Prophets for Profit: Money, Miracles, Ministry

There is an increasing craze among Christians to attend meetings where forensic prophecy and “miracle money” is the order of the day. For those who do not know, forensic prophecy involves bizarre revelations, supposedly by the “Holy Spirit”, about details unknown to the preacher—like phone numbers, date of birth, bank account details, etc.—of those in the audience or known to the audience. When such personal details are mentioned correctly by the so-called “prophet”, the stunned audience tend to believe that the prophet is really a man of God and that they must follow his teachings and support his ministry with their time, talent and treasure!

There are many popular preachers from India, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and also other countries, who focus their meetings on forensic prophecies. They can be called hyper-supernatural preachers—preachers who focus excessively on the supernatural and go beyond what the Bible teaches about the operation of miracles, healings, etc.

A supporter of forensic ministry typically challenges his critics by retorting: “First raise ten people from the dead and then come and lecture me from the Bible!” This is the typical assertion of the person who is swayed by the hyper-supernatural false teaching. For him, the Bible does not seem to be the final court of appeal. Miracles are all that matters. If miracles happen, he feels, the ministry is genuine.

Their usual argument is: “Jesus said we who believes in him will do greater works than him, as John 14:12 says. So, we do this”! But such a response does not hold water. It is not convincing. This group refers to John 14:12 to pass off things not taught in the Bible as biblical. And, that’s a problematic issue.

Jesus had accomplished the greatest works possible, including raising the dead. How could He say believers would do greater works? The answer is seen in the extent of what the apostles did. Jesus’ work on the earth was confined to Palestine; the apostles would preach everywhere and see the conversion of thousands.

First of all, we must seek what the word ‘works’ (NKJV/NASB) that Jesus referred to in John 14:12 means. Does it mean “signs and wonders” as the forensic prophecy group confidently says it means?

BELOW THE PASSAGE

We must read what follows this verse. We must read John 14:13 and 14 to understand the meaning of the word. Jesus said: Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14 NASB). The “greater works”—works greater than Jesus’ works—that believers will do must bring God’s glory and must be worthy enough to be asked for in Jesus’ name.

Scroll further down, and we read these words of Jesus: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). So the greater works we believers do should be in line with the commands of Jesus or the Word of God which is the final court of appeal for all matters of belief and behaviour. Let us read even further to get to the root of the meaning of “greater works”. From John 14:16 onwards, Jesus starts to introduce the Holy Spirit. He says, “To do the greater works, you need the fullness of the Holy Spirit whom I will soon send!”

In the book of Acts the Holy Spirit came down. The disciples of Jesus and ordinary believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. They went about doing the “greater works” that Jesus spoke about in John 14:12. Of course, they did many miracles enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit. But we must not fail to notice that the miracles they sought did not always happen. For example, Apostle James was imprisoned and killed (Acts 12:2) while Peter was imprisoned and miraculously escaped (Acts 12:7). While it was God’s will to have Peter miraculously released, it was not his will that James should be released. We must conclude that James, like David, served the purposes of God in his generation and then died (Acts 13:36).

The hyper-supernatural preachers believe “you can force God to answer your prayers every time”, the way you want him to and this belief is plain unscriptural! [The line within inverted commas is actually the subtitle of one of the books of a popular hyper-supernatural preacher].

Here is another account of “greater things” that the disciples did in the book of Acts: They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So, they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40–42). Yes, they were flogged by the enemies of the gospel, the Jewish leaders. As they were bleeding, they were bubbling. Bubbling with joy that they were counted “worthy” to suffer for the name of Jesus! But despite the “battering” (the flogging) they kept at their “broadcasting” (of the name of Jesus)!

Respected Bible scholars interpret John 14:12 in this way: “Jesus had accomplished the greatest works possible, including raising the dead. How could He say believers would do greater works? The answer is seen in the extent of what the apostles did. Jesus’ work on the earth was confined to Palestine; the apostles would preach everywhere and see the conversion of thousands. Peter’s message at Pentecost brought more followers to Jesus than did Jesus’ entire ministry. The disciples were able to do this work because Christ would go to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to empower them” (The Nelson Study Bible).

“These works are ‘greater’ not because they are more amazing miracles but because they will be greater in their worldwide scope…” (The ESV Study Bible). “Jesus was alluding here to ministerial labour in the power of the Holy Spirit (by believers), which would be “greater” than Jesus’ in its geographical and numeric extension!” (The Spirit of Reformation Study Bible).

So, while it is clear the “greater works” that Jesus referred to was in terms of an unprecedented Jerusalem-Samaria-Ends-of-the-World Acts 1:8 evangelism explosion unseen in the days of Jesus (who never left the boundaries of Israel as an adult), these modern-day false teachers twist those words to sway a generation that does not know the Bible.

ABOVE THE PASSAGE

To understand the correct meaning of what Jesus meant, we must also read what is written ‘above’ the verse. This is what we read in the verse above John 14:12, which is John 14:11, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” Here Jesus claimed to be God and said that he offered his miracles as one of the proofs—though not the most important proof—that he indeed was God. The Jewish audience that Jesus spoke to, instantly understood that Jesus was making himself “equal” to God the Father. In John 14:6, Jesus claimed to be the only way to God—the only way to the Father!

