The Kingdom of God Prevails Despite Demons & Deceivers
We started our annual emphasis on global missions last Sunday. That’s easy to do from Acts. We looked at the kingdom of God and what that entailed for our participation in missions. That theme continues in verse 11. We won’t find the word “kingdom” for a while. But we will witness the King ruling from heaven and overpowering Satan. Let’s pick it up in verse 11…
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
Some time ago, dragons were the topic at dinner. Afterwards, I showed the kids a clip of Smaug from The Hobbit. One of them had trouble sleeping that night: “Daddy, I’m scared of the dragon.” I said, “Yeah, dragons are scary. Smaug can’t hurt you; he’s pretend. But not all dragons are pretend. The Bible says Satan is a great Dragon. He has a great kingdom. But guess what?!” He said, “Jesus is stronger?” “Yes! Jesus’ kingdom beats the Dragon’s kingdom. Let’s pray and ask Jesus for help. Jesus saves us from fearing pretend dragons and from real ones too.”
We don’t often view the world this way, but the Bible portrays Satan as a great Dragon. He has a kingdom of darkness. His kingdom deceives people, oppresses people, and systematically opposes God’s kingdom. In today’s passage, Satan has a kingdom in Ephesus. There are demons—or “evil spirits” in verse 12. There are also deceivers like Jewish exorcists and magicians. Not the most helpful conditions.
But Paul remains undeterred. He announces the kingdom of God; and God works powerfully through Paul. Satan’s strongholds crumble. Jesus’ name is lifted up. God’s kingdom marches on. The picture gives us much courage when thinking about global missions. The Dragon’s influence may be great; but it’s no match for the risen Lord Jesus. We need not fear the Dragon. Let’s look at five things that happen as God advances his kingdom in Ephesus…
1. The Messenger of the Kingdom Authenticated
One, we find the messenger of the kingdom authenticated. Verse 11, “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”
If you’re thinking, “Wow! That’s really unusual!” you’d be right. Luke thinks they’re unusual. They’re not ordinary but extraordinary. We shouldn’t expect to see them every day. These were unusual miracles. That’s important to note, and should give us pause when others attempt to make this the norm. It’s not.
At the same time, we’re talking about God. He created everything from nothing. He sustains everything by the word of his power. Every sub-atomic particle obeys his command always. If he chooses to perform unusual signs, the better question isn’t “How’s that possible?” but “What’s he trying to say?”
Within Acts and from Paul’s own writings, these miracles functioned to authenticate God’s messenger. It’s similar to the way God authenticated Moses with signs and wonders.[i] The same happens with Jesus. Acts 2:22, Jesus was “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and signs and wonders.”
The miracles had an undeniable apologetic function. People couldn’t deny God’s hand was on Jesus. In the same way, people shouldn’t deny God’s hand was on Paul. Or better, God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus was now working through Paul. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”[ii]
Christ-like endurance was also part of the picture. But signs and wonders marked Paul as the messenger of God’s kingdom. God may still choose to work this way, especially when the gospel penetrates new places.[iii] But once the gospel takes root, God’s primary means of authenticating the gospel message is the local church. God displays his reign through his people…but that’s for another day.
For now, simply note that God marks Paul as his kingdom messenger. The signs don’t undermine the word he preached. They don’t distract from the word he preached. Nor do they become a substitute for the word he preached. Rather, they confirm the word he preached. They point to the word he preached.
Which means we must heed and obey the apostle’s words. If God marked Paul as a true apostle alongside Peter and others, we must heed his message. We must obey what he delivers to us on Jesus’ behalf. Some of his words come through Luke in Acts; and others come in thirteen letters bound in your New Testament. Paul preaches and explains the message of the King. Are you hearing it and submitting your life to it?
2. The Nature of the Kingdom Displayed
But something else the signs mean is this. If the signs confirm the word of the kingdom Paul preached, then God has also displayed through Paul what the kingdom is about. That’s a second thing happening here: the nature of the kingdom displayed.
