The Spread of the Gospel in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-40)
In Acts 1:8, we read the following words of Jesus, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses, both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth.”
This great and glorious command of the Risen Savior was given to His disciples just prior to His ascension. Had it been carried out? No! In the first seven chapters of the Book of Acts we see the community of saints growing and ministering in the city of Jerusalem. They had not ventured out as commanded by Jesus. In Acts 7 we read of the preaching of Stephen. He was brought before the Sanhedrin, tried and convicted. The Sanhedrin overstepped its authority when they executed Stephen. The first sentence in Acts 8:1 belongs in the previous chapter. It is a key verse in understanding the change that was to come about in the life of Saul of Tarsus. The verse reads, “And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” The early community of saints were facing a time of great persecution. But Almighty God used this persecution to help fulfill His Son’s words in Acts 1:8.
THE SCATTERING OF THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM (ACTS 8:1a-4)
As we said before, the first sentence of the eight chapters of Acts really belongs with the narrative of the seventh chapter. We’re beginning our study with the second sentence of verse 1. This verse continues with the mention of the persecution that arose after the stoning of Stephen. It tells us that most of the Christians in Jerusalem were forced from the city due to the persecution. They were forced into the outlying areas of Judea and Samaria. We see God using this persecution of His people to help fulfill the words of Acts 1:8. We’re told that the Apostles stayed behind, but not told why.
Verse 2 informs us of the burial of Stephen it says that devout men buried him. It is the view of many that these men were Jews. Concerning this view, Garreth Reese, in “New Testament History: Acts.” Writes the following,
“That devout men would bury Stephen’s body is equivalent to an avowal of their belief that he was innocent. Commonly when a man was stoned to death on a charge of blasphemy, he would have no funeral honors, but would be buried with ‘the burial of an ass.’”
We’re told that they mad loud lamentations over him. This was common at most Jewish funerals, i.e., the hiring of professional mourners.
In verse three we see the results of the persecution of Saul. The narrative tells us that he was wrecking havoc on the church. He went house to house seeking out those who professed to belong to the Body of Christ. He found many and cast them into prison. We must remember that although Saul thought he was doing God’s will, he was, in reality, acting contrary to the will of God. It is encouraging to note that once Saul became a Christian, he displayed the same zeal.
Verse four tells of the scattering of the Jerusalem church. Everywhere they went they preached the Word of God. God used the persecution by Saul to bring about the evangelization in the areas the Christians went. Just think, everywhere the Gospel was being presented people was coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. The fact that Jesus died and rose again was being proclaimed. Let’s be preaching the good news wherever we may be.
PHILLIP’S MINISTRY IN SAMARIA (Acts 8:5-13)
As you remember, Phillip was one of the seven chosen by the Jerusalem church in Acts 6. Here we find him as an evangelist preaching to the people of Samaria. He is fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus in Acts 1:8. In verse six we see that he found a responsive audience who were giving attention to what was being preached. This reminds us of the Bereans in Acts 17 who searched the scriptures daily.
In verse 7 we see Phillip casting out many unclean spirits. It is evident that this was a result of the laying on of the hands of the apostles. This passage also tells us that many were being healed and that there was much rejoicing going on. There is always rejoicing because of sin being forgiven.
In verse 9 and following, we have the account of Simon the Sorcerer. Before Phillip arrived in Samaria Simon was practicing magic and astonishing the people. He was boasting and claiming to be someone great and the people were giving their attention to him. They were saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” Concerning an explanation of this verse, Garreth Reese writes,
“The word ‘power’ is a name of one order of angels, whether good or demonic. Thus some have suggested that Simon was claiming to be an angel that had become incarnate. As the ASV has it, ‘he is the power (angel) of God that is called great, i.e., and archangel.’”
Verse 11 shows us the people’s interest in Simon. He astonished them with his magic arts. Let’s steer away from anything of the occult.
One thing that can be said about the Samaritans is that, when they were confronted with the preaching of the Gospel, they responded to its simpleness and accepted Jesus as the Christ. True Gospel preaching will lead the converts to be immersed into the Lord of Glory.
Remember, baptism alone will save no one. It is a part of the response to the gospel. The facts of the gospel are that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. As a result of hearing the good news, men and women will be immersed into Jesus because it is after immersion that one receives the remission of sins and the promise of the indwelt Holy Spirit.
In verse 13 we’re told that Simon also believed. Was he converted or was he faking it? He responded to the gospel as the others had and was immersed into Christ and continued with Phillip.
