According to the Bible, believers who obeyed the gospel of Christ would be endued with miraculous gifts, i.e. speaking in tongues (foreign languages), raising the dead, healing the sick, taking up poisonous snakes and even drinking deadly poison without harm, to name a few. The above are signs listed in Mark 16:17-19.
Miraculous Gifts Had A Specific Purpose
There are several reasons gifts were given in the New Testament. The primary reason was to aid the church in making the "second exodus" journey out of the spiritual bondage of sin into the rest of God (salvation or justification from sin). The reader is urged to read the epistle to the Hebrews.
Specific Examples of the Purpose of Gifts
Speaking in tongues were a sign of covenantal judgment. As God brought the Assyrians (men of other languages) against Ephraim (10 Northern tribes) in 722 B.C., he would bring the Roman armies against Judah, the southern kingdom in 70 AD. The gift of tongues were a sign to the unbelieving Judeans that imminent judgment was impending, (See Isa. 28:11-12; 1 Crr. 14:20-21).
Confirming the Saints
Another specific purpose of the gifts were designed to confirm the saints (the body of Christ) during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant that they were in fact were the true sons of God. Unbelieving Judeans claimed they were true Israel and even persecuted the church. Paul wrote this very persecution was a sign and token of their destruction, 2 Thes. 1:4-6).
By giving the body of Christ these special miraculous gifts, it separated believing Jews and Gentiles, i.e. Christians (called Isaac) from the unbelieving Jews counterparts referred to in the N.T. as "Ishmael (Rom. 8:-8-9, 14-16; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; Gal. 3:3-5; Jude 23).
Miraculous Gifts Had a Specific Time
While many believe that miraculous gifts were to continue indefinitely, the Bible actually teaches just the opposite. They had a very specific limit in time being connected with a certain event.
The second Exodus theme which undergirds the New Testament is the clue to many puzzling passages in the N.T. Yet, many are not aware of how it should guide our interpretation.
For example, concerning miraculous gifts, Micah 7:15 states that God would shows marvelous signs or wonders (miracles) according to the days of Israel's coming out of ancient Egypt. The former journey lasted 40 years. Thus, Micah prophesied that the gifts of the Spirit would only continue forty years. (More on this later).
This 40 year period corresponds to the 40 years from Pentecost of Acts 2 until the destruction of the Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. See 1 Cor. 1:4-8.
Miraculous Gifts Imparted Through Apostles' Hands
The imparting of the gifts was through the laying on of the Apostles' hands. See Acts 8:17-18 and 19:1-6. Therefore, one had to have special Apostolic powers to pass on the gifts. The exception was the Apostles themselves who received the gifts directly from Christ in heaven, (Acts 2:1-4). They were in a class all by themselves and no man attempted to join them out of fear (Acts 5:11-12). Any attempt to purchase the gift was strictly condemned as it could not be purchased with money (Acts 8:20).
But What About Cornelius?
It will be objected that Cornelius and company received gifts directly from God just as did the Apostles. (Acts 10:44-48). It is true that God gave the gifts directly to Cornelius and company. The question is why and to what purpose.
Cornelius, a gentile who were before separated from the commonwealth of Israel. They were outside of the Israel's covenant and referred to as the dogs. (See Matt. 15:24). For the first ten years of the church, the Apostles had preached to none but Jews only.
To convince the apostles to take the gospel to the Gentiles, God gave Peter a vision of the animals telling him what God had cleansed Peter should not call common.
As Peter began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. They prophesied and began to speak foreign languages (tongues).
God was not demonstrating how the pattern of how gifts were received .Here he was doing something different. He was confirming that Gentiles now stood on an equal playing field with Israel in their need and acceptance of salvation. This is why, when Peter heard them speak in foreign languages he immediately commanded them to be baptized.
Later, when rehearsing the conversion of the Gentiles with his Jewish brethren, he explained to them that God had given the Gentiles the Holy Spirit just as he did to the Apostles at Pentecost. (Acts 11:15)
Analyzing the Cornelius Conversion Event
What did this mean? First, it does not offer a blanket manner in which the Holy Spirit was given that contradicted what Luke recorded in chapter 8. Secondly, even on this occasion an apostle was present who confirmed these were authentic miracles. Thirdly, as mentioned above, it served to confirm God was no respecter of persons but that in every nation anyone who does righteousness is accepted of him.