Pastor David B. Curtis


Paul Blinds Bar-Jesus

Acts 13:4-12

Delivered 05/17/2009

In our past studies we have seen that Acts 12 is the end of one era, and chapter 13 is the beginning of another. From chapter 12 to 13 we see the transition from Peter to Paul, from the Jews to the Gentiles, and from Jerusalem to Antioch. From here on out, the churches that are founded and that grow are predominantly Gentile in makeup.

Jerusalem has forfeited its Messiah and its right to evangelize the world, and the torch now passes to Antioch, which becomes the new center for world evangelization.

We saw in chapter 11 that Barnabas and Saul had labored one whole year together in the city of Antioch teaching the Word of God. Then Barnabas and Saul traveled to Jerusalem with a love gift from the Gentiles to help the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. Having accomplished their task and demonstrated the love and unity between the two churches, they now returned to Antioch and took with them John Mark, Barnabas' cousin.

In our last study we saw that God had spoken to the Church at Antioch and told them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for the work that God had called them to. So the Church at Antioch laid hands on them and sent them off:

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4 NASB)

As Saul and Barnabas leave Antioch, they embark on the first of Saul's three missionary journeys. The travels of the apostle will continue for the next twenty years, but this first journey will take approximately two years to complete, from around A.D.47 to 49.

McCartney says this of their mission trip: "Compared with this voyage the results and consequences of the voyages of Columbus, Vasco de Gamma, Magellan, and the Vikings were of little consequence for this was the commencement of the Christian odyssey. For the Gospel had been preached in Judea and Samaria, and now it's to be proclaimed in the uttermost part of the earth. More than any ship that ever cleft the waves with its prow that failed craft bound for the shores of Cyprus carried with it a man and an idea, which were to affect the destinies of the human race."

What is clear in this text is that it was essentially the Holy Spirit Who was sending them forth--"being sent out by the Holy Spirit." He had set them apart and now He was sending them. This was a continuation of the work of Pentecost.

"They went down to Seleucia"; a Mediterranean port of Syrian Antioch, sixteen miles west of Antioch. We do not know whether they preached in the port of Seleucia, our text doesn't say, but my guess would be that they preached wherever they went.

"They sailed to Cyprus"--"Their destination was Cyprus, an important island in the Mediterranean Sea some 150 miles off the coast of Syria on the main shipping routes. Cyprus is 140 miles long and 60 miles wide, about the size of ancient Israel. From Ptolemaic times a large Jewish colony has been present" (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 13:284, 287). This had been partly evangelized by those described in:

So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. (Acts 11:19 NASB)

Why did Paul go to the island if Cyprus? We are not told why they went to Cyprus first, but we do know Barnabas grew up on that island (Acts 4:36). In Isaiah we are told that when the kingdom was established, the Gospel would be preached to the islands. Paul fulfills this in his missionary journey. The first place Paul goes is to an island:

Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. 12 And He will lift up a standard for the nations, And will assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:11-12 NASB)

So the two men land first at Cyprus, then they head north to the southern part of Turkey where they eventually establish several churches in Galatia.

And when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper. (Acts 13:5 NASB)

One of the themes that comes out in this text is the repetition of the phrase "the Word of God" (v. 5, 7), "the faith"( v. 8), "the teaching of the Lord"( v. 12). The church was being driven by the truth of God. In other words, the mission was not to go out with a political platform or with some platform based on social issues. It was not a bunch of people's opinions. It was the Word of God. The church is not in the entertainment business. We are ambassadors for Christ so that we are to faithfully represent Him and His truth.

There is no question that from Genesis to Revelation God says that truth matters--that truth is very important, that the Word of God has got to be what directs us, has to be our anchor, has to be what drives us. Which means we must study God's Word so we can know what He is saying, and so we can share it with others.

Barnabus and Saul arrive at Salamis, on the East Coast, which was the island's most important city (although Paphos was the capital). They went to the synagogues and proclaimed the word of God. This was to be their constant practice.

Why does Paul go to the synagogue first? In The Epistle to the Romans we learn that it was revealed to Paul that the Gospel was first to go to the Jews and then to the Gentiles:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NASB)

That is why they went first to the synagogues on Cyprus. Paul always obeyed this pattern. He went to the Jews, and, when they rejected the message, he went to the Gentiles.

They would be going to the same synagogues that the earlier preachers had gone to, and so they would be no doubt meeting many who had already come to the faith.

John Mark (12.25) had gone along with them to act as their assistant in many ways, and probably as a trainee. This is John Mark, named in 12:12 of Acts. John, whose surname was Mark, whose mother's name was Mary, used to have home Bible studies in his house. This is the Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark.

And when they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, (Acts 13:6 NASB)

Crossing the island of Cyprus from east to west they traveled from town to town proclaiming the Good News, until at last they came to Paphos. Paphos was a very interesting place. This was the seat of Roman government. This was the senatorial province's official capital. It was also the center for the worship of Venus, the fabled goddess of love and sex. Tradition says that Venus was born near Paphos, born out of the foam of the sea; and, of course, she was worshiped in the wildest, most extravagant sexual orgies imaginable. This city was known for its immorality.

In the governor's court they met a Jew, Bar-Jesus, who operates as a magician and false prophet. What does the name Bar-Jesus mean?:

And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17 NASB)

"Barjona" is a Geek transliteration of the Hebrew bar jonah, meaning: "Son of Jonah" (short for Yohanan). So Bar-Jesus means: "Son of Jesus." This could mean that his father's name was Jesus (Hebrew-Joshua),a common Hebraic name. Or it could be that he gave himself this name. In the Hebrew culture to call yourself a son of someone was to designate yourself his follower. When this man, therefore, called himself Bar-Jesus he was claiming that he was a follower of Jesus, but what he taught was absolutely contrary to what Jesus taught. There is the possibility that he had taken the name because of the fame of Jesus, seeking to indicate his connection with the famous wonder-worker.

Our text tells us that he was a "magician." The Greek word for magician is magos, which could simply indicate a man of wisdom who was a seeker after truth. The word magos is the same word translated in Matthew 2 for wise men. In reference to them it has kind of a good sense for they were good men, they were astronomers from Persia and "Magi" became the title of Persian astronomers, Persian scientists.

In its negative sense magos could also include charlatans, those who consult the occult, and those who claimed supernatural powers. Bar-jesus appears to have been one of the latter.

Bar-Jesus was a Jew, but not an orthodox one, for he was mixed up in the occult and practiced wonder-working. His being a "false prophet" presumably refers to his deviation from the Mosaic law:

"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 "You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 "But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NASB)

While a Jew, he was not true to the teaching of Moses:

Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. (Acts 13:7 NASB)

Here we see that Bar-Jesus "was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus"-- "proconsul" was the highest Roman government official on the island who was there by appointment of Rome's senate.

If you have read much ancient history, you have probably noticed that statesmen and generals were in the habit of consulting oracles, and that they generally kept about them some one supposed to have the power of interpreting the signs of approaching good or evil. In this particular period, the educated Romans had become skeptical in reference to their heathen oracles, but Jewish pretenders still had access to their confidence on the credit of the ancient Jewish prophets.

Our text tells us that Sergius Paulus was, "a man of intelligence"--meaning an understanding or sagacious man. In other words, one ready and willing to listen to those who claimed to bring the truth.

It is interesting that archeology has confirmed this incident because inscriptions bearing the name of this very man have been found in Cyprus. Furthermore, Sir William Ramsey has uncovered evidence that he was a Christian, and that his whole family became Christians and were very prominent in Christian circles after this event. Here is one of those cases where archeology has clearly confirmed the report of this accurate historian, Luke.

Now notice what our text says, "This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God." Evidently word reached Sergius Paulus of the missionaries' preaching. So he ordered them to meet with him so he could hear their message personally.

This is amazing. He is the ruler of all Cyprus and these missionaries are absolute nobodies in the Roman world. They have no human authority. They have no political standing. They have no world ecclesiastical body behind them. They are unknowns. But they are called by God, sent by God, and now it is God that, against all odds, has arranged for them a hearing on their first mission with the governor of the whole island of Cyprus.

This pagan governor wants to hear the Word of God:

But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. (Acts 13:8 NASB)

Elymas is the interpretation of the word magician. Like Herod in chapter 12, his explicit aim is to turn away the proconsul from the faith--to defeat the advent purpose of God. This Jew is fighting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which means he is headed for destruction:

"Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD SHALL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED in everything He says to you. 23 'And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' (Acts 3:22-23 NASB)

Here Peter identifies the true Israel. It is those who follow Messiah. If you reject the Messiah, you will no longer be "the people." Here is a Jew who is called "son of Jesus," who is resisting the message of the True Prophet. He saw these two men and their teaching as a threat to his own. And thus, he began to aggressively oppose them.