So, in the verses above John 14:12, Jesus basically gave the gospel and an apologia for it, a defense for it. From the context above John 14:12, we can say: those who believe in Jesus will do his work of presenting the unique gospel and an apologia for the same, on a far wider scale. By doing that they would do “greater” works than Jesus himself.

Forensic predictions routinely happen in shows like America’s Got Talent. Magicians who are not Christ followers do them regularly. That is not something to be surprised about.

It must also be noted that there is a big difference between the miracles that Jesus did to prove his divinity and the miracles believers can do here and now. Jesus never faced any healing failure because he perfectly knew God the Father’s mind. For example, he knew that God’s time for John the Baptist was over, that’s why he never went to raise John the Baptist from the dead even when he heard that he was unfairly murdered. But that is not the case with us. We can pray for miracles. These miracles will happen subject to the will of God. By his exemplary prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus taught us, his followers, to sign out of every prayer—including prayers for miracles—using the phrase, ‘not my will but your will be done’. God heard my prayer when I prayed for my daughter who was dead in her mom’s womb. He raised her up. Now she is a normal child, 11 years on. But God did not hear my prayer that my US visa should be stamped when I faced the visa officer in 2010. There have been so many occasions when I have prayed for a miracle and that miracle did not happen. If my fellow ministers of the gospel speak honestly, they would say that this is their story as well.

ALL THE BIBLE IN THE LIGHT OF THIS PASSAGE

We must not only see above and below a Bible passage to understand its right meaning—we must also see what the entire Bible says about what that passage seems to teach. Before we conclude what that Bible passage teaches, we must consider what all of the Bible says about the topic which that particular passage throws light upon. For example, we cannot dogmatically conclude that the length of the millennium is 1000 literal years based on just one passage found in Revelation 20. We must check what the whole Bible teaches about the length of the Kingdom of Jesus.

What about miracle money multiplication? A forensic prophet, in one of his meetings, predicted that Rs 68 lakh will be credited into the Andhra Bank account of someone in the audience before September 2019. And, he prophesied that that man in the audience (whom we shall call ‘Dorai’), carried an Andhra Bank visa debit card in predominantly blue colour. Promptly, Mr. Dorai fished out an Andhra Bank visa debit card with the same specifications as mentioned by “Papa Prophet”. The audience burst into raptures.

Some time back, in a church meeting a visiting “forensic prophet” preacher accurately “revealed” the phone number of a person related to the man he randomly picked from the audience, much to excitement of the hosting pastor. Such meetings are organised in different locations and hosted by different churches regularly. Was Jesus envisioning meetings like these when he said that those who believe in him would do greater miracles than him? Absolutely not. In the book of Acts, the apostles prayed for the sick. They looked to God when they were in a crisis. And God responded as per his will. The miracles did not always happen. And when they did not, disciples did not frown. But they felt “fantastic” and kept at doing what God had called them to do.

When there was need for money, they did not pray for the multiplication of the money they had. They sold properties they had and brought the proceeds to the apostles (Acts 4:37). They picked up jobs that paid them, like tent-making (Acts 18:1–3). They encouraged believers to give to the Lord instead of just receiving from Him (Acts 20:35). We must copy the apostles who followed Jesus because of Paul’s repeated call to follow Christ as he and other apostles did (I Cor 11:1; 4:16; Phil 3:17; 4:9; I Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:9). We must follow the apostles’ way of doing greater things than Jesus.

In fact, forensic predictions routinely happen in shows like America’s Got Talent. Magicians who are not Christ followers do them regularly. That is not something to be surprised about. Don’t we see Pharaoh’s magicians do miracles in the book of Exodus (7:11, 22; 8:7)? Did the Lord himself not predict that “False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22)? Did Jesus himself not warn about those who would do prophecies, drive out demons, and do many miracles in his name but not be able to enter his Kingdom (Matt 7:21–23)? Don’t we see a demon-possessed young girl doing the same in the book of Acts before the apostles sent the demon packing from her (Acts 16:16–18)? Doesn’t Apostle Paul predict that the Antichrist (called “the Lawless one”) will do “signs and wonders” that “serve the lie” and “deceive those who are perishing” in the last days (2 Thess 2:9–10)? In the book of Revelation, don’t we read of examples of “demonic spirits which work miracles” (Rev 16:14, 19:20)?

Doing miracles is not a proof that God approves what you do, for even Satan and his team can do the same. Doing miracles will not even guarantee someone a place in heaven. So, instead of going after the so-called ministers of God who do such miracles, stay rooted in the word of God! Such ministers of the gospel who flout the written word of God and obvious biblical pattern are dangerous because they can really take you to hell with them!

Also, have you not wondered why there is a registration fee for these meetings where there is supposed abundance of “miracle money” miracles? Why don’t the organisers pray over their own bank accounts/ministry bank accounts so that there would be a dramatic money-multiplication to meet the expenses of these meetings? You see, when believers are ready to be fooled, there would be no dearth of preachers who will be ready to fool them! This is an oft-repeated, sad story when one goes through Church history.

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