TITLE: SIMON MAGUS, THE PROTOTYPE FOR THE DEVIL’S VERSION OF A "BELIEVER"
Subtitle: Wherefore By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them (Matt.7:20)
We have in the Book of Acts, chapter 8, a very interesting account of the man normally referred to as "Simon the sorcerer" (or "Magus", the Babylonian equivalent). He is introduced to us by "the beloved physician" Luke, the human author of Acts. And beginning in verse 5 we read the following:
"Philip [the deacon, not the apostle] went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed the Christ, the Messiah, to them [the people]; and great crowds of people with one accord listened to and heeded what was said by Philip, as they heard him and watched the miracles and wonders which he kept performing [from time to time]. For four spirits came out of many who were possessed by them, screaming and shouting with a loud voice, and many who were suffering from palsy or were crippled were restored to health. And there was great rejoicing in that city. But there was a man named Simon who had formerly practiced magic arts in the city to the utter amazement of the Samaritan nation, claiming that he himself was an extraordinary and distinguished person. They all paid earnest attention to him, saying This man is that exhibition of the power of God which is called Great (intense). And they were attentive and made much of him, because for a long time he had amazed and bewildered and dazzled them with his skill in magic arts. But when they believed the good news (the Gospel) about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as Philip preached it, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed—[that is,] he adhered to, trusted in and relied upon the teaching of Philip—and after being baptized devoted himself constantly to him. And seeing signs and miracles of great power which were being performed, he was utterly amazed" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
Notice that I emphasized the word "but" at the beginning of verse 9, by underlining it. We go from the "rejoicing" of verse 8, to the "but" of verse 9—which is the Holy Spirit’s way of warning us that Simon is to be watched! Even the smallest and seemingly insignificant words of Scripture carry great meaning if we are careful to note them.
Luke informs us that this man had been a practitioner of the "magic arts" and we know from this description that he may have had some connection with the Babylonian "Magi." The Magi was the sect of "wise men" that we find in Babylon at the time of Daniel the prophet and also members of the group that visited the baby Jesus after He was born—as they followed the "Star of Bethlehem." They practiced astrology, fortune telling, and other occultic practices too numerous to mention, and were, accordingly, anything but godly men. (And just as a side note, I find it fascinating that God used these tools of the devil to provide gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to the "Christ Child"—expensive gifts that provided the necessary finances to enable Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus to flee to Egypt when King Herod tried to kill all of the babies in Bethlehem!) These Magi considered themselves to be "adepts", or experts, in the field of the magical arts and apparently believed that there were various levels of this expertise—leading up to that of "ascended masters." Many of the religions of the world consider Jesus Christ to have been an ascended master on the same plane as Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Vishnu, etc., but nevertheless still just a man and not God Himself.
In reading commentaries and Bible Dictionaries concerning Simon, we find that he actually passed himself off to the Samaritan people as being deity! A former prostitute named Helen was his constant companion and his so-called "first divine idea", while people in both Samaria and Rome (later on) held him to be a god. We find this alluded to by Luke in verses 9 and 10. So the point we are trying to make is that Simon was more intimately acquainted with the devil’s plan and program than the ordinary man on the street. This helps us to understand his personal amazement when Philip came along and began to work miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit that made his magic look amateurish by comparison. And from his subsequent actions, it appears that he concluded Philip was a much higher adept—perhaps even an ascended master! Notice that in verse 13 it says that "Simon himself believed—[that is,] he adhered to, trusted in and relied on the teaching of Philip…" The "Amplified Bible" renders it thus, to point out what Simon obviously believed in—"the teaching of Philip" and not salvation in Jesus Christ. Notice that after he (Simon) was baptized, he "devoted himself constantly to him" (Philip) and was constantly amazed at the miracles that were being performed.
Now if we were to end the story at this point, no doubt many would say of Simon that "he believed and was baptized," so therefore he was a Christian (and in spite of the evidence to the contrary, some still believe that he was). But this is an inference that is based upon incomplete evidence—and extremely doubtful in view of later events. As a matter of fact, if we look at the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s earthly ministry, we find numerous instances in which He healed individuals, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead, and many other miracles. But if we read the accounts closely, in many of these cases there is no mention whatever of individual salvation being bestowed, yet preachers routinely insist upon spiritualizing these instances and teaching that the people were saved as well. Again, this is a conclusion based upon a total lack of evidence and should not be done. Only God knows if these people were actually saved or not and if it is not specifically stated, we need to leave it alone. Because to do otherwise, is to add to the Word of God!
