This is the final, and most important, of my posts on the miracles of Jesus. In it I raise the question – without being able to come to an absolutely definitive answer – of whether Jesus was thought to be a miracle worker already in his life time or if, instead, miracles came to be ascribed to him only later by followers who believed he had been raised from the dead. I incline toward the latter view.
To set the stage for and make sense of what I have to say, I include the final comments from the previous post:
In the other two Synoptics there is a different understanding, one that can be seen most clearly in the saying preserved in Matthew 11:2-6. Here we are told that John the Baptist, who is now in prison, has heard about “the deeds of Christ,” and sends some of his disciples to him to ask if he is the one to come at the end of time, or if there is someone else. Jesus replies: “Go and report to John the things you hear and see: the blind come to see and the lame walk; lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised… and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Is the end upon us, John wants to know? Yes indeed. Jesus’ miracles demonstrate it. Or as he says later in Matthew, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).
This appears to be the earliest interpretation of Jesus’ miracles. They are signs that the Kingdom of God will soon arrive. In other words, they coalesce with Jesus’ apocalyptic message.
There is a deeply seated logic to seeing and portraying the miracles in this way. At the earliest known layer of our traditions, Jesus’ spectacular deeds are, in effect, proclamations of the Kingdom: real, tangible declarations about the realm of God that is very soon to arrive. In the Kingdom of God there will be no natural disasters; Jesus controls nature even now. In the Kingdom there will be no more demons; Jesus casts out demons now. In the Kingdom there will be no more disease or bodily ailments or physical impairments; Jesus heals the sick now. In the Kingdom there will be no more death; Jesus raises the dead now.
When storytellers recounted the life of Jesus in the days, years, and decades after his death, they not only delivered his teachings (in their own words, of course). They showed that …
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