As I read the New Testament, unbelieving Jews persistently sought to undermine the Church. Orthodox Jews (like Saul had once been) opposed both Jesus and His disciples, because they saw Him as being a false Christ, a heretic, so far as their interpretations of Scripture and their own traditions were concerned. While many orthodox Jews refused to trust in Jesus as their Messiah, they nevertheless strongly opposed the preaching of Jesus as Messiah to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:44-52; 17:13; 22:21-23).

Bar-Jesus had a position of influence, and probably financial profit, with the proconsul. He quickly realized that if Sergius Paulus accepted the Gospel, he was out of a job and his access to this important and powerful man was over.

In Acts 12 Peter, a leader of the church at Jerusalem, is thrown in prison awaiting execution. But God resurrects him, he is delivered. While Herod, the head of the persecution of the Church, is killed by God. This is Second Exodus imagery. In Exodus the King of Egypt persecutes the children of Israel. In Acts 12 King Herod persecutes true Israel. What did God do to the King of Egypt? He destroyed him. What happens in Acts 12? God destroys Herod. Luke is giving us the theme of the Second Exodus. Israel has now become Egypt, they are true Israel's enemy.

But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon him, 10 and said, "You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? (Acts 13:9-10 NASB)

Notice what Paul does when this false prophet gets in his way. He first goes up and gives him a big hug and says, "You know, we all need to get along; Jesus loves us all and all roads lead to heaven, so let's just kind of work this thing out." No, that's not what he does at all. Paul blasts him.

Now, in our culture of so-called tolerance, there might be those who would read this and say, "You know, I think Paul wasn't very nice; I think he wasn't very loving. I mean, what would Jesus do? He wouldn't have done that. Jesus would have given him a big hug." Wrong! Notice that right before Paul says what he says, Luke tells us Paul was "filled with the Holy Spirit," which is a way of saying this is exactly what God wanted him to do. Had he not been under a Divine influence, it is not likely he would have accosted this sorcerer in the presence of the governor, who, no doubt, had greatly admired him.

Paul doesn't mince words. I love his vocabulary. It's right to the point. "You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil"--Bar-Jesus claims to be the son of Jesus, but Paul tells him that he is clearly a "son of the devil." He is not heeding the Prophet that Moses spoke about and is the "enemy of all righteousness."

"Will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?"--the word "make crooked" here is the Greek word diastrepho, which means: "to corrupt, twist, or pervert." So Bar-Jesus was twisting what was straight. Remember that back in 9:2 the Church is called, "The Way"--this is a reference to the highway that John came to build. It is a spiritual highway. The Church is the "Way of righteousness." Paul is saying here in Acts 13 that Bar-Jesus was making the highway crooked again by resisting Jesus. The highway of the Lord was laid and was being followed by the Church. But the physical Jews were now God's adversary.

Now notice what Luke says in the beginning of verse 9, "But Saul, who was also known as Paul"--this is the first time the name Paul occurs, and the last time in which this apostle is called Saul. So this is a transition, and we'll know him from now on only as Paul. In verse 13, following this text, Luke says, "Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos." From now on whenever the team is mentioned, Paul is the first one named: "Paul and his companions," "Paul and Barnabas," "Paul and the others," and so on. We'll come back to this is a minute.

Back to the Second Exodus typology for a minute: Pharaoh had sorcerers and magicians who could do what Moses was doing. But what did Moses do that they could not? Bring darkness:

"And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time." And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. (Acts 13:11 NASB)

"The hand of the Lord is upon you"­ This is a typical First Testament phrase (compare Joshua 4:24; 1 Samuel 12:15; Psalm 75:8), which would be meaningful to someone who claimed connection with Israel's prophets. Just like God struck Egypt with darkness, here God through Paul brings darkness on the Church's enemy.

As Bar-Jesus is struck with blindness, we can't help but think Paul would remember his own experience with God on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). Certainly, those who are resisting God are blind spiritually, so God is just giving Bar-Jesus a physical blindness corresponding to his spiritual blindness. I also think that Bar-Jesus' blindness symbolized the blindness of Israel.