Getting back to Simon, we pick up with the narrative in verses 14 through 24:
"Now when the apostles (special messengers) at Jerusalem heard that [the country of] Samaria had accepted and welcomed the Word of god, they sent Peter and John to them. And they came down and prayed for them that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit; For He had not yet fallen upon any of them, but they had only been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then [the apostles] laid their hands on them one by one and they received the Holy Spirit. However, when Simon saw that the (Holy) Spirit was imparted through the laying on of the apostle’s hands, he brought money and offered it to them, Saying, Grant me also this power and authority, in order that any one on whom I place my hands may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said to him, Destruction overtake your money and you, because you imagined you could obtain the [free] gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is all wrong in God’s sight—[it is] not straight-forward or right or true before God. So repent of this depravity and wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, this contriving thought and purpose of your heart may be removed and disregarded and forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and a bond forged by iniquity [to fetter souls]. And Simon answered, Pray for me!—Beseech the Lord, both of you—that nothing of what you have said may befall me!" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
As Simon observed the apostles laying their hands upon the believers and them receiving the Holy Spirit as a result, his true motives surfaced immediately. Shazam! This was powerful magic and he must have it and no amount of money was too much to pay! So he made a big mistake and attempted to pay them for the "secret" to their supernatural ability. And, as was usually the case, Peter was the first one to speak. And boy, did he ever speak! Without hesitation, he, in effect, told Simon that he could take his money and go to hell! Most preachers cringe at that interpretation, but that is essentially what Peter said. The word translated "perish" in the KJV (and "destruction" in the Amplified) is the Greek word "apoleia" and is the same word translated "perdition" in the majority of cases where it is used. So why would Peter make such a withering spiritual statement—one that literally makes us wince? And then follow it up with more of the same? Evidently the Holy Spirit prompted him to thus speak, because Simon (the sorcerer—not Simon Peter) obviously was not a genuine believer and his actions proved it. Please note carefully that there is no indication given that Simon repented of his actions or motives. No, his only reply was a request that they pray for God not do to him the things of which Peter had spoken. And then abruptly, this is the last we hear of Simon in the Scriptures.
Secular history records through various contemporary writers and historians that Simon and his companion Helen, wound up in Rome where he continued to practice his magic and establish a cult following. Do these actions strike you as being those of someone who had been genuinely saved? But some might object on the basis of verse 13, in which it is said that Simon believed. Does not Scripture say in Mark 16:16 that "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved?" Simon believed and was baptized, so how can we say that he was not saved? Well, for starters we must point out that belief must have an object and in the case of genuine Christians, that object is Jesus Christ. Simon believed—and the Greek word is "pisteuo," the same word as used of a Christian’s faith—but the object of Simon’s belief was not Christ, as evidenced by his actions and Peter’s harsh comments. The object of his belief was apparently in the teaching and miracles of Philip—as the Amplified text points to in verse 13—and this kind of belief does not save the soul.
In Matthew 7:15-23, the Lord makes several very pointed comments about false prophets and gives instructions about how we may detect these imposters, but they also apply to those who are not genuine Christians. Beginning in verse 15, we read:
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you dressed as sheep, but inside they are devouring wolves. You will fully recognize them by their fruits. Do people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so every healthy (sound) tree bears good fruit—worthy of admiration; but the sickly (decaying, worthless) tree bears bad and worthless fruit. A good (healthy) tree cannot bear bad (worthless) fruit; nor can a bad (diseased) tree bear excellent fruit—worthy of admiration. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire. Therefore you will fully know them by their fruits. Not every one who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and driven out demons in Your name, and done many mighty works in Your name? And then I will say to them openly (publicly), I never knew you; depart from Me, you who act wickedly—disregarding My commands" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Here the Lord tells us how to detect false prophets, or for that matter, any profession of faith that is not genuine. A truly born-again, child of God literally has the Holy Spirit residing within them and He is impossible to hide! To some degree, even in the most carnal and backslidden Christian, His presence will be manifested in the form of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc.,—all of which are said to be "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22. Apple trees produce apples and the Holy Spirit produces "fruit" in the lives of His children. The obvious conclusion we must draw from this is that "no fruit—no root!" If we observe the lives of those who claim to be Christian leaders, or just ordinary Christian "pew-sitters," and we cannot discern the presence of the Holy Spirit, we must be very wary of them. Certainly we can be wrong in our spiritual assessment of others, so we must not take it upon ourselves to be their judge, but at the same time the Word of God teaches us to be discerning in these matters. In other words, do not embrace someone as a brother or sister in Christ and establish a close relationship with them, based solely on their profession of faith. People do profess Christ mistakenly and think that they are saved, while others do so falsely for reasons that usually involve personal gain (as appears to be the case with Simon). God gives us a brain to think with and He expects us to use it! 1 John 4:1-3 tells us this:
