How Many Signs Does It Take?
“One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.’
“But Jesus replied, ‘Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights’” (Matthew 12:38-40).
His very birth changed the course of history and the measurement of time … from B.C. to A.D.
Jesus turned water into wine. He made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk. He healed the deformed in an instant, and fed thousands of hungry people with a few loaves and fish. He cast out demons from many who were possessed, and even raised the dead. The religious leaders had personally witnessed or had first-hand accounts of these and many other of his miracles. Time and time again, he did the impossible. The evidence of Jesus’ incomparable divine power was overwhelming. Still, right then and there, they demanded that Jesus show them a miraculous sign to prove his authority.
The Pharisees and Sadducees had eyes to see but were blinded by their preconceived view that Messiah couldn’t be anyone other than whom they decided he would be and should be. They had ears to hear but were deafened by their shouts of programmed tirades against a man who spoke words of light and life to the people. A man who dared claim that he was the Son of God; that he came to fulfill the Law of Moses with a New Way to God through a New Covenant with God.
What kind of miraculous sign did they want? Would another sign convince all of them or just one or two of them? Would each have preferred a miracle of his choice? Would one more sign be enough?
What if Jesus had obliged them by calling down fire from heaven as Elijah twice had done? (With one of the two incidents resulting in the death of 100 soldiers who had come to arrest Elijah. See II Kings Chapter 1, and the other on Mount Carmel). Only this time the fire would have consumed all but one of the Pharisees? Would the survivor have believed in Jesus’s authority then?! If the one left behind had returned to his fellow Pharisees and told them what had happened, would they believe him? Or would they demand another miraculous sign just for themselves?
Jesus knew all too well the rock-hard condition of their hearts. That was the real problem, not what they could or couldn’t see or hear. For it didn’t matter how many or how stupendous Jesus’s miracles were; their “evil, adulterous” hearts wouldn’t allow their eyes to see or ears to hear the truth that Jesus was their Messiah—the Son of God, the Son of David, the Son of Man.
Today’s Superficial Supernatural
What about planet Earth in the 21st century? Have we been desensitized to the miraculous, the Divine, by the countless books and movies that incessantly depict the supernatural as natural? That any number of fantasy super villains and super heroes can perform paranormal wonders whenever and however they choose, including return from the dead. Thereby, marginalizing actual (real-life) miracles to a ho-hum happening that barely merits a turn of our head, let alone a change of our heart.
So many in today’s world have dismissed out-of-hand the authenticity of the Bible as the very Word of the true and living God; despite the stunning evidence of countless miracles and fulfilled prophecies. If Scripture is not enough, then how many other supernatural signs would it take for people to believe in the God of the Bible? What more miraculous proof would they require before they believed and received Messiah Jesus as Lord and Savior?
How about you? Would you believe if just one of the ten plagues struck your neighborhood as God did with the Egyptians in Moses’ time? Or would it take all ten miracles to convince you … as it did with Pharaoh? Remember: The final miracle was the death of every firstborn son in Egypt.
If horrible malignant sores broke out suddenly on people the world over; if all the oceans, rivers, and lakes turned to blood and every salt and fresh water creature died; if a massive solar flare from the sun scorched people on the earth with one mighty blast; if the earth was plunged into the darkness of a subterranean cave; if a cataclysmic earthquake toppled mighty cities, flattened majestic mountains, and submerged entire islands, would you change your mind about Christ—who he is, what he has done for us, and what he will do? (See Revelation Chapter 16 … these are just five of twenty-one judgments during the Great Tribulation).
Or would you do what millions upon millions of people, determined to do their own thing and go their own way apart from their only hope of salvation, will do:
“…and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God” (Revelation 16:11). *Note: They didn’t just blame God for anything and everything, as millions have unjustifiably done through the ages; they actually cursed him.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of those left behind at the Rapture will fully comprehend that it is God who is delivering these judgments. Thus, it is not now nor will be then a matter of seeing miraculous signs that would/should cause them to believe. It is not a matter of the mind or eyes or ears; rather, it is a matter of the heart … the will. A heart that refuses to accept the obvious. That God will judge the world ultimately for one thing and one thing only: rejection of so great a salvation purchased by the highest price ever paid—the sacrificial substitutionary death of his Son, Jesus Christ. Just as Israel was disciplined for rejecting him as Messiah.
As he approached Jerusalem for the last time before the people crucified him, Jesus began to weep and uttered these heartbreaking words:
“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long you enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation” (Luke 19:42-44, italics for emphasis).
