No matter what one’s political views are, we all must admit that Kyle Rittenhouse got a bum rap. He was a 17-year-old kid from Illinois who traveled to Wisconsin to help during a time of civil unrest. He thought he could help by cleaning up graffiti and providing any needed first aid. While there, he shot and killed two people and wounded another.
Many, including the majority of the media, labeled him a racist murderer. We can certainly question the wisdom of a young person traveling to such a situation with a loaded gun. We could also wonder if he was naïve in thinking he could make much of a difference in that chaos with a bucket of water and first aid kit. But how those with a certain political view painted him was grossly unjust. The people he shot were of the same race as he was, even though the media left that unsaid. It was also clear he did not murder those he killed. He acted in self-defense and was even trying to flee from any confrontation when he was forced to fire his weapon when he was attacked by those he shot. One was even beating him with a large skateboard. There was ample video proof of these things.
To this day, Rittenhouse still gets a bum rap from many in our country. I maintain, however, that there is a Biblical character who has an even bummer rap. In fact, I want to nominate him for getting the bummest rap of all time. His name is Simon. The account of this man is found in Acts 8.
We are told that Simon was a Samaritan, a traitor to the Jewish religion. But he was also a sorcerer, a kind of magician of sorts (Acts 8:9). Through deception, he was able to impress those around him. He was respected in his community for the powers he claimed to possess and the power the people thought he had. But Luke tells us that when Philip preached the gospel of eternal life through faith in Christ, Simon believed (8:13). In other words, Simon became a child of God and had eternal life.
But there are many, many people who deny this clear statement in the inspired account. We are told that when Simon saw the miracles that the apostles were doing, including being able to give the Holy Spirit through the laying of their hands on the Samaritans. Simon wanted this power. He knew that he had used deception in the past by causing the people to think he had supernatural power. Simon knew that the apostles had the real thing. He offered them money for the ability to do what they were able to do (8:18).
When Peter heard Simon say these things, he strongly rebuked him (8:20-23). Peter threatened him with God’s discipline. This could even include Simon’s death if he didn’t repent. Simon was still acting the way he was before he came to faith. He still wanted to be the most powerful man in the city. He wanted the people to continue to respect and admire him for the power he possessed, only this time legitimately. Peter pointed out to him that Simon was jealous and was continuing to live according to the flesh.
Because of this strong rebuke, the verdict is almost unanimous that Simon was not a saved person. It is said that he will spend eternity in the lake of fire. If you have a study Bible, that is what the notes at the bottom of the page will almost certainly say about him. So will the commentaries you read. Even today, people do not call him Simon. They refer to him by the pejorative title “Simon the sorcerer.” It is just as when people today call Kyle, the “racist murderer Rittenhouse.”
Church history has piled on Simon as well. Early writers claim that he is the father of such heresies as Gnosticism, which caused such havoc in the early church. Others said he was the father of antinomianism, which says a Christian can sin all he wants with no consequences. To prove the point, it is said he married a prostitute and encouraged others to do the same. Some even said Simon travelled to Ireland and became the father of the Druids, people who worship trees. Some even claimed that he used evil powers in order to be able to fly and that Peter had to later judge him, which resulted in Simon’s death.
Wow! Imagine having those things said about you for 2000 years. The fact of the matter is that Simon was a believer. Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, said so. Simon’s problem was that he needed to repent of the sinful way he looked at things before he came to faith. He was bringing his former sins with him as a new believer. For his spiritual well-being, that needed to change. Peter was not condemning him to hell; he was teaching Simon for his own good. Peter wanted Simon to grow spiritually.
Simon, of course, is not an example of a person who will be in the lake of fire because he sinned. He teaches us that when we come to faith in Christ for eternal life, we bring our carnal mindset with us. We do not automatically become spiritually mature individuals when we believe. We bring our sinful practices with us and need to be instructed. New believers have much to learn. That is true of all of us.
Kyle Rittenhouse was not a racist murderer. And I don’t know how Simon lived his life after he was rebuked by Peter for his sinful attitude. But he surely has gotten a bum rap. I am almost positive he was not the originator of all the false teachings in the early church in the first four centuries. I don’t think he deserves to be called the “sorcerer” after all these years. I don’t believe Satan empowered him to fly in the skies around Rome.
But I am absolutely sure of one thing. Just as the verdict of many about Kyle Rittenhouse was wrong, the same is true about Simon. There will be many people who, when they enter the kingdom of God, will be surprised to find that Simon is there to remind them of the bum rap they gave him.