In this section of chapter 19 Paul performs extraordinary miracles such that his handkerchief or apron, “were carried from his body to the sick and the diseases left them [the sick] and the evil spirits went out” (vv.11-12). As Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, so did Paul. Interestingly, the seven sons of Sceva tried to join in the action but what resulted is frightening:
“But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Vv.13-16)
Here’s an account of true authority recognized—by demons, and false authority trampled on by these same demons. The following observations regarding authority are therefore in order.
First, Jesus’ authority and thus Pauls’ is recognized by the demonic host. Many accounts in the Gospels show the fear and utter terror demons have toward the Master, they “shutter”. Why such fear and submission? It’s because these spirits know they are before the Ancient of Days, the Creator and the One who will ultimately finish their doom long ago promised. They know Jesus is their judge. And if spirits are tormented by Jesus’ mere presence, what awaits humans who are tormented by evil spirits?
Second, authority can’t be assumed, it must be imparted, a lesson these seven sons learned well. Our society is fixated with horror movies, vampires and all things ghoulish, but behind the façade is a terrifying reality. To dabble with evil spirits or take them lightly is foolish because they’re lethal. Jesus gave authority to his church, to his disciples over demonic spirits to cast them out. While demonic manifestations like the one here in Acts don’t occur daily, the New Testament is clear that they are real and have limited power.
Third, demonic spirits imply there is an immaterial real realm of reality contra the naturalism that dominates much of Western civilization where it is held that matter is all that exists. These spirits are capable of knowing many things. They’re not necessarily stupid but crafty and when they inhabit a persons’ body, their strength can be overwhelming to a mere man (E.g., the Gadarene Demoniac). Consider what the news of these events produced:
“This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. 18 Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (Vv.17-19)
What Resulted? Both Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus who practiced magic arts willingly confessed their sins and burned their books. Why? Perhaps because Gods’ power showed them whose ultimate and who must be served—Jesus! Maybe it’s because the Holy Spirit through the signs demonstrated unveiled to the warlock and witches their blindness that submitting to doomed spirits is folly because Christ will eventually slay them. Regardless of what took place in individuals—and it was glorious—all this occurred because of the word of the Lord which grew mightily and prevailed (V.20).
Rethink? Could it be that many of our bi-polar friends and loved ones, not all, have some kind of demonic activity tormenting their lives? Is all insanity or madness purely physical or could there be evil spirits lurking in the shadows? From this text and others in Scripture the answer is affirmative.
As I consider Western Civilization on the one hand, we have a sector that utterly denies demonic existence and another which likes to dabble in the magic arts (E.g., Psychic Readings, Tarot Cards, Ouija Boards, etc.). One denies demonic existence, the other embraces their influence seeing it as one means to enlightenment. In warfare, the most powerful tactics are deception and stealth. Sadly, both camps are deceived by demonic spirits that use these tactics effectively.
May I not deny demonic existence nor give into their influence. May I understand more deeply their lethal abilities to deceive with stealth and may I combat them with your word, prayer and a life given to increased sanctification.