Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 7, 1950

"These Signs Shall Follow Them That Believe"

D. S. Ligon, Waco, Texas

In giving his great commission to the apostles Jesus said, "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." (Mark 16:17, 18).

The sign workers, the healing cults, and the unknown tongue talkers quote the above verses in defense of their practice. I am not at all surprised at these blind leaders of the blind misusing the passage; but I am greatly astonished that some gospel preachers sometimes make in their efforts to refute these erroneous doctrines. To refute an error with an error profits not at all.

The Grammatical Construction

In the study of this subject, we must consider carefully the grammatical construction of the text. Observe, first, the expression, "them that believe" in verse 17. Question: Who is this "them" here referred to? Looking back to verse 14, we read, "Afterward he (Christ) appeared unto the eleven (apostles) as they (the apostles—the eleven) sat at meat, and upbraided them (the eleven) with their (the eleven) unbelief and hardness of heart, because they (the eleven) believed not them (those who had seen Jesus after his resurrection and had reported it)... " No, go on with the next verse, "And he (Christ) said unto them (the apostles), Go ye (the apostles) into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He (the creature preached to) that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he (the one preached to) that believeth not shall be damned."

There is no stretch of any grammar that I know of that can make the "he" (singular number) of verse 16 refer at all to the "them and they" of verse 17. But to settle this question without any possibility of error, we must find out to whom this "them and they" does refer. Let us, therefore, read verses 19 and 20: "So then after the Lord had spoken unto them (the apostles), he (Christ) was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they (the apostles) went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them (the apostles) and confirming the word with signs following."

I feel sure that every preacher and all other students of the Bible can see at once that the "them" in verse 19, and the "they and them" in verse 20, most certainly refer back to the eleven (apostles of verse 14) and the "them" in the latter part of verse 14 has reference to those who had seen Jesus after His resurrection.

The Apostles Unbelieving

It is also clear that those who "believed not" the report of the resurrection of Christ at that time were the apostles. Indeed, even after they had seen the Lord himself, some doubted. (Matt. 28:16, 17) We know that Thomas said before he saw the Lord, "I will not believe." Christ, knowing their doubts and their unbelief, demonstrated himself to be their risen Lord "by many infallible proofs." (Acts 1:1-3) It is not any great task, then, to see why the Lord said to them, "And these signs shall follow them that believe" (present tense). Then we are told that the Lord did "confirm their message of salvation with miracles which followed, proving that their message was not of men, nor of themselves, but of God.

The "he" that believeth of verse 16 is obviously the "he" that was preached to in verse 15. To make the "signs following" refer to this individual (the one who heard and believed the preaching), it would be necessary for verse 17 to read, "These signs shall follow him that believeth." But it actually reads, "these signs shall follow them that believe" (present tense). The meaning, of course, is that those once doubting and unbelieving apostles are being given assurance that their preaching will be confirmed by "signs following;" the Lord will work with them when their unbelief turns to faith, and their hardness of heart is melted before the certainty of Christ's resurrection.

The Ground Of Our Faith

It will be well for us today to remember that Jesus proved himself to be the Son of God by many wonders and signs, many of which are not given in the Bible. But those that are recorded were put there that the world "might believe." (Jno. 20:30, 31) In like manner, our Lord demonstrated to the world that the apostles were his messengers. Just as he demonstrated his own divinity by miracles, so he also demonstrated that these men were his approved messengers by the same signs.

Before the apostles saw the Lord with their own eyes, they had doubts and misgivings. But once they saw him, all doubt vanished. Men and women of today have no reason at all for a single doubt about the resurrection of our Lord. The foundation of the Christian's faith is not a dream, or the unsupported vision of some fanatic, or some unbalanced religious zealot. Rather, his faith and his hope rest firmly upon the testimony of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses.

Therefore, we read, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness, both with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to his own will." (Heb. 2:3, 4).