1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”3 “Then what baptism were you baptized with?” he asked them. “With John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other languages and to prophesy. 7 Now there were about 12 men in all.
8 Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things of the kingdom of God.9 But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them and met separately with the disciples, conducting discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord.
11 God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 12 so that even facecloths or work aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. Then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, 19 while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be 50, 000 pieces of silver. 20 In this way the Lord’s message flourished and prevailed.
21 When these events were over, Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem. “After I’ve been there,” he said, “I must see Rome as well!” 22 So after sending two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?”
— Acts 19:15
My preaching professor warned me to never open a door I wasn’t willing to enter because it risks losing the audience. They’ll be thinking about the provocative point you breezed over while you engaged with the rest of your sermon.
I didn’t open the door to the amazing miracles and spiritual gifts of this passage, but I do think it needs to be addressed. If you're like me, then your eyes lingered on the parts about tongues being spoken and Paul's handkerchiefs being used to heal people.
I can only leave you with a sermon transcript from John MacArthur for why these events are not more frequent in modern times: Click here for transcript.
I want to share with you another portion of this passage that convicted me to my core. I’m amazed at how much truth about God we can learn from evil spirits. Though I study long hours to be the best Christian philosopher I can be, the knowledge of God displayed by these demons puts me to shame.
In this passage, the evil spirit asks a simple, yet profound question of the false miracle workers. Some Jewish exorcists were apparently trying to 'get in on' some of the demon cleansing action that Paul was performing.
John Polhill explains in the New American Commentary on Acts, “In the Greco-Roman world, Jewish exorcists were held in high esteem for the venerability of their religion and the strangeness of their Hebrew incantations. Magicians and charlatans were omnipresent in the culture, offering various cures and blessings by their spells and incantations, all for a financial consideration. The more exotic the incantation, the more effective it was deemed to be.”
Perhaps these gentlemen saw the crowds Paul was pulling as well as the works he was working and thought they could further their own ends by incorporating some of his methods.
The Jewish exorcists failed to realize that Paul wasn’t healing and working miracles for the sake of profit, rather He was working for the sake of the souls of the lost. They probably thought they could add the name Jesus to their repertoire and get some of the numbers Paul did.
While one would think that a demon would promote false prophets and teachers, this one apparently didn’t. When the evil spirit was approached by these imposters who claimed authority in the name of Jesus, the demon responded, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” The demon possessed man then proceeded to run the frauds out of town.
I was convicted on two levels.
The first level was the profound sensitivity displayed by the evil spirit in recognizing imposters. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times as a college student I was told to not judge this action or that person's mentality, whereas this demon sensed no such hesitation.
We never want to judge as if we ourselves are pure, but we do want to judge in the sense that we, as believers, ought to recognize the things of God while the unbeliever may not. We do not want to set ourselves over the unbeliever; rather we want to pull them alongside us in calling upon Jesus' name for forgiveness of our sins.
Second, I was convicted that often times, I think the demon may have a similar response if I were to approach it. My character doesn't always reflect our Lord Jesus in the way that it should. That point is not headline news because we are all sinners, but the trouble comes when we are unrepentant.
We must humbly confess our transgressions and seek them out no more. We’re Jesus' representatives on this Earth if we claim to be followers of the Way. We must truthfully represent him in both word and deed.
I don’t always have the best attitude when calling upon the name of Jesus in witnessing or philosophizing. I’ve been convicted to better memorize the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5.22-3) so that the Holy Spirit may call upon them and all evil spirits will recognize me as a Christian.
 John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 403.
- Do you like MacArthur's explanation for the modern rarity of such amazing works? Why or why not?
- Is it always bad to judge another's motives? Do we simply lack the access to such knowledge as that of the evil spirit that implies that we should never judge? What steps can we take to be sure that we are not judging from a position of arrogance but from a position of Christ-likeness?
- Do you think the demon would recognize you? If not, then what steps can you take to grow in Christ-likeness?