prayer. Those who assert that this healing is wrought in a specifically miraculous manner, need better evidence for their peculiar view than such as fits in equally well with the general Christian faith.” For Warfield, the great burden of the day was for Christians to reckon with the biblical teaching about the unique, redemptive-historical nature of the miraculous healings that occurred in the days of Jesus and the Apostles. That particular task is no less necessary in the twenty-first century than it was at the outset of the twentieth century. Many Christians still fail to understand that there is a nonrepeatable, redemptive-historical, and eschatological quality to the healing miracles of Jesus and the Apostles.
If it were possible for someone to combine all of the maladies of those who experienced the miraculous power of Christ during His earthly ministry into one person, that person would be a fully deformed person. According to Scripture, Jesus healed the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, lepers, epileptics, paralytics, cripples, a woman with a fever, a woman with an unstoppable flow of blood, and a man with a withered hand. Most astonishingly, Jesus raised the dead. Christ came into the world to reverse the miserable effects of sin brought into this world by Adam. Though Jesus’ miracles of healing were complete healings, they were, nevertheless, selective and temporal. Jesus never purposed to heal everyone with whom He came into contact. Additionally, all those who were healed by Jesus ultimately died. Those facts lead us to the following vital questions: What purpose did Jesus’ miraculous healings serve? How are Christ’s miracles related to what He came to do on the cross and in His resurrection?
The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles were messianic markers, pointing beyond themselves to the Savior who came into the world to bring salvation from sin and from the misery of this life. Jesus is the last Adam who came to undo all that the first Adam did through his rebellion (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45–49). Everything that plagues us in our daily experiences as fallen image bearers can be placed in one of two categories—sin or misery. The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes this clear when it states, “The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery” (WSC 17). These two categories help us better understand not only our experience as fallen sinners in this fallen world but also the saving work of Jesus, the last Adam, who came into the world to bear the sin and suspend the misery brought into the world by the first Adam (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:20–28, 42–49). While the death of Jesus is first and foremost a substitutionary sacrifice that atones for the sin of His people, Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories ultimately result in the removal of all of the miseries of the believer’s life.
The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles function as previews of the resurrection and consummation when believers will undergo the complete healing for which they long. The hope of believers is that one day all of the ills of this world will be cast under the feet of the Redeemer when He returns to transform His people into His glorious image. In his book The Coming of the Kingdom, Herman Ridderbos summarized the eschatological-sign nature of Jesus’ healing miracles in the following way: