Very recently, a middle-aged woman, a Ms. Linda Long, in London, Kentucky, died of a snake bite. She wasn’t bitten in the woods or wilderness, however, but within the walls of a church, a church which illegally practiced snake handling. The First Coast News has the story. And call my cynical, but the way the story ends seems to be a little bit of a potshot at Christianity. They first point out that the practice of snake handling is derived from a passage from Mark, and they immediately follow that with a statement that officials from the church were unavailable for comment. May I?
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 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 16:16-18, NKJV
I have heard before that the signs here spoken of would only be applicable to the disciples (the apostles), to whom Jesus was speaking. Reading the text, however, that does not seem like it is the case. Jesus specifically says that those who believe:”(This belief is a result of the preaching performed by the apostles according to verse 15, thereby differentiating “those who believe” from the apostles)”: will be able to do various wonderful acts.
Ms. Long undoubtedly had the promise that no harm would come to her in mind when she took up the serpent within the church.
However, God is not mocked,:”(Galatians 6:7)”: nor is He tempted.:”(Matthew 4:7)”: The gifts given to believers are not given for entertainment, for show, or for other vain reasons. I find it no surprise that in an age where professed Christians will call gibberish and vain babbling the gift of tongues that there are other professed Christians who will take up poisonous snakes for no other reason than an odd sort of faith.
Let’s be clear on this: The sign of not being harmed by serpents is not a command. Jesus never told anyone to go and pick up a poisonous snake to see what won’t happen. This is why the apostles didn’t relay any command to take up snakes in churches. This is why the Book of Acts contains no references to any early believers voluntarily taking up serpents.
What we do have is a clear example of what the sign Jesus talked about is:
But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature and suffered no harm. However, expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. Acts 28:3-6, NKJV
Here we have Paul being protected from viper venom, venom which the natives expected to kill Paul within a short time. And yet nothing happened. Jesus’ promise of protection from servants proved true. Should we expect the same from those who would pick up snakes just to show others what they can do? Of course not, anymore than someone could choose to start to speak in tongues or anything else of that nature. The gifts are administered by the will of the Lord:”(Mark 16:20)”: (much like salvation itself) and they are not ours to boast of.
Further, it is wholly probable that the administration of these sign gifts were unique to the early church period, confirming to those who heard the Word of God preached that there really is a change in God’s dealing with man. This is consistent with the rest of the Bible, in which God confirmed:”(Ibid.)”: important changes in His dealings by ministering miracles through Moses, the judges (specifically Samson), the prophets, and here with the apostles.
As we are not currently in a transitory period (the New Covenant being in full force), a confirmation of a change of period is unnecessary and so we would not expect the sign gifts to be necessary at this time.
I realize that there will always be people who are ready and willing to take Jesus at His Word, and that’s great. However, one must be conscience of the divisions within the Bible.:”(2 Timothy 2:15)”: There are a myriad of commands in the Bible and a variety of intended audiences. One cannot presume every command, promise, and blessing is intended for every person, but that is not to say we cannot learn from them.
And we would certainly expect something of Jesus’ words concerning serpents here to have some application for our day. The early Christians were protected miraculously from serpents, and this wonderfully demonstrates the more awesome protection afforded to the Christian by Christ against that old serpent himself, Satan.
Believe me when I tell you that Jesus is awesome. I cannot fathom just how wonderful He is, nor can I express the comfort which comes from knowing all power belongs to Him, whether in Heaven or Earth.:”(Matthew 28:18)”: All power!
Do you realize how much power that leaves for Satan? If Jesus is all-powerful, Satan is none-powerful! The serpent is powerless against those who are the Lord’s, for He is our High Tower against the enemy.:”(Psalm 61:3)”:
People will always take time to scoff at the Bible, misinterpreting and misapplying its words to suit their whimsy, but rest assured that rightly divided, Scripture is timeless and unbreakable. Jesus, may You grant us all a little more patience to understand Your Words.
May the Lord comfort the family and friends of Ms. Long, and may we learn from her example that voluntary snake handling is not what Jesus was talking about (if it was, it’d be perfectly safe). And so, might I suggest praying for professed Christian snake handlers worldwide, that they could be taught the difference between Biblical sign gifts and what they are doing.