The Agora
The Serpent and the Woman's Seed (Gen 3:15)

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The Acts

Acts 13:6-12

The missionary efforts of Paul and Barnabas on the island of Cyprus brought the gospel to the attention of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul was a "prudent" man (v 7) who sought truth, but he was unfavorably influenced by Elymas, an apostate Jewish sorcerer (vv 6,8).

As he listened to Barnabas and Saul, meanwhile observing the interest shown by his benefactor, Elymas (or Bar-Jesus) began to fear the loss of his position and influence. So, interrupting the two preachers, he began to engage them in debate. This assault was so rude and blasphemous (and coming from a "wise" Jew, who should have known better!) that Paul severely rebuked him;

"O full of all subtilty, and all mischief, thou child of the devil (diabolism), thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season" (vv 10,11).
Immediately the Apostle's words took effect, and the blinded Elymas began to stumble about, groping with outstretched hands for someone to lead him. Sergius Paulus was impressed by the spectacle, and believed the gospel preached to him.

"Bar-Jesus" signifies "son of salvation". Casting off the wonderful heritage implicit in such a name, the false Jew had become a devotee of the "moles and bats" of human "wisdom". His acquired name -- Elymas, or "wise one -- reflected his new philosophy. It is easy to see this man as a typical representative of the Jewish race in their apostasy (of which Saul of Tarsus had been a prime example!). Elymas was a "child of the devil", a description recalling Christ's words about the Jews:

"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do" (John 8:44) --
all, of course, directly traceable to the serpent's "seed" of Gen 3:15! Compare also the serpent's "subtilty" (Gen 3:1) with that of Elymas (Acts 13:10).

Like the Jews described by Christ, Elymas had lost sight of the characteristics of a true son of Abraham. Like the Jews, he had become an "enemy of all righteousness" (Acts 13:10) and an enemy of the gospel (Rom 11:28).

Elymas' main concern was the preservation of his source of wealth (the munificence of Sergius Paulus), his power over the proconsul (who was himself an important man -- so much the better!), and his pride at his own presumed "wisdom". In short, Elymas was motivated by the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jo 2:16)!

The sentence of blindness passed upon Bar-Jesus suggests, in this typical parable, the spiritual "blindness" decreed upon Israel because of their rejection of God (Deu 28:28; Isa 6:10). However, just as the sorcerer's blindness was temporary ("for a season" -- Acts 13:11), so Israel's blindness will be temporary:

"Blindness in part is happened to all Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom 11:25).
The final act in this miniature "play" is the conversion of Sergius Paulus -- which surely signifies the initiation of the Gentiles into the hope largely abandoned by Israel. The opposition of the apostate Jew provided the very opportunity for the Gentile to believe!

This one incident, then, is seen to set the pattern of Paul's work as a missionary to the Roman world: the unbelief of the Jews and the faith of the Gentiles. Thus is summarized, for that matter, the broad outline of two thousand years of ecclesial history. It appears that, in recognition of God's expanding purpose with the Gentiles and the instrumental part he was to play in it, Saul of Tarsus then and there adopted the new name "Paul" from his Gentile convert.

Acts 9:5; 26:14

Luke recounts three times the miraculous conversion of Saul; two of these passages give the words of the glorified Jesus to Saul:

"Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick ('laktizo') against the pricks ('kentron')."
"Laktizo" (which only occurs in these two passages) signifies literally to "lift up the heel". The "kentron" was a goad used on cattle, but the word also signifies a "sting", as of a serpent! Other than the two verses in Acts, "kentron" appears twice in Paul's joyful exclamation:

"O death, where is thy sting?... The sting of death is sin" (1Co 15:55,56).
The only other instance is Rev 9:10, a description of the Apocalyptic "locusts" with their tails like scorpions, and "stings in their tails".

The most obvious meaning of Christ's words to Paul was that it was as useless for him to resist the power of the gospel as for an ox at the plough to kick against the master's goad.

But there is a deeper meaning: The Pharisee Saul, steeped in the law, proud of his own "righteousness", had undertaken to crush underfoot the "serpent" of sin. His endeavor to destroy the infant ecclesia of Christ was the next logical step for a man who put all his trust in the law. To such a man, the religion of Jesus of Nazareth was an evil "serpent" to be trodden under foot.

However, Saul discovered on the road to Damascus that Jesus was no "serpent" who could be crushed by him. Jesus had once been the "serpent" lifted up on a stake (Num 21:9; John 3:14,15), but no more was that so. He was now alive for evermore, his victory over sin and the grave complete. In his intense pursuit of the Nazarene's followers, Saul had placed himself squarely in opposition to this marvelous fact; he was attempting to "tread underfoot the Son of God" (Heb 10:29).

And in trying throughout his early life to conquer the sin-power by his own strength -- lifting up his own heel against its "sting" -- Saul was foredoomed to failure. He was failing to recognize that the despised prophet of Nazareth had already accomplished what the Pharisee could never do -- bruise the serpent's head! The only thing left for the proud young Jew was to humble himself, and accept in faith the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ:

"Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6).
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