Seven Sons of Sceva Part 1 of 3
by John Lowe
“Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”
July 31, 2015
Acts of the Apostles
Lesson: Seven Sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-17)
Acts 19:13-17 (KJV)
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”
14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”
16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.
It was common, especially among the Jews, for individuals to attempt to cast out evil spirits. If we resist the devil by faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think we can resist him by using Christ's name, or His deeds, as a spell or charm, Satan will prevail against us. Where there is true sorrow for sin, there will be free confession of sin to God in every prayer and to man whom we have offended, when the case requires it. Surely if the word of God flourished among us, many vulgar, agnostic, and wicked books would be burned by their owners, and converts would rise up in judgment against professors, who write such works for the sake of financial gain. If we desire to have a part in the great work of salvation, every pursuit and pleasure—which hinders the effect of the gospel upon the mind, or loosens its hold upon the heart—must be given up.
13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
“THEN CERTAIN OF THE VAGABOND JEWS—frauds; con men; sometimes called snake oil salesmen—who went from place to place, pretending to tell fortunes, cure diseases, and dispossess devils, by conjuring up spells, performing magic tricks and applying fake potions.
The word "VAGABOND" is now commonly used in a bad sense, to denote “a vagrant; a man who has no home; a hobo, bum, panhandler, and a worthless person.” The word, however, properly means “one wandering from place to place, without any settled habitation, from whatever cause it may be.” Here it denotes “those Jews who wandered from place to place, practicing exorcism.” Such wanderers and pretenders are common in Oriental countries even now. So were they called who cast out demons by forcing them to leave in the name of God: and in the beginning of the Church, those who had the gift of working miracles, and laid their hands on those that were possessed with demons, were called the same.
That such a power did exist, for some time at least, seems implied in Matthew 12:27: “And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.” But no doubt this would breed deception; and the present case is very different from that referred to in Luke 9:49, 50. "Master," said John, "we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."The men in the case before us, belonged to a lower section of the class of which we have already seen representatives in Simon of Samaria or Elymas of Cyprus (See Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6.). They practiced exorcisms as a profession.
These Jewish “EXORCISTS” pretended to have the power to cast out evil spirits by magical arts derived from Solomon. We learn also from Josephus, that forms of exorcism, said to have been invented by King Solomon were used with great effect in his days; in fact, they were so effective that the devils cast out by them could never come back. He adds that he himself knew of an instance in which one of his own countrymen, Eleazar by name, had cast out devils in the presence of Vespasian and his sons and officers and a number of his soldiers. The method used was this: The exorcist applied to the nose of the possessed the bezel of a ring, under which was a certain root prescribed by Solomon, and so drew out the evil spirit through the man's nostrils. The possessed then fell to the ground, and the exorcist commanded the evil spirit in the name of Solomon never to return, and then recited one of Solomon's incantations. To give full assurance to the bystanders that the evil spirit had really left the man, the exorcist placed a vessel full of water at some distance off, and then commanded the ejected spirit to overturn it, which he did.
Satan cannot be frightened off by anything said nor by works of any kind, but only by faith in the Word of GOD. In this case, the very cunning spirit, seeing that these pretend “EXORCISTS” have no faith, nor the word of GOD secure in their hearts, laughs at their attempt. The expulsion of Satan from demoniacs is representative of the expulsion of Satan in ordinary cases from the hearts of all men. But even here, as he made fun of those who attempt to expel him from demoniacs by merely evoking the name of Jesus without faith: and in the present day laughs at those who have attempted by works to deliver themselves from his power, for he had dominion over them, and treated them as he pleased. Satan is a most crafty spirit, but his cunning cannot be known except through the Holy Ghost; and he will not be expelled except by the exercise of true faith, and by the most spiritual.
“TOOK UPON THEM TO CALL OVER THEM WHICH HAD EVIL SPIRITS, THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS.” They imitated the Apostle Paul, and attempted to do as he did, using the same name; hoping to get money or applause, or both, in this way; and it may be observed, that there were some who really did cast out devils in the name of Christ, who did not belong to Him. We read about this in Matthew’s Gospel, where it says: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? (Matthew 7:22). The reasons why they attempted to cast out devils in Christ’s name were (1) That Jesus had expelled many evil spirits; and, (2) that it was in His name that Paul had performed his miracles. Perhaps they supposed there was some magical power in this name to expel them.
During the times of Christ and His apostles, Satan was more active than at any other time, and there were many diabolical possessions—the victims having the qualities of a devil were devilish, fiendish, outrageously wicked, and actuated by a demon or the devil himself. There is no doubt that they were allowed in order that Jesus might have an opportunity of showing His power over Satan, by depriving him the bodies, as well as the souls of men, and casting him out, and giving proof of his deity, divine Sonship, and Messiahship. And this power of casting out devils was given to others, not only to the twelve apostles (including Judas, who had the same power as the rest), and to the seventy disciples; but even to some who did not follow Him and his disciples: “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in your name, and he follows not us: and we forbade him, because he follows not us” (Mark 9:38). Some did this in the name of Jesus, who do not appear to have any true faith in Him, and knowledge of Him; men such as the vagabond Jews, exorcists, and the seven sons of Sceva (19:13-14). It is awful to consider such a thing, that men were able to cast out devils, but in the end were themselves cast to the devil.
“SAYING, WE ADJURE YOU BY JESUS, WHOM PAUL PREACHETH,” that is, to come out of the bodies of those men which they had possessed. There is a story I read that goes like this: “There was a man who swallowed something that got stuck in his throat and caused him to gasp for air. He was choking and in serious trouble when a man came and muttered something to him in the name of Jesus, and immediately he was well.'” The Jews also made use of the name of Jesus for healing diseases.
“WE ADJURE YOU”—we bind you by an oath; we command you as under the solemnity of an oath (Mark 5:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). It is a method of putting one under oath, (1 Kings 2:43; Genesis 24:37; 2 Kings 11:4; Nehemiah 13:25).