CAN YOU EXPLAIN ACTS 19:13-16?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Let us begin by reading that passage in context: “ And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia [western Turkey] heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.  And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:  So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
“ Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.  And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.  And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?  And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.  And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”
Miraculous demonstrations are not the norm in the Apostle Paul’s ministry. As we saw, they are therefore termed “special miracles” (verse 11). Handkerchiefs or aprons were taken from Paul’s body, and distributed to heal the sick and cast out devils. This last miracle—exorcism—introduces verses 13-16.
Verse 13 reports, “Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” Pictured here is apostate Israel, wandering about with no certain dwelling. They have been rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ for some 20 years, and thus still have no idea where they are going spiritually. Operating independently of God, they are working under Satan’s power (see John 8:44). Through them, Satan will attempt to cast out his own associates. What is Satan’s purpose here? Doubtless, he is endeavoring to counterfeit the exorcisms Paul performs through the Lord’s power.
When performing the exorcisms, these vagabond Jews do not say “We adjure [command] you by Jesus,” but rather, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” They freely acknowledge that they do not have Christ Jesus’ power, so they must rely on the authority of Jesus Christ imparted to Paul. Again, this is Israel nationally, under Satan’s control. Self-willed and fleshly-motivated, they will demonstrate themselves to be amateurs at dominating the spirit world.
Verse 14: “And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.” These priests should be in Jerusalem at the Temple but here they are drifting aimlessly. Sceva, chief of the priests, leads his seven sons who are false teachers and false prophets. Israel is typified again, wallowing in spiritual darkness and ignorance. They are “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14). Second Corinthians chapter 11 reminds us: “ For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”
Verse 15 of Acts chapter 19 again: “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” These devils (unclean spirits, Satan’s cohorts) recognize the name and power of Jesus—even when unbelieving Israel does not! Mark 1:24 records an evil spirit as saying: “Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” Compare that to James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”
You may also see Matthew 8:29: “And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” And, Luke 8:28: “When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.” Finally, Mark 5:7: “And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.”
Continue in Acts 19:16: “And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” Judgment fell on lost Israel, and how brutal was that judgment! These seven sons of Sceva quickly exit the house as losers, literally naked and injured, likely scared beyond their wildest imaginations!!! No victory is available to them because they are divorced from the power of the God of creation—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What a sad commentary on Israel’s spiritual condition here in the Book of Acts… two decades after Calvary! Instead of coming to Father God by faith in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, they would rather still waste their time in unbelief and silliness.
The passage ends with verse 17: “And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”