The Kingdom Confronts the Satanic & the Self-Indulgent
Topic: Persecution Passage: Acts 16:16–16:24
Part 2 of Jesus Advancing His Kingdom
My wife’s family loves Lord of the Rings. When I met Rachel, I hadn’t heard of Lord of the Rings, which had its complications. I’m also one of those guys who asks lots of questions during movies. So, in their kindness—or in order to minimize annoyances—I received a crash course in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers before they took me to watch The Return of the King.
Needless to say, that took care of only half my questions. But I appreciated their efforts to acquaint me with the storyline of parts one and two before watching part three. When we come to the book of Acts—remember, it’s part two of a much larger narrative. Part one is the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:1-4).
A major theme in Luke’s Gospel is the triumph of Jesus’ kingdom over the kingdom of Satan. In Luke 4:1-13, Satan presents himself as a world-wide ruler. Satan offers all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus would only bow. But Jesus resists; he will gain the nations by a cross. In Luke 11:15, Satan is portrayed as the prince of demons. He’s like a “strong man, fully armed,” Luke says. But Jesus is stronger. He removes Satan’s armor. He overcomes Satan. He plunders Satan’s kingdom (Luke 11:21-23).
Jesus also proves his power over Satan’s kingdom by casting out demons and healing others from unclean spirits (Luke 4:35; 8:32; 9:42; 13:16). He watches Satan fall like lightning after authorizing the disciples to do likewise (Luke 10:9). Then finally, we find Satan playing a role in Jesus’ betrayal. Satan enters into Judas (Luke 22:3). Satan tries to sift Peter. But Jesus is in control; he tells them, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Jesus prays for Peter’s faith not to fail (Luke 22:32-33).
What’s the point? The displays of Jesus’ power over darkness identify Jesus as the one anticipated to crush the Serpent’s head. Jesus comes to defeat Satan’s tyranny, to liberate captives. Most decisively, Jesus defeats Satan’s kingdom through his death and resurrection. Jesus died to liberate his people; and he rose to show that evil will not prevail over them. Every blood-bought person, God will transfer from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son. That’s the backstory to Acts.
Acts stands on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ kingdom continues colliding with the kingdom of darkness. The only difference is that Jesus’ kingdom is now present in his people. As his people go from city to city to city and preach the kingdom, they confront the kingdom of darkness. Again and again Jesus prevails, but there’s much for us to learn when these kingdoms collide. Let’s pick it up in 16:16.
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Jesus’ Kingdom Encounters the Satanic & the Self-indulgent
We’ve got two scenes here; and four lessons to learn from them. Let’s first walk through the two scenes. In scene one, Jesus’ kingdom encounters the Satanic and the self-indulgent. Paul and his team return to the place of prayer. Previously, they’d met a group of women who gathered at a place for prayer (Acts 16:13). They shared the gospel. The Lord saved Lydia (Acts 16:14). Now they return to share more.
But then they encounter a slave girl who has a spirit of divination. We know it’s an evil spirit, because this spirit leads her into fortune-telling, which Scripture condemns elsewhere.[i] She’s like the witch at Endor in 1 Samuel 28, manipulating the supernatural to get results. Also, her words are similar to those spoken to Jesus by demons in Luke 8:28, “What have you to do with us, Son of the Most High…” Then finally, Paul has to exorcise the spirit the same way Jesus commanded unclean spirits to come out of people in the Gospels (e.g., Mark 9:29; Luke 8:29).
So we’re dealing with the demonic here. Spiritual forces of evil working through this slave girl. But notice something else about her: she’s being used. She brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling (Acts 16:16). It’s bad enough that they treat her as property instead of God’s image bearer. But then they also profit off her spiritual oppression. Their love for money has made them doubly blind.
So we have here the Satanic and the self-indulgent. That kingdom then collides with Jesus’ kingdom as the slave girl follows Paul and his team, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with her words in and of themselves. Understood one way, they’re true. Paul is a servant of the Most High God. He does proclaim the way of salvation.
But what does the message become when it’s spoken by someone possessed with an evil spirit and in a polytheistic culture? Confusing at best. It undermines Paul’s credibility. Everybody in Philippi knows this girl speaks by a spirit of divination. Maybe she can at least get people to believe the Spirit of Jesus is no different than her spirit. She’s also relativizing the gospel within her polytheistic culture. The “Most High God” was often used of Zeus. The gospel then becomes just one way of deliverance among others.