Less than 40 years later, the Romans pillaged Jerusalem, demolished the Temple, slaughtered six hundred thousand Jews, and exiled the survivors to the four corners of the earth.
No, Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees then and there nor did he come the first time to this earth to judge. In another (one of many) scene in which the Jewish religious leaders confronted him, Jesus said:
“But I have a greater witness that John (the Baptist)—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me … and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you” (John 5:36,38).
Then Jesus spoke these extraordinary words: “Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” (John 5:45-47).
Nor would he entertain them with a miraculous sign, except one—a miracle that he would do at the appointed time, on his terms; to accomplish his Father’s providential plan to save the human race. With no preconditions, no strings attached. With nothing else required of people except as Jesus said, “to believe me—the one he sent to you.”
So Yeshua gave them the sign of Jonah: his death, burial, and resurrection that had not yet taken place. Surely they would believe him then. What more evidence could anyone want or expect than someone returning from the dead?
Shouldn’t that be enough proof for you, for me, for the whole world?
Whether the answer is yes or no to this question, depends entirely on where our heart is when we hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament; personified and carried out by Messiah Jesus as recorded in the Gospels; encapsulated in the tenets of the Christian faith through the New Testament epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John.
Let’s see why, by looking at the only story that Jesus told that was not a parable, which is a story told to illustrate a moral and spiritual truth. A true story in which Jesus even named one of the two men. One in which Abraham, Moses, and the prophets also are mentioned. And a narrative that provides some fascinating features of life after death, not found anywhere else in Scripture.
Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31)
The Narrative (Passage): “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury” (Verse 19).
Commentary: Unfortunately it is extremely difficult for the wealthy or powerful of the world to want anything to do with God … to see their need for personal redemption God’s way in order to live forever in heaven. Their version of heaven is fame and fortune while alive on earth.
Said Jesus: “In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” But Jesus then said concerning salvation: “What is impossible for people is possible with God” (Luke 18:25, 27).
The Lord used the more extreme example of the super-rich for ultimate contrast in this true story. However, even the less fortunate can love the pleasures of this world so much that they would forfeit their own souls in order to passionately pursue and personally possess whatever they think can satisfy them the most.
“If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” (Luke 17:33, Words of Jesus).
Also, the Pharisees held the misguided opinion that wealth was always a sign of God’s favor or blessings. Thus, I’m sure that the religious leaders were startled, even dumbfounded, by this reversal of roles which weighed God’s divine long-term perspective of eternal values against the world’s short-term measure of success.
The Narrative: “At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores” (Verses 20-21).
Commentary: Jesus was not at all reluctant to use graphic language to illustrate and reinforce what he was saying. For example, he called the elite religious leaders: hypocrites, brood of vipers, blind leading the blind, whitewashed tombs (clean on the outside, defiled on the inside), and even sons of the devil. Here, in Godly empathy, he vividly described the plight of a poor, diseased man whose only hope for some measure of relief from pain and hunger on this earth was the generosity of a man who had more than enough for himself … the rich man.
The Narrative: “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side” (Verses 22-23).
Commentary: Most translations use the term, “Abraham’s bosom,” but it’s clear that the poor man went to be with Abraham. This story (passage) tells us where the souls of those who died before Jesus arose from the dead were transported (by angels). In the Old Testament, the place of the dead is called in the Hebrew, Sheol. In the New Testament Greek: Hades; which is commonly translated, Hell. All those who died before Jesus initiated the New Covenant by shedding his blood on the cross (dying) and sealing that Covenant with his magnificent resurrection, were taken to Abraham who was the Father or predecessor of all whose faith in the Lord was “counted as righteous(ness)” (Genesis 15:6).
Under the New Covenant, one’s faith must be more than just in God the Father. It now must be in God’s Son, Yeshua, whom God anointed as the Messiah (the Chosen One) to make people right with him.
“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (I Timothy 2:5-6).
Surprisingly and also ironically, the place of the dead (for the unrighteous) was close enough for those sent there to see Abraham and all who had been declared righteous by the Lord. The rich man was so close, but oh so far. And he was in great torment.
The Narrative: “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’ But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there’” (Verses 24-26).
Commentary: Hades, which at the final judgment becomes part of the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20), is not where you want to be, certainly not forever. Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven, because he doesn’t want anyone to go there. “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise (the promise of his return), as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (II Peter 3:9, parenthesis mine).
As Scripture repeatedly tells us: God is Love, but God is also Holy. He cannot tolerate sin in his presence. That is something that unbelievers cannot or will not grasp. However, all those whose sin has not been forgiven and who have not been made right with God will get their wish; that God would leave them alone to do their own thing and go their own way. Sadly, this is what the majority of people down through the ages to this very day have done. Through indifference, neglect, or outright rejection they have spurned the message of the Gospel.
