The Bible is full of crazy stories, but this one may be among the most insane.
It’s from Acts 19 and features a deceitful and greedy response to Paul’s ministry. The Apostle Paul was traveling around modern-day Turkey and Greece, talking about Jesus, and starting churches.
Seven sons of a Jewish high priest were also traveling the countryside during this same period, attempting to cast demons out of people who were influenced by evil spirits. Then they saw Paul perform miracles through the Holy Spirit by the power of Jesus.
They wanted this power for themselves.
Perhaps, they thought, the name of Jesus would work like a magic incantation to get the results they needed (and maybe earn the money they wanted).
Without knowing Jesus themselves, the seven sons declared to a demon, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”
Did you catch that? The Jesus whom Paul preaches.
The evil spirit responded, “Jesus I know, Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
What a cutting response: Who are you?
The demon’s reply shows a hierarchy of relationship. They know Jesus. In fact, they interacted with him regularly during his ministry. (See Mark 1, 5, and 9; Matthew 8, 9, and 17; Luke 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13.)
More than interacting with Jesus, they also knew Jesus as God. Jesus was their biggest enemy: conquering their realms of darkness, bringing God’s light, and launching the kingdom of God the Father.
The demons recognized Paul. As a disciple and follower of Jesus, he did the work of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. He followed in Jesus’ ministry: casting out demons, proclaiming the truth, and establishing God’s kingdom on earth.
Paul knew and loved Jesus. His life was radically transformed by a personal encounter with Christ (Acts 9). There was no selfish or personal gain from his ministry work. Sharing the gospel and planting churches often led to him being beaten, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, harassed, and financially dependent on others.
But these sons of the Jewish priest? They were strangers to Jesus. The demons caught them in deceit. Caught them playing a role, lacking the integrity of truly being part of God’s kingdom. The sons were trying to use the name of Jesus for their own personal, financial, and prestigious gain.
Instead of casting out this demon, it’s a reverse exorcism—as the ESV Study Bible describes it. The evil spirit in the man leapt on the seven sons and overpowered them. They fled naked, showcasing their ultimate humiliation.
Like the seven sons, it can be easy to try to do the work of God without actually knowing God.
It can be easy to invoke the name of Jesus in prayer and ministry without actually believing in him.
You may have spent your whole life in church. You may have served in a bunch of Christian leadership roles. So you may personally know that it can be easy to look faithful on the outside, while your inner heart is far from Jesus.
Why does this happen? Sometimes it’s because playing the “Christian” role can lead to power and position in certain circles.
But to believe in Jesus is not just a cerebral agreement with who he is for the sake of acceptance into a community. It’s a surrendered heart of love and respect for him. We need to both love who Jesus is as fully true, and respect him with all our actions.
This motivation ought to displace all grabs at personal power.
Even more than love and respect, Jesus says that truly loving him involves loving others to the point of death. Choosing to place others’ needs and desires above your own is the exact opposite of seeking power and position.
Jesus demonstrated this completely when he willingly died on the cross. And following him means following his example.
The seven sons in Acts 19 didn’t love or respect Jesus. They weren’t willing to lay down their lives for others.
Ironically, God worked through a demon’s response to showcase what true faith and ministry looks like. Because there’s a much better way.
There are temptations to try to use Jesus’ power to appear holy, meet your goals, or showcase your power. Instead of using Jesus, it is far better to belong, truly, to God.
Belonging to God means submitting to his power, rather than seeking to use it. It’s being honest with the fact that you need to be saved. You do not need to be a saviour for yourself or anyone else.
Because God doesn’t expect perfection from you. Instead, he invites us to himself while you’re in progress, as he powerfully (though often slowly) shapes you through faith and obedience to become more like him.
To belong to God means that you can have peace with God, and then live within the peace of God. Which rarely leads to obvious power and position. But there’s more than meets the eye: demons recognize those who belong to Jesus.