Gary asks a great question in response to a blog I wrote on Matt 7:21-23:
Is it possible that these were unbelievers doing miracles by the power of Satan? The devil is not against good; he’s against God. If he can deceive people through miracles, keeping them from the truth, I’m thinking he’d do it. I’ve met many people who base their assurance of salvation on experiencing some miraculous event in their lives. While Satan’s power is nowhere near that of God, I think he’s capable of a miracle or two.
My initial inclination, before doing any concordance study, is that Gary is correct. Satan and his followers can do miracles, with the proviso that they can only do so if God allows them to do these things. The ones that jump out at me off the top of my head (I did have to look up where the texts were) are the following:
- While tempting Jesus, Satan was able to take Him to the pinnacle of the temple (Matt 4:5; Luke 4:9).
- The magicians of Egypt were able to duplicate many of the ten plagues (Exodus 7-12) and there is no evidence that God gave them that power.
- Satan is able to transform himself into “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). If so, it would seem likely that other fallen angels can do that as well.
- The fortune-telling slave girl who was demon possessed lost the ability to tell fortunes after Paul cast out the demon (Acts 16:16-19).
- Paul says that we wrestle with principalities and rulers of the darkness of this age, a reference to fallen angels (Eph 6:12). Spiritual conflict with an unseen foe is certainly miraculous.
- God allowed Satan to hurt Job in a myriad of ways, all of which were supernatural in origin (Job 1-2). While God allowed it, Satan had the power to do these things as long as God did not stop him.
- The false prophet in the Tribulation will do many miracles, including making an idol talk (Rev 13:15).
- The spirits of demons will do signs during the Tribulation (Rev 16:13-14).
Here are some things I might add, based on some research I did:
- Good angels can do miracles (e.g., Gen 19:11), which implies that fallen angels can too. Don Stewart, however, argues that “Satan is not the opposite of God—he cannot do miracles. Since he is the master deceiver, he will do counterfeit miracles, but he does not have the ability to do the real thing.” See here. I think what he means is that Satan can only do miracles if God permits, since Satan clearly does miracles.
- The Lord Jesus warned that in the last days, “False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect [= Israel]” (Matt 24:24). Compellingtruth.org says, “Demonically based miracles are real, and it’s important to know that just because a miracle happens does not mean it is of God.” See here.
- The lawless one, the world ruler in the Tribulation, will come “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9).
It seems clear to me that if an unbeliever is involved in the occult, then if he does anything miraculous, it is by the power of Satan, not God. Of course, it is a separate question as to whether people today who are practicing voodoo, Santeria, Satanism, and so forth really do the miraculous. I’ve heard stories where believers say that they saw miracles performed by people using the occult.
But there is also a related issue. Do such people believe that what they are doing is miraculous? In that case, even if they did not do miracles, they might claim at the Great White Throne Judgment to have done them (Matt 7:21-23).
There is also the opposite question, which I touched on in the previous blog. Does God Himself ever directly give unbelievers the power to do miracles? At least Judas, one of the Twelve, was given authority to cast out demons and heal the sick (Matt 10:1-4).
Gary makes a great closing point. There are people within Christianity who base their assurance on their experience. Many of these people have never believed in Jesus for the free gift of everlasting life. Yet they claim to have spoken in tongues, healed the sick, prophesied, and even raise the dead. The danger there is that whether they actually did these things or not, they are not born again unless they have at some point believed in Jesus for everlasting life.
I might hitchhike off of Gary’s closing point on assurance. It does not need to be miraculous works that people look to in order to try to convince themselves that they are born again. It could be their giving, their prayer life, how much they share their faith, how much they read the Bible, and so forth. Of course, none of that can lead to certainty of one’s eternal destiny. Assurance is to be found in the promise of life that the Lord Jesus makes to the believer (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47). The promise is sure and objective, not subject to our imperfect works.