In the gospels we see Jesus ministering to the sick and demonized using power (in Greek “dunamis”) and authority (“exousia”) over disease and demons entrusted to him by his Father.
Luke 4:33 Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, 34 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us?.…35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him. 36 Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this is! For with AUTHORITY and POWER He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”
Because Jesus had authority and power from his Father, he did not need to pray for the demonized man but rather simply commanded the unclean spirits to leave, and they obeyed by coming out. Authority is not exercised by praying to God, but rather by issuing commands to that which is under our authority.
…38 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.
We see Jesus again exercising his authority, this time over purely physical infirmities by issuing a command to the fever and rebuking it, just as he rebuked the unclean spirits in the man in the synagogue. In the incident below, Jesus exercises his authority over an infirmity to demonstrate that he has authority on earth to forgive sins by commanding a paralytic to “get up.”
But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:10-12)
In John 5 we see another instance of Jesus healing an infirm person by issuing an authoritative command to him.
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.. (John 5:2-9)
The laying on of hands
Luke 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.
Often Jesus would also lay his hands on sick people and touch them in order to heal them. What was taking place when he did this? To answer this, let’s observe what happened why some sick people touched Jesus.
Luke 6:19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power (in Greek “dunamis”) was coming from him and healing them all.
Jesus had received power (“dunamis”) to heal from his Father. That power to heal was resident within him. When he laid hands on the infirm and touched them, the healing power flowed into them to heal them.
We see the same thing taking place described in greater detail in Mark 5 when the woman with the bleeding came up from behind Jesus and touched his cloak.
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power (“dunamis”) had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:25-34)
When physical contact was made between the woman and Jesus as she touched his cloak, power flowed from Jesus into the woman through his cloak to heal her. This was the reason why Jesus would often touch or lay hands on the sick. Healing power would flow from Jesus to the sick person needing the healing.
Luke 5:12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. …13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Here we see Jesus touching the man in order for the healing power to flow. Then he exercised authority over the disease by commanding it to “be clean!” We see here that Jesus exercised both power and authority to minister healing to the leper
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:6-7)
It is arguable here that Jesus used both power and authority. It is possible that his healing power was transferred to the mud which was in turn transferred to the blind man’s eyes. In addition, Jesus issued a command to the man to “go” and “wash in the Pool of Siloam.”
Matthew 12:9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. …13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
Here Jesus exercised authority alone to minister healing to the man simply by commanding him to “stretch out your hand.”
Mark 7:32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.
They begged Jesus to place his hand on the deaf-mute to heal him. Where did Jesus place his hand?
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
Here we see Jesus using both power and authority to heal the man. First he put his fingers into the man’s deaf ears in order for his healing power to flow directly to where it was needed. Then he made physical contact with the man’s tongue in order to loose it for the man to be able to speak properly. After that he exercised authority by issuing a command to the deaf ears to “be opened!”
Mark 8:22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” 24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
Here Jesus used power only to minister healing to the blind man by putting his hands on the man’s eyes two times. There was no use of authority by the issuing of a command. In the next incident, however, we will see Jesus most definitely using authority only to heal a dying person at a distance.
Luke 7:2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. …6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 …But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘GO,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘COME,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘DO THIS,’ and he does it.” …10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Jesus healed the dying servant simply by “saying the word.” He did not pray for the man, but rather issued an authoritative command. The centurion, being in the military, understood exactly the nature of authority and knew precisely how Jesus could heal his servant: “say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus only needed to issue a command like “be healed,” and the infirmity being under Christ’s authority would obey the command and leave, even at a distance. The exercise of authority is by nature not at all affected by distance.
We can reasonably conclude that Jesus generally did one or both of two things when ministering to the sick and demonized.
- He would exercise authority by issuing a command of some sort.
- He would transfer his healing power through the laying on of his hands or as sick people with great faith touched him.
- Or he would utilize both authority and power.
NOT the “gift of healing”
In all these instances of ministering healing to the sick, Jesus was not using the “gift of healing.” This supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 as one of the nine gifts of the Spirit available to the body of Christ beginning from the day of Pentecost onwards when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven. By contrast, Jesus was already ministering healing to the sick in the gospels well before the Spirit came at Pentecost. He did this by exercising his authority and power over diseases and demons.
