Sorcery and the return of Jesus

Simon the sorcerer

An interesting thing happened to me recently. A non-Christian friend sent me an email with a link to a YouTube video and a message which read, 'Look and be amazed.' So I clicked on the link and watched. The clip was taken from a programme that had been broadcast on Chinese television. It was of a young man performing tricks with coins on a glass table.

The table was circular in shape with a hole in the middle, like a large doughnut; the man was sitting on a chair in the centre. Members of the audience were sitting around the table, to the back and to the sides, and the camera was in front; so he was being watched from all angles.

His act involved him making the coins pass through the table top in various ways. As the act progressed the tricks became more difficult to explain as sleight of hand. It culminated with him putting his hand and his arm through the glass top and picking up the coins out of the hand of a member of the audience held underneath.

If it was an illusion it was very clever because he was being watched from every angle, and the glass was transparent. The camera moved from in front of him to above him, and you could see that his arm had gone straight through the glass. As his arm moved above the table, so it moved beneath the table: it was the same arm.

Someone sitting beside him reached under the table and touched his hand. He wasn't expecting it, but he looked up and smiled. I thought to myself, 'How is he doing that?' And the words came to me: 'Simon the sorcerer.' I recognized the name from the Book of Acts. I looked up the reference and realized I'd been watching a satanic miracle.

Act 8:9,11 says:

Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.

I remember my friend telling me to look and be amazed. He'd been amazed at what he'd seen, and it was obvious from the faces of the people around the table that they, too, were amazed. According to the dictionary a sorcerer is a person who has magic powers. And the word 'magic' is defined as the power to influence events by mysterious or supernatural means.

A lot of what is termed 'magic' is done by sleight of hand or the use of clever props, but there can be a supernatural element to it. That was the kind of magic Simon the sorcerer performed in the Book of Acts and this magician was performing.

Pharaoh's sorcerers

The fact that Satan has the ability to perform miracles can be seen from the Book of Exodus. In Exo 7:8–12 Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and it became a snake. But Pharaoh summoned his sorcerers and magicians and they did the same thing by their secret arts: each of them threw his staff down and it became a snake.

Their staffs didn't appear to become snakes, they actually became snakes. But when the snakes turned back into staffs, Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. That shows that Satan has the power to perform miracles, but that God is all-powerful.

In Exo 7:14–22 Aaron struck the water of the Nile with his staff and it changed into blood, but the Egyptian magicians did the same thing by their secret arts. Then in Exo 8:5–7 Aaron held his staff out over the streams, canals and ponds and frogs came up onto the land, but again Pharaoh's magicians did the same thing by their secret arts.

However, when Aaron struck the ground with his staff and the dust turned into gnats, the Egyptian magicians couldn't do that and said, 'This is the finger of God (Exo 8:16–19).' Out of the ten plagues God brought upon Egypt (Exo 7–12), Pharaoh's sorcerers could replicate only two of them. Satan has the ability to perform miracles, but his powers are limited.

The people of Samaria were amazed at the miracles Simon the sorcerer performed, but then Simon, in turn, was astonished at the signs and miracles Philip performed. Simon met his match in Philip, just as Pharaoh's sorcerers had met their match in Aaron. God is more powerful than Satan.

Elymas the sorcerer

In Act 13, when Paul and Barnabas were in Cyprus, they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was also known as Elymas, which means sorcerer.

As they were proclaiming the Word of God to the proconsul of the island, Elymas opposed their message and tried to turn him from the faith. If there is darkness in people (even in Christians), the enemy will try to use them to stop God's will being done.

But Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, rebuked the sorcerer and struck him blind. When the governor saw this he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. It wasn't Paul's words alone that brought him to faith, but the miraculous sign that accompanied it (Mar 16:20).

A profitable business

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. (Act 16:16)

Occult practices are mentioned in both Old and New Testaments and are often linked to money. Balaam practised sorcery and divination for material gain (Num 22:7; 24:1); the slave girl, above, earned a great deal of money by predicting the future; and the Chinese sorcerer at the beginning of our study would have been paid for his act.

Exo 7:11 says that Pharaoh's sorcerers performed their miracles by their secret arts. If they were secret, then entry to their dark world would have been by invitation only, and perhaps at considerable expense.

Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. (Act 19:18–19)

The value of the scrolls (presumably instruction manuals on occult practices) came to fifty thousand drachmas. A drachma was a silver coin worth about a day's wage. At today's wage rates the scrolls would have been worth at least £2,000,000—and every one of them was destroyed.

What is the message to us? If you've been involved in the occult at any time in your life, and have now put your faith in Jesus Christ, you must renounce all involvement with it and destroy every artefact in your possession. Then go and serve the Lord.

But what relevance does the Bible's teaching on sorcery have for those who have not been involved in the occult?

Do not be deceived

While describing the events that will precede his return, Jesus said:

'Watch out that no-one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, "I am the Christ," and will deceive many.

'At that time if anyone says to you, "Look, here is the Christ!" or, "There he is!" do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.' (Mat 24:4–5; 23–25)

Jesus listed the things that will take place on earth immediately before his return (Mat 24:3–33), and one of those things is the appearance of false Christs and false prophets who will perform great signs and miracles through the power of sorcery.

Jesus implied that it's impossible for the elect to be deceived, so why did he tell us to watch out that we're not deceived? He told us that because, obviously, we can be deceived. To be deceived is to be persuaded to believe something that is not true.

Unlike those in the world, the elect have the potential to avoid deception because they have the Holy Spirit to give them understanding of the truth (Joh 14:16–17; 16:13). However to understand the truth, they first have to hear the truth.

The believers at Ephesus believed that, once having been saved, they could sin as much as they liked and still go to heaven. That was a deception. They had the Holy Spirit who gives us understanding of the truth, and yet they believed that because they hadn't been told the truth.

Paul wrote to them and informed them that those who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God. Instead of receiving God's blessing, they would suffer his wrath. He then told them not to be deceived by anyone who would teach them otherwise (Eph 5:3–7).

Hold fast to the truth

Once we've received the truth from God, we must hold fast to the truth to avoid deception. Sin entered the human race because two people didn't hold fast to the truth (Gen 3:1–7). They'd heard the truth; they'd understood the truth; but they didn't hold fast to it.

Compare that with how Jesus dealt with Satan in the desert. He said, 'It is written, Satan…,' and that was the end of it. Jesus held fast to the truth (Mat 4:1–11).

The saints at Thessalonica had been deceived into thinking that the Lord had already returned, the Rapture had taken place, and they had been left behind. That wasn't true. They'd been deceived because they hadn't held fast to the truth.

Paul had already told them Jesus will not return until the Antichrist has been revealed. He will then come, gather his elect to himself, and destroy the man of lawlessness by the splendour of his coming (2Th 2:1–8).

The Rapture

There is only one rapture taught in Scripture—the word comes from the Latin raptere, meaning to gather up (2Th 2:1)—and it will not take place until the Antichrist has ruled the world for forty-two months, during which time he will make war against the saints (Greek: God's holy people, Rev 13:5–10).

The Church will go through the tribulation; don't be deceived into believing anything else. Read the Word for yourself and see what it says. The Spirit works in conjunction with the Word. The Word is inspired by the Spirit, who gives us understanding of it. But to understand it, we have to read it.

Do you read the Bible for yourself, or do you rely on others to tell you what it says? Act 17:11 says that the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was telling them was true.

Bible teachers are not infallible and they can make mistakes. It'll be no good saying to the Lord: 'Well, that is what my pastor told me, so I believed him.' We each have a duty to check Bible teaching out for ourselves so we are not deceived.

False Christs and false prophets

The appearance of false Christs and false prophets will herald the revealing of the Antichrist (also referred to in Scripture as 'the man of lawlessness' and 'the beast'). He will perform all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, by the power of Satan, before proclaiming himself to be God (2Th 2:9–12).

Christians should be watching for this and should be aware that not every miracle done in the last days will be from the Lord. How will we tell false Christs from the real one? It's very simple: false Christs will appear on the earth; Jesus will appear in the sky.

Jesus said:

'So if anyone tells you, "There he is, out in the desert [a false Christ]," do not go out; or, "Here he is, in the inner rooms [a false Christ]," do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.' (Mat 24:26–27)

When Jesus returns to earth everyone will see him at the same time:

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Rev 1:7)

Jesus gave more details:

'At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.' (Mat 24:30–31)

That is our Lord's description of the Rapture.

Conclusion

Jesus began his teaching on the end of the age, in Matthew's Gospel, by saying: 'Watch out that no one deceives you (Matthew 24:4).' He's told us these things so we will not be deceived.

The Bible reveals Satan as a deceiver from Genesis to Revelation (Gen 3:13; Rev 20:2–3,7–8). He is a master of deception and the final days of this current age will be characterized by great deception (2Th 2:9–10).

Jesus doesn't want us to be deceived along with the world, so he's told us what is going to happen, in advance, so we can guard ourselves against it (Mat 24:25). How will we avoid being deceived? By reading God's Word and paying attention to what it says.

There are warnings from Jesus about the end of the age in each of the first three Gospels (Mat 24:1–35; Mar 13:1–37; Luk 21:5–36), but by far the fullest description of what is going to happen is found in the Book of Revelation.

The first verse tells us what it's about: it's the revelation of Jesus Christ, which his Father gave him to show us, his servants, what must soon take place.

Suffice to say that the Book of Revelation is essential reading for every Christian, particularly as recent events have shown that the world's financial systems are now inextricably linked: something the Antichrist will use to his advantage when he takes control of the world (Rev 13:7b,16–17).

I don't believe any Bible teacher understands every detail of the Book of Revelation—at least not yet. There are some passages we do understand, and some that we don't. But I do believe that as we draw near to the time of their fulfilment understanding will come.

Certainly when they take place we will say, 'This is what is written!' because the Holy Spirit will confirm it to us (see Act 2:14–21). Until then, let's read the book, study it and, even if we don't understand it all, at least familiarize ourselves with it.

Have you read the Book of Revelation yet? If not, then why not? Jesus said you'll be blessed if you read it, and even more blessed if you take to heart what is written in it (Rev 1:3). I can't think of a better reason for a Christian to read it. Why not start today?

Michael Graham
May 2010

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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