Signs and Wonders: Why Do We Seek Them and Should We?

Contributing Writer
Signs and Wonders: Why Do We Seek Them and Should We?

Signs and wonders occur throughout the Bible. From the Old Testament prophets to Jesus and the apostles, signs and wonders followed them. As we look at church in the 21st century, is there a place for signs and wonders? Should we still be looking for them? While some in the Christian world debate if signs and wonders even exist today, that is not my position. I fully believe all the gifts of the Spirit are operational in the church, and so are the possibility of signs and wonders. However, while I believe they are operational, I don’t always agree with how they are used in many church settings today. Many times, they are abused or used in very unbiblical ways. With that being said, let’s begin by looking at the purpose of signs and wonders. 

What are Signs and Wonders?

In Acts, "signs and wonders" refer to the miraculous events and divine acts that happened through the apostles after Jesus ascended to heaven. These events were amazing and often left people in awe, pointing them to God’s power and presence.

Think of signs as divine "road signs" that guide people’s attention to God. They’re extraordinary occurrences that signal something important, like healing the sick or raising the dead. Wonders, on the other hand, are acts that make people go, "Wow!" They’re events that stir up awe and amazement, demonstrating God’s supernatural power. Think of signs and wonders as God’s spectacular way of getting people’s attention and drawing them closer to Him. They were like divine exclamation points that made everyone stop, look, and listen to the message of Jesus.

Here are some of the most remarkable signs and wonders that happened in New Testament church in Acts:

The Coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4): On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles like tongues of fire. They began speaking in different languages, enabling them to spread the gospel to people from various nations.

Healing of the Lame Beggar (Acts 3:1-10): Peter and John encountered a man who had been lame from birth. In the name of Jesus, Peter healed him, and the man immediately stood up and walked, praising God. This miracle amazed the onlookers and led many to believe in Jesus.

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11): This event involved a sobering display of God's power and judgment. Ananias and Sapphira lied about the proceeds of a land sale, and both fell dead as a result. This incident instilled a profound sense of reverence and fear of God within the early church.

Healing the Sick and Casting Out Evil Spirits (Acts 5:12-16): The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. Sick individuals were brought out into the streets so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them, and they were healed. This passage shows the apostles' widespread influence and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Stephen’s Vision (Acts 7:54-56): As Stephen was being martyred, he saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This vision strengthened him and served as a powerful testimony to those present.

Philip’s Miraculous Deeds in Samaria (Acts 8:6-7): Philip performed numerous miracles, such as casting out unclean spirits and healing the paralyzed and lame, leading to great joy in the city and many conversions.

Conversion of Saul (Paul) (Acts 9:1-19): Saul, a fierce persecutor of Christians, encountered Jesus in a blinding light on the road to Damascus. Afterward, he was converted, received his sight back through Ananias, and became one of the most influential apostles, spreading the gospel far and wide.

Peter’s Vision and Cornelius’ Conversion (Acts 10:9-48): Peter had a vision of a sheet with various animals, symbolizing that the gospel was for Gentiles as well as Jews. Concurrently, Cornelius, a Gentile centurion, also had a vision leading him to seek out Peter. This resulted in the Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household, signifying the inclusion of Gentiles in the church.

Peter’s Escape from Prison (Acts 12:6-11): Peter was miraculously freed from prison by an angel, despite being heavily guarded. This event demonstrated God’s ability to deliver His servants from seemingly impossible situations.

Paul and Silas in Prison (Acts 16:25-34): While imprisoned, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns. An earthquake shook the prison, opening the doors and loosening the prisoners' chains. This led to the conversion of the jailer and his entire household.

Raising of Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12): During one of Paul’s lengthy sermons, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell from a third-story window, dying. Paul went down, embraced him, and brought him back to life, greatly comforting the believers.

What Was the the Purpose of Signs and Wonders?

Looking at the Bible, we see God uses signs and wonders for several things.

Purpose 1: Signs and Wonders Validate Jesus is Messiah

When Jesus began his ministry and when the early apostles began spreading the good news of the gospel, signs and wonders followed them. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist was in prison and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or should they look for another Messiah? Here is how Jesus responded:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. (Matthew 11:4-5)

During this time, the signs and wonders validated Jesus as the Messiah. The signs and wonders also validated that the apostles were God’s sent men. 

I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:12)

Purpose 2: Signs and Wonders Build Faith

In Exodus 3 and 4, God used a variety of signs to build Moses’ faith and show him he was with him. This didn’t just happen with Moses. It also happened with later figures like Gideon, who asked God for a sign that gave him the confidence to go against the Midianites. God used signs and wonders to build faith in these situations and others, which he can still do today.

