[Gary] Simon the Magician. Have you ever heard of him? Well this obscure historical person may have had a profound impact on what you think is biblical Christianity. Simon came from the Middle East, but his religious cult would spread over a wide area creating a conspiracy that perverted the teachings of Jesus. His megalomania drove him to claim that he was god. His followers met in secret conclaves practicing strange rituals for centuries after his death.
Sometimes it is difficult to separate historical fact from fable. Well in this case, the truth is stranger than fiction. Today, we're going to explore how an ancient cult influenced modern Christianity - maybe even your Christianity.
Join us in exploring, "The Strange Tale of Simon the Magician."
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[Gary] Years ago, I had a long conversation with a prominent member of a mainstream Christian church. He claimed that Jesus freed him from having to obey any biblical law. He explained that as long as he loved in the spirit, physical actions - well, they didn't even matter.
So I countered his argument by saying that God's law says, "Don't commit murder." (Exodus:20:13Thou shalt not kill.) And asked him, "Do you think a Christian can break this law, commit murder, and this is acceptable to God?"
His reply really surprised me. He said, "Well you know, many husbands and wives love each other, but in a fit of rage murder their spouse." He believed that God didn't judge a Christian who committed murder in such cases, because God knew that in the killer's heart he really loved the murdered spouse.
Now before you say that this man's beliefs are ridiculous and non-Christian, are you sure you don't have some beliefs that are different than what Jesus taught?
I really want to challenge you with the next question: Has your church actually been influenced by an ancient pagan cult?
Today, we're going to answer this question by looking at the life and times of a man who is mentioned in the biblical book of Acts - a man who left his mark on a counterfeit Christianity - maybe even your Christianity.
Jesus' disciples were busy spreading the gospel. A Christian leader named Philip traveled to Samaria, an area that's not far from Jerusalem, and many people began to respond to his message. The Samaritans were outcasts from Jewish society. They mingled biblical teachings with paganism to create a unique, sort of paganized Judaism.
Well there, Philip came in contact with a religious leader known as Simon the Magician. Simon had a large following among the Samaritans because he performed "miracles" though demonic power.
Many of Simon's followers believed Philip's message about Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. They even began to be baptized (Acts:8:12-13 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. ). And then, Simon himself professed to be a Christian and he too was baptized.
Upon hearing of this interest in Jesus as the Christ, the apostles Peter and John traveled to Samaria to instruct the new converts and to lay hands upon them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts:8:17-19 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.  And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,  Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. ). Now, when Simon saw that God's Spirit was given to people, he offered the apostles money if they would give him this power.
This is where we get the English word simony , which means the selling and buying of religious offices.
Now let's take a minute, and really look at this biblical story, and then explore how this practically unknown person may have influenced your religious views.
Simon was a very religious man who was attracted to the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Now remember, he was publicly baptized as a Christian. Now when he saw that authentic Christianity also involved receiving the Spirit of God, he wanted that power.
Simon recognized a core issue in his life that we all share. He understood that he was somehow incomplete. Now before, he had been practicing pagan rites that tapped into demonic powers, but he couldn't begin to experience the real power of the Almighty God. The biblical account doesn't say that Simon wanted to give up his pagan religion or even change his way of life. What he wanted was power (Acts:8:19Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.). He didn't want to submit to God, he wanted to become his own god. And remember, that is exactly what he did in his life.
The apostles rejected Simon as a man of - they called him a man of bitterness (Acts:8:23For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.). The "Magician" disappeared from the biblical account. Now this doesn't mean that Simon vanished. He would continue to lead his religious cult, adding elements of the teachings of Jesus to his pagan-Jewish mixture. Simon and his cult would be part of a movement to create a paganized Christianity that in many ways had little to do with the real Jesus.
For hundreds of years after Simon's death, his cult appears in historical records. You know, he even occasionally pops up in modern culture. Some of you may even remember, Jack Palance played a somewhat theatrical Simon in the 1954 movie, The Silver Chalice .
> Did you hear the crowd when I came in? "Hail Simon!" they shouted. They sensed the moment of my greatness and are ready to accept me.
>> Fly Simon!
> I am god!
>> Fly in the name of Caesar into His everlasting glory.
[Gary] At the heart of Simon's heresy was the belief that he could receive power from God without changing his ways to please God. The Simonian cult was part of a religious movement known as gnosticism. Now, one of the main tenets of this movement is that biblical laws and morality are all made invalid by a new enlightened freedom. For gnostics, true religion is found in the power of secret knowledge. With this secret knowledge you discover the truth - -now listen, but it is a truth that comes from within.
If this sounds a little bit familiar it is because it is a main tenet of the New Age movement. But just like the Christians in the first century, many Christians today hear the same message that it is possible to receive the power of God without submitting to God. In the New Testament, when they confronted this wrong teaching, it was called lawlessness.
Now "law" is one of those words that cause many Christians to sort of cringe. I mean, maybe you've heard that obedience to law is anti-grace. It's anti-love. The truth is, you will never really experience the love of God until you know how God defines love.
The foundation of the teachings of Jesus is love. But have you ever asked yourself: What did Jesus mean by love? Was He speaking of a sort of indefinable emotion? And that's how a lot of people see love when we talk about the Bible or about Jesus - sort of this indefinable emotion, this feeling.
Well you know, a man came to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matthew:22:25-36 Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:  Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.  And last of all the woman died also.  Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.  Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.  For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.  But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,  I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.  But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.  Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,  Master, which is the great commandment in the law? )
Now, Jesus had the perfect opportunity to claim, now listen, love erases all of God's laws. Instead, He responded, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." (Matthew:22:37-38 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. )
Now, did Jesus simply make up this foundational principle of life?
Well, no. It is a quote from the Old Testament book of the law, known as Deuteronomy. You see, to love God is total, unreserved trust, surrender and obedience. And Jesus said this is the first of all the laws.
Now in answer to the man who asked about the law, Jesus went on to say, "And the second" - or second law - "is like it: [and] 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew:22:39-40 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. ).
Now once again, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament. Notice, He doesn't say that to love your neighbor is an indefinable feeling. He says that loving neighbor is behaving towards others as you would want them to treat you. And this, these two commandments, this is the core of authentic Christianity - and they are laws.
Now, it is absolutely true that no one can receive salvation through any law - I mean even God's law. The purpose of law is to define good and bad behavior. We are all saved - and this is important to understand - we are all saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the lawless teachings of Simon, which crept into early Christianity, continues to this day to cheapen the grace of God.
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Magician, Simon the Magician, lawlessness... this may seem rather meaningless to you. Now as a Christian, you are under grace and love which are anti-law. Is that what you think? Think about that. The law of God was done away when Jesus came, right? Is this what you hear from your pulpit?
If it is, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to read from the New Testament. The apostle Paul prophesied about a man who will deceive the entire world before the second coming of Jesus Christ. He described this man this way: "…for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians:2:3-4 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;  Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. ).
Paul then writes - now listen, "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work..." (2 Thessalonians:2:7For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.).
The lawless approach to God, as taught by Simon, will be prevalent at the return of Jesus Christ. Now notice, Paul wrote that it was already present in his day.
Are you guilty of substituting cheap grace for the real love towards God and neighbor taught by Jesus Christ?
Do you know that this false idea may be actually in your church, even though it claims to be Christian? I mean, does your church teach that the law of God was nailed to the cross? Or that love in your heart means that you don't have to obey God? Or, do you believe a gospel based on the belief that all truth must come from within - just trust your heart?
Well, are Simon's teachings in your church?
Most likely, in one way or another, yes! Go ask your pastor about these things. Check out your beliefs against the Bible!
These ideas, prevalent in the New Age movement and far too many Christian pulpits, are not based in the teachings of Jesus, but a false interpretation of the Bible that can be traced back to an obscure pagan cult from the time of the earliest Christians.
Why would God inspire this story of Simon to appear in the Bible? It's a very short story. What are we to learn from a pagan who tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit? The story of Simon the Magician is in Scripture to help us - you and I - it's to help us avoid those exact same pitfalls.
Simon wanted to be like God. He wanted to satisfy that spiritual hunger that we all experience. He wanted to be respected as a spiritual leader. But he wanted all this without a willingness to love God or submit to God.
