The sacramental use of the sign dates from the earliest period, and the character of the sign is as diverse as the occasion. The rainbow furnishes radiant suggestion of God's overarching love and assurance that the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy the earth (Genesis 9:13; compare Genesis 4:15); the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a reminder of God's care in bringing His people out of bondage (Exodus 13:3); the Sabbath is an oft-recurring proclamation of God's gracious thought for the well-being of man (Exodus 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12); the brazen serpent, an early foreshadowing of the cross, perpetuates the imperishable promise of forgiveness and redemption (Numbers 21:9); circumcision is made the seal of the special covenant under which Israel became a people set apart (Genesis 17:11); baptism, the Christian equivalent of circumcision, becomes the sign and seal of the dedicated life and the mark of those avowedly seeking to share in the blessedness of the Kingdom of God (Luke 3:12-14; Acts 2:41, and often); bread and wine, a symbol of the spiritual manna by which soul and body are preserved unto everlasting life, is the hallowed memorial of the Lord's death until His coming again (Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-28). Most common of all were the local altars and mounds consecrated in simple and sincere fashion to a belief in God's ruling and overruling providence (Joshua 4:1-10).
Signs were offered in proof of the divine commission of prophet (Isaiah 20:3) and apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12), and of the Messiah Himself (John 20:30; Acts 2:22); and they were submitted in demonstration of the divine character of their message (2 Kings 20:9; Isaiah 38:1; Acts 3:1-16). By anticipation the child to be born of a young woman (Isaiah 7:10-16; compare Luke 2:12) is to certify the prophet's pledge of a deliverer for a captive people.
With increase of faith the necessity for signs will gradually decrease. Jesus hints at this (John 4:48), as does also Paul (1 Corinthians 1:22). Nevertheless "signs," in the sense of displays of miraculous powers, are to accompany the faith of believers (Mark 16:17), usher in and forthwith characterize the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and mark the consummation of the ages (Revelation 15:1).
See also MIRACLE.
For "sign" of a ship (parasemos, "ensign," Acts 28:11).
See DIOSCURI; SHIPS AND BOATS, III, 2.
Charles M. Stuart