Question: "How can we discern counterfeit miracles?"
Answer: In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns, “For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible.” Similarly, 2 Thessalonians 2:9 says, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.”
When God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He performed miraculous signs through Moses to prove that Moses was indeed His messenger. However, Exodus 7:22 states, “But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses…” (see also Exodus 7:11 and 8:7). God later demonstrated His superiority by performing miracles the magicians, or more accurately, the demons who were empowering the magicians, were not able to replicate (Exodus 8:18; 9:11). But the fact remains that Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform miracles. So, if miracles can be from either God or the demonic world, how are we to discern the difference?
The Bible does not give specific instructions on how to recognize counterfeit miracles. The Bible does, however, give specific instructions on how to recognize counterfeit messengers. “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20). First John 4:2-6 elaborates, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
These two passages present two methods for recognizing a false teacher. First, examine his/her fruit. Does he/she display the Christlikeness that is a qualification for a messenger from God (1 Timothy 3:1-13)? Second, examine his/her teaching. Is what he/she teaches in agreement with God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; 4:2; Hebrews 4:12)? If the teacher fails either of these tests, he/she is not from God. It does not matter how many miracles are present. If a person does not walk the truth or teach the truth, we can discount any miracles he/she performs. Miracles performed by a false teacher are not from God.
In the New Testament, miracles were performed almost exclusively by the apostles and their close associates. The miracles served to validate the gospel message and the ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4). While we should never doubt God’s ability to perform miracles, the biblical purpose of miracles should give us a degree of skepticism concerning reports of modern-day miracles. While it is not biblical to say that God never performs miracles, the Bible is clear that we are to seek after truth, not miracles (Matthew 12:39).
It is an interesting conundrum that miracles in the Bible validated the messenger, and yet today, miracles are not necessarily an indicator for a true messenger of God. The difference is God’s Word. Today we have the complete canon of Scripture, and it is an infallible guide. We have a more sure Word (2 Peter 1:19) we can use to discern whether a messenger and a message is from God. Miracles can be counterfeited. That is why God points us to His Word. Signs and wonders can lead us astray. God’s Word will always light the true path (Psalm 119:105).