Something that presages future situations or events; also, a marvel.
The Hebrew word moh·phethʹ generally carries the idea of a “miracle,” as in the miracles performed through Moses and Aaron in Egypt. However, in some cases the term is definitely used in the sense of a “portent,” as with regard to the prophet or dreamer who offers a sign or portent (to be fulfilled in the future) to lend support to his prophecy.—De 13:1-3.
The portent (moh·phethʹ) might be a miraculous act manifesting divine power, as when the altar of Jeroboam was ripped apart by God, portending the still future and greater execution of his adverse judgment regarding that altar and those serving at it. (1Ki 13:1-5; compare the fulfillment some 300 years later at 2Ki 23:16-20.) Or it might be just an unusual action performed by someone, as when Isaiah went naked and barefoot to portend the circumstances due to come on Egypt and Ethiopia at the hands of the king of Assyria (Isa 20:3-6), or when Ezekiel made a hole in the wall (likely the wall of his residence) and took out his luggage through it as a portent of the exile facing Judah.—Eze 12:5-11; compare 24:18-27.
Since a portent is a sign pointing to future things or circumstances, one writer may employ the word moh·phethʹ (portent, or miracle) while another uses ʼohth (sign) to describe the same thing. (Compare 2Ch 32:24 with 2Ki 20:8, 9.) A “sign” may serve as a guide or indicator for the present, as well as for the future, whereas a “portent” relates primarily to the future. The designating of something as a “sign” stresses that it has significance, whether for the present or the future. Its being called a “portent” stresses its significance as relating to the future.
Thus, when referring to Joel 2:30, which foretold “portents [plural of the Hebrew moh·phethʹ] in the heavens and on the earth,” the apostle Peter spoke of “portents [plural of the Gr. teʹras] in heaven above and signs [plural of se·meiʹon] on earth.” (Ac 2:14, 19) In the Christian Greek Scriptures teʹras is consistently used in combination with se·meiʹon (“sign”), both terms being used in the plural form.—Ac 7:36; 14:3; 15:12; 2Co 12:12.
Basically, teʹras refers to any act or thing exciting wonderment, hence it is properly translated “wonders” in some cases. (Mt 24:24; Joh 4:48) Where the future is more clearly involved, “portent” is more appropriate. Serving as credentials that Jesus was God’s “Sent One” were the “powerful works and portents and signs that God did through him.” (Ac 2:22) The miraculous cures and resurrections he performed not only excited wonderment but also portended what he would do on a greater scale in the future. (Joh 6:54; compare Joh 1:50, 51; 5:20, 28.) Some acts were portents of his future activity as God’s High Priest, forgiving sins and acting as Judge. (Mt 9:2-8; Joh 5:1-24) Others served as evidence of his future authority and power to act against Satan and his demons, abyssing them. (Mt 12:22-29; Lu 8:27-33; compare Re 20:1-3.) All such acts pointed forward to his Messianic Rule as Anointed King of God’s Kingdom.
Similarly, Jesus’ disciples, as witnesses of his teachings and resurrection, were backed up by God with “signs as well as portents and various powerful works.” (Heb 2:3, 4; Ac 2:43; 5:12) These gave evidence of God’s dealings with the newly formed Christian congregation and portended his future use of that congregation to carry out his will and purpose.—Compare Joh 14:12.
As false prophets arose in Israel, so the foretold apostasy in the Christian congregation would produce a “man of lawlessness” whose presence would be evidenced by “the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents.” (2Th 2:3-12) Thus, the evidence marshaled to support the apostate movement would not be weak or puny but would manifest Satan’s might. The portents would be lying ones, however, either fraudulent on their face or deceptive as to the conclusions to which they would lead. Appearing to manifest God’s benevolence and blessing, they would in reality divert persons from the source and path of life.—Compare 2Co 11:3, 12-15; see MIRACLES; POWER, POWERFUL WORKS; SIGN.