“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’”
Revelation 21:8 NIVUK
“But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable [who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality], and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Revelation 21:8 AMP
We’re going to look at Revelation 21:8 slightly out of verse order, because we’re at the end of October and this is Halloween, a day much celebrated in Western society, especially amongst children. God asked the Apostle John to write down some character traits that, if followed, would consign them “to the fiery lake of burning sulphur”. Amongst these, God mentioned “magic arts” but what are they? The Amplified version goes further, describing the “magic arts” practitioners as “sorcerers” and “occultists”, and as an aside He included the involvement of “intoxicating drugs”.
We look at these words and wonder if they are still a problem in today’s society. After all, we don’t generally see women dressed in black cloaks decorated with embroidered stars and planets and wearing pointy hats, wandering around our shopping malls. But before we discount the role of the “sorcerers” and “occultists” in 21st Century Planet Earth, there are some things that should be making us think. As I write this, Halloween is almost upon us. The celebrations are just a bit of fun, those in society will say. But what is Halloween all about, if not a manifestation of occultist practices? It has its roots in ancient Celtic and Druidic customs that include a celebration of the joining together of the spiritual and natural worlds. The early adherents of this custom thought that on Halloween, the spirits of people long dead, together with a motley selection of demons, goblins and the like, could pass from their world to ours. According to the tradition, the demonic forces had to be appeased with sacrifices or gifts of sweets, and if the Halloween celebrants could dress up in scary clothes, then all the better. So in today’s Halloween parties and customs, we are continuing the practice of celebrating and recognising the devil’s dark forces.
But that is not the only manifestation of “those who practise magic arts”. Behind the scenes there are spiritualist “churches” meeting down a dark alley, or in a back room somewhere, and engaged in practices such as contacting the spirits of the dead. We have seemingly innocuous horoscopes included with our newspapers. Magicians wow audiences with deceptions. The occult, involving the supernatural, paranormal, black magic and all, emerges in seances, fairs and even at church fetes or community galas with palm readers and fortune tellers. And there many other manifestations of “magic arts”.
The Bible is no stranger to tales of magic and communication with the dead. We have the occasions in the early chapters of Exodus where Pharaoh’s sorcerers mimicked some of Moses’ miracles. Or there was the time when King Saul tricked a medium to summon the spirit of Samuel from Hades – we can read about this in 1 Samuel 28. In the New Testament, there was the episode when Paul was harassed by a young slave girl who had a fortune telling spirit. Paul discerned that the spirit was a demon so he cast it out of her through the name of Jesus Christ. The narrative about this is in Acts 16. But in it all the actions of mediums and others, who practise the “magic arts“, is forbidden by God. We read in Leviticus 19:31, “Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the Lord your God.”
We pilgrims have to be clear about the origins of the “magic arts”. The Apostle Paul warned his protégé, Timothy, about the dangers of the devil’s domain. We read in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.” Jesus spent a lot of His time, while He was here on earth, casting demons out of people. And He instructed His followers to do the same, as we read in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians with a warning, “… And I don’t want you to participate with demons. You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.” (1 Corinthians 10:20b-21).
Whatever the date on the calendar, we pilgrims need to be careful and diligent, in discerning the works of the devil and his minions. What might seem to be an innocent occasion, dressed up in fun, may turn out to be a back door into the devil’s domain. Halloween celebrations, horoscopes and palm reading can all seem innocuous and problem free, even entertaining, but once we become sucked into the “magic arts” we will end up in danger of ticking God’s second death box. The devil knows where he will end up and he is determined to take as many with him as he can.
Dear Father God. We are so grateful for Your love and care for each one of us, and for Your timely warning about the “magic arts”. Please help us to discern the times and follow Your ways alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.