Do you ever sense the battle of light versus dark, good versus evil? Do sense that there might be a spiritual war going on? Do you ever feel defeated? It is possible to have victory over darkness.
In our study through Acts we’ve see that battle numerous times. In chapter 8 Philip faced off against a sorcerer, and now in Barnabas and Saul confront a sorcerer as well! It is a battle of the kingdom of light versus the kingdom of darkness.
In Acts 13, verses 6-12, Barnabas and Saul are on a mission trip, and their first stop was the island of Cyprus, where we learned in the previous post that they were telling the story of Jesus. In one town, they met a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. When we think of the name Jesus, we think of Jesus Christ. For Jews, however, that name Jesus (in their language pronounced “Yeshua”) is the name Joshua, a highly common name of them and us. “Bar” means “son of,” so this prophet was simply son of a guy named Joshua. We also read he was called Elymas, which was the common word for sorcerer or magician.
What was not common about this guy was that he was a “sorcerer” and a “false prophet,” and he was also an attendant to the proconsul Sergius Paulus. A proconsul was a governor of a region, appointed by the Roman emperor. Thus Bar-Jesus, as an attendant to the governor, is in a highly influential role, but because he is a false prophet and sorcerer, he is opposed to the Kingdom of God.
Bar-Jesus uses his influence to hinder the spread of the word of God. This is the power of darkness at war with the power of light.
In verse 8, we read that Saul was also called Paul. Why the name change? Saul is a Hebrew, Jewish name and Paul is a Greek, Roman name. From Acts 7, when we first met him, Saul has been called Saul. Now from this point in chapter 13 to the end of the book he will now be referred to as Paul. Why?
It could be simply that when Saul was in a Jewish setting he used his Hebrew name, and now that he is starting to minister in more Greco-Roman settings, he is going to use his Greek name. It makes sense for the mission. When I was a summer missionary in Guyana for 3 months and when we lived in Kingston, Jamaica, people called “Brother Jo – El.” I always thought “Joelle” was a girl’s name, because here in America it is mostly used for girls. But in those countries, to add the syllabic pause in the middle of the name, Jo-el, was a cultural way to distinguish my name from the name “Joe.” Paul is likely being culturally appropriate, missional, helping him to identify with the community in which he ministered.
The change might also be symbolic on the author’s part, signifying the changing mission focus from the Jewish world to the Greco-Roman world. We’ve been seeing that transition bit by bit in chapters 8-12. It will only move further in that direction, as God’s heart is to see his word, heart and purposes continue to spread throughout the whole world.
From this point, Paul takes the lead in the narrative. Rarely will the author of Acts refer to them as “Barnabas and Paul” anymore, but instead he calls them “Paul and Barnabas,” or as we will see in the next post, in verse 13 they are called, “Paul and his companions,” and Barnabas isn’t even mentioned.
Back to the battle. It is Paul and Barnabas verses Bar-Jesus. The power of God verses the power of Satan. We read in verse 9 that Paul is filled with the Spirit.
Have you noticed that we have heard a lot about the Holy Spirit in this story so far? The Spirit speaks, guides, fills, and empowers. The Spirit is clearly vital to the mission of the Kingdom. This means that the mission of Jesus is not solely on our shoulders. He once said to his disciples, “I will not leave you alone. I will send the Spirit.” And he did, which we read in Acts 2, when the Spirit came and indwelled the apostles on the day of Pentecost. I have written previously about the difference between indwelling and filling of the Spirit. We can be indwelled, where the Spirit is living in us, but at the same time, we are not filled, meaning that we are not giving the Spirit control of our lives.
Paul is filled with the Spirit. He is giving the Spirit control, and thus the Spirit’s power is at work in Paul in this battle with Bar-Jesus. First, Paul condemns Bar-Jesus in very colorful language. He says in verse 10 that Bar-Jesus is “a child of the devil.” Paul might be making a bit a dark joke here. Remember that Bar-Jesus means “son of Joshua,” and the first thing Paul says is, “you are a son of the devil”!
Paul is just getting started! He says Bar-Jesus is an, “enemy of everything that is right, full of all kinds of deceit and trickery, and perverting the right ways of the Lord.” Yikes.
Paul proclaims that the hand of the Lord is against Bar-Jesus. Blindness comes over Bar-Jesus, a very symbolic miracle as Bar-Jesus had been blinding the people with his lies, deceiving them. Where God wants his word to spread, Bar-Jesus has been hindering that. So Paul’s proclamation takes effect, Bar-Jesus is blinded, and word, heart and purposes of God spreads.
Notice the effect this situation has on the proconsul: He sees! While Bar-Jesus is blinded, the proconsul sees the truth. He believed and was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. This is a fascinating example of the victory of Jesus over the forces of darkness. The Kingdom of Jesus is many things, and one of them is victory of light over darkness. In this story we also see the Kingdom of Jesus as the victory of truth over lies. Notice again how the word of God is spreading. Truth is spreading.
To have victory over darkness, be filled with the Spirit, and see the truth of Jesus! Not sure how to be filled with the Spirit? Read here for more or comment below.