As far a I know, this is the only "destructive" miracle that the apostles ever performed. So the very first miracle that Paul performed was the infliction of a judgment; and that judgment was the same that he experienced when knocked to the ground on his way to Damascus.

"You will be blind and not see the sun for a time"--"for a time" seems to indicate that someday Bar-Jesus, a demon-possessed medium, will awake to the reality of Jesus Christ.

There is an ancient tradition, and it is mentioned both by Origen and Chrysostom, that Elymas, in consequence of this, became a sincere convert to the religion of Christ. Origen says: "And Paul by a word striking him blind, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paul, by anguish converted him to godliness." Com. in Exod., vol. i. p. 117, edit. de la Rue, Par. 1733.

The teachings of Barnabas and Saul were now seen, like those of our Lord, to be not only true but powerful. And so the proconsul believed:

Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord. (Acts 13:12 NASB)

In light of Luke's usual usage this must signify that Luke sees him as becoming a Christian. Luke does not tend to overstate the response of people. There is some later evidence that his daughter and other relatives were possibly Christians.

Sergius Paulus believed, for he was amazed (literally, "struck out of his senses"), not at the miracle, but at the teaching about the Lord. What impressed this proconsul was not the miracle; that simply confirmed what he had heard. What impressed him was the teaching, the remarkable, radical doctrine of Christianity, that Jesus Christ the Son of God became man and died to pay man's sin debt.

We see here that while the Jew, Bar-Jesus, rejects Paul's message, the Gentile, Sergius Paulus, receives it gladly. This is to be the pattern for the future.

Notice again that belief is all that was necessary for his salvation (cf. 14:1; 17:34; 19:18). It was Paul's teaching concerning the Lord that Sergius Paulus believed.

John MacArthur writes, "Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, what's the next word, believed! You say oh it doesn't say he was saved. You can believe and not be saved. That's right. You could."

This is ridiculous! If belief doesn't bring salvation, then what does? Stuff like this does great damage to the Church. It causes Christians to doubt their salvation. It causes Christians to doubt God's Word.

Why is this event, with Bar-Jesus and Sergius Paulus selected out of the ministry at Cyprus and recorded for us as the one significant occurrence of that ministry? It is here at Paphos that Saul becomes the Apostle Paul, it is here that he began to exercise his apostleship. This triumph over Bar-Jesus, and the consequent conversion of Sergius Paulus, forms an epoch in the life of the Apostle Paul. From here on he is Paul. Before this he occupied a subordinate position, and his name came last in the list of himself and his fellow-laborers. But from here on he occupies the foreground of almost every scene in which he acts.

Here, for the first time, he began to act as an apostle. This is the first of those "signs of an apostle" which Paul would fulfill to indicate that he was selected by the Lord Jesus to be a founder of the Church, who could lay the foundation of faith in the Scripture, and become a writer of the Scriptures.

Striking Bar-Jesus blind was Paul's first recorded miracle, and it was done in conflict with a Jew over preaching the Gospel to a Gentile. Here he speaks with the same authority that Peter had when Ananias and Sapphira attempted to lie to God. They also received an immediate judgment. There are striking parallels between the ministry of Peter and that of Paul. Just as Peter confronted Simon the sorcerer, so here Paul confronts Bar-Jesus the sorcerer. Just as Peter's success caused Jewish jealousy (5:17), so Paul's success caused Jewish jealousy (13:45). Just as Peter healed a man lame from birth (3:1-11), so does Paul (14:8-18). Just as Peter's shadow falling on people healed them (5:15-16), so handkerchiefs and aprons carried from Paul healed people (19:11-12).

Only the apostles had power to act in judgment like this. This is not something any Christian is to do. But here Paul begins to act as an apostle and immediately the leadership shifts from Barnabas to Paul. From here on it is no longer Barnabas and Saul; it is Paul and Barnabas.

The conversion of Sergius Paulus seems to be a turning point in Paul's whole ministry. Even his name changes from the Jewish Saul to the Gentile Paul (the same name as his first recorded convert), and the Gentile name is used from here on.

So Luke's purpose in this text seems to be to establish both the validity of direct witness to the Gentiles and the credibility of Paul as an apostle.

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