I’m still talking about the miracles. The miracles didn’t authenticate Paul in a parallel fashion. They weren’t just random displays of power that came alongside the message but never really had anything to do with the message. Rather, the miracles gave concrete expression to his message.[iv] It’s one thing to announce that Jesus heals the broken, he rescues the oppressed, he’s victorious over evil, and then pull a rabbit out of your hat. It’s got nothing to do with the message. But it’s another thing when you announce that Jesus heals the broken, Jesus rescues the oppressed, Jesus is victorious over evil, and diseases actually heal and evil spirits come out in his name.
These particular miracles gave concrete expression to the message of the kingdom. They signaled the nature of Jesus’ coming reign on earth. Everything broken will be healed in Jesus’ kingdom. Satan’s kingdom is overthrown by Jesus’ kingdom. The captives find liberty in Jesus’ kingdom.
That doesn’t mean everybody gets healed now or completely. The kingdom is still “already-not-yet.”[v] Healed or not healed now, we all await the day of resurrection when Jesus’ kingdom arrives in its fullness. But if God chooses to heal someone now in Jesus’ name, remember what those healings point to. They’re foretastes of the holistic liberation to come. Don’t miss it!
Healing the sick, liberating the oppressed from demons—they’re pointers to what Jesus’ final kingdom on earth will be like. The broken world will be made right. All natural catastrophes will cease. Broken relationships will cease. Broken bodies, he will transform into glorious bodies. Satan will be vanquished forever, crushed beneath our feet. No accuser. No tempter. No evil. No oppression. No strongholds. No deceiver. No darkness. No fear. Pure freedom and peace and light and loveliness forever in God’s presence. Let these signs remind you of that coming day.
Let them point you to what Jesus’ final kingdom will be like. Let them move you to share the hope of his kingdom with others who are broken and oppressed. We may not perform extraordinary miracles like Paul. But we know the same God. We share the same King. We possess the same message Paul preached, and know the power that comes for those who believe it. Jesus has freed us from sin’s tyranny. Jesus protects us from the evil one. Some of your bodies ache with pain, but you go forth with his Spirit as your present strength and resurrection as your future hope.
That’s the kingdom we offer to others. That’s the kingdom Jesus brings, and only Jesus brings. Do you see it here? Do you see what God’s power will one day do for all who belong to his kingdom? If you see it, offer that same message to others. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
3. The Enemies of the Kingdom Humiliated
For now, let’s look at a third happening: the enemies of the kingdom humiliated. In verse 14, we find seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva. They’re itinerant Jewish exorcists. They go from town to town attempting to cast out evil spirits. Same type of men were present in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Exorcisms occurred outside Jesus’ circle of disciples (Luke 9:49; 11:19); but only a few of these men were actually for Jesus’ kingdom (Luke 9:50) while others were not (Luke 11:23).
The men here are examples of those not for Jesus’ kingdom. They’ve apparently heard how powerful Jesus’ name is. So these guys decide to invoke the name of Jesus over those who had evil spirits. But notice their words: “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Which shows us, they don’t proclaim Jesus as Lord. They don’t know Jesus personally. They have no authorization from him. They just use his name as if it’s some kind of magical formula. But what happens?
They wind up humiliated. The demon goes all “Jackie Chan” on these guys. Verse 15, “The evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
Do you remember the story of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac? Luke 8. The man has many demons. For a long time he wore no clothes. People couldn’t control him; he’d break chains and shackles. He didn’t live in a house; the demons drove him into the desert. Then Jesus approaches. The demons recognize Jesus’ authority. Jesus casts them out. And Luke then describes the man like so: “they found the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” He goes from naked and tormented in a lonely wilderness to clothed and in his right mind with Jesus.
The opposite happens with these Jewish exorcists. They have no authority over the evil spirits. They try manipulating Jesus’ name to get results. And they end up in a state no different than the Gerasene demoniac was in before Jesus healed him. These guys end up beat, naked, and humiliated.
