Heart of the Story: Bar-Jesus got his powers from Satan. His power was no match for God and God’s missionaries.
Backstory: Barnabas and Paul’s meeting with the sorcerer–magician Bar-Jesus occurred early in Paul’s first missionary journey (46-47 AD). At the direction of the Holy Spirit to the leaders of the Antioch church, Barnabas and Paul left Antioch. A young John Mark accompanied them as their assistant. The first country the apostles came to was the island of Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. They ministered across the entire island finally arriving at Paphos, seat of the Roman government on the island.
Story Line: Sergius Paulus was the Roman proconsul or government administrator on Cyprus. He summoned Barnabas and Paul because he wanted to hear the word of God. The writer of Acts, Luke described Sergius Paulus as an intelligent man. On the other hand Bar-Jesus, an attendant of Sergius Paulus was a sorcerer-magician. Bar-Jesus means son of Jesus or Joshua; however, Bar-Jesus was referred to as Elymas which means magician or wizard.
Bar-Jesus opposed Barnabas and Paul and attempted to turn Sergius Paulus from faith in Jesus Christ as Savior of the world. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul looked directly at Bar-Jesus and called Bar-Jesus the child of the devil, enemy of everything that is right, and full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Then, Paul asked Bar-Jesus, “Will you not stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?”
What followed next was the first recorded miracle completed by Paul. Paul told Bar-Jesus that he would be blind and unable to see even the sun for a time. Immediately, mist and darkness came over Bar-Jesus. He groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
Hearing and seeing the apostles’ words and actions, Sergius Paulus was amazed at their teaching about Christ. He became a believer in Jesus Christ as God and redeemer.
Relationships of Bar-Jesus: At the beginning of this story, Bar Jesus had a close relationship with Sergius Paulus. He was with Sergius Paulus when Barnabas and Paul were summoned and began to explain the good news of Christ. Something about the story of Christ, the son of God and redeemer of the world, alarmed Bar-Jesus. Perhaps Bar-Jesus feared that he would lose the prestige that access to the proconsul gave him if Sergius Paulus believed in a new god.
Bar-Jesus began to oppose the apostles’ teaching. We aren’t sure what part of the good news Bar-Jesus attacked; but it may have been that there was one God rather than the broad pantheon of Roman god. Or perhaps the opposition point was that God’s son, Christ, was the only mediator between God and man. The intelligent Sergius Paulus would deduce that if there was one mediator between God and himself, he could – even should — pray directly to Christ. Wizard or magicians with spells and incantations was superfluous.
Whatever the exact focus Bar-Jesus’ opposition, his words caused Paul to conclude that he was “a child of the devil.” What an indictment — Bar-Jesus’ magic and sorcery were powered by Satan. His allegiance was to Satan, not to the proconsul.
If Paul ended his confrontation of Bar-Jesus only with words, possibly Sergius Paulus would have concluded that two of many Roman gods had a difference of opinion. Their representatives on earth had a simple, but heated, argument about who was the greater. What Paul did next cemented the apostles’ arguments that God was the one and only true God. Paul declared that the hand of God was on Bar-Jesus and he would become blind for a time. Immediately, Bar-Jesus became blind. God chose to strike Bar-Jesus with blindness rather than being deaf, mute, or lame possibly because Bar-Jesus tried to keep the proconsul in spiritual darkness.
Conclusion: Although Sergius Paulus believed the apostles testimony and converted to Christianity, the Bible gives no indication that Bar-Jesus learned from his experience. He remained a child of the devil despite having an actual experience with the true God. Why does anyone want to remain tied to an inferior god or entity?
December 27, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth, Use only with written permission.