After the escape from the sea and being marooned on the island of Malta, Paul had gathered some sticks for the fire built to protect survivors from the wet and cold. As he laid the bundle on the fire, a viper emerged and fastened on his hand. When the natives of Malta saw this, they thought he must surely be a robber, and that, though he escaped from the sea, fate would not allow him to live.
Shaking off the reptile into the fire, Paul suffered no harm. This serpent must’ve been a particularly nasty booger, as they expected Paul to swell or suddenly fall dead. But when that failed to happen, the inhabitants “changed their minds and said that he was a god.” This wasn’t the first time folks thought such of Paul (cf Acts 14:11).
What we see here is the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement in Mark 16:17-20 regarding the signs that would follow believers in the first century. Most Bibles cross-reference these two texts with one another in both cases (Mark 16 to Acts 28 and Acts 28 to Mark 16). Jesus made a similar type of promise to the seventy when He sent them out to preach in Luke 10:19.
The crux of this promise of God is the miraculous protection of those early preachers as they carried out their respective commissions. The miraculous signs were given to show the authority and approval of the Lord to those who were preaching and their message. Such signs are unnecessary today, as we have the Bible as our Divinely given authority, and we are to study to show ourselves approved by God (2 Tim 2:15).
Tragically, some have misused Mark’s text and practiced handling venomous snakes in worship. There is no example of any first-century Christian or church doing so in worship or any other time.
Moreover, I have heard of a number of preachers who have died from venomous snake bites over the last 25 years. Of each one it was said by the congregants, “The Lord decided to take him home.” The Lord said these signs would follow those who believe. If a man dies from a snake bite or from drinking poison, it stands to reason he must be an unbeliever.
They have missed the entire point, and in so doing have misrepresented the truth and brought ridicule on true followers of Jesus.