If a man desire much experience, she [wisdom] knoweth things of old, and conjectureth aright what is to come: she knoweth the subtilties of speeches, and can expound dark sentences: she foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons and times. (Wisdom 8:8)
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Mt 24:24)
For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mr 13:22)
Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (Joh 4:48)
By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. (Ac 4:30)
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. (Ac 5:12)
Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Ac 14:3)
Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Ro 15:19)
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. (2Co 12:12)
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Heb 2:4)
The phrase “signs and wonders” is used nine times in the New Testament, but never used in the Hebrew Scriptures. The phrase comes from the Wisdom of Solomon, and is found in an extended monologue on wisdom. Since we know wisdom to be allegorically associated with Jesus Christ, it is clear that it is Jesus Christ who foreseeth signs and wonders. Without the quotation from the Wisdom of Solomon, it is not clear what the difference is between the signs and wonders performed by Christ and His disciples, and the signs and wonders performed by the false prophets.
In Wisdom we see the growth of an individual who desires wisdom, which gives us a way of discerning between false prophets and true disciples.
- The true disciples loves wisdom, and seeks her out (v. 1)
- The true disciples seeks wisdom rather than riches (v. 5)
- The true disciple is prudent (v. 6)
- The true disciple loves righteousness (v. 7)
- The true disciple practices the virtues (temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude) (v.7)[i]
- The true disciple lives with wisdom, counseled by wisdom, and is comforted by wisdom (v. 9)
The false prophet, who is no true disciple, will be no lover of wisdom, and will seek to profit from the gospel. The false prophet will be extravagant rather than prudent, and will surround himself (or herself) with the things of this world. The false prophet will be self-indulgent and reckless, will show partiality, and will lack courage and strength.
Notice that Jesus warns against those who seek to persuade the faithful through signs and wonders, and those who seek after signs and wonders instead of the Christ who is the source. Those whose preaching is focused on signs and wonders, and those whose desire is for signs and wonders instead of Christ, are equally in error. Signs and wonders are not salvific, nor do signs and wonders validate the teaching of a prophet. When the nobleman approached Jesus and besought him to heal his son, Jesus stated: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” The nobleman’s reply demonstrated his belief: “Sir, come down ere [before] my child die.” No longer was he asking for a sign, he was merely seeking for Christ to visit to come before his son died. In seeking after healing, he received neither healing nor the presence of Christ; in seeking after Christ, the nobleman received both Christ and the healing of his son.
[i] The Greek word translated here as fortitude (ἀνδρείαν, andreian) can be translated in a variety of ways. The short definitions are manliness, manhood, manly spirit. Please note that these are to be interpreted in the fashion of the ancient world, in which certain characteristics were thought to be “manly virtues”. In fact, the Latin translation for ἀνδρείαν is virtus, from the Latin root vir, meaning man. Thus the opposite of the manly virtues would be the feminine weaknesses (according to the ancient accounting, not modern approach to gender distinctions.)