“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” – John 14:13
The name of Jesus is not magical. You cannot use Jesus’ name to get whatever you want. The name of Jesus is not a spiritual winning lotto number. The name of Jesus means something so much deeper and profound than being a winning ticket to get whatever our heart desires. I will prove that in this study.
Too often the church and Christians have used the name of Jesus in a very carnal self-serving selfish way. For instance, “in the name of Jesus,” Christians concoct self-serving prayers demanding worldly indulgences in many forms. From financial windfalls to brands of luxury cars, romantic success to a curse on enemies, everything and anything their heart desires can be had, they think, “in the name of Jesus.” Such prayers should remember first that no one is in any position to “demand” anything from God, and second, but just as importantly, that is not the meaning of “in the name of Jesus.”
When genuine or even counterfeit Christians misuse Jesus’ name in this way, they expose their spiritual immaturity or bankruptcy. If Jesus taught us anything, it is that its not about “me” its about “Thee.” That is the fundamental truth bound up in the name of Jesus. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, not ourselves. We need to focus on what His will is for us, not what we want for ourselves.
There is a passage in Acts that makes this point powerfully. When those unknown to Jesus try and use his name against the dark forces of the devil, they are beaten to a pulp and stripped of all their earthly possessions, including their clothes. What is the right understanding of the name of Jesus? Let’s consider the passage to find out.
Acts 19:11-20 – “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul,12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
Notice, the blessing of handkerchiefs and aprons by God so that people were healed by them was an “unusual” thing. Today and throughout history people have tried to manipulate such things to their own advantage by making them a common occurrence. Charlatan ministers send prayer clothes and other items through the mail to solicit money from people. “Kneel on this cloth and pray in the name of Jesus, and your prayers will be answered.” This and other similar cheap tricks are an obviously ridiculous misuse of an unusual method used by God in Acts. God can still do such things today if He chooses, but it is questionable if God is in much of what some ministers are claiming today (19:11-12). It’s never a good idea to presume that which God calls “unusual,” and try to make it usual. It’s never right to take what God calls “holy” and make it common.
This passage introduces us to the concept of “magic” (Acts 19:19). It’s interesting that the world “magic” (Greek periergos) means working all around, meddlesome, busybody, trifles, curious esoteric arts. These magicians meddled in people’s affairs offering to help people manipulate their personal circumstances. “Need money to pay a bill? I have just the trick for that.” “Someone against you? I have just the formula to gain the victory.” These magicians played on people’s ignorance and superstitions profiting at every opportunity they could create.
Magic involves deception. Deception is an area the devil is very privy to. In fact, Jesus referred to the devil as the father of lies and deception (John 8:44). Deception is used in military strategy; that is an acceptable tactic. But when deceiving people try to push false information or to manipulate and take advantage for themselves in an evil way, that is sinful.
Magic is akin to sorcery. The idea behind these dark arts is that by doing something I can get what I want. If I do “A,” then I will get “B.” In other words, it is a way to control and manipulate your reality. It is a way to determine your own destiny and control the destiny of others. It is a way to play “God.” Such manipulation is called sinful by God (Deuteronomy 18:10). Whenever we try to circumvent God’s sovereign position and authority by inserting ourselves in His place, that is rebellion, that is sinful. That indeed is the nature of the original sin of Lucifer (cf. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). That is at the core of magic, sorcery, and the occult.
The name of “Jesus” is not a name that can be used magically. You can’t just name the Name and poof; you get what you want. That is apparently what we see in the rest of this passage. The Spirit won’t allow the name of Jesus to be abused and misused. There are consequences for trying to abuse or misuse the name of Jesus. This passage shows us the bankruptcy and impotence of magic. It shows us the alternative victory of the gospel over the occult practices (See also Acts 8:9-24; 13:6-12; 16:16-18). Compared to the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit, the magicians saw their empty arts and burned their wealth of wizardry books (Acts 19:19). They provided the ashes when God provided the beauty (Isaiah 61:3).
“In My Name” – In the name of Jesus. When Jesus spoke of praying in His name, He wasn’t giving us cart Blanche to fulfill our every carnal desire. To do anything in the name of Jesus means to do it the way Jesus would do it. To ask anything in the name of Jesus is to ask for something Jesus would ask of the Father. “In the name of Jesus” means in the nature of Jesus.
Jesus said that when two or three gathered in His name, He would be there (Matthew 18:20; Luke 9:48). Jesus said that whoever does a kindness to you because you are His and known by His name, they will be rewarded (Mark 9:41). He said whoever receives a child in His name was receiving Him (Matthew 18:5; Mark 9:37). Jesus loves children. Jesus said we ought to be gracious with those who do a miracle in His name because the one that does such cannot soon speak evil of Him (Mark 9:39). Jesus spoke of signs that would follow those ministering the Great commission in His name (Mark 16:17). But He also warned that in the future false christs would come “in My name” (Matthew 24:50; Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8). Therefore, it’s important to be aware of what it means to do something in the name of Jesus.