Moreover, the function of these gifts was primarily for “the common good” of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7)—that is, for ministering to believers in the context of building up the body (1 Corinthians 14:12). By contrast, Jesus came not to build up the body of Christ, but rather to save the lost. The miraculous healings he did were for the primary purpose of proving his identity as the Promised Messiah to the Israelites who would then believe on him for eternal life. Only after that they would become part of the body of Christ.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Jesus then delegated authority & power to the Twelve…
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power (“dunamis”) and authority (“exousia”) to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
…and then to the 72 “ordinary” disciples (who were NOT apostles)
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ …17 The seventy returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
In Acts the disciples continue to use the Lord’s authority & power
After Pentecost when the “gift of healing” was made available by the Holy Spirit to the Church, the disciples nevertheless continued to minister to the sick and demonized using the Lord’s authority and power when ministering in the context of proclaiming the gospel to the lost—both to Jews as well as to gentiles.
Acts 3:1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
Acts 3:11 While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? ….16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong…
Acts 4:4 But many of those who heard the Word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
Here we see Peter using authority to heal the lame beggar by commanding him to “walk” in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Following this powerful miracle, five thousand men believed on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. On more than just one occasion, Peter continued to use this authority to minister healing to the sick as evidence that Jesus is the only Lord and Savior, resulting here in a wonderful harvest of 5,000 souls. Below we see Peter commanding the paralytic Aeneas to “get up and take care of your mat.”
Acts 9:32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
Again the result was the salvation of many souls following this miracle. Below we see Peter again using authority to raise Dorcas back to life by commanding her to “get up”—followed by yet another wonderful harvest of souls.
Acts 9.39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. 40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
In the three miracles above we see a definite pattern. When people heard of the miracles, many of them believed in the Lord. These miracles were not a result of the “gift of healing”, but rather through the exercise of authority by which a command was issued. This of course follows the scriptural pattern where authority and power are generally to be used in evangelism, while the gift of healing is generally reserved for ministering to believers in the context of building up the body as taught in 1 Corinthians 12.
Philip, a non-apostle, ministers with power in Samaria to non-Jews
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. …they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:5-12)
We can safely conclude that Philip was not using the gift of healing here, but instead the authority and power which Jesus delegated to his disciples in the gospels. First of all, since this event among the non-Jewish Samaritans was clearly evangelistic in nature, Philip is most likely using authority and power. Secondly, verse 8 speaks of “the signs he performed” strongly implying that Philip was actually healing the sick and casting out demons in Jesus’ name just as Jesus did in the gospels with the use his authority and power. It appears that prayer to God—by which the gift of healing can operate—was not directly involved in the miracles. In Philip’s evangelistic ministry he used authority and power to minister to the sick and demonized, just as the apostle Peter did in his ministry.
How about the ministry of Paul?
Acts 28:7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.
We note here that the man was not actually healed until after prayer when Paul placed his hands on him to heal him. This is the application of healing power (“dunamis”) which we have also seen in the ministry of Jesus himself in the gospels. The healing power of Christ—who lived in Paul through the indwelling Holy Spirit—was transferred to the father of Publius as Paul laid hands on him.
As we see below, Paul used authority (“exousia”) to cast out demons, just as Jesus did.
Acts 16:18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
…About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. (Acts 16:25-33)
Following the expulsion of the demon from the girl there was no immediate fruit in terms of people believing on Jesus. Instead Paul and Silas unexpectedly ended up in jail. But following the earthquake the jailer and his family all believed and were baptized—the ultimate fruit of Paul casting the demon out of the girl earlier by issuing an authoritative command to the spirit.
Below we see a man lame from birth being miraculously healed as Paul exercised authority and commanded him to “stand up on your feet.”
Acts 14.8 In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Unfortunately, this miracle did not result in people accepting Christ. Instead, it resulted in the people worshiping Paul as the Greek god Zeus. Eventually, the people stoned Paul nearly to death. Not all miracles lead to the repentance of sinners. But as we see elsewhere in Acts, they certainly make it more likely.