Whatever the case, her motives are wicked and seek to undermine the spread of Jesus’ kingdom. This happens for many days. We’re not told why Paul waited so long. Perhaps it was for discernment. Perhaps he was “patiently enduring evil” as 2 Timothy 2:24 says. But eventually he gets annoyed. He’s disturbed by how this spirit adversely affects the work. And he says directly to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And the spirit came out that very hour (Acts 16:18).
Just like that—the spirit flees. The key thing to notice are the words, “in the name of Jesus Christ.” I don’t mean the bare words, in the sense that as long as you just employ this slogan, evil spirits will flee. No, that goes really badly for some guys in Acts 19. An evil spirit beats them down and chases them off naked. What matters is actually belonging to Jesus and being authorized by Jesus. Paul has Jesus’ authorization.
But even more, the name of Jesus Christ leaves nothing vague here. The apostles don’t invoke the power of some vague Most High God; they invoke the power of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. He is alive. He reigns above all the authorities in heaven and on earth. He is with them. Paul doesn’t have the power to cast out demons; but Jesus does. And Jesus does it for this slave girl. Ironically but truly, she has encountered the way of salvation. The way of salvation is through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can defeat sin and Satan’s tyranny in people’s lives.
Result? The Self-indulgent War against Jesus’ Kingdom
That brings us to scene two, the results. What are the results of this girl’s powerful deliverance? The self-indulgent war against Jesus’ kingdom. The Lord Jesus delivers this girl from the evil spirit, and her owners despair. How does he put it in verse 19? “When her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.”
There’s a play on words here. The word behind the spirit going out of the girl is the same word behind the hope of gain going out of her owners. When the demonic went out, so did their hope of gain. The kingdom of Christ has economic ramifications; and they don’t like it. They hate it. Do you see how insane and dark this is? They’d rather have the demon and their money than Christ and true freedom.
This would be comparable to a drug lord getting angry with doctors who successfully break people’s drug addiction. People don’t need the drugs, profits plummet, so the drug lord goes after the guy rescuing people. It’s insane! It’s demonic. It’s no wonder the Bible says not to fall in love with money. It’s no wonder Jesus says it’s impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Why? He lives for another kingdom, a dark one at that. He hopes in his own material gain and doesn’t care if it means abusing God’s image bearers or linking arms with Satan.
So what do the owners do? They try to stop Christ’s kingdom. They drag Paul and Silas into the street. They bring them to the magistrates. Then they level two accusations.[ii] One is socio-political: “they’re throwing our city into confusion.” The other is cultural: “they’re advocating customs not lawful for us to accept or practice.”
The initial motive was economic—their hope of gain was lost. But that doesn’t sound as noble. So they make it political and cultural. There’s even a bit of ethnic pride in the mix: “We’re Romans; they’re Jews.” Paul and Silas haven’t caused any uproar. All they did was deliver a girl from a demon. They brought the presence of Christ’s kingdom near through the gospel. But that kingdom is subversive. It’s subversive to their way of life. It’s subversive to the way they’ve always done things.
So what happens? Exactly what Jesus promised would happen. Persecution: “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
They’re dragged, misrepresented, shamed, beaten, and imprisoned, all because these guys want to keep their money and because the crowds don’t want to change their way of living—their politics, their culture, their economy. They can’t see it for themselves, but they prefer Satan’s kingdom over Christ’s. They prefer her spiritual oppression over freedom.
It’s just like the book of Revelation teaches. Revelation portrays the great Dragon controlling kings and political structures and economies that do his bidding. Satan has a kingdom of darkness that deceives people and oppresses people and systematically sets people against Christ. These folks belong to that dark kingdom. They war against the kingdom of Christ by persecuting Christ’s disciples.
1. Christ’s kingdom is subversive to the world’s way of thinking and living.
What can we learn from these scenes of Christ’s kingdom colliding with Satan’s kingdom? I’ve got four lessons the Lord taught me this week. One, Christ’s kingdom is subversive to the world’s way of thinking and living. Paul and Silas cast out the demon, and that has immediate economic repercussions for the girl’s owners. Then there’s panic that Christ’s kingdom will overthrow everything else too!