What’s the point? One is to contrast them with Paul. They’re a bunch of deceivers. Paul is the man with God’s blessing and God’s truth. Listen to him. Another is that Jesus is Lord, and he refuses to be manipulated this way by imposters. As one author put it, “He will not act as a lackey for anyone who calls on his name.”[vi]
Something else is that people who don’t acknowledge Jesus’ lordship lack power over the evil one. If Jesus isn’t your Lord, if you give him lip-service while playing life by your own rules, evil will master you. You must be united to one stronger than Satan to overcome Satan. The kingdom’s power over evil must include a commitment to the King himself. If that’s not there, Satan will dominate you. You’ll be left humiliated in the end. Be sobered by that.
But if you know the Lord Jesus truly and belong to his kingdom, Satan has no power over you. Not because there’s anything mighty about you; but because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth and you belong to him.
To know Jesus is to be transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son—Colossians 1:13. It’s to be seated with Christ in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power—Ephesians 1:21 and 2:6. It’s to have Jesus’ protection, such that the evil one doesn’t touch us—1 John 5:19. It’s to be rescued from the fear of death, once used by Satan to enslave us, now mocked by resurrection glory—Hebrews 2:14. It’s to have the promise: the God of peace will soon crush Satan beneath your feet—Romans 16:20.
A bunch of demons weren’t going to stop the risen Lord Jesus. Nor would a group of Jewish exorcists invoking the Lord’s name in vain. God’s purpose advances again, even if that meant using some demons to expose and humiliate the enemies of the kingdom and vindicate Paul who belonged to his kingdom.
4. The King of the Kingdom Exalted & Treasured
The ensuing results lead us to a fourth happening: the King of the kingdom exalted and treasured. Verse 17 shows us the King exalted: “This became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled [or magnified].”
The Lord’s name was esteemed as great, held in honor among many throughout Asia. The people heard how these guys used the name of Jesus lightly, how they wound up humiliated. So they conclude, “Let’s not treat Jesus so lightly. Let’s magnify his name. Let’s call on him to save us. Let’s give ourselves to his kingdom and live for his glory. Let’s make much of his name!”
Look at this carefully. Demons are still active today tempting and oppressing and devouring. Deceivers are still active today. Deceivers travel around the world promising all kinds of things “in the name of Jesus.” It grieves us. We hate their activity; we long for the day when the deception will end. Until then, though, make it your prayer that no matter what the church faces, Jesus’ name will be honored. Pray for the true gospel to be vindicated and Jesus to be honored. Pray for the kingdom of demons and deceivers to crumble and for Jesus’ name to be treasured.
That’s what we see next in verses 18-19, the king treasured. “Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.” What a true picture of repentance here.
Many believe in Jesus after this; they trust Jesus to save them. And they come confessing and divulging their practices. What was once in darkness, they bring into the light. What was once hidden, they confess publicly. What they once clung to so tightly as their hope, they release in order to gain Christ.
Even more, they burn their magic books. Books whose value was worth 50,000 pieces of silver. In that day, that’s equal to one year’s salary for 137 workers! Someone might say, “Why’d they do that? Earlier in Acts, believers sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to those in need. Why didn’t they do that with their magic books too? A year’s salary for 137 workers! I could find something to do with that!” Why burn them?
Because they worship Jesus now, not money. The content in their magic books opposed the kingdom of God. The books would deceive other people and turn them from the truth. It didn’t matter how much it might cost them; having Jesus and helping others to know Jesus was worth supremely more. The books were easy to burn.
What an awesome portrait of repentance. Repentance grows from a heart that values Jesus more than anything else in life. Repentance isn’t just about stopping this or that sin, though that’s certainly necessary. It’s about treasuring the King such that stopping this or that sin is easy. It’s about treasuring the King such that forsaking that old way of life is easy. It’s about so treasuring the King that you count everything as rubbish in comparison to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus your Lord.
5. The Word of the Kingdom Prevailing
Finally, Luke gives us a little summary at the end. Here we see the word of the kingdom prevailing. Verse 20, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” That could fly as a banner over the whole book.