When Jesus taught His disciples that “whatever you ask in My name, that I will do. . .” it meant, to do something according to His nature, or the way He would do it. Can you picture Jesus waving His coat over a bunch of people to knock them down, in His name? Is that what jesus was talking about when He spoke of asking for things in His name? I doubt it. Jesus didn’t trifle with people or stoop to perform just to attract a crowd. In fact, the devil tempted Jesus to do just that and Jesus rejected the offer (Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus was never a showman, but there are many today abusing His name who have turned the church into a circus. They are clowns.
We know what Jesus would do by the Holy Spirit who leads us. Jesus qualified what “in My name” meant saying, “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). When we do that, then it is true, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). The Holy Spirit comes “in the name” of Jesus.” The Spirit comes and leads us in the way Jesus would do something (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit leads us in holy paths. When we are in alignment with all of this, then we will be fruitful in the name of Jesus (John 15:16; 16:23-27).
Another aspect of “in the name of Jesus” we need to consider is whether we have the proper Jesus at all. There are many groups (e.g. cults; religions) who claim to believe in “Jesus.” But naming the Name of Jesus doesn’t guarantee you have the right Jesus. There are groups who believe in what Paul referred to as “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). For instance, Mormons (i.e. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) say Jesus is a separate god from the Father, Elohim. They hold that Jesus is the brother of Lucifer. Jesus and Lucifer according to them are the product of the sexual union of Elohim and Mary. They also believe that Jesus was married. That’s not the Jesus of the Bible.
There are a host of other groups following “another Jesus.” Jehovah’s Witnesses flat out reject that Jesus was or is God and say He is a created being. They claim Jesus is Michael the archangel. The once popular Unification Church (i.e. Moonies) says Jesus was a perfect man, but not God. They teach that Jesus failed in His mission and Reverend Sun Myung Moon has come to complete that mission. Christian Science says that Jesus is not the Christ, but only someone who displayed the “Christ idea.” They do not believe Jesus is God because they do not believe God could become a man in the flesh. The Baha’i cult teaches that Jesus is one of many manifestations of “God.” The New Age movement sees Jesus as a spiritual model, an ascended master or guru, an avatar. He is nothing more than a New Ager who tapped into divine power like anyone else can. All of these groups use “another Jesus.”
Some of these groups diminish the importance of Jesus if they mention Him at all. L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, which has such famous followers such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise, rarely even mentions the name of Jesus. According to Scientology, Jesus was not one who was a “thetan” or one freed from mental defects that would enable him to perform the miraculous. Hare Krishnas don’t view Jesus as important. To them He was only a vegetarian teacher who taught meditation. Transcendental Meditation teaches Jesus was not special, only that He had a “divine essence” that He was able to discover.
All these groups try to use the name of Jesus to their own advantage in one way or another, but the Berean, the student of the word in the power of the Spirit can expose their false teachings and prevent the abuse of the name of Jesus. If you don’t have the genuine Jesus, you can’t benefit from His name.
Miracles vs. Magic
The Greek word translated “miracles” in Acts 19:11 is DUNAMIS. (Strong’s # 1411 – doo´-nam-is). Sound familiar? This is the same word used by Jesus to describe the baptism with the Holy Spirit when He said:
- Acts 1:8 – “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The word DUNAMIS means, “miraculous power, ability, abundance, meaning, might (-ily, -y, -y deed), (worker of) miracle (-s), power, strength, violence, mighty (wonderful) work.”  The thing to remember here is that this power to do the miraculous is Spirit empowered, engineered and directed, it is not something to be manipulated by humans for their own selfish ends. Genuine God glorifying miracles are a product of the leading and work of the Holy Spirit.
It appears that some in Acts viewed the unusual practices of God as magical practices rather than authentic Spirit empowered works done by the apostles. But the work of the Spirit is not magic!
What is magic? One dictionary states:
Magic is “the science or practice of evoking spirits or inducing the occult powers of nature to produce effects apparently supernatural.” It formed an essential element in many ancient religions, especially among the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians. The Hebrews had no magic of their own. It was so strictly forbidden by the law that it could never afterward have had any recognized existence, save in times of general heresy or apostasy, and the same was doubtless the case in the patriarchal ages. The magical practices which obtained among the Hebrews were therefore borrowed from the nations around. From the first entrance into the land of promise until the destruction of Jerusalem we have constant glimpses of magic practiced in secret or resorted to not alone by the common but also by the great.