“…And that message is the very message about faith that we preach” (Romans 10:8).
The second major difference between the rich man (in torment) and Lazarus (in comfort) was a great chasm, an impassable gulf that separated the righteous from the unrighteous, the saved from the unsaved, believers from the unbelievers. Never the two shall meet.
Return from the Dead! They’ll Believe Then, Won’t They?
The Narrative: “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment” (Verses 27-28).
Commentary: Here we learn more about the devastating results when we leave this earth without Messiah Jesus as our Savior. Once we die, there is no hope, no second chance for salvation. It’s crystal clear the rich man knew that, as he had no argument or made no plea to return to earth or even change his mind while in Hades. It was simply too late. He found himself in an afterlife, a reality that he had dismissed and ignored during his lifetime. His reward was whatever gratification his riches (or anything else in life) brought him while on earth. And his temporary reward was long gone along with all the fleeting pleasures he had pursued.
The Narrative: “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote’” (Verse 29).
Commentary: Through a combination of his agony and remorse for snubbing God’s gift of redemption while on earth, the rich man pleaded with Abraham for Lazarus to return on his behalf and warn his brothers (that they must repent … change their mind about faith in God and his Messiah). To that all too belated request, Abraham gives the solemn reply that was just cited, in the same vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees in the passage quoted earlier in today’s article.
Moses wrote about the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God made it clear to Moses that it was their faith by which God credited his righteousness to them. Through the prophets—especially Isaiah and Jeremiah—God declared that a New Covenant (of Grace) would complete and perfect the Old Covenant that the people could not and would not keep. This would be an unconditional covenant, a gift from God that required only one thing: Agreeing with God by personally believing in and trusting the finished work of Messiah … our sin debt paid in full as so wonderfully affirmed by the miracle of Messiah’s empty tomb.
It was Moses who first foretold of the One through whom God would be revealed in a person, a prophet superior to Moses, the Child of Promise greater than Abraham’s promised son Isaac. (See Eye of Prophecy articles, The Child of Promise Part I & Part II, published 8-23 & 8-30-14).
“Moses continued, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Then God speaks in the first person about his prophet: “…I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).
Do you remember who was with Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountain and the glory of his divine essence was brilliantly displayed to the astonishment of three of his disciples? Read with me the amazing account:
“About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:28-31).
While still on the mountain, the disciples heard God’s voice (I’m sure his voice thundered as it did from Mt. Sinai when God spoke to Moses and the Israelites … see Exodus 20). God said:
“…This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35).
Yes, the same Moses through whom God gave the Covenant of the Law. The same Elijah who represented the mighty prophets of the Old Testament proclaiming God’s truth about Israel’s glorious past, troubled present, and ominous but triumphant future, and especially about the coming Messiah. I’m convinced that these same prophets will be the two powerful witnesses during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 11).
(See Eye of Prophecy articles, The Two Witnesses, Part I, II, & III, posted 6-7, 6-14, & 6-21-14).
And what did God say about his Son? Precisely what he said to Moses and the Israelites about the Prophet of all prophets to come as we just read in Deuteronomy: “Listen to him.”
But Jesus told the Pharisees that if they wouldn’t listen to Moses and all the prophets who spoke of the coming Messiah, then neither would they listen to him.
Which is what Abraham told the rich man: “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote’” (Luke 16:29).
Let’s pick it up again in that passage as part of today’s subject and emphasis concerning what it takes to acknowledge that the God of the Bible is God. And that Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah, the very Son of God.
Resuming the Narrative: “The rich man replied. ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’” (Luke 16:30).
Commentary: Surely, someone (Jesus) who had claimed that he existed before Abraham was even born (John 8), and proved that he was God by raising people from the dead, would be acknowledged as the Son of God. Certainly, a man who said that Moses and the prophets wrote about him, and a short time later would, himself, rise from the dead on his own (without any prophet’s intercession or intervention) to prove that he was who he said he was, would be believed by all the people … particularly the religious among them.
Or would they?
(Also, please see Eye of Prophecy article: There’s Resurrection; And There’s Resurrection! Posted 3-19-16).
The passage about the rich man and Lazarus concludes with:
“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:31).
Another Man Named Lazarus
Many know the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, from the dead. However, before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of his tomb where Lazarus had been buried for four days, he told Martha (and the whole world), “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this Martha?” (John 11:25-26).