Purpose 3: Signs and Wonder Encourage Action

Signs and wonders didn’t just happen because God needed to show his power. Typically, signs and wonders were to encourage people to do something. In Moses’ case, it was to encourage him to face Pharoah. In Gideon’s case, it was to face the Midianites. With Jesus and the apostles, it was to move people to believe and receive salvation. The signs were there to invoke a response. Signs and wonders showed God's care and compassion for His people, meeting both physical and spiritual needs. And in return, we are to go and share God's compassion and care with others.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. (John 2:23)

Should We Keep Seeking Signs and Wonders Today?

Let’s address this question directly because there are many desiring to see God move as he did during the times of Jesus and the apostles. While there is nothing wrong with God moving in this fashion, when you look through the Bible, I don’t see anywhere where we are told to seek signs and wonders. They may accompany or follow, but that is not what we should be looking for. 

One main purpose of signs and wonders was to open the door to preach the gospel. They were a means to an end. 

Remember Jesus’ response to John the Baptist we looked at earlier. Notice he didn’t just stop with who was getting healed, but he added the gospel was being preached. While miraculous things can be great to see and experience, what good are they if the gospel is not preached along with it? Without the preaching of the gospel, these signs have no eternal value. Jesus didn’t come just to wow people with his power. He came to save people from their sins, the greatest miracle. Also, note that the Bible doesn’t say heaven rejoices over one healed sick person, but it does rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). We should be seeking that sign more than any else. Ask yourself this question: “why are you seeking signs and wonders?” Your answer may be why we don’t see them as much because many want the signs but have no desire for the gospel to go forth.

Two Warnings about Seeking Signs and Wonders

There are two particular cautions we need to remember about signs and wonders.

Warning 1: Signs and Wonders Don’t Always Produce Conversions or Disciples

As wonderful as signs and wonders can be, they don’t always lead to salvation. We saw earlier in John 2:23 that many believed when they saw the miraculous signs. but look at what Jesus said in the very next verse in John 2:

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. (John 2:24)

This is a powerful verse about why we don’t need to seek signs. Many people believed, but their hearts were not entirely interested in following Jesus. While they enjoyed seeing miracles and may have even benefited from them, there was no desire to follow Jesus. Many wanted the signs, but they didn’t want the Savior. We see this again later in John 12:

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. (John 12:37)

On one occasion in Matthew 12, the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked for a sign. This request came after Jesus had already been doing miraculous things that proved who he was. Though they were asking for signs, they were not interested in believing. Jesus addressed them appropriately:

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (Matthew 12:39)

Those who seek signs and wonders are not always interested in being followers. Many just want to enjoy the spectacle of the moment. That’s why Jesus and the apostles didn’t just stop at signs; they understood they had to preach the gospel.

Warning 2: Seeking Signs and Wonders Can Open You Up to Deception

We should note that Satan has the power to mimic and produce false signs and wonders. In some places or churches that believe in signs and wonders, pursuing these things takes precedence over preaching and teaching the word of God. When these things happen, people become open to deception. If a person’s faith is built primarily on signs and wonders and not the word of God, they are walking on a very shaky foundation and are prone to deception. Because signs and wonders appear to be present, people ignore things like a person’s character, their teaching, and can participate in things not found in Scripture. 

Even though the exhilaration can feel great, make sure an emphasis accompanies them on discipleship, the preaching and teaching of God’s word, the proclamation of the gospel, and the glory of Jesus (not the glory of the person producing the “signs”). If these things are not present, there is plenty of room for deception.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

Is There a Better Option to Seeking Signs and Wonders?

I want you to consider a better option than seeking signs. Instead of spending your time seeking signs, spend your time seeking the move of the Holy Spirit. You might think these two things are the same, but they are not. Let me explain the difference. The Holy Spirit can move in a place, and signs and wonders can follow. However, signs and wonders can be present where the Holy Spirit is not in the house. The two don’t automatically equate. As we saw earlier with Jesus, many people sought signs and wonders yet missed God in the process. However, if you seek the Holy Spirit, you will not miss God. The true reward is not seeing God do some miraculous sign; the true reward is being in his presence. When the Spirit of God is in a place, it could mean signs and wonders. Even if they don’t come, the joy of his presence will be enough to satisfy more than any sign or wonder ever could.

A Final Thought on Signs and Wonders

A true outpouring of the Holy Spirit will lead to the conviction of sin, repentance, salvation, and transformation. These are the signs we should desire more than anything else. Let your heart be drawn to a true move of the Holy Spirit, and if signs and wonders follow, that is fantastic. If they don’t, but people’s lives are genuinely transformed, this may be the sign and wonder we should be seeking most of all. 

I leave you with this thought: don’t run after signs and wonders. Run after God, and if signs and wonders follow you, wonderful. If not, remember knowing him and fellowshipping with him should be the prize we are after anyway. It is in knowing him we find eternal life, not by experiencing the signs and wonders.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ipopba

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit