Belief, Baptism, and Signs Following Still Today?

by Larry Ray Hafley

Here is the text of Mark 16:15-20:

"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following."

No, I do not possess the power to perform any of the above signs and neither does any one else. Observe why this is true.

First, if these signs are to be possessed by all believers, all who do not possess them are unbelievers.

Second, if these signs were to be possessed by all believers, but not all believers were able to do them, the promise of Jesus failed.

Third, did Jesus promise that all who believed would be able to cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, drink deadly liquids without harm, and heal the sick? If he did so promise, either one of two things is true:

  1. one possesses these powers or else he is an unbeliever, or
  2. Jesus' word was false since all believers do not possess them as he allegedly promised.

These conclusions apply with equal force to the saints of the first century. In the New Testament, not all the believers were able to perform these signs. Many thousands were converted, yet, for a time, only the apostles performed miracles. "And many wonders and signs were done by the apostles" (Acts 2:43). "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33). "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people" (Acts 5:12). Not until the apostles laid their hands on the seven ministers do we find anyone, except the apostles, performing miracles (Acts 6:6, 8; Cf. Acts 8:18). In Acts 8:12, a large segment of the population of Samaria believed on the Lord, but they were not immediately enabled to perform the signs of Mark 16:17-18. It was not until the apostles laid their hands on them that they "received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:18).

Mark 16:15-20 and the Corinthians

Perhaps the most convincing proof that not all believers were able to work the signs of Mark 16 is the Corinthians.

  1. All the Corinthians were washed, sanctified, and justified "in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11).
  2. All the Corinthians had been "baptized into one body" and all had been made to drink into one Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13). "Every one" of them had been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 18:8; I Corinthians 1:12-13).
  3. All the Corinthians had received the grace of God (I Corinthians 1:4; II Corinthians 6:1).

Now, if the promise in Mark 16 is to all believers, we shall expect to find all the Corinthians performing these signs, for they came behind in no gift (I Corinthians 1:7). But is this the case? No, they were not all able to heal; they were not all able to speak in tongues (I Corinthians 12:29-30); therefore, the promise of Jesus did not mean that every believer would be able to work the five signs. This is evidence that the apostles did not interpret Jesus' words to mean that all believers were to perform the five signs, so why should we do so? I challenge any Pentecostal preacher to answer that argument.

If One, Why Not All?

Those who use Mark 16:17-18, as proof that miracles are for believers today generally avoid taking up serpents and drinking poison. If one of the signs of Mark 16 is for all believers today, all of them must be. Who is it that claims the gift of tongues who will drink "any deadly thing?" Is there a group that claims the gift of healing who will handle a cuddly Cobra? If they did, it should not hurt them, but even if it did hurt them, they could have hands laid on them, and they would recover. Any one care to demonstrate their signs?

"I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Revelation 2:2).

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).

Those who claim the signs will not agree to a test lest they be found liars,

"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:20, 21).

"Prove all things" (I Thessalonians 5:21).

Limited

The signs of Mark 16 were to follow believers for a specified and limited period. Jesus told the apostles to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. While they were fulfilling that charge, the signs were to follow them that believed. This work of preaching to every creature was accomplished in the lifetime of the apostles "But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18). The gospel "was preached to every creature which is under heaven" (Colossians 1:6, 23; Titus 2:11). The signs were to follow during the time necessary to proclaim the gospel to all the world. Mark says this is what occurred. "So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:19-20). They were to preach everywhere. The signs were to follow. They preached everywhere, and the signs did follow them (Cf. Acts 14:3; Hebrews 2:4).

Objection

"But," someone asks, "if signs were to be limited to the time when the gospel was being preached, why would not belief and baptism also be limited to the same period?" The question fails to distinguish between the gospel and the signs that confirmed the gospel. Belief and baptism are conditions of the gospel that must last as long as the gospel or as long as men sin and need to be saved. The Lord confirmed "the word with signs following." The word is one thing; the signs which confirmed it are another. The word with its conditions continues, but the signs, having confirmed the word, and thereby having accomplished their purpose, have been done away (Hebrews 2:4).

Conclusion

We have shown that:

  1. the promise of Jesus in Mark 16:17-18, did not extend to all believers, even in the first century;
  2. the promise of Jesus includes more than tongues and healing;
  3. the word was preached, and the signs confirming that word followed;
  4. the word, the gospel, is to be separated or distinguished from the signs;
  5. the signs have ceased, consequently no man today possesses any of them.