Sorcery and the return of Jesus

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. (Act 8:9,11)

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. It was a clip from a programme that had been broadcast on Chinese television. It featured 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 all around the table, 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 through the table 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 the top of his arm moved above the table, so the bottom of his arm 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 (see opening text) and realized I'd been watching a satanic miracle.

The people of Samaria had been amazed by Simon's magic. My friend had been amazed by what he'd seen, and it was obvious from the faces of the people around the table that they, too, had been 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 forces.

A lot of what is claimed to be 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 had also performed.

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 who did the same thing by their secret arts: each of them threw his staff down and it became a snake.

Their staffs didn't just appear to become snakes, they 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 8:16–9).' 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 was astonished at the miracles Philip performed. 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 them (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 the 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 into 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 19:18–9)

The scrolls (presumably instruction manuals on occult practices) were valued at fifty thousand drachmas. A drachma was a silver coin worth about a day's wage. At current wage rates they would have been worth around £3,000,000—and they destroyed them all!

What is the message to Christians? If you've been involved in the occult at any time in your life, and have now put your faith in Jesus Christ, 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

In Mat 24:3–33 Jesus listed some of the events that will take place before his return. One of those events will be the appearance of false Christs and false prophets who will perform great signs and miracles through the power of sorcery.

Jesus answered: '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 24:4–5,23–5)

Jesus implied that the elect cannot be deceived, so why did he tell us to watch out that we're not deceived? He said that because, obviously, we can be deceived. To be deceived is to believe what is not true or to be misled by false information.

However, the elect have the potential to avoid deception because we have the Holy Spirit to give us understanding of the truth (Joh 14:16–7; 16:13). But to understand the truth, we first need to hear the truth.

The Christians at Ephesus believed that because they were saved they could live sinful lives and still go to heaven. That was a deception. They'd believed a lie because they hadn't heard the truth.

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

Hold fast to the truth

Once we know and understand the truth we must then hold fast to it to avoid deception. Eve was deceived by the serpent because she didn't hold fast to the truth. She knew what God had said, she'd understood it, but she didn't hold fast to it (Gen 3:1–6,13).

The believers at Thessalonica had been deceived. They believed the Lord had returned, the rapture had taken place and they'd been left behind. That wasn't true. They'd been deceived because they hadn't held fast to the truth.

Paul had told them that Jesus will not return until the man of lawlessness (also referred to in Scripture as 'the antichrist' and 'the beast') has been revealed. He will then return, gather his elect to himself, and destroy that man by the splendour of his coming (2Th 2:1–8).

The rapture

There is only one rapture taught in Scripture (1Th 4:13–8) 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 great tribulation (Greek great trouble, distress, oppression – Mat 24:21–2; Rev 7:13–4): read the Word for yourself and see. The Word is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who gives us understanding of it; but to understand it, we need to read it.

Do you read the Bible yourself, or do you leave it to 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, they can make mistakes. It will be no good saying, 'Lord, that is what my pastor told me, so I believed him.' We each have a duty to check Bible teaching out for ourselves to make sure we are not deceived.

False Christs and false prophets

The appearance of false Christs and false prophets will herald the revealing of the antichrist, who will perform all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, by the power of Satan (2Th 2:9–10). Christians should be watching for this and should be aware that not every miracle performed in the last days will be from God.

How will we tell false Christs from the real one? It's very simple: false Christs will appear on earth; Jesus will appear in the sky.

'So if anyone tells you, "There he is, out in the desert," do not go out; or, "Here he is, in the inner rooms," 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 24:26–7)

When Jesus returns 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)

'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 24:30–1)

The rapture won't take place in secret: everyone on earth will see it!


In Matthew and Mark's Gospels Jesus began his teaching on the end of the age by saying 'watch out that no one deceives you (Mat 24:4; Mar 13:5),' and in Luke's Gospel: 'Watch out that you are not deceived (Luk 21:8).'

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 marked 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 to guard us against it. How will we avoid being deceived? By reading God's Word and paying attention to it.

Details of what will happen are given in Mat 24:1–35, Mar 13:1–37 and Luk 21:5–36, but by far the fullest account is found in the book of Revelation. The first verse of that book tells us what it's about, who it was written to and why it was written: it's the revelation God gave to Jesus to show us, his servants, what must soon take place.

It's 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 13:7,16–7).

I don't think any Bible teacher understands all of it—at least not yet. There are some passages we do understand and some we don't. But I believe that as the time draws near understanding will come.

Certainly, as events take place they will be confirmed to us, as happened at Pentecost (Act 2:1–21). Until then let's read it, study it, and even if we don't understand it, at least familiarize ourselves with it.

Have you read the book of Revelation yet? And if not, why not? Jesus said you'll be blessed if you read it, and blessed if you take to heart what is written in it (Rev 1:3). That should be sufficient reason for you to read it. Why not start today?

Michael Graham
May 2010
Revised January 2019

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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