It’s not hard to think of other ways Christ’s kingdom is subversive to the way the world operates. Consider what it means to be a Christian in a political environment where the state claims that Caesar is lord. The gospel you and I preach says, “Jesus is Lord,” and any authority leading you to disobey Christ should not be obeyed. That’s proven in a number of historical settings to be politically subversive. It’s also subversive to any leader or employer or parent or husband who abuses their authority. But it shines a spotlight on who is truly Lord of all, Jesus Christ.
Or, consider when Christ’s kingdom confronts racism and the darkness of slavery. Entire cultures profited off the mistreatment of others. People were used to it. It was built into the laws and customs of the day. Then the gospel enters and says, “No, we’re all united in Adam and created in the image of God, and the cross of Christ levels your racial pride. Therefore you can’t treat people like this anymore.” That message is subversive to those cultures. It threatened their economy. It threatened their politics. It threatened their pride. And it still threatens those things today in whatever culture they exist. Christ’s kingdom is subversive to ethnic pride and prejudice.
Or, let’s take a different kind of slavery, sex slavery. The sex industry profits off the spiritual oppression of other people, especially women. If you indulge in pornography, you’re feeding this system. “One anti-trafficking center reports that at least a third of victims trafficked for sex are used in the production of pornography.”[iii] Christ’s kingdom is subversive to that culture. Christ demands we care for women as fellow image bearers and not as objects for gratification. The kingdom of Christ says to flee sexual immorality and glorify God with your body. When the gospel saves men and women from sex slavery, what happens? The sex industry’s profits plummet. Pray the kingdom of Christ drains this Satanic, $13 billion dollar industry in America alone.
We can see this in other areas too like the abortion industry. Our culture says that unborn babies have no rights and the mother has the authority to choose if the baby lives or not. Christ’s kingdom is subversive to that way of thinking and living, and it has political and economic repercussions. I was talking to Max about this. He pointed out that “Christians have been fighting for the unborn because of the gospel, which has then resulted in abortion clinics being shut down and the ability to purchase aborted baby parts and tissue more difficult.” And the abortion industry is feverishly fighting that.
Or, how about the way the kingdom of Christ is subversive to our culture’s materialism. America says, “Pile it up high. Spend it all on yourself. It’s all about the Benjamins, baby (Uh huh).” But the kingdom of Christ says, “Don’t set your hope in riches;” and “Work hard that you might have, and have in order that you might give to those in need;” and give freely with no expectation of receiving it back. Lay up treasure in heaven where moth and rust don’t destroy. You can’t serve God and money. That’s subversive to the world’s way of thinking and living; and it’ll get you crucified.
2. Expect unjust treatment when you confront the world’s darkness.
Which is another lesson connected to the first. When the power of Jesus’ kingdom works in us, when our lives actually impact the world’s way of thinking and living, the world will persecute us. Expect unjust treatment when you confront the world’s darkness—that’s lesson two. The world won’t give up its system of beliefs and ways of doing things easily. In the same way the world crucified Christ, it will crucify Christ’s followers. In the same way the Romans persecuted Paul and Silas, America will persecute us—the question is whether the kingdom we’re preaching is actually Christ’s.
When you look at this picture of Paul and Silas suffering for the gospel, you need to count the cost. This is Christianity 101. We’re called to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ. This is your life and mine. Jesus said, “A servant isn’t greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). This is what happens when children of light collide with darkness.
You know, last week we looked at how the Spirit of Jesus guided Paul and his team on the mission. The Spirit of Jesus directed them away from some areas and then into Macedonia. The Spirit of Jesus had them share the gospel with Lydia. So I said we should pray and ask the Spirit of Jesus to guide us too in the mission. This story helps us see that people guided by the Spirit of Jesus will also suffer like Jesus.
We’ll see next week how Jesus also sustains his people in suffering—Paul and Silas are singing hymns to God with their feet in stocks. Jesus is with them, strengthening them. But unjust treatment will come as he uses us to advance his kingdom. The Christian life is war, not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
3. Beware of the love of money.
Lesson three: beware of the love of money. 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” As your shepherd, I don’t want any of you to wander away from the faith. So look what happens to these owners when money is their love, when their hope is in material gain.
Notice, they use people to get what they want. Sin will always dehumanize people. People will either become objects in the way of what you want, or vehicles for getting what you want.[iv] This girl is nothing but a vehicle to filling their wallets. When money controls you, you’ll use people. They won’t even be people to you when you love money. They’ll just be a means to an end. You’ll take advantage of them and hurt them if you have to and threaten them to keep your bank account full.
