THE BOOK OF ACTS
ACTS chapter Eight
THE GOSPEL BEGINS TO SPREAD ABROAD
WIDESPREAD PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH
It was at this time of the stoning death of Stephen that the
followers of Jesus in the city of Jerusalem came under heavy
persecution. We are not told exactly HOW and exactly WHY this
persecution came about, only that it did, and in so doing the
membership of the Church of God at Jerusalem was scattered
throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. All except the
apostles were scattered, so this amounted to MANY thousands of
disciples of Jesus.
Stephen was buried and great lamentation was made for him,
as the first Christian to die for his faith in Jesus as the
Savior and Messiah.
The man Saul, who was there at Stephen's death and who
consented to it, was in enough of a "religious office" in Judaism
at the time, that we read "he made havoc of the church, entering
into every house, and haling men and women out and putting them
in prison" (Acts 8:1-3).
No doubt Saul (later to be known as the Christian apostle
called Paul) in his unconverted, deceived, blinded to the real
truth of the word of God, and Jesus as the Messiah, was part,
maybe a large part, of the reason this persecution came upon the
Church in Jerusalem. Zealous teachers of Judaism would have
detested with a passion, this new "Jewish" Christian religion
that was growing like a house on fire, for it would have been a
threat to their "religious leadership" and of course to "money"
that would no longer come to them, but go to this new religious
But because of the persecution, and the scattering of Jesus'
followers, the Gospel was now being taught and preached in areas
outside of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings. We read in
verse four of chapter eight, that the scattered disciples went
everywhere preaching the word. Here is another verse of the Bible
that has an instructive teaching for us, because it does not mean
what many have casually supposed it to mean. For in chapter 11:19
we find the interpretation of what Luke wrote in chapter 8:4.
Those scattered abroad went to the Jews ONLY with the Gospel.
They had not yet in the time frame of chapter 8:4 learned or had
it revealed to them to go to the none Jewish peoples, or what in
the New Testament is termed "the Gentiles."
This is a very good example of truth being "some here" and
"some there" - part here and part over there, and only by reading
the whole Bible and putting the parts together can we find the
real truth of the matter. It is important that we read the whole
Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and never read it with tunnel
vision, or we will easily misunderstand or come to wrong ideas
PHILIP GOES TO SAMARIA
We have seen then that chapter 11:19 interprets chapter 8:4.
So when Philip went down to Samaria to preach the Gospel, he was
preaching to Jewish people, or people of Israelite stock.
Samaria in the New Testament time was not the Samaria of the Old
Testament age, it was only a certain relatively small area of
land north of Jerusalem (see any Bible Map of New Testament
Palestine, in the back of many Bibles). I showed you as we went
through the Gospels that Jewish history proves that the
Samaritans were Israelites not Gentiles. The Jewish Encyclopedia
has a very long and details article on the Samaritans, which is
very interesting and educational. They still exist today, but
only as a very small sect.
Philip went and preached Christ to the Samaritans, and with
one heart and one accord the people listened and gave heed to
what he said (remember from John 4 how Jesus was readily accepted
by them on one particular visit - "the woman at the well"
account, as it is often called). They saw great miracles
performed by Philip, which added to the impact of his teaching.
We can note here that God can use ANY person He chooses to
teach His word and to perform miracles. People do not have to be
part of the "chosen" or "ordained" ministry to be used by God in
a mighty way. God is unshackled, He is not bound by men or
organizations of men. As Jesus said, God could raise up the
stones of the ground to preach His word, if He so desired.
The miracles that Philip did included evil spirits coming
out of people, crying with loud voices, because they did not want
to come out. Many that were lame were made to walk, and many with
other sickness were healed.
It is written there was "great joy in that city." I guess
so. Just try to imagine what it must have been like for those
people. Think about some of those you know or see in your town
who have crippling disabilities, and sickness of one kind or
another. Now think about them all being healed....yes great joy
indeed there would be.
ENTER SIMON THE SORCERER
Living in the city of Samaria was a local man of fame. His
name was Simon. He was able to perform all kinds of marvellous
things. We are told that he did it all through sorcerer,
witchcraft, or putting it in plain language, he did it all
through the power of Satan the Devil. He was so miraculously
powerful that he hood-winked the people. They thought
he did all these wonder through the power of God. He had deceived
and had a following that came from the least to the greatest, the
uneducated to the well educated, the simple poor people to the
wealthy of the city. He himself made out to them that he was
"some great one" - specially chosen and sent to them by divine
plan. Yes, the people were fooled with his sorceries and so
looked to him with some regard.
