Jesus warned three times against deceptive miracles in the last days—for example, He said, “False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, see also vs. 4,5,11). This verse teaches two important points. First, signs and wonders are not a sure sign of God’s activity, since they can be performed by false christs and false prophets. Secondly, God’s “elect” will, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, be able to discern the difference between false and true miracles, although they will be so convincing that even they will nearly be deceived.
The Apostle Paul gives the same warning in his discourse about the antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2. “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:9,10).
The context of this passage is the time of “His coming” (v. 8), in other words, the period of time immediately before the Second Coming of Christ. Although Satan has been active all through human history, he has been restrained from fully exercising his power—“You know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time” (v.6). Because Satan has challenged God’s authority, wisdom, laws and government, a full demonstration of both Satan’s evil principles and of God’s righteousness and love must take place. But God has delayed this, because billions of people all over the world do not have enough information about God to make an intelligent judgment.
However, before Jesus returns “the everlasting gospel” will be preached “to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6). Then God can allow the final demonstration from both Satan’s side and from God’s side. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14). “You know what is restraining…for the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).
God allows deceptive miracles, but it is important to remember that the people who are deceived are those who have rejected the gospel (the truth about God). “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians2:11,12).
In these verses we see that deception is the final stage of a process which starts with having “pleasure in unrighteousness”, and then proceeds to a refusal to “believe the truth” about God, especially that part of His truth that is a rebuke to the sin they do not want to forsake. This refusal to accept God’s instruction leads to deception, because it is the truth that condemns sin that also reveals the deceptions of Satan. When sinners reject God’s word they reject his provision for their own safety.
Some believers have decided that since Satan will work miracles at the end of time, the safest plan is simply to reject all miracles. But miracles and signs are a fundamental manifestation of the power that God gives to His people when they believe in Him. “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17,18).
This is especially true at the end of time, when God’s people will manifest the power of the Holy Spirit to an extent that has not been seen since the Day of Pentecost. The prophet Joel prophesied that God would pour out His Spirit and “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions…the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:28-31).
Today rational science is skeptical of anything that cannot be explained scientifically, but at the very end of time there will be undeniable signs, wonders and miracles from every side. In particular, the beast from the earth of Revelation 13:11 “(will) perform great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he (will) deceive those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do” (Revelation 13:13,14).
What this means for God’s people is that they cannot rely on miracles as proof of God’s working. The scriptural evidence shows us that the most spectacular miracles will be worked through the power of Satan! How essential it is that God’s people follow John’s admonition, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). How can we test them? “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). We must compare everything with the Word of God.