One feature of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was contact with the occult. Ephesus was the centre of the worship of the goddess Artemis, so it is not surprising that this feature was prominent in what the apostle did. Through Paul, the Lord delivered many people from the dominion of evil spirits, and did so in a manner that showed Paul was in contact with genuine spiritual power. Even cloths that had touched his skin showed that God was with him because they were used in bringing healing to the sick.
Luke mentions that there were itinerant Jewish exorcists in Ephesus. Seven sons of a man connected to the Jewish high priest were among them. It looks as if they were looking for a method that was successful, otherwise they would not have considered changing to another source of power. Their previous lack of success is seen in the evil spirit’s declaration that he had never heard of them, which is a reminder that the powers of darkness are not omniscient.
The method used by the seven sons of Sceva was not connected to faith in Jesus. Although they mentioned his name, they had no idea who he was. Their involvement shows the danger of getting involved in a spiritual battle without divinely-provided strength and protection. The evil spirit was able to empower the possessed man and he in a very aggressive manner physically harmed the seven by himself.
Perhaps surprisingly, the evil spirit did not want help from those phoney exorcists. Although he knew they were not in touch with God, he did not leave them to carry on their ineffective activities. This is a reminder that there is no harmony among the opponents of the kingdom of Jesus.
The defeat of the seven sons of Sceva became public knowledge and the effect was that people realised that the new group meeting in the hall of Tyrannus had contact with divine power. It may have been the case that prior to this incident the Jews had portrayed themselves as the ones who possessed the power to deliver people from bondage to Satan. Now the people of Ephesus, including the Jews, realised that real power was connected to the exalted Saviour.
Another outcome was that the Christians who had previously dabbled in the occult became emboldened to give a public witness to their new relationship with Jesus. They burned the books connected to their magic arts. It is significant that they destroyed the books rather than sell them, even although they were worth a lot of money. The new believers realised that financial gain from such sources was incompatible with their new faith and they were willing to make sacrifices in order to ensure that everyone knew they were now serving Jesus. They challenge us regarding retaining interests from our pre-Christian days that may hide from people that we are disciples of Jesus.
This encounter between powerless Jews and the powers of darkness was used by God to further his own kingdom in Ephesus. The message of the King reigning from heaven increased in influence and prevailed over all alternative claims to spiritual authority. In Ephesus, the war between light and darkness was taking place as Jesus from heaven directed his campaign.