How Did Jesus Perform His Miracles?
One of the most fundamental beliefs of Christianity is in regards to the Nature of Christ. We believe that Jesus is FULLY GOD and FULLY MAN. That He has always been divine…but “added to His divinity humanity” in the incarnation (John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-14, Philippians 2:5-11). Even throughout His earthly life as a baby/child/man, He never stopped being God. We refer to this doctrine as the “Hypostatic Union”.
Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus, “…emptied himself…humbled himself…becoming obedient.” During His earthly ministry Jesus retained His full divine nature…but did not exercise the attributes unique to that nature in his humanity (ex. Jesus’ physical earthly body was not omnipresent).
So one question that the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union introduces is: “When Jesus performed His miracles, was He operating out of His divinity, or His humanity (the “emptied/humbled” part)?
THE BIBLE INDICATES THAT JESUS PERFORMED MIRACLES IN HIS HUMAN NATURE – BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – RATHER THAN DRAWING ON HIS DIVINE NATURE.
Here are a few verses that lead me to think that this is true:
“…GOD ANOINTED JESUS OF NAZARETH WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND WITH POWER. HE WENT ABOUT DOING GOOD AND HEALING ALL WHO WERE OPPRESSED BY THE DEVIL, FOR GOD WAS WITH HIM.” (ACTS 10:38)
Here, Peter says that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. Jesus RECEIVED power from the Holy Spirit here. Now, in His divine nature, Jesus needs NOTHING, because He is already full/complete/not lacking anything. He does not need to search for power, or gain it. All power is eternally His. However, in His human nature, He had all the (amoral) limitations of natural man. In His human nature he could receive power.
The next sentence says that he did works “for God was with him.” Peter does not appeal to Jesus’ divinity saying, “because He was God”. Instead he attributes Jesus’ miracles to the fact that God was “with him”.
Abraham Kuyper said that the Holy Spirit endowed Christ’s “human nature with the glorious gifts, powers, and faculties of which that nature is susceptible.” Regarding John 3:34, “he lacked nothing, possessed all; not by virtue of His divine nature, which can not receive anything, being the eternal fulness itself, but by virtue of His human nature, which was endowed with such glorious gifts by the Holy Spirit” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, 1966:94-95).
“BUT IF IT IS BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD THAT I CAST OUT DEMONS, THEN THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME UPON YOU.” (MATTHEW 12:28)
Here Jesus is responding to the charge of the Pharisees that He was casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul. He responds by saying that He cast out demons “by the Spirit of God.” Again, He does not say that He performed a miracle as a demonstration of His divine nature, but credits the Holy Spirit working through His human nature.
“HEAL THE SICK, RAISE THE DEAD, CLEANSE LEPERS, CAST OUT DEMONS…” (MATTHEW 10:8)
In this passage Jesus authorizes/commands His disciples to perform the same *kind of works that He did. The Bible records multiple accounts of prophets and disciples who healed people, performed great miracles, raised people from the dead, etc. Of course, no man has the power to do these things on his own. They are acts performed by the Holy Spirit working through human vessels. It would seem that Jesus’ miracles were performed in the same way.
*Note: There were two miracles performed by Jesus during His earthly ministry that seem to be of an altogether different type/order/nature: 1) The transfiguration, and 2) the resurrection. These two seem almost certainly to be demonstrations of His DIVINE power (or revealing of His divine nature as with the transfiguration), and are performed by Him alone.
This does not mean that Jesus NEVER appealed to His divine nature to perform miracles. But the Bible indicates that many of the works of Jesus were empowered by the Holy Spirit working through His human nature.
HERE’S WHY I THINK THIS MATTERS:
THERE IS ONLY ONE MIRACLE-WORKER WHO IS WORTHY OF OUR WORSHIP.
Some people point to Jesus’ miracles as indelible proof that He is God. Essentially, they claim, “Miracles prove the divinity of the one who performs them!” If this is true…then miracles should result in our immediate worship of – and devotion to – the one who performs them (i.e. Jesus alone).
However, “Miracles prove the divinity of the one who performs them” is not a true statement. As already stated, the Bible tells us that many people performed miracles. While every true/holy miracle is made possible by God alone, the Messiah is not the only man in history to have performed them. Jesus even warns that there will be false prophets who “cast out demons…and do many mighty works” (Matthew 7:22). Note also: The “Man of Lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, and the “Beast” in Revelation 13:13-14.
Because of this…
MIRACLES SHOULD NOT BE THE FINAL TEST OF WHAT IS TRUE.
I have heard people claim to have experienced miracles which subsequently led them to join false religions. While it is true that Jesus’ miracles (and the miracles performed by His disciples) served to authenticate the Gospel message (John 5:36,10:25,37-38), the experience of witnessing a miracle should not preclude the Bible’s command to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In other words, if a person witnesses a miracle, that does not permit him to submit to every claim the miracle-worker might make without proper evaluation.
JESUS COMMANDS US TO DO GREAT WORKS!
In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” For the record, I do not think that this statement is referring exclusively to miracles. I think Jesus also has in mind the global spread of the Gospel, and the perpetual advance of the Kingdom in the Church Age (which would be far “greater” in scope than His own earthly ministry). However, for Jesus to say that His disciples will do “greater works”, He is clearly not telling them that they should be discouraged because they are not God, as He is God. By the power of the Holy Spirit (whom Jesus – in this same passage – is promising to send), they will do these great works.
When Christians read the accounts of Christ’s miracles in the New Testament, we should be awe-struck by the power of God, and the perfections of Jesus. But we should also be encouraged to do great things – by God’s power – for the advance of the Kingdom. The same spirit that indwelt/empowered Jesus now indwells and empowers us to do the works He has called us to!