"Beloved, do not put faith in every spirit, but prove (test) the spirits to discover whether they proceed from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world. By this you may know (perceive and recognize) the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges and confesses [the fact] that Jesus Christ, the Messiah [actually] has become man and has come in the flesh is of God—has God for its source. And every spirit which does not acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [but would annul, destroy, sever, disunite Him] is not of God—does not proceed from Him. This [non-confession] is the [spirit] of antichrist, [of] which you heard that it was coming, and now it is already in the world" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Since the secular records of Simon’s activities are sketchy at best, we do not know exactly how much shame he brought upon the name of Christ, but we are sure it was considerable. The Bible tells us how successful he was in gaining the attention of the Samaritans and it appears that he was able to do the same thing in Rome. But the difference was that in Rome he more than likely hid behind a mask of pseudo-Christianity, which made his sorcery even more despicable. The devil knows what he is doing and is a master at using human nature against us. His primary weapon is deception and any time he can utilize one of his "moles" to spread false teaching or cause disruptions within the body of Christ, he has achieved his purpose—which is to spite God! Our responsibility as Christians is to be alert for those who are wolves masquerading as sheep and do everything we can to avoid them and point them out for the benefit of other believers. Sheep are helpless enough under the best of circumstances, but we sure don’t want to help the wolves by acting any more stupid than we really are.
Then referring back to the text of Matthew chapter seven, I want to point out that we must always be on our guard against what I call "successful preachers." You know the kind I’m referring to—those who are big time evangelists, constantly in demand, or who pastor churches with members numbering into the thousands, (but also some with a whole lot less). They are often referred to as "senior pastors" because they have large staffs of other preachers attending to the routine activities of the church. Their salaries are usually astronomical and they are regarded as being among the most respected men (and now women are getting in on the act!) in their communities. Everyone speaks well of him or her and their congregations just "love them to death!" Do you realize what I have just described has become the ideal position(s) sought by most preachers today? Huge congregations, offerings, and a multiplicity of programs for every member of the family—plus ever-growing numbers of baptisms just reek of success where ministers of the gospel are concerned! Go ahead and admit it—you tend to view it the same way. Right? But what if I told you that the odds are very good that a significant number of these individuals are clones of Simon Magus and in performing their "magic" they are just as contrary to the cause of Christ as he was? Heresy you say? May I submit to you that a preacher (or any other Christian) who does his job in the power of the Holy Spirit will literally be hated by the world and not patted on the back? Listen to what the Lord had to say in John 15:19:
"If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world—are no longer one with it—but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
So when I see any professed believer—especially a preacher—being welcomed by, and friends with, the unsaved world around them, I immediately get very suspicious, and you should too! But don’t misunderstand me, because I am not saying that every preacher of a large church, or evangelist that is in high demand, are bogus and tools of the devil. But what I am saying is that many of them are! By their fruits ye shall know them!
The New Evangelical philosophy of "methods" has engulfed the overwhelming majority of churches today like a giant tidal wave. In the name of evangelism, churches have become entertainment centers to ensure that large crowds can be attracted to "hear the gospel." Then these churches cater to the flesh at every opportunity in an effort to get them to come back again. The formal worship of God has been abandoned for "contemporary worship services"—in which people are encouraged to wear comfortable, casual clothes so that outsiders (lost people) will feel at home and want to come back. The music of the world has been adopted because the "young people" like it and it is more familiar and less "churchy" to visitors. God help us!! A worship service, by definition, is supposed to be for the sole purpose of worshipping Almighty God and the expression of our love and gratitude toward Him. The preacher—based upon the actions of those in the early church—is supposed to deliver a sermon that both challenges and uplifts his congregation, with the sincere desire that it will help them to get through the problems they will meet in the week ahead of them. It is also for the purpose of educating them in the Word of God, so that they can grow spiritually. Again, I reiterate that the purpose of a worship service is supposed to be from us toward God—offering our very best to Him and reverently thanking Him for all of His benefits. The music we offer as praise should be of the highest quality and the accompanying words spiritually equal to the quality of the music. Our dress and demeanor should also fit the solemn, yet joyous, privilege we have of being able to assemble together for worship. All of us should realize that we are in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords, when we attend a service in His honor. So with these thoughts in mind, how do you think that God feels about our laid-back, casual, worldly-music filled excuses for worship? Really now, would you actually have the audacity to enter into the throne room of heaven and appear before Jesus Christ wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, if you had better and more formal clothes available? Whether you realize it or not, you show great disrespect for God when your "worship" is offered with such an attitude. Think about it!
