Mark chapter 16, verses 17 and 18 have puzzled some people for a long time. In fact some theologians have even gone so far as to suggest that these verses really don’t belong in the bible. This is unfortunate. Careful study of the word will reveal the Truth about these verses. There are some who like these verses because they are into the tongues movement and it seems to give their Ideas credibility. On the other hand, some dislike it for the same reason. But the whole Idea is to go to the Bible seeking truth, not looking for justification. That is the first step. The second is to realize that no one can interpret the Bible, the Bible is its own interpreter. How can we define what the Bible means? We can’t; for the Bible is its own dictionary. It defines itself. In plain language, only the Bible can say what it means. All we have to do is seek the truth.
To many times we get caught up in the rhetoric of theologians with fancy titles who speak with eloquent, yet meaningless words. Much too often that’s all it is…….just words! Let’s get back to basics. God didn’t write the Bible simply for Phi Beta Kappa’s. He wrote it for you. Let’s look at these verses and let the Bible tell us what they really say. Hear it out, and then decide.
Mark 16:17, 18
17 “And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;”
18 “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.”
It says, these signs SHALL follow them that believe. Not maybe, not if, not possibly, they SHALL follow them that believe. All these signs, not some. Now I ask you, what believer do you know who can pick up a snake and the snake won’t hurt him? Better yet, what believer do you know who will pick up a snake? Yet that’s exactly what It says. They SHALL pick up serpents. The same thing is true in verse 18. It says if they drink any deadly thing it SHALL NOT hurt them. So I ask you, what believer do you know who can drink DEADLY poison and not be hurt? The truth of course is that, if you or I, Christian or non-Christian, drink DEADLY poison, we won’t be hurt, we’ll be dead!
So what do we have here, a mystery? …..Only to those without eyes to see. No, I’m not talking about literal eyes; and neither is this passage talking about literal serpents or DEADLY drinks. These two verses are giving us a marvelous spiritual picture of the believer and his work. There are five signs spoken of here. Let’s go over them one by one. Let God reveal secrets!
The first sign| “in my name they shall cast out devils:” Does this sign follow the believers? Indeed it does. The statement is true. Not that they will cast out some little red man with a pitchfork and arrowhead tail. And no, we’re not talking about the exorcist here. I’m talking about something infinitely more serious. The salvation of a man’s (woman’s) soul. You see, by spreading the gospel of salvation, the believers are coming with the power which casts out Satan. We are the tools of God. That is our work, to go forth with the sword of God, (the word) that Satan might be cast out of people’s lives. Remember what Jesus told the apostles in John 20:21. “As my father hath sent me, even so send I you.” We are the messengers to go forth with the message, that some may be saved. In the process of salvation, the devil is cast out, and God comes to dwell in his place. There has been that dramatic change within him. Where once the devil dwelt, now dwells the Holy Spirit of God. We are the tools that God uses to bring about this process. That is what the language of believers casting out devils in Christ’s name is showing. We, (as the bearers of the gospel) bring the power of the word, which casts out devils. The Lord God makes the void, (by casting out Satan) and then the Lord God fill the void with Himself. And so you see this first sign DOES follow them that believe. If you find believers, you’ll find devils cast out. Because you’ll find those who are saved by the gospel that these believers bring.
The second sign| “They shall speak with new tongues.” The word tongue simply means language. Unfortunately, there are some who don’t seem recognize that FACT, even though they know it. For example one might say, I speak in the Hebrew tongue; or I speak in three different tongues. The word means language. This sentence means that the believers speak in new languages. No matter what country they’re from, they will speak with a new tongue. What tongue…Before we are saved, we don’t understand the Bible. It is like a foreign tongue to us. It’s in a different language from that of the world. The hidden things of the Bible are not seen by us. But after we are saved it’s a totally different story. Things that we never understood before, we now understand. Where once the Bible was a contradiction, it is now one of the few things that are trustworthy. From the Bible, we begin to learn more and more every day because now, we speak the tongue. It is the language of all who believe. Not only is it a new language but it is very abrasive to the unsaved. If you don’t believe it, try talking to the unsaved in the Christian language and the vast majority of them will leave you so fast that you’ll think they were vacuumed away. That’s because the word of God is like a two edged sword! Any Christian knows exactly what I mean. The gospel is the new tongue that those who become saved, speak with. No more is it a foreign language to them. There are other verses which speak of tongues in a different light, but this verse is illustrating the new heavenly language of those that believe.
The third sign| “They shall take up serpents” The serpent is symbolic of Satan. Satan is the serpent that believers can take up. Revelations chapter 12 verse 9 tells us clearly. There it speaks of that old serpent, called the devil and Satan. It is clear all through the bible, Satan is symbolized by the serpent. So we can begin to understand what is being said here in mark. Look to the Middle East for an example. You take a snake handler over there. He is the ruler of the snake, not the snake ruler over him. That is precisely the message in mark. To the unbeliever, the serpent has rule over him. Unbelievers are like slaves to Satan. But to the believer, Satan is a conquered foe. Christ freed us from captivity to him at the cross. He no longer is ruler in our lives. He is like a defanged serpent. We have no fear of him. He cannot hurt the believer because we are given power over him by the Lord.