Another dictionary states:
Magic and sorcery attempt to influence people and events by supernatural or occult means. They may be associated with some form of *divination, though divination by itself is the attempt to use supernatural means to discover events without influencing them . . .. The magician tries to compel a god, demon, or spirit to work for him; or he follows a pattern of occult practices to bend psychic forces to his will. There is no doubt that magic and sorcery are not always mere superstitions but have a reality behind them. They must be resisted and overcome through the power of God in the name of Jesus Christ . . .. Magic is a rival to true religion, though it can be practiced in conjunction with false religious ideas. True religion centers in the personal experience of the one God, with an attempt to live a life that is conformable to his will. The believer walks humbly with his God, prays to him, and is prepared to accept the circumstances of life as the sphere in which to glorify him. Magic, on the other hand, deals with lower supernatural beings, or attempts to force issues by using psychic forces, irrespective of whether the issues are for the glory of God. The following practices come under the specific condemnation of the Bible. 
Such practices are an abomination to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:11-12). What does this passage tell us about magic and occult practices? It tells us that the power of the Spirit is far greater than that in any occult practice.
The Spirit versus the Magical Mindset
What does this passage tell us about the nature (which is contrary to the Holy Spirit) and the ineptitude of the occult?
First, the Spirit does not work through hirelings to manipulate people. “Exorcists” here are described as “conjurers” (EXORKISTES – Strong’s # 1845 – ex-or-kis-tace´) meaning literally, “one that binds by an oath (or spell), . . . conjurer; exorcist.”  These were people who went around for hire to bind people or manipulate people by using oaths and spells. They were now trying to use the name of Jesus to manipulate people to do things against their will (19:13). The Spirit does not bypass the will of people, He persuades and reasons, but He does not force people to respond against their will.
Second, the Spirit does not allow Himself to be used by people for self-serving reasons. “They took it upon themselves” indicates the root motivation for such practices was self-service. They were now trying to use the name of Jesus to serve themselves (19:13).
Third, the Spirit does not ever mix ministry or miracles with magic. The word “Also” connects the practice of the exorcists with that of the sons of Sceva a Jewish chief priest. Such practices were evidently not corrected by the Jewish priests since seven sons of one priest practices tried to practice such things (19:14). The minister of God should never resort to such occult and magic schemes. What fellowship has light with darkness? None! (2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1). To combine magic with ministry is to resort to the works of the flesh which are in opposition to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-25). Do magicians use smoke and mirrors? Do churches use smoke and mirrors? What does this mean based on our study?
Fourth, the Spirit does not permit the powerful use of the name of Jesus apart from a saving relationship with Him by the one’s using the name. The use of the name of Jesus without a saving relationship attached, is powerless in fighting demons. Notice, the realness of the “evil spirit” is not questioned, only the way in which the evil spirit is approached by the seven sons of Sceva (19:15). When unbelievers try to use the name of Jesus, it’s like a person with a presidential costume trying to present themselves as an authentic president, it will only result in embarrassment and foolishness.
Fifth, the Spirit of Jesus is to be relied upon when encountering evil spirits. It is the power of the Spirit in the authority of the name of Jesus that can evict evil spirits from the possessed and heal the sick (19:12,16). Evil spirits are not to be approached in one’s own strength. To approach evil spirits in your own strength is dangerous and doomed to embarrassing and painful consequences (19:16). We need to rely on the strength and authority of Jesus when fighting spiritual battles (Romans 16:20; James 4:7; 1 John 4:4).
Sixth, the Spirit will not allow the name of Jesus to be tarnished but will work to bring glory to Jesus’ name. The Spirit did not allow the name of Jesus to be tarnished by the attempted abuse of it, but rather brought glory to the name of Jesus (19:17). The Spirit illuminated the people’s understanding and showed the futility of such attempts to misuse the name of Jesus. Earlier in Acts the Spirit not only exposed, but severely judged those misusing the name of jesus (Acts 5). It’s never a wise thing to misuse the name of Jesus.
Seventh, the power of the Spirit prevails over the power of the occult. The occult and magic are something that should be completely left behind by the believer. Don’t dabble in the occult or magic, the believer has no business in such things, burn your magic books! (19:18-19). Throw away your Ouija boards and Taro cards. Jesus has a better way for you. The word of the Lord prevails over the occult (19:20).
The ministry of the Spirit is not magical; it is far more powerful than that!
In the name of Jesus I challenge you to use the name of Jesus to secure all the spiritual wealth and wonder, work, and wisdom of Jesus. In the name of Jesus I pray we all walk as he walked and follow in His steps. In the name of Jesus I pray we would stop our selfish pursuits and instead fully surrender to Jesus. In the name of Jesus, I pray we all live like Jesus. In Jesus’ name, amen!
James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
William Smith; revised and edited by F.N. and M.A. Peloubet, Smith’s Bible dictionary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997.
The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.