Preachers infected with the New Evangelical virus are primarily to blame for this revolting slide into pandering to the flesh. Rather than maintaining standards of worship that had a Biblical basis and centuries of precedent behind them, they opted for methods that they knew would produce results. There is an old saying to the effect that "nothing breeds success like success." People naturally flock to where there is "heat and light—where the action is." Human nature is highly predictable and that is why salesmen study psychological ploys that are proven to get the job done. And it is a well-worn fact that entertainment (in all of its forms) attracts and keeps the attention of the masses. Therefore, it was a very short step for men to adopt proven sales techniques in the merchandising of Christ! Remember how Simon captured and held the attention of the Samaritans? Modern day Simons are engaged in the same pursuits—captivating people through whatever means necessary, because human nature dictates that the very numbers themselves act as a magnet for more.
But are we not supposed to use every available means to draw crowds to hear the gospel message? Let me answer the question by posing another: can you show me in the Bible even one instance where the Lord or any of His disciples ever did so? The closest thing you will find is that the Lord sent "advance men" ahead to the cities and towns of Israel to proclaim that the Messiah was coming. The supernatural message of the gospel driven by the power of the Holy Spirit will always attract those whom God intends hear it. Simon’s methods absolutely guarantee an abundant crop of tares among the wheat! The average church today is literally bursting at the seams with plans, programs, and methods—but precious little of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the steady turn-over of members in some and continuous dwindling in others. God’s message has been replaced by man’s methods.
If you attend church at all, do you go with the expectation of giving or receiving? If you are average, you will probably admit to wanting to "receive a blessing." However, the Lord’s message is that it is more blessed to give than to receive. When we enter into a worship service it is supposed to be for the purpose of rendering our thanks and praise to God for all of His love and bountiful blessings—not to mention our financial offering in proportion to that which He has blessed us. It should not be to receive fleshly gratification through a carefully crafted sermon designed to elicit an emotional response from men, nor a foot-stomping, microphone-swallowing musical extravaganza! Our houses of worship have been cheapened through the use of crowd-pleasing methods and the lack of genuine heaven-sent, Holy Ghost revival among God’s people stands as a constant reminder of that fact.
As both a father, and now a grandfather, I have learned that most children love sweets! If you offer them a choice of what they want to eat at a meal, dessert will usually have first priority. This little tidbit of human nature brings a knowing smile to our faces, but it is a sobering fact to understand that we never fully outgrow this desire for pleasure. Given a choice, the overwhelming majority of us will always opt for it in preference to toil and trouble. The Simons of this world know this and have slowly and stealthily incorporated the "sweet things" of Christianity into a sure-fire, crowd-pleasing mixture of evangelistic fervor, music, and programs "for every member of the family." What genuine Christian does not thrill to see souls saved for Christ? Or enjoy soul-stirring music? Or participate in the godly activities of the local church? But have you ever considered that the bulk of the New Testament is devoted to the doctrinal and practical instruction of saints and not evangelism? Music, per se, is barely even mentioned in the New Testament and although it is an important part of the worship service and we are instructed to sing spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts, it is not given primary emphasis. Programs for every member of the family is also pretty much a device begun in the twentieth century and unknown prior to that. So what am I trying to say? Very simply, most churches today are majoring in desserts and not in meats and vegetables. The training of God’s people in doctrine and godly living—plus Church history—is given a very low priority, if in fact it is taught at all. Serious verse-by-verse, Book by Book, Bible study is "as scarce as hens’ teeth," and even in the instances where it is stressed, most preachers avoid certain doctrines and difficult passages of Scripture like the plague. Why? Because they are controversial and might cause someone to have to think for a change! "Oh, we must not upset the apple-cart, because some people will get their nose out of joint and not come back." The numbers game is in the driver’s seat and preachers are hypnotized by it. Many of you sitting in the pew would be absolutely amazed to know just how afraid your pastor is of losing his job. The tail is wagging the dog, folks, and many of you are the poorer for it.