Simon disappeared from the biblical narrative after Acts 8, but he continued to lead a religious movement that mixed elements of paganism, Judaism and Christianity. His cult would exist for hundreds of years and have an effect on the formation of mainstream Christianity.
So we've seen that at the heart of the Simonian cult, and the larger movement known as gnosticism, was a belief that biblical laws and morality are to be rejected by the enlightened mind, discovering truth through secret knowledge. Now this concept, it's what the New Testament writers call lawlessness.
So it's very important that we take right now some time, to look at what Jesus said about lawlessness. And we're going to look in the Sermon on the Mount:
Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
"Many will say to Me in that day," - Now what He means here is when He returns. When Jesus Christ returns to gather His elect, to gather His people, He says many will come to Him and say, "'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'" - the name of Jesus Christ - "And then [Jesus declares] to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew:7:21-23 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. ).
Let's take a second to allow those words to really sink in.
Jesus said that when He returns there will be people who claim to be His followers whom He will reject. That's right! Jesus Christ is going to reject some people who do great works in His name. Why? Because they practice lawlessness. The old Simonian lie will be alive and believed by people claiming to be followers of Jesus at the time of His return. Don't get caught up in it yourself!
Remember, even Simon claimed to be a Christian and he was baptized. Now have you ever heard this message that I just said taught as part of the gospel brought by Jesus? It's in the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 7 - look it up. Because it's a frightening statement. Are you in danger of being rejected by Jesus Christ when He returns? You know, Christ doesn't want to reject anyone, but He - remember in His own words - He said He will not accept lawlessness.
We read earlier that Jesus taught that all of the teachings of the Old Testament are based in two great laws from the Old Testament: love God and love neighbor.
Love is the basis of God's law. Now, the law of God defines good behavior and bad behavior. It defines love! The Ten Commandments aren't anti-love or anti-grace. They define the most basic behaviors of love. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not murder.
Now this doesn't mean that Christianity is simply a matter of ritualistically keeping a set of rules. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded the meaning of the word love beyond the simple letter of the law. He said that the law says, "do not murder." And then He told His followers to obey the law by learning not to hate. You see, hatred is the root cause of murder.
So let's go back to the man who argued that the law against murder was erased by Jesus, and how a Christian could commit murder, but not be judged by God as long as he somehow had "love" in his heart.
Well, this is nothing more than the old lie of lawlessness taught by Simon. It is impossible to hack a person to death, or gun them down, while you're loving that person in your heart while you're in some fit of rage.
Simon the Magician, and other gnostic leaders, may have influenced your Christianity more than you know. You know, it is time - now, to return to the true teachings of Jesus Christ - His love, His laws, His morality, His doctrines, His prophesies, His teachings about the Father. It's time to discover the real power of God's Spirit - right now, in your life. Go dust off your Bibles and read the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Even in Simon's death, his whole life is just shrouded in myth. One story claimed that in order to prove his divinity, he was buried alive so he could be resurrected after three days and nights. Where did he get that from? Well, according to the account, he's still buried there today.
The Acts of Peter , written toward the end of the second century, claimed that Simon deceived many by flying around like a giant bird until Peter called upon God and Simon fell to the ground and broke his leg. Following an operation he died. His life, his teachings, his death - just a bizarre mixture of insanity and myth.
Now, we're going to discuss how the lawlessness of Simon the Magician is still prevalent in Christianity today with our Beyond Today panel, but first let me tell you about today's free offers that can help you discover authentic Christianity as taught in the pages of your Bible.
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We've been discussing the conspiracy of Simon the Magician and the effects his cult had on early Christianity. Many people are surprised that many of the teachings he had then, still exist today and still affect Christianity today. Well to further expose this conspiracy, we are joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.
People would be surprised that there's still lessons we need to learn about the life of this obscure person of Simon in Acts 8.
[Steve] It's an amazing story. When you consider right at the very beginning of Christianity, right when the New Testament Church was beginning to take off, here is this conspiracy against it that Simon is at the heart of, and immediately it takes a hard left turn away from the truth. And I think many don't realize that that was right at the very beginning, and so then what became mainstream Christianity really was off track right from the start.