In Acts 19 with Paul we see the Lord’s healing power transferred through cloth as it was through Jesus in Mark 5 above.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12)
Healing power was transferred from Paul’s physical body—in whom Christ dwelt by the Holy Spirit—to the handkerchiefs which in turn was transferred to the sick by physical contact with them.
An instance of authority not to heal the sick, but the very opposite action in the context of proclaiming the gospel
Acts 13:6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Elymas went blind only after Paul by the Holy Spirit said, “You are going to be blind…” It is arguable that Paul here is again speaking forth with authority. The fruit was the influential ruler of the island accepting Jesus Christ, likely opening the door for the gospel to be preached more widely on the island.
The gift of healing in Acts
When the gift of healing was in operation as it was likely through Peter’s shadow in Acts, it was in the context of building up the body at gatherings of believers as in Acts 5:12-16. In this passage, there is no mention of people believing in Christ following the miraculous healings perhaps because most of those in attendance were already believers. In that case those who were set free from demons were likely brand-new believers who were coming out of witchcraft and idolatry.
We see that in the gospels and Acts where the preoccupation of Jesus and his disciples was in fact proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost, they often if not consistently used authority and power over diseases and demons by issuing commands (using authority) and laying hands on the sick (using power). Nowhere do we see a miraculous healing taking place solely and exclusively as a result of prayer to the Father apart from the exercise of authority or the laying on of hands. Generally either the exercise of authority by issuing a command of some kind, or the laying on of hands for the transfer of healing power, or both actions together resulted in the miraculous healing. Souls believed on Christ afterwards.
This weight of support from Scripture tells us that this authority and power were instrumental if not essential in the proclaiming of the gospel at that time.
How is it that today some teach with absolute finality that this authority and power is no longer available to be used in the preaching of the gospel to the lost as evidence that our God is the only true God and that Jesus Christ is the only way to Him? Nowhere in the New Testament does it explicitly teach that this authority and power to be used in evangelism have been withdrawn from the Church. The support from Scripture for this position is scant if not non-existent. Some will point to the history of the Church in the post-apostolic era as recorded in extrabiblical sources during which time the miracles recorded in Acts were for the most part lacking. But can we conclude with certainty from this that the lack of the miraculous was in fact a decision on God’s part—and not due to some serious deficiency on the part of the Church? Was the later ascendancy of Roman Catholicism in the West due a decision on God’s part? Or could this rise of the Roman Church have possibly been related to the decline of the Church in the post-apostolic era where institutionalization and complacency eventually doused the Church’s zeal for preaching the gospel—resulting in the accompanying miraculous signs following suit and dying out as well?
The gifts of the Spirit
Some do teach based on 1 Corinthians 13:8 that the nine supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased and are no longer available.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
Be that as it may, in our argument here we are not at all referring to the gifts of the Spirit such as the gift of healing—which in any case are to be used for building up the Church, the body of Christ. Rather we are referring to the very different authority and power the Lord has entrusted to his disciples for proclaiming the gospel to the lost.
Unfortunately the crucial distinction between the gift of healing on the one hand and authority and power on the other has been swallowed up in the course of this sometimes rancorous debate.
How could it be that simply with the swipe of a 20th century American theologian’s scalpel, the body of Christ has been emasculated, robbed of the authority and power Jesus Christ delegated to us to be used to provide compelling evidence to the lost that the gospel is absolutely true?
If we in the post-apostolic era do not witness the miracles we see recorded in the gospels and Acts which resulted in extraordinary harvests for the kingdom of God, is it without a doubt because God for some mysterious reason simply made the decision to withdraw them and leave us powerless to confirm the message with visible evidence when preaching the gospel on the difficult mission fields of the world? Or is it at all possible that this is due to some fault or lack of understanding in the Church? (God forbid.)
Can we reach and make disciples of extremely resistant non-Christian nations around the world without the authority and power we see at work in Acts when the gospel was preached to Jews and Gentiles, turning the known world upside-down?
The New Testament Scripture Pastors insist is inspired by God, but are horrified when believers obey it