After his baptism he was constantly amazed at the signs, wonders and miracles taking place. It appeared that he was impressed that Phillip could perform the miracles that he pretended to do.
THE MINISTRY OF PETER AND JOHN IN SAMARIA (Acts 8:14-25)
News had reached the Apostles in Jerusalem of the Samaritans receiving the Word of God. The Apostles chose 2 of their number, Peter and John, to go to Samaria to survey the situation. Peter John prayed for the Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Spirit. They were not praying for them to receive the indwelt Holy Spirit which one receives at baptism. It is clear by the text that they were going to bestow on the Samaritans spiritual gifts. Philip, although he could perform miracles, could not confer this gift to others, only an Apostle could do this.
Verse 16 informs us that the Samaritans had been immersed into Jesus; they had received the Holy Spirit Himself, but not any of the spiritual gifts. Verse 17 tells us that Peter and John began laying hands on them and they received the spiritual gifts. One’s thoughts may go to the 10th chapter of Acts and the conversion of Cornelius. We will deal with the manner of the gifts when we get to that chapter.
We’re told in verse 18 that Simon witnessed what was going on and was captivated with the thought that someone conveys these gifts via the laying on of hands. It was here that he offered Peter and John money for the power. Simon seems to have reverted back to some old habits. Was he really saved or had he been faking all of the time? In verse 20 Peter tells him, “May your silver perish with you.” He tells him that money cannot buy the gift of God. In verse 21 Peter tells Simon that his heart I nit right before God.
In verse 22 Peter tells Simon to repent and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness. If Simon was not a Christian, why would Peter inform him of his need for repentance? In verse 23 Peter observes that Simon is showing actions that are contrary to the Christian life. He tells him he in the bondage of iniquity. It is possible for Christians to turn back to the world. Verse 24 gives us Simon’s answer. He asks Peter and John to pray for him. Did he repent? We’re not told as this is the last scriptural reference to Simon. Peter and John continued to preach among the Samaritans and then they journeyed back to Jerusalem.
PHILLIP’S ENCOUNTER WITH THE EUNUCH (Acts 8:26-40)
As we have observed, Phillip has been preaching in Samaria. He is now told by an angel to “arise and go south to the road that descends from Jeruslame to Gaza (this is desert road).” J W. McGarvey had this to say,
“Some six miles from Jerusalem, the road begins to descend from the central ridge, which follows that far, through a rough and narrow ravine known in t, he Old testament as the Valley of Elah. After traversing the valley a few miles nearly due south, the road turns west, and rises through another waddy, i.e., creek, to the level of the Philistine Plain, which it follows the rest of the way to Gaza.”
According to Genesis 10:19, Gaza is one of the oldest cities in the world. As with any true servant of God, Phillip answered the call and left the promising work in Samaria to go to uninhabited desert.
Next, we’re told why God wanted him to go. The narrative informs us that, upon his arrival, he came in contact with the Ethiopian Eunuch. He was an official in the court of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. Since he had come to Jerusalem to worship, we can be sure that he was either a Jew or a proselyte. We find him in his chariot reading from what we call Isaiah 53.
The Holy Spirit then commanded Phillip to join the Ethiopian and to ask him if he understand what he is reading. He was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. The man asked Phillip to explain the meaning of the verses. Verse 35 tells us that Phillip preached to him Jesus. It is evident that he told him the whole gospel story. He must have informed him of the importance of immersion because in verse 36 the man request baptism. H. Leo Boles wrote,
“No inspired preacher of the gospel ever preached Jesus without preaching the baptism that Jesus commanded; no Gospel Preacher today can preach Jesus without preaching the command to be baptized.”
Verse 37 gives us the question that the eunuch asked and Phillip’s answer. Some versions have this in the marginal notes, as some manuscripts leave this out. In verse 38 the eunuch orders the chariot to stop and Phillip immersed the man into Christ.
We’re then told that the Spirit of the Lord snatched Phillip away and that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing because of his new found faith. J W. McGarvey wrote,
“It is impossible that Phillip failed to tell him, as Peter did his converts, the connection of remission of sins with repentance and baptism. Now that he had complied with the conditions of pardon, he rejoices in the experience of it.”
The next mention of Phillip finds him at Azotus. It was sixty miles from there to Caesarea. He preached too many cities on the way. It seems that Phillip made Caesarea his base of operations. The next mention of Phillip is in Acts 21:8.
In the 8th chapter of Acts we have seen the teaching of Christianity spread outside the city of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria as commanded by Jesus. The title of the next article will be “Saul meets Jesus, The Lord of Glory.” Please read chapter 9.
Until next time, Maranatha!