Notice also that they don’t mind befriending the Satanic. They know this girl has a spirit of divination. Yet they don’t mind it a bit, if it means greater wealth for them. When the love of money controls you, you’ll befriend the Satanic. Some of Satan’s schemes won’t even be obvious to you, but you’ll befriend them.
And when you link arms with the kingdom of darkness, you’ll war against the kingdom of Christ. Christ’s citizens will confront you about your money, and you’ll resist them and slander them and hurt them if you have to. Or, maybe you won’t hurt them; you’ll just refuse to give up how you’ve always done things.
So be warned here, especially since we live in a culture where materialism is so rampant. The love of money will lead you to use people, to befriend Satan, and to war against Christ’s kingdom. This little situation in Philippi—it’s just a little manifestation of a much greater cosmic battle. Read Revelation 18. Christ judges the great Babylon, that great system of evil, and guess who mourns because no one buys their cargo anymore? The merchants and the shipmasters. They don’t weep over their sin. They weep because their whole world is crashing down and being replaced by Christ’s kingdom.
Beware of the love of money. Make yourself rich in God. Set your hope in God who gives us all things to enjoy. Invest in true, heavenly treasure that never disappoints.
4. The authority of the risen Jesus offers great hope when we face evil.
Last lesson: the authority of the risen Jesus offers great hope when we face evil. Paul rebukes the evil spirit by Jesus’ authority, and the evil spirit flees. This passage demonstrates once again that Jesus’ kingdom is more powerful than Satan’s. Two kingdoms collided; but they’re not equal kingdoms. The kingdom of darkness bows to Jesus’ authority. Which means that what Jesus said in John 12:31 stands true: “…now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”
Through his cross, Jesus ousted the ruler of this world. Ephesians tells us that Jesus’ resurrection means that he’s seated far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion (Eph 1:21). That includes every evil rule, authority, power, and dominion; and if you belong to Jesus, you’re seated with him (Eph 2:4). We’ve yet to see that reality fully manifested on earth, but it’s still true. In Christ, you’re seated with him above every rule, authority, power, and dominion.
That ought to give you great courage in the face of every temptation. You’re not a helpless victim of temptation and sin. If you’re in Christ, you are seated with Christ. By his Spirit, you have the granted ability to resist the evil one’s temptations. First John 5:18 says, “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” Christ is your victory over the Satanic. Christ is your victory over all evils like self-indulgence.
Moreover, the authority of Christ here should give us great courage when helping others oppressed by spiritual forces of darkness. The demonic didn’t vanish with Western civilization; it just disguises itself differently. People are still oppressed by unclean spirits. People are still deceived by the devil. People are still blinded by Satan, 2 Corinthians 4 says. People fear the spirit world and bend over backwards to avoid making it unhappy. Entire cults have risen because some guy saw an angel of light, not realizing it was actually Satan in disguise. Satan’s having a heyday through various social media outlets, where all kinds of corrupting talk divide people.
We can pray for these people. We can pray for their healing and deliverance. We have access to the omnipotent Christ who can actually do something about it. We can also speak the truth of the gospel into their lives and expose the darkness for what it is. That’s why the armor of God includes “feet shod with the gospel of peace” and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” We leap across enemy lines to speak the very message that rescues people from Satan’s lies and tyranny.
A picture like this one in Acts 16 is further confirmation that Satan’s kingdom can’t win. It flees at the name of Jesus. That helps us in our individual fight against temptation; it also helps in our witness to the world. Christ’s authority is our only hope when facing evil. When you eat this Supper together, remember the Lord’s victory and hope in his kingdom. He is your strength today against evil. And he will prevail over all evil when he comes to replace every rebel kingdom with his own.
[i]Deut 18:10; 1 Sam 28:8; Mic 3:11; Jer 27:9; Gal 5:20.
[ii]The two-fold accusation is much clearer in the Greek. First accusation: “these men | are throwing into confusion our city | being themselves Jews.” Second accusation: “and [these men] | are advocating customs not lawful…for us | being ourselves Romans.”
[iii]David Platt, Counter Culture (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2015), 120-22.
[iv]The concept of sin dehumanizing people into objects or vehicles comes from Paul Tripp. E.g., see https://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/getting-to-the-heart-of-your-words