Summary: In Acts 8 we meet just such a leader. •A man with a following; a man who is viewed by those around him as powerful and dynamic and charismatic. •Yet whose spirituality is just as phony as David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite.
Simon the Sorcerer; 8:9-25
It was Nov. 18, 1978. Congressman Leo Ryan from San Francisco had decided to fly a fact-finding mission to a place called Jonestown Guyana, South America. His mission is to investigate alleged human rights abuses at a religious cult known as the People’s Temple.
•The People’s Temple was run by a charismatic leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. The group had been based for years in San Francisco, and was viewed by many as a legitimate Church.
•Yet as his power grew, Jones’ practices grew more and more bizarre. His followers had to call him “Father” and were to get all their instructions from him. He controlled their finances and every aspect of their personal lives. He spoke of government conspiracies against him and the soon end of the world.
•Becoming more and more paranoid, Jones moved his group to Guyana, South America. There, in the isolation of the jungle, he created his own little kingdom.
•Yet now there was a congressional delegation coming to investigate.
•Things did not go well for Congressman Ryan at the People’s Temple compound and he decided to leave after only a day. His party left taking18 temple members who wanted to return to the United States. Other members of the cult followed the group to the airstrip and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing Congressman Ryan, three journalists, and one of the departing members.
•Back at the compound, Jim Jones then led his people in a mass suicide, a ritual he had practiced with them many times before. Together they drank cyanide laced Kool-Aid. Over 900 died, most from the poisoning. Others were shot trying to escape the mayhem.
Jump forward 15 years to 1993. David Koresh, leader of a group known as the Branch Davidians is holed up in a compound outside of Waco, Texas. Like Jim Jones, Koresh is a charismatic and powerful leader who exercises extraordinary control over the minds of his followers. Like Jones, he also sees himself as kind of a Messiah with the end of the world approaching.
•Because of his storehouse of weapons, the ATF, the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raids the Branch Davidian compound. Yet Koresh is ready for them; a gun battle ensues and several ATF agents are killed.
•In negotiations Koresh says he will end the siege as soon as he finishes writing a book on the interpretation of the seven seals of the book of Revelation. It is his own interpretation of the end of the world.
•But on April 19, 1993 the FBI launches an assault on the compound. It breaks into flames and 86 people inside, including many children, are killed.
Jump forward 4 years to March 26, 1997. A multi-million dollar mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.
•39 members of "Heaven’s Gate" Cult decide to "shed their containers" (that is, their bodies) and board a spaceship they believe is hiding in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet.
•21 women and 18 men, ages 26 to 72, all sporting crew cuts, dressed alike in black pants, oversized shirts, and brand new black Nikes take a lethal dose of Phenobarbital mixed in with pudding and/or applesauce and chased with a shot of vodka. All are found lying on their backs on cots and bunk beds throughout the mansion covered with triangular purple shrouds with their hands to their sides in a prone position.