Luke chapter 10 verses 19 and 20 tells it about as plain as it gets. The lord sends 70 out with the gospel two by two; and we read ” Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” Is the Lord given them some power to go around the countryside stomping on snakes and scorpions? Is that what the Lord is concerned about? The snakes in the field? No, No, No. The truth of course is that the lord is not talking about literal snakes and scorpions, but those who are spiritually snakes and scorpions. And that is the same way that we are to understand mark chapter 16. The serpent that the believers will take up is Satan. Because they have no fear of Him. They rule over him, as the snake handler rules over the snake. Yes, this sign also follows them that believe. Like the snake handler, they rule over the snake without fear, and without harm.
The fourth sign| “If they shall drink any DEADLY thing it shall not hurt them.” This is talking about the power of the believer not to be harmed by false gospels. You see the true gospel is like living water to those about to die of thirst (spiritually speaking). To drink it brings life. Naturally, the opposite is deadly water that brings death. These are spiritual pictures of the true salvation program, and one that is deadly. Remember when Jesus met the woman of Samaria at the well and asked her for a drink? What was the outcome of that? Read John, chapter 4 verse 10 .Jesus said, “If thou newest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” You see, this is the good drink. Jesus said if you drink literal water, you’ll be thirsty again; but in 14 He says “but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;” It is the water of salvation. Blessed are those who thirst after this water. When we (believers) bring the gospel, it is like we are bringing cool waters to a dry and thirsty soul. By the same token, when a false prophet or teacher brings false gospels, it is like DEADLY poison. It is the drink which bringeth not life but death. But the believers need not fear. This DEADLY drink shall not harm them. In other words, they are secure in the true gospel of Christ. Nothing can separate them from the Love of God. While others may be duped by this false gospel, the true believer shall not be hurt by this deadly drink. This sign also follows them that believe. They are secure in Christ, that no deadly drink can harm them.
The fifth sign| “They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” Do you know anyone who can lay hands on the sick and they shall recover? There are those who say they can. But truthfully. Is this a literal promise, or a promise that those who believe will go forth healing spiritually? Let’s look at It carefully. We know that those who are unsaved are pictured in the Bible as those who are sick, and in need of a doctor. For example; the Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. In Matthew chapter 9 verses 12 and 13 Jesus answered “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:” Jesus has equated the publicans and sinners with being sick. They are the ones in need of a saviour. They are the ones who need the physician. Jesus is the physician. These sinners were not physically sick, but they were sick spiritually. That’s why Jesus ate with them. They needed the Doctor. They are the ones who needed their sin sick souls healed. Sure, Jesus did many miracles of healing the sick. Does that mean that we can literally, by miracle heal the sick? No. Jesus healed the sick as an example. When we read in the Bible of the people being healed, we are getting a spiritual picture of the healing nature of Salvation. This is just as when we read in the Bible of the Lamb being slain. It is a picture of Christ. Or when we read of the fish and loaves feeding five thousand. It is a spiritual picture of the feeding of the Lord’s people. It’s not there to illustrate that we can feed five thousand with a few fish, it’s there as a spiritual picture. And that’s the picture in mark. The believers go forth with the healing gospel of salvation and the sick recover from the sickness of their sin.
The phrase, “lay hands on the sick”, I believe that this is illustrating that it is by their hands these sick are made well. In other words, they are the ones who are bringing this healing to the sick. God has sent us. We the believers come with the word of God in our hand to heal the sick. When they become saved, they have been healed. They have been made whole. So again we see that this sign does follow the believers. They go forth with the gospel in their hands to heal the sick, and the sick DO recover. When Jesus would heal, oft times he would say, go and sin no more. Was he saying they were sick because they sinned? No; he was giving us a spiritual picture of the sin sickness, and also of how that sickness could be healed. He bore our infirmities on the cross and healed us. It is He and only He who can do the real miracle, which is the miracle of Salvation. In the spiritual language, He is the doctor, or Physician that we are in need of, to be healed. And so you see these verses are not a statement that believers will be able to do some literal miracles; rather they are a statement that these miracles of salvation, follow them that believe. Indeed we can readily see that this is true. We indeed (by the power of the gospel) cast out devils. We indeed speak in a new tongue. A tongue that only believers have ears to hear. We indeed have the power to take up serpents. For we have no fear that serpent Satan can harm us. Indeed, if we should drink any DEADLY thing it would not harm us. The poisonous false gospel has no effect on us. We are secure in Christ. We indeed lay hands on the sick and they recover. By coming with the word of God in our hands that they may be healed from the sickness of sin.
Yes these verses belong in the Bible. The Bible testifies of them. Yes every word of this is true. These signs DO follow them that believe. And if you speak with new tongues, you will understand this. These verses are a marvelous promise to the believers. Where they are, there will be those who are being saved. Where they are, there will be the gospel of salvation preached. Where they are, Satan cannot harm them. He hath no power over them, as he has over the unbelievers. Either these verses are all literal, or they all are all speaking in spiritual terms. 2nd Timothy 2:15 says “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I don’t think any better words could be spoken here. It’s not the way things seem that count. It’s the way things are. I’ve found that seeking the truth, (IN THE WORD) is much better than depending on what other mortal men say is the truth. Find out for yourself. Isn’t that what 2nd Timothy 2:15 is saying to us? Don’t take man’s word, study to shew thyself approved. I hope this has given you some food for thought. May God Bless you all, in the study of His Holy Word…….
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