Yet, what miracles Philip did and what he had to say about
the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ, many believed him, men and
women, and were willing to be baptized, for this new faith that
was now being taught amongst them. Even Simon believed....well
with a belief that had scheming motives behind it all as we shall
presently see. He was baptized also and thereafter followed
Philip around, amazed at all the miracles and wonderful signs he
could perform (Acts 6:9-13).
PETER AND JOHN COME TO SAMARIA
The news of how Samaria had heard and received the Gospel,
soon got back to the apostles at Jerusalem. They decided to send
to them Peter and John. Who, when they arrived discovered (we are
not told how, probably by divine insight) the Samaritans
had not received the Holy Spirit, though they had been baptized
in Jesus' name. So Peter and John started to pray for them.
Probably through those prayers they were told by God that hands
should be laid on them and then they would receive the Holy
Spirit. Putting hands on people for various things like healings,
blessings, and so forth, was often done, from ancient times, as
we can find examples of this even in the book of Genesis (see the
first verses of Gen.49, for one example).
When Simon of Samaria saw that through the laying on of
hands people were receiving the gift of the mighty working power
of the Holy Spirit, he offered money to Peter and John and said
to them, "Give me also this power, that on whoever I lay my
hands, they may receive the Holy Spirit also."
But Peter saw through the words and the mindset of this man,
for there was selfish vain glory behind it all. Simon just wanted
more fame, more adoration from people, more power, more human
glory and human prestige. Peter answered him saying, "Your money
perish with yourself, because you have thought that the gift of
God can be purchased with money. You really do not have any
proper part in this matter of God's truth and salvation; for your
heart and mind is not in the right relationship with the Lord.
You better repent of this wickedness, and pray to God, so if
possible your thought of sin can be forgiven you. For I perceive
that your mind is in the state of bitterness and in the chains of
iniquity towards the way of God."
Simon knew Peter was correct, and knowing the power of the
Holy Spirit that had been demonstrated to him and others, by
Philip, and John, he asked Peter to pray for him that no evil
would come upon him. We are not told if Peter prayed for Simon.
In fact we are not told anything else about this Simon in the New
Testament. It all just stops right here, no more words are given
to us concerning this Simon of Samaria, not from the New
There are some secular histories that possibly show this
Simon going to Rome and leading a sect of Christians in that
city, eventually (over a few hundred years) forming what became
known as the Roman Catholic church in Rome.
We see from this situation a lesson in how God wants the
average person to receive the Holy Spirit. It is through of
course preaching the word of God, the Gospel of the Kingdom, and
the truth about Jesus the Christ. People can then repent
(remember Acts 2:38) and be baptized. And those baptizing should
pray and lay hands on those being baptized in Jesus' name. This
is the basic one, two, three, steps for people to receive the
gift of God's Holy Spirit. Can or will, God give His Holy Spirit
before baptism and the laying on of hands? Well of course God can
if He so chooses to do so, He is God and can do as He pleases,
when He pleases. But in the overall way of things, for
the most part, the Lord has given us what the one, two, three,
steps for most people to receive his Holy Spirit, as a united
part of our mind. Remember, the Spirit of God can and often does
work with our minds before it is deeply united with the spirit of
man that is in the mind of man.
Sometimes God has sent angels to work with people and to
guide them and teach them and show them the things of Him. So He
can send His Spirit likewise to work with people's minds before
it becomes fully united with their minds in the special
miraculous way the New Testament teaches. The example would be
the apostles BEFORE the famous day of Pentecost of Acts 2 and the
apostles AFTER the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was
in their minds and life in a way that it was not in them before
Acts chapter two. It worked WITH them before Acts two, and was IN
them on and after that day.
Peter and John stayed in Samaria for a while, preaching the
word of the Lord, in many towns and villages, but then finally
returned to the city of Jerusalem (Acts 6: 14-25).
PHILIP SENT ON A SPECIAL MISSION
Angels are often used as messengers of God, sent to relate
something to a person from God. An angel was sent to Philip
saying, "Arise Philip, go towards the south, to the
way that goes down from Jerusalem into Gaza, which is desert
area." It would seem not much else was told to him. But if an
angel appeared to you out of the blue, and you understood it was
from God, then you would probably not ask questions about what
you are told to do. Philip did not ask why he should go in this
direction, he just went, knowing God had a very good reason for
the directive, and that he would find out in good time what it
was all about, and why the Lord was sending him to this desert
When he got there he saw this Ethiopian man. It turned out
he was a man of some great authority under the queen of Ethiopia
called Candace. He was in charge of all her treasures of wealth.
