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Barnabas and Saul arrive at Paphos they are challenged by a “sorcerer and false prophet” named Bar-Jesus, or Bar-Joshua. Bar-Jesus was a counselor for Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul on Cyprus.  Thus Bar-Jesus was a very powerful man in the government His name means “son of the Savior,” but he is also known as Elymas, meaning “Wise” in Arabic.

Sergius Paulus wishes to meet with Saul, but Bar-Jesus opposes this meeting.  Paul is described as “full of the Spirit” as he condemns Bar-Jesus.  Paul accuses him of trickery and deceit, and perverting the ways of the Lord.  Paul then blinds the man, and he had to be led away. This is in itself a rather unique event in the New Testament, but the miracle is also a symbolic act.   There are a number of miracles in the New Testament which are more or less “prophetic acts.”  Jesus heals a blind man in Mark 8:22-26 who begins to see, then sees fully.  This is a picture of the understanding of the disciples at that point in the gospel of Mark.  The result is that the Gentile man who is not a God-Fearer believed and was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Luke uses the Blinding of Bar-Jesus at this point in Acts to signal a major shift to Gentile mission.  Luke begins to refer to Saul and Paul.  The change occurs in the middle of the conflict with Bar-Jesus.   Likely Saul was always also known as Paul, but it is at this critical part of the story when Luke chooses to change names in the narrative.  This indicates a major shift in the progress of salvation history, from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Luke also switches the order of the names from this point on in the book; up until this event, Barnabas and Saul have traveled together, now Paul and Barnabas will travel on to Antioch.  The only exception is at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, likely because Barnabas took the lead in speaking with James.  On a literary level, Paul is the main human character for the rest of the book; the blinding of Bar-Jesus is the transitional point in the whole book.

Paul and Bar-Jesus are in many ways similar: both were blind and both encounter the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.  As Darrell Bock says, “Elymas is where Paul was years earlier” (Acts, 446).  But Bar-Jesus is radically off-base from the Law.  He is a sorcerer and working for a Roman official.  While Paul condemns this one man for his unfaithfulness, he is also pointing his finger at the whole of the Jewish nation; Paul too was in error concerning the nature of Jesus as the Messiah.

It is critical to note that Bar-Jesus is blind only for a time, not permanently.  So too, Israel is only set aside in the progress of salvation, they are not “cut off forever.”  If this is a symbolic miracle indicating that the Jews are “blinded” to the gospel, it also promises a restoration of the Jewish people in the future.

The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer.

This is a critically important passage in the overall outline of the book of Acts. Luke closes the first half of this book with the story of the blinded Jew Bar-Jesus and introduces the second half of the book by showing that Paul will be the light to the Gentiles by carrying the gospel of Jesus to Roman officials at the highest level possible. From this point on in Acts, Paul is traveling and ministering far from Jerusalem and Judea.  He will mover through Asia Minor, Europe, and finally Rome.

What is the significance of the blinding of Bar-Jesus? At this point in Acts Luke begins to refer to Saul and Paul.  The change occurs in the middle of the conflict with Bar-Jesus.   Luke also switches the order of the names from this point on in the book; up until this event, Barnabas and Saul have traveled together, now Paul and Barnabas will travel on to Antioch.  The only exception is at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, likely because Barnabas took the lead in speaking with James.  On a literary level, Paul is the main human character for the rest of the book; the blinding of Bar-Jesus is the transitional point in the whole book.

Luke also uses the story to advance his theological agenda.  Paul and Bar-Jesus are in many ways similar: both were blind and both encounter the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.  Darrell Bock comments that “Elymas is where Paul was years earlier” (Acts, 446).  Bar-Jesus is radically off-base from the Law.  While Paul condemns this one man for his unfaithfulness, he is also pointing his finger at the whole of the Jewish nation; Paul too was in error concerning the nature of Jesus as the Messiah. The difference is that Paul was blind, but now he sees; the Jews had every opportunity to see that Jesus was the Messiah, but refused and are now blind for a time.

It is critical to note that Bar-Jesus is blind only for a time, not permanently.  So too, Israel is only set aside in the progress of salvation, they are not “cut off forever.” Romans 9-11 is Paul’s theological statement which explains the symbolic action in Acts 13.  The Jews have had many opportunities to respond positively to the revelation of the Messiah and to the activity of the Holy Spirit; they have rejected God’s Messiah and the Holy Spirit, therefore for the present age they will be “blind,” but God will complete his plan to being the kingdom literally to the world through the Jewish people at some point in the future.

This opens up a lot of questions about the Jewish people in the present age, I plan to come back to this topic on Wednesday.

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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