[Darris] It's interesting that God inspired Luke to record this one story just once and nothing else is mentioned about this man in the entire New Testament. When you look at the story, and you see that he wanted to buy the Holy Spirit because he saw that it was by the laying on of hands that people received the gift of the Holy Spirit, you have there a perfect example of people, of an idea, a religion that wants to take a shortcut toward the most important matter - that really all religion has tried to do but only the Bible shows us how. And that is to have the power of God within us.
That is what the Holy Spirit is - God's power within us, Christ living His life within us. And that's what Simon tried to buy. And I think that that is one of the great lessons - not only shows the positive way by which God gives His Spirit but that you can't buy that. There's nothing cheap about that. There's no shortcut to that. You must follow what God lays down in His Scripture. God gives His Spirit, it says, to those who obey Him. And there's no shortcut to obedience.
[Gary] Well it's amazing when you think about, if you read about the Simonian cult and what Simon did the rest of his life. He declared himself to be a God.
[Gary] He couldn't receive the power from God so he declared himself to be a god. And the result is, is he created the strangest - even by Roman standards - it was a strange cult and strange beliefs, but he had been baptized a Christian. So he claimed to have a Christian, be a Christian and his cult was Christian, and of course it wasn't.
[Steve] Yeah, and some of those subtleties I think that we miss if we don't really notice what was going on. Darris mentioned about the Holy Spirit given through the laying on of hands. I had a circumstance come up a while back where a friend of mine was baptized - which was a very good thing. And I said, that's great! And I asked him, did you have hands laid on you? Because that's the example that's given there. And, was dead silence, because he hadn't.
And I wonder how many Christians today follow what's actually written or have they been skewed in what they believe thinking that there's shortcuts to getting where the Bible teaches the facts, the truth, and yet their practice is something totally different. I think it is important to think about that.
[Gary] Because in that story, when you think about that story, Simon was baptized. But none of the people who were baptized received the Spirit until the apostles came and laid hands on them. So it shows that those two things are connected together, and unfortunately a lot of people today do not even believe in baptism. They are even too, that far from what the Scripture says.
What are some of the lessons we can learn or what are some of the teachings of Simon, you just mentioned one, that we still find that are existed today? We talked about lawlessness a little bit…
[Steve] There are so many plain statements in the Bible that contradict the teachings of Simon. If you look at 1 John:5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous., it says very plainly that love is keeping the commandments. This is the love of God, it says, keeping His commandments. So you can't separate the love of God which many would say yes, I love God - but you need to keep His commandments! And in fact, it goes on to say those commandments are not burdensome. And so, commandment-keepers are Christians and Christians have to keep the commandments if they truly love God.
[Gary] Now, I am going to say something here that may seem very, very strange. We want you to order our free study guide, The Church Jesus Built , but while you are waiting for it to come, we want you - before you even read this - pick up your Bible and read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And pray, and ask God to open your mind to His Word, and then we can help you sort through it.
When you order,The Church Jesus Built , we will also send you a free subscription to The Good News magazine. This will help you discover the authentic Christianity taught by Jesus Christ. Call: 1-888-886-8632, or go online to download a free copy at BeyondToday.tv .
Nearly 300 years after Peter confronted Simon, a Catholic bishop named, Eusebius lamented that the Simonian cult still existed. Now he wrote,
"It is an astonishing fact that this is still the practice of those who to the present day belong to his (this) disgusting sect. Following in…. [Simon's] footsteps they slip into the church like a pestilential and scabby disease, and do the utmost damage to all whom they succeed in smearing with the horrible, deadly poison concealed on them" ( The History of the Church by Eusebius.)
Simon's greatest heresies were infecting Christianity hundreds of years after he is mentioned in the book of Acts. This is one of the reasons God inspired Luke to record these events. Remember, Christians will be combating the "mystery of lawlessness" until the return of Jesus Christ. And what this means, if you are serious about Christianity, it is time to remove all vestiges of Simon the Magician from your beliefs and become a living stone in the Church Jesus is building.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, "Thy Kingdom come." For Beyond Today , I'm Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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