Acts 2:41, “…those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Acts 4:4, “…many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” Acts 6:7, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” Acts 8:4, “those who were scattered [by persecution] went about preaching the word.” This one’s my favorite: Acts 12:24, “[King Herod] was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied.” Acts 13:49, “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” Acts 19:10, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” Here: “the word of the Lord continued to increase.”
How does the kingdom of God advance in the face of demons and deceivers? How does the Lord expose the darkness and rescue his people from Satan’s kingdom? By the ever-prevailing word of the Lord. The word. The word of the King. The word sitting in your laps, though I pray it’s hidden in our hearts and coming from our mouths.
Paul is in Ephesus here. But later he also wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus. You may recall something about the armor of God in Ephesians 6. Nearly all the pieces of armor allude to places in the Old Testament where Yahweh or his Messiah comes to fight for the salvation of his people.[vii]
So when Paul speaks of putting on God’s armor, he’s basically telling us to put on Christ. Put on Christ’s character. Put on Christ in the face of evil. Put on Christ to stand against the schemes of the devil. But when we put on Christ, when we put on God’s armor, two pieces reveal the offensive nature of our warfare. You get some fancy footwear: shod your feet with the gospel of peace. You also get a sword: take up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.
What’s the image? The image is that of a church running across enemy lines, speaking the word, and bringing the message of peace in Jesus Christ. Just like Paul, you possess the gospel that brings people peace with God. To put it on your feet means that there’s a readiness about your life to share it with others.
You know who you look like when you do? You look a whole lot like the One who came and preached peace to us when we were once far from God, blinded by Satan, and sitting in darkness. Ephesians 2 says that at one time, we were cut off from all of God’s promises; we had no fellowship with him. But then he sends Jesus, our victorious Warrior to do battle with sin, to defeat Satan, and to bring us peace with God and peace with one another. Ephesians 2:17, “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”
Christ defied Satan and robbed his domain. He continues that work now through the church as you and I share the good news about his kingdom. The way the strongholds will come down, the way the deceivers will be exposed, the way the King’s name will be magnified, the way people will learn to treasure him, is the word of the Lord prevailing through you and me. Let’s spread the news. We have nothing to fear. Demons and deceivers may rise. But they’re no match for the risen Lord Jesus.
Let’s summarize like this: the kingdom of God advances when the word of God, accompanied by the power of God, exalts the Son of God, who turns rebels into the people of God. If that’s true, what’s our strategy? Meet people. Teach the word. Exalt Jesus. And pray for God’s power to transform. We’ve heard the word this morning. I hope Jesus was exalted in the preaching. Let’s pray for God’s power now.
[i]Cf. Deut 4:1-9; Acts 7:36-37 along with Deut 18:15-22; Acts 3:22-23.
[ii]See also Acts 2:43; 5:12; 14:3; 15:12; Rom 15:19; Heb 2:4.
[iii]Throughout Acts “signs and wonders” are performed through the apostles, as well as a few others. See those performed by all the apostles (Acts 2:43; 5:12, 16), Peter and John (Acts 3:1-10), Peter alone (Acts 5:15; 9:32-34, 39-41), and Paul (Acts 15:12; 19:12; 20:11). Others included Stephen (Acts 6:8), Philip (Acts 8:6-7), and Ananias (Acts 9:17-18).
[iv]For more on how signs and wonders legitimate the apostles intrinsically, see the helpful treatment by Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 248-54.
[v]Some may get healed now. But it’s just as true that God leaves some in their sickness and suffering to demonstrate his sufficiency and glory in other ways. See, e.g., John 9:1-3; Rom 8:35-39; 2 Cor 1:3-11; 4:17-18; 12:7-9; Phil 2:25-27; Heb 12:3-11; Jas 5:7-11. We even observe that with Paul himself who healed on many occasions, but on other occasions he had to leave friends behind sick (2 Tim 4:20).
[vi]Garrett, Demise, 94-95 in Peterson, Acts, 540.
[vii]E.g., Isa 11:4-5; 42:13; 59:17.