By Tyson Thorne

August 12, 2014

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Acts 13.4 begins Saul’s, soon to be called Paul for the rest of the book, first of three missionary journeys. Why the name change? As we saw yesterday with John Mark, it is not unusual in the New Testament era for people to go by two names, one Hebrew the other Greek. Paul is the Greek equivalent of Saul. He and Barnabas are accompanied by John Mark to the island of Cyprus. We’ll plot their journey as we go along.


Their time on Cyprus is largely uneventful. There is no indication of resistance to, or acceptance of, the gospel. That is until they reach Paphos on the western end of the island. There they meet a magician named Bar-Jesus (meaning “Son of Joshua”). This magician was very different from the one encountered by Peter and Philip in Samaria. On that occasion (Acts 8.9-.24) the man, named Simon, supported the apostles teaching and accepted it for himself. Bar-Jesus is a different breed, he practiced magic but was also a false prophet and a dangerous man with friends in high places. The term “false prophet” here is in contrast to the prophets of the church of Antioch mentioned only a few verses earlier. Bar-Jesus also known by his Greek name Elymas, would pedal blessings and curses for money without God’s approval.

So already we have established the good guys and the bad guys, who is the potential victim? Sergius Paulus, proconsul of the island. It is noted that Sergius is an intelligent man who was curious about the teachings regarding the Messiah, Jesus. He may have been a “God-fearer”, that is a gentile who learned about the Jewish Scriptures and their teachings. Hearing Paul and Barnabas were in his city, he sent for them. It was on this occasion that Paul and Elymas cross paths, an event that is not going to fair well for the magician as Paul has little patience for evil.

We are not aware of Elymas’ intensions for Sergius, only that he was desperate to keep him from receiving the word about Jesus. Perhaps he had the proconsul’s ear and was his advisor on matters of faith. This would make sense as Sergius is obviously learned about Jewish teachings and Elymas is Jewish. The message Paul and Barnabas bring threatens the false-prophet’s usefulness to the islands most powerful administrator.

Verse nine may be the most important verse of this passage. Here we are told that Paul was suddenly full of the Holy Spirit, which means that the words he says and the actions he takes are those that God has approved of. God is behind the rebuke that is coming, and it is God’s power that is at work in the curse Paul speaks. Peter’s rebuke of Simon may have seemed stern, but Paul’s rebuke of Bar-Jesus borders on cruel. Looking him straight in the eyes Paul said,

“You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness – will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!”

Interestingly, Bar-Jesus received the same curse that Paul himself did: temporary blindness. There are few who garner God’s greatest wrath than those who claim to speak for him and speak dishonestly. Bar-Jesus had the ear of the proconsul and was well known throughout the region. He was a self-proclaimed prophet of God who no doubt used his magician’s tricks to convince the people he was from God. What would happen to him should his deceit and treachery become known? The Holy Spirit, through Paul, exposed him for who he was, a son of the devil (Ben-Belial in Hebrew) rather than a servant of God.

Witnessing the exchange, Sergius listened to what Paul and Barnabas had to say about God and his son Jesus. Sergius came to believe in Jesus that day, and Luke makes clear why. This is not to be missed; Sergius did not believe because of the miracle Paul performed. He believed because he was “greatly astounded” at the teaching they brought about God. The miracle may have confirmed their message was true, but it was the message that swayed Sergius to become a follower of the Messiah.


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