Seeking Jesus, Opposing Jesus, Blindness and Bitterness–Acts 13:4-12

Healing the Blind Man by Václav Mánes, 1832

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

In our last post from Acts 13 we looked at the first time in the Bible where Saul was called Paul (and Paul means small or humble). And we explored the implications of that change. If you’re interested you can learn more here: So You Want to be an Influencer . . .

Today we’ll look at two people who approach Jesus in two very different ways.

Acts 13:4-12

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Acts 13:4-12

In our text we see Paul and Barnabas sent out to Cyprus. We saw in Acts 13:1-3 how their objective was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But their destination also made sense because Barnabas was from Cyprus, so he was familiar with the place and the culture. (Acts 4:36)

As visiting teachers who were experts in Jewish law they would have been invited to share in the synagogues of Cyprus. And so they did. And after sharing about Jesus throughout the island, they encountered the highest ranking official on the island, the proconsul Sergius Paulus, and his advisor Bar-Jesus. (Interesting side note: Scholars and historians confirm Luke, the writer of Acts, always accurately identifies leaders with their correct title “even though these titles varied from place to place and decade to decade.”) (Keener)

Sergius Paulus the proconsul summoned Paul and Barnabas because he desired to hear the word of God. But his advisor Bar-Jesus sought to turn Sergius Paulus away from Christ.

The Genuine Seeker of Truth

Sergius Paulus is an interesting person in Luke’s account because he’s someone who’s genuinely seeking truth. In our text we see he’s said to be a man of intelligence. When I was in my forties, I used to enjoy people who communicated disagreement in a snarky manner, with a heavy dose of derision. I used to think they were clever. Now that I’m older I find people who communicate with that mocking style tend to say what plays well for their audience, at the expense of truth and logic. To be honest, for most of my life I thought I owned the corner on logic, but it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I learned about logical fallacies and what logic really is. Regardless of what opinions they hold, it’s been my observation those who indulge in mockery tend to employ logical fallacies to support their views. “No matter,” they might say, or think, “what’s important is the reaction of my hearers.”

I’ve come to appreciate those who engage with charity, people with opposing views. If there’s a charitable collaborative spirit between interlocutors, I find the debate to be so much more informative. When there’s an underlying bitterness, I find less substance, and, that bitterness infects my own personality and outlook.

Sergius Paulus strikes me as a person who is genuinely seeking truth, intelligent enough to appreciate logic, and charitable in spirit toward those who might disagree with his current worldview. He summons Paul and Barnabas to see what he might learn from them.

But his advisor, Bar-Jesus (the name Bar-Jesus means “Son of Joshua.”) was in opposition to Jesus the Christ, and he sought to turn the heart and mind of the proconsul Sergius Paulus away from Jesus.

Blindness can be Only Temporary

While preparing for today’s post I typed blindness into the Google search bar and this is the first thing that came up:

Blindness is a lack of vision. It may also refer to a loss of vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Partial blindness means you have very limited vision. Complete blindness means you cannot see anything and do not see light., MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [emphasis in bold is in the original quote]

I have friends who don’t share my belief in Jesus but their spirit toward any discussion about our beliefs is generous and genuine. I don’t get the feeling Bar-Jesus (also called Elymas in our passage) fell into that category. In response to Elymas’s opposition to Jesus, God temporarily strikes him blind.

According to Keener, in Jewish literature, temporary blindness was sometimes employed by God to prevent further damage from sin. We see this when God blinds the Syrian army that was about to attack Israel. Elisha leads them to the king’s court where Israel’s enemy is fed a great feast and then sent home. And after that experience, the Syrians stopped raiding Israel: they surrendered if you will. We see it when Saul encounters Jesus on the road and is blinded as a result of that encounter. Saul was hunting Jesus followers and turning them in to the authorities for execution up until that point. But after he’s blinded, he surrenders. (2 Kings 18:23, Acts 9:1-19)

We don’t learn how the story ends for Bar-Jesus, but based on previous accounts of blindness in the Bible, perhaps, ultimately, he too came to surrender. That’s my hope. I hope that, in the end, he surrendered his life to Jesus.

That’s my hope and my prayer for the people in my circles who oppose Jesus and seek to persuade others to come over to their way of thinking. My hope and my prayer is their current outlook is only temporary. My hope and my prayer is that God will intervene and reveal Jesus to them in the most intimate way possible, so they will see.

My hope and my prayer is they will ultimately come to surrender their life to Jesus.

“Father, please have mercy on the people who don’t see Jesus the way You desire them to. Intervene in their lives and reveal Your Son to them in the most beautiful powerful attractive way possible. Draw them to Christ. Reveal Your Truth to them. Help them to see. Bring them to the place of surrender.

“Let their blindness be temporary.

“In Jesus name.



Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 358-359

Image of Healing the Blind Man by Václav Mánes via Wiki Commons

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  • How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
  • How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
  • How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
  • How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
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  • How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.

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3 Comments on “Seeking Jesus, Opposing Jesus, Blindness and Bitterness–Acts 13:4-12

  1. Pingback: 5 Reasons Paul and Barnabas were so Effective in Sharing Jesus–Acts 13:13-52 | God Running

  2. Good post. I’d forgotten this story and I enjoyed your take away about purpose of about making people blind in the hopes that they surrender to Him.

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