Did Jesus’ Power To Work Miracles Come from the Holy Spirit?

Did Jesus’ Power To Work Miracles Come from the Holy Spirit?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:13am

QUESTION: I have a question about Jesus’ ability to perform miraculous deeds. Do you think that He had this ability of His own accord, or did He need the Spirit’s empowerment to be able to do such things while on earth? Is this a “false choice” question? I know that Jesus surrendered some of His divine prerogatives (Phil. 2:5ff.), but He certainly didn’t cease being God. While on earth, though, did He need the Spirit’s empowerment to do such wonders, or could He have done these miraculous events of His own accord? The Old Testament prophets (e.g., Elijah) and the New Testament Apostles absolutely needed the Spirit’s enablement and empowerment to work a miraculous deed, but did Jesus?

ANSWER: I have taught a seminary course on the Holy Spirit for several decades, but I always “skipped over” the question of how the Spirit was related to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. I did not explore this question in depth until I wrote my large book on the Holy Spirit (College Press 2007), Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Quite frankly, I was somewhat surprised by what I learned about this from a careful study of the gospel records. Before this I had not noticed how dependent Jesus was on the power of the Spirit. (The following material comes from this book, pp. 136-137, 147-148.)

Scripture says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). To what end? What were the purpose and result of such filling? All agree that its main purpose, after the pattern of the Spirit’s OT work, was to empower Jesus for his ministry, or to equip him with those gifts necessary to fulfill his mission. In this respect the difference between Jesus’ filling and the filling of OT leaders thus was not qualitative but quantitative. This seems to be confirmed by John 3:34, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” The key statement is the latter part of the verse, “for God gives the Spirit without limit” (NIV). The KJV translates it thus: “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him,” i.e., unto Jesus. The words “unto him” are not in the original; but the “preferable” understanding is as the KJV has it, that “the Father gives the Spirit to the Son without measure” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 1971:246-247).

What does this mean? Abraham Kuyper says it means that the Holy Spirit endowed Christ’s “human nature with the glorious gifts, powers, and faculties of which that nature is susceptible.” And in terms of John 3:34, “he lacked nothing, possessed all; not by virtue of His divine nature, which can not receive anything, being the eternal fulness itself, but by virtue of His human nature, which was endowed with such glorious gifts by the Holy Spirit” (The Work of the Holy Spirit, 1966:94-95). I agree: the purpose for Christ’s being filled with the Holy Spirit was the empowerment of his human nature for his mission.

Jesus’ ministry was characterized and energized by “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14; see Acts 10:38). This relates especially to his kingly ministry, i.e., to his role as the Messianic King who came to establish his authority over all things. This has particular relevance to his purpose of overthrowing the devil’s usurped dominion and establishing his own eternal kingdom in its place (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13).

The Holy Spirit’s role in Christ’s kingly mission is clearly stated in reference to Christ’s work of casting out demons, something he did throughout his ministry. On one occasion he cast out a demon that was causing a man to be blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). His enemies accused him of doing so by the power of Beelzebul, i.e., Satan (vv. 23-24). Jesus refutes this charge (vv. 25-27) and then declares, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28). This is in effect exactly what he was claiming to be doing; he was binding the strong man (the devil) and was plundering his domain (v. 29). In doing so he was fulfilling that part of the Isaiah 61 prophecy for which the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him, “to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18b).

Jesus says he is doing this “by the Spirit of God.” In Luke 11:20 he says the same thing, only here he says he is casting out demons “by the finger of God.” In the OT “the finger of God” is a symbol of his mighty power (Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Ps 8:3); here it is a symbol of “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). As Dale Moody says, “The Spirit came to Jesus . . . at his baptism to enable him to invade the demon-infested dominion of Satan and deliver those in bondage” (Spirit of the Living God, 1968:36). Also, “By the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on him after his baptism, Jesus bound the Strong One, Satan, so now his underlings are unable to stand before the Stronger One, Jesus” (ibid., 40). When Jesus shared his Spirit-given power over Satan’s kingdom with his disciples, he shared their joy in seeing people delivered from Satan’s clutches (Luke 10:17-21). “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit,” Luke says (v. 21).

Can we assume that this same “power of the Spirit” that energized Jesus to cast out demons was the source of his power to perform miracles in general? This is inferred by many. Building upon Matt. 12:28, R. A. Torrey says, “Jesus Christ wrought His miracles here on earth in the power of the Holy Spirit” (The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 1910:260). Edwin Palmer reasons the same way. Beginning with Matthew 12:28 he says, “Here again, we see clearly that at times Jesus performed miracles, not by the Father nor because he as man received supernatural power from the second Person of the Trinity, but because the Holy Spirit had given him the gift to do so” (The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit, 1974:71). “It was the Holy Spirit who was really the author of those miracles, even if they were done through Jesus” (ibid.). John F. Walvoord, though, thinks it is going too far to attribute all Jesus’ miracles to the power of the Spirit. Sometimes this was the case, but only because Jesus chose to do it that way. At other times, Walvoord says, the power came from his own divine nature (The Holy Spirit, 1991:97-98).