He was also a very religious man for we are told he had come to
Jerusalem to worship. This might indicate that many in Ethiopia
were God fearing people, maybe even the queen herself. Well this
man was on his way back to the queen in Ethiopia and sitting in a
chariot and reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit of
the Lord told Philip to go up near to him that was sitting in the
chariot. Philip did not just walk but ran to him, eager to do the
Lord's will. Arriving close to the man he heard him reading aloud
the prophet Isaiah. "Do you understand what you are reading,"
asked Philip. "Well I wish I did, " replied the Ethiopian, "How
can I understand it, except I have some man to guide me. Will you
come up next to me and sit with me and help me understand?"
Philip was more than willing. He now fully understood why
God had sent him on this mission to this desert place. We note
that it is right and proper that God has people who know His
word, to teach and lead others into the light of His word.
The Ethiopian man was reading the section in Isaiah that
said, "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb,
dumb before his shearer, so he opened not his mouth: He was
humiliated and received no justice . Who can speak of his
descendants? For his life was taken from the earth" (Isa.
The Ethiopian man looked at Philip and said, "I ask of you,
can you tell me who the prophet is speaking about? Is it himself
that he speaks about, or some other man?"
Philip, starting at those very verses in Isaiah ,began to
preach Jesus to this man. He expounded all the verses in the Old
Testament that taught about the first coming of the Messiah.
After all this teaching from Philip, they happened to be at a
spot where there was a pond or small lake of water. The man from
Ethiopia said to Philip, "Look, here we have enough water, what
is there to prevent me from being baptized?" Somehow (maybe
through what Philip had taught and told him) the man knew he
should be baptized if he wanted to accept and follow Jesus as his
personal Savior and as God's Messiah (the anointed one from God,
as Messiah means - anointed one). Philip replied to his question,
"If you believe with all your heart and mind, there is nothing
stopping you from being baptized. If you believe that Jesus
Christ is the very Son of God, then you can be baptized."
The man commanded his chariot driver to halt, and both he
and Philip went down into the water, and Philip did baptize him
This was not just a quick, out of the blue baptism as such.
You will remember we read that this man from Ethiopia had come to
Jerusalem to worship the true God. He was already a religious
man, who had obviously been reading the Scriptures for some time.
He was not a new reader of the word of God. He just did not
understand certain sections of the word. God wanted to bring this
man into His family, He wanted to open his mind up to who the
Messiah was, and to the way of salvation as promised from the
very beginning. Philip had been especially sent to lead this man
to that full knowledge, and really the only way, of salvation
through Jesus as Savior. The man had already had the seeds of
God's word planted in his mind, it just needed some watering, to
bring forth the buds to ripen and open up to real life that was
We must assume here that Philip knew, from the experience in
Samaria, and with Peter and John being there to teach, that the
laying of hands and prayers should follow baptism, and that
Philip would have also done that after baptizing the Ethiopian.
After they had come up out of the water (here is pretty
clear proof that baptizing was done fully in water, not just a
few sprinkles of water over the head of someone. The Jews
themselves had a baptism of full immersion of a person, who was
being brought into their "religion" - so baptism was not an
unknown ceremony at all for people in those days) the Spirit of
God "caught away Philip" as the old KJV puts it, and the
Ethiopian man saw him no more, but he went on his journey back to
his queen in Ethiopia, rejoicing in the truth he had been taught
Philip being caught away, may have been a miraculous miracle
from God, then it maybe just a way to tell us that the work of
Philip had been done and it was time now to go on to other work
the Lord had for him. Philip was found then, after this event, to
be in Azotus, and passing along to Caesarea, he preached in all
the towns along the way (Acts 6:40).
We can learn from this example set before us that baptizing
someone does not have to be done by the "appointed ministry" -
Philip was not appointed as a "minister" per se, as we often
think of the word "minister" but was appointed to "serve tables"
- to do and take care of physical matters within a group of God's
people (see again Acts 6: 1-7). But as I've pointed out, God can
use anyone He so desires to teach His word and to baptize people
in Jesus' name. We shall see this again in chapter 9 of Acts when
a disciple called Ananias is sent to baptize Saul at his
conversion time, who became known as Paul. Ananias was simply
called a "disciple" - the Greek word used everywhere in the
New Testament for a follower of Christ, or a disciple.
So with all this understanding, we can readily know that
when the Ethiopian man was back in his home country, he would
have no doubt, preached and expounded the word of God to others,
as it had been expounded to him by Philip. And he would have
baptized people in Jesus' name, who in turn would have taught the
word of the Lord to others and baptized people in Jesus' name.
The word of God was now beginning to go forth in a larger
and larger way. It was at this time that the Father in heaven was
to call a man to His family and to His ministering of preaching
His Gospel, that would really begin to reach the whole known
Roman world of that day.
TO BE CONTINUED