Enter the Magician
Luke now tells us of Simon Magus, a charlatan who had bewitched the people of Samaria for some time. Interestingly, Simon Magus played an extended role in early Christian literature, much of it being made-up stories, for instance, the Acts of Peter. Many Christian theologians of the early Church (2nd-4th centuries) did believe him to be the father of early heresies related to gnosticism. The Greek word μαγος (magos or magus) in verse one, “who had previously practiced magic in the city,” is where we get our word, “magic.” Indeed, the same Greek word is used in Matthew for the “magi” who came to worship the baby Jesus (2:1). The magi were the court counselors of ancient times that we meet in Egypt who tried and failed to outdo Moses in signs and wonders (Exodus 7-9) and in Babylon who were threatened with death until Daniel saved the day (Daniel 2). The magi who visited the baby Jesus were obviously wise and sober men.
But Simon was none of the above; he was simply a fraud who was good at his work. For a long time he had fooled the Samaritans into thinking that he was “the power of God that is called ‘Great.’” And if they ever doubted, Simon was there to reassure them of his greatness.
But then Philip came, preaching the “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” The people believed and were baptized. Even Simon is said to have believed; however, we must understand the word, “believed,” in a different sense as he seems mostly to have been impressed with Philip’s ability to perform miracles, such that he later asked the apostles what the market value might be to acquire the gifts of the Spirit for himself. In other words, Simon’s belief was like those who are said to have “believed” in Jesus but who then turned on him a moment later (John 8:30-59). Simon did not seek Jesus; Simon sought power wherewith to gratify his desires. That is not saving faith.
But the chief point of the passage is that Philip, who presumably fled Jerusalem over the persecution that began over Stephen’s preaching, went to the hated Samaritans and preached Christ. And the Samaritans, who had been centuries apart from the true worship of God and even beguiled by a sacrilegious fake, received the faith. This was God’s plan as revealed in Acts 1:8: from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the world. God will have and does have His people and they come from every corner of the planet. How humbling to know this and how wonderful heaven will be.