The sacred majestic name of God is, “I AM.” Jesus referred to himself by that very name (Yahweh).
That says it all. It says that the Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—is from everlasting to everlasting. It says that he predated and created the universe and all living things; he is separate from and supreme over his creation. It says that he: Was; Is; and Is To Come. It says that he is the First and the Last. He always has been and always will be.
Jesus didn’t just show people the right (only) way to God. He didn’t just preach the truth about a Holy and loving God and sinful man and salvation. He didn’t merely explain through parables and demonstrate through miracles what our life on this earth is all about and what must be done to inherit the Kingdom of God. Oh, he did all of these things and much more.
Above all, Jesus unequivocally declared (backed up by the greatest proof of all … his resurrection):
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
What Jesus is saying could be expressed like this:
Or, like this: Jesus IS (the) Way. Jesus IS Truth. Jesus IS Life.
Jesus arose from the dead to validate God’s New Covenant with Jew and Gentile alike. Salvation is a free gift from God … by grace through faith in Messiah’s atoning sacrifice for our sins.
What more is needed before someone will believe and receive this gift? Is the resurrection of Christ Jesus not enough? If not, what is? What will it take to convince you and me and her and him, and them? The answer is transparently obvious: There is no greater proof than the resurrection. Thus, it’s not a matter of the evidence.
Instead, it is a matter of the heart. A question of preference. An issue of our way or God’s way. Which way have you chosen? To whom or what will you entrust your eternal destiny? A man-made religion? A philosophy? A government? A charismatic leader? Yourself?
As a result of Jesus spectacular raising of Lazarus from the grave, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen” (John 11:45).
But many did not, including the religious leaders who soon heard of what Jesus had done for Lazarus and his family. “So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death” (John 11:53).
Just a few days later, not only the religious leaders but many others shouted in Pilate’s courtyard, “Crucify him. Crucify him.”
And they did.
For sure, thousands did believe in Jesus while he was on this earth, and millions down through the ages. Praise God for that! But, tragically, many more have not believed including billions on this planet today, despite the greatest miracle of all—resurrection from the dead.
As Jesus said to those who doubted him, many of whom wanted to kill him because he claimed to be the Messiah:
“…why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God?’ After all, the Father has set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (John 10:36-38).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundational cornerstone of God’s remarkable redemption plan for the human race. Jesus would have been proven a fool, an imposter or worse, a maniac, for making statement after statement that he was sent by his Father from heaven to save a lost world; if, he hadn’t risen from the dead, just as he said he would.
“But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.
“The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, ‘Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day’” (Luke 24:1-7).
Then later in a captivating account of Jesus with two men on the road to Emmaus, after he arose from the dead:
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?’ Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).
I’ve sometimes thought: If there was one time and place that I could have been with the Lord Jesus when he was on this earth, it would have been to walk closely behind him and the two men on their seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus!
I would listen to him! Would you? Have you?
For two reasons: (1) He’s no longer dead. He has risen! He has risen, indeed! (2) He explained all that Moses and the prophets wrote about him. It was undoubtedly the best Sunday school lesson of all time! Yes, it was the same day of his resurrection, Sunday, when Jesus went to Emmaus (Luke 24:13).
Things to Ponder
So you see, it’s a double-edged sword that so many people have fallen on when they say, No, to Jesus and so great a salvation that he purchased with his life’s blood.
By the authority of Scripture, I can say with a heavy heart: There are countless many in Hades this very moment who wished they had accepted the truth of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, as eternal proof that he can and does save all who believe and receive him as personal Savior.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10, words of Jesus).
On one side of the sword they have not come to terms with the truth of the Scriptures, given directly by God through his prophets and apostles, backed up by powerful (fulfilled) prophecies and mighty miracles. On the other edge of the sword, they have denied the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ outright, or have disregarded its personal meaning for them … for all people.
Why? Why do so many dismiss the historical evidence that Jesus arose from the dead. That he is the Messiah, alive today at the right hand of God the Father … awaiting the appointed time to return to the earth as King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
The answer is sadly all too clear: They don’t want to believe.
It’s, “don’t bother me with the facts, because my life is my own. I’ll do with it as I please. If I want to find God, I’ll find him my way when I’m good and ready, for there are many paths to God.”
Really? Then why does God (the only true and living God of the Scriptures) declare in no uncertain prophetic terms (Old Testament) and fulfillment terms (New Testament) the following:
Old Testament: “I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet (Messiah who is Jesus) proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:19).
New Testament: “For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).
Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!
Praise and honor and glory and power and majesty belong to the Lion from the Tribe of Judah!