The questioner is probably right, that we should avoid a “false choice” here. Probably, Jesus used his own divine power to work miracles, but in cooperation and coordination with the power of the Holy Spirit within him. However we answer the question, the power that enabled Christ to perform his kingly ministry was divine power, and at least some of it was the result of his being filled with the Spirit.

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Did Jesus’ Power To Work Miracles Come from the Holy Spirit? — 13 Comments

  1. Jack, can you help me understand how the Pharisees performed works of the Holy Spirit if they did not have the Holy Spirit? Were they lying to Jesus that day? Or did they perform these works without the Spirit of God?

    Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me , you who practice lawlessness .’
    Mt 7:22‭-‬23 NASB
    http://bible.com/100/mat.7.22-23.NASB

      • We have no reason to think that he did. Even if he did, this would not mean that he was “Spirit-filled” in any soteriological sense (having to do with salvation). No one was Spirit-filled in that sense until Pentecost and afterward. The Holy Spirit could “fall upon” or “come upon” anyone, believer or not, and empower him to do something miraculous (even an animal). Cf. Balaam and his donkey, Numbers 22, 23. This is why it is important to remember that the Spirit comes on people in different ways–not all of them requiring or involving salvation (e.g., the tongue-speaking of Cornelius and his household, Acts 10).

        • So the power that comes from the Holy Spirit must then be a power we are given authority to use by Jesus. And how then do demons acquire the power they do? By this same power? How did they receive it? Does man give demons authority to do so? Can we pass the authority on in this way?

    • First, we have no reason to think that Jesus is referring to the Pharisees in these verses. He does not say to whom he is referring–just “many.” I think it refers to false teachers and “believers” throughout Christian history who “in Your name,” i.e., in the name of Jesus, are doing actual miraculous things on the assumption that they are doing them through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ reply to them shows for certain that they cannot be doing these things through the Holy Spirit. And Jesus does not indicate that they are speaking falsely. My conclusion is that these are people who have been deceived and taken over by demonic spirits, who are empowering them to perform miracles in order to deceive many. See my book, Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit, pp. 464-476. See also chapter 10 in my smaller book, The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study.

  2. This related question came up in our Bible study: Was Jesus omniscient while on earth? I believe He emptied Himself when He came to earth and relied upon the Holy Spirit just as we do, only fully and perfectly. If He was omniscient, did He just just set that aside? When would He have been omniscient: at birth, at age 12, at His baptism in water? He obviously was not omnipresent. Was He omnipotent, or was that also set aside when He came to earth? Passages that I read that seem to indicate omniscience ( and omnipotence) could be attributed to the gifts of the Spirit operating perfectly in and through Him. What do you all (especially Jack) think? Thank you.

    • The answer to your question is YES, Jesus was omniscient while on earth. And NO, he did NOT “empty himself” of his divine nature and divine attributes while on earth, but he suspended or modified the USE of them. (Here is where the role of the Holy Spirit enters.) For more on this, see my other essays here on this website: “Was Jesus Omniscient?” and “More about Jesus’ Omniscience” and “If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Not Know the Time of His Second Coming?”

  3. An excellent presentation! It is helping my own study of this very question. I was tracking with you until the very last paragraph.

    You were so careful to be scripturally based up until the end, and then conclude all the evidence can be shrugged off with an argument of… PROBABLY? Is there scriptural evidence to back up the “probably” conclusion?

  4. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit was at work in Jesus as the evidence of so many scriptures show, but the question I have is, if this is true, then how could what John says in John 20: 31 be true? He says that the miracles prove that he was the Christ, the Son of God, not just that he was a man empowered by the Holy Spirit. So, I agree that Jesus used his divine power to perform miracles in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. If too much emphasis is put on the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, then would this not discredit his miracles as proof of his being the Son of God?

    • No, this would not affect the evidential force of the miracles he performed. The source of the miracles is still God, which means that God is approving the message of the miracle-worker. Consider the miracles worked by Moses and Elijah, for example. The issue was not whether they themselves were just men, but whether the source of their miracles was God. Thus with Jesus, the miracles he performed (whether by his own power or by that of the Spirit) proved the truth of the claims that he made.

  5. There is not doubt that the Holy Spirit was at work in Jesus as the evidence of so many scriptures show, but the question I have is, if this is true, then how could what John says in John 20: 31 be true? He says that the miracles prove that he was the Christ, the Son of God, not just that he was a man empowered by the Holy Spirit. So, I agree that Jesus used his divine power to perform miracles in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. If too much emphasis is put on the Holy Spirit empowerment, then would this not discredit his miracles as proof of his being the Son of God?

  6. Hello Jack:

    I thought this was very helpful. I am going to do a class at our church on Jesus and his miracles and found this very helpful

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