Saul rebukes Elymas "child of the devil"
Saul rebukes Elymas in front of Sergius Paulus

When (Saul and Barnabus) had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? 11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord. (Acts13:6-12)

Another encounter with a Gentile would-be convert, this time involving Paul and his associates, Mark and Barnabus. The Gentile in question was Sergius Paulus, pro-consul of Cyprus under Emperor Claudius. He is described in our text as “a man of intelligence” (v7) – wise enough indeed to want hear more of the Word of God, for which reason he summoned Paul and his associates. It is to be observed that many in the Bible who desire to learn of the Gospel are described as wise or God-fearing.

Such was the rich young ruler considered in an earlier post who came to Jesus seeking to “inherit eternal life”. He was undoubtedly God-fearing, law abiding and loved by Christ (Mk10:21) but in his case he was unwilling to become a disciple in view of the wealthy lifestyle he was required to leave behind. That consideration might well have applied to pro-Consul Sergius but in his case he made the better choice (v12). The main point being made in this post is that the gospel is not directed to those who are wicked and depraved but to those who already fear God or come to do so when the Word is preached. As Paul himself declared when delivering his sermon later in this chapter (next post):

Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear Godto you the word of this salvation has been sent (Acts13:26NKJV)

This is hardly the approach to evangelism I was brought up to believe in or apply as an Evangelical minister but it is the reality of Scripture in terms of Jesus’ encounters with His would-be disciples in the Gospels and that of the apostles in Acts.  Likewise, those who wholeheartedly reject the Gospel and its Hero such as certain religious leaders that Jesus encountered and the likes of Elymas in our passage, these were sometimes described by Jesus and here by Paul as children of the devil”.  Elymas was desperate to prevent the pro-consul’s conversions and Paul further describes him as one who is “full of all deceit and fraud, an enemy of all righteousness, making crooked the straight ways of the Lord” (v10) 

This touches upon one of many mysteries being explored in The Little Book of Providence** (chapter six), namely that the term “children of the devil” is not merely a descriptor for a particularly heinous  sinner but is a distinct category of individual of whom the archetype was Adam’s firstborn son Cain. This idea is more explicitly developed in the epistles of John, which God willing we will come to in due course.

**Free PDF available HERE

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