“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Mark 16:17-18
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Mark 16:17 and 18 are probably two of the most controversial verses in the entire Bible. Some use this passage as license and even a challenge to play with snakes in “worship services.” Some use it as a commission for “divine healing,” “speaking in tongues,” and on and on. So far I have not known of anyone trying to drink poison, but in this context of interpretation, I do not know why not, and will not be surprised if I hear of it.
There are other areas of error that I think are just as grievous. One of them is to deny the existence of this passage in the original Scriptures, and the other is to ignore the preaching and teaching of it as if it were not in the Bible. It is in the Bible and it means something. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to study and learn what God’s message is in this passage.
AREAS OF DIFFICULTY AND ERROR
There is the group or category of people which uses it to support questionable miracles. They have real problems. First, most of them choose their own miracle, but do not feel obliged to do them all. Secondly, they are plagued with trial and failure, which is totally inconsistent with basic Bible pattern.
The ultra-dispensationalist who says a change is brought about in dispensation, and thus something that believers were to do in that time, the same category of believers is not to do now, also has one basic problem. His dispensational “enlightenment” is in no wise a clear revelation from Scripture, but must be established by cutting the Scripture into little slices. This always leads to error.
In my opinion the answer to the problem, as in every case, is (a) to realize that the Bible has something to say in every passage, (b) to remember that every passage must agree with every other passage when rightly interpreted, (c) to let it say just what it says, and (d) to study it carefully enough and long enough in the light of the whole Bible to know what it says.
As usual, our context will not leave us wondering if we stay with it. Verse 20 says, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word, with signs following.” Verse 17 says that signs shall follow. Verse 20 says that signs followed. We must conclude that verse 20 is a fulfillment of verse 17, but a question is then raised because verse 17 says, “Signs shall follow them that believe,” while verse 20 refers directly to those to whom the Lord spoke in verse 19, and not all believers. Can they then be the same people as the “believers” of verse 17? I am very sure that they are the same people exactly and exclusively. In other words, the believers of verse 17, who were to be followed by signs, were not all recipients of the Gospel, but those particular persons to whom the message of verse 15 was committed. Simply moving back to verse 14 will help to solidify this idea. We read in verse 14, “Afterward he appeared to the eleven.” What was the occasion of His appearance? It was twofold. First, He rebuked them for their unbelief concerning His resurrection. His words to Thomas on this subject were, “And be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). It was in direct relationship to the enjoined faith of verse 14 that the commission of verse 15 was given, and that the miracles of verses 17 and 18 were promised.
In Matthew 10:1-8 and Luke 9:1-6, we find twelve men called and given supernatural (apostolic) powers. Please read it and understand. In Luke 10:1-9, we find seventy others being given similar powers. We then find the Apostle Paul being designated the apostle to the Gentiles and given these powers. This is a total of eighty-three men. There is good Bible evidence, if you care to study through the book of Acts, that Matthias, Philip, Stephen, Barnabas and Silas all were among this seventy. You will never find a single record of any man in the New Testament performing a miracle except Jesus and men which Bible evidence would put within this eighty-three.
THE WORD ‘BELIEVE’ IN VERSE 17
There is another area of study that sheds much light on this subject and corroborates the above thesis, and that is the meaning of the word believe in this context. We must never build a doctrine on a single word or a word definition, but on the other hand, we must not assume that we understand a Bible verse unless we know the meanings of the words in the verse, and understand those words in their contextual definitions. This word believe in Mark 16:17 is the Greek word pisteuo. The meaning of the word according to Strong’s Greek dictionary is as follows: To have faith (in, upon or with respect to a person or thing) i.e., to credit; to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well being to Christ): -believer, believe, commit (to trust) put in trust. In the context of this passage the word means much more than simply to hear the Gospel and believe it. It refers to those men whose lives were committed to that Gospel. They had received it, they were committed to it, and now their very lives were invested in it, but much more particularly it was committed to them. They were entrusted with it. In order to explain and give credibility to this interpretation, let me show you some other places where this Greek word pisteuo is used and how it is translated. From each passage, I will copy a clause or phrase and the word translated from pisteuo will be identified by bold face print.
“But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me.” (Titus 1:3) “If therefore ye have been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11) “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,” (John 2:24) “Because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2) “A dispensation of the gospel is committed to me.” (I Corinthians 9:17) “The gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me:” (Galatians 2:7) “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak.” (I Thessalonians 2:4)
Every one of these bold face words is translated from the Greek word pisteuo, the same word that is translated believe in Mark 16:17. These are just a few examples. Many more could be given. Do you not see how very definitely this points to the commission to preach and the entrusting, to men, the Gospel. You can also readily see how much more this corresponds with the account in New Testament Scripture, than do the snake handling activities of today. I am not trying to put anybody down, I am simply trying to get at and to teach Bible truth. I think the evidence that lies in this assures us that the believers of verse 17 are those spoken to in verse 14 and spoken of in verse 20, and not all believers in general as referred to in verse 16.
THE PURPOSE OF MIRACLES
According to this passage they were to confirm the word. Wherever miracles were performed in the New Testament, they were after this fashion. They were never used to draw a crowd, promote a preacher, or any of the basic purposes for which they are used today. You never find the apostles announcing or advertising them ahead of time. You never find them referring back to a miracle they performed. In fact, if my memory serves me rightly, no New Testament writer records his own miracle. These miracles were worked by God by their hands to confirm the Word. The indication is usually that they had no previous intention of performing it, but were unexpectedly led by God at the very moment.
It should also be noted that every single recorded gift of tongues followed or accompanied the preaching of the Word by one of these men, who was definitely given these apostolic gifts. Try to find in the New Testament an exception to these principles. You will not find it in a single area except those “lying wonders” performed by the antichrist and his co-workers.
Dear sign seeker, I speak to you in love. These signs followed the early preachers of the Word, confirming their message, while the revelation of the New Testament was being given. When the perfect Word of God was complete, those signs passed away. (I Corinthians 13:9-10). If today you are still seeking signs, you are discounting the Word of God which records them as having been a perfectly sufficient confirmation. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Faith which must be derived from more than that, cannot be saving faith. Read very carefully Luke 16:24-31. May God bless you.