In Acts 8:9 “a man named Simon….amazed all the people of Samaria,” creating a huge following dazzled by “his magic,” verse 11. His magic was so impressive it looked like he had “divine power,” verse 10. To the Samaritans there was something definitely supernatural going on, the source of which they believed to be “the Great Power.” (verse 10). But the very real presence of “evil spirits” in verse 7 hints strongly as to who or what that “Great Power” was. It certainly wasn’t God.
It looked like Simon was well and truly wired up to evil forces, therefore, so he must’ve really surprised his followers when Philip turned up in verse 12 “preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and Simon believed it too. He was even baptized along with many of his countrymen (verse 13). So here we have a man who’d been “boasting that he was someone great” (verse 9) – because of the huge following he had – now humbly “following Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and wonders” Philip was doing.
Not only, then, did Simon believe the gospel message, he was also “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 16) and he became one of Philip’s most ardent supporters. These were all clear signs that Simon had become a Christian. His conversion from a satanic flunkey to Christian disciple was nothing short of amazing, especially when he himself had been such a celebrity with his own adoring crowd of disciples.
So far in Acts 8, therefore, it’s not surprising if we, like Philip, accepted Simon Magus as a fully fledged, enthusiastic Christian, and the kind of chap you’d welcome in church. Philip had no doubts about him either, because when news got back to the apostles in Jerusalem that the Samaritans “had accepted the word of God” (verse 14), there was no added warning in the report to “watch out for Simon, who looks like a Christian but he’s a fraud.”
No one would have been any wiser about Simon, then, had not Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem and started praying for the Samaritan disciples “that they might receive the Holy Spirit,” verse 15, “because,” verse 16, “the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them.”
But what noticeable difference would that have made?
Well, when “Peter and John placed their hands on people and they received the Holy Spirit,” verse 17, something extra happened to those people. There is no indication what it was in the text, but the obvious sign of people receiving the Spirit up to this point in Acts was them becoming a united family who cared for each other (Acts 2:44-46, 4:32-37, 6:1-6). The Holy Spirit also equipped them with the heart and skills (or gifts) for taking care of each other too (like Stephen in Acts 7).
But even if Simon had known that’s what receiving the Spirit would do for him, he wouldn’t have been interested, because his attention was totally on the Holy Spirit being an extra power he could get by the placing of his hands on people too, and he wanted it so much for himself he was willing to pay whatever it cost to get it (Acts 8:18-19).
And that gave the game away to Peter, because he could see what really drove Simon, and how bitter Simon would become if he didn’t get what he wanted (verse 23). So he let Simon know he could see right through him, but instead of Simon seeking the help he so desperately needed with his utterly selfish attitude his only interest was in Peter praying for him “that nothing you have said may happen to me,” verse 24. His interest was still only in himself.
And that’s why the title of this article, “Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?” – because part of his mind accepted Philip’s message about Jesus, and especially when it was backed up by some really impressive healing miracles. But there was another part of his mind that wasn’t interested in anything more than that. He wasn’t interested in becoming part of a caring family, or being healed of his selfishness and bitterness when it was pointed out to him. He wanted in for himself, much like any one of us joining the church today to get ourselves saved and into heaven, rather than becoming a loving family of disciples caring for each other and seeking healing of all that’s rotten and bad in us (Acts 3:26 and 5:31).