Acts 8:1 “…Saul was consenting to his death…”
I don’t think this is a reflection of a cold heart, but of a zealous one. Saul had been taught by Gamaliel so he believed he was standing for God’s truth. With an intellect such as his, I’m surprised he didn’t do more investigating. Perhaps his zealousness had blinded him to all else. But God didn’t give up on him.
1 “…a great persecution arose…scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…”
God is using the persecution to spread His word, as Jesus had said. I don’t think this was forced because the disciples weren’t sharing the Gospel, I think it was just the normal course of what Jesus said. As you are going, doing the normal routines of life, make disciples of all men. They had shared the Good News with those they had encountered in Jerusalem, now they would do the same with the ones they met outside. And the time they had spent in Jerusalem with the Apostles and other believers had matured them to the point of having a strength of faith that could withstand persecution.
1 “…except the apostles”
They stayed in Jerusalem. Clears up something I had wondered about which is coming up.
3 “…Saul…made havoc of the church…committing them to prison”
Wasn’t blood thirsty, demanding they be stoned, but put in prison.
5 “…Philip went down to the city of Samaria…”
I always assumed this was Philip the Apostle due to the book being titled the Acts of the Apostles and him being given the power to heal and cast out demons. But this was another of the seven deacons like Stephen. The Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. God is beginning to raise up other men among the believers as He needs them.
8 “…there was great joy in that city”
Can’t help but think that the work that Christ did in the area when He spoke to the woman at the well prepared the way. Plus Philip was a Hellenistic Jew, so he may have been more accepted than one would have been from Jerusalem.
13 “…Simon himself also believed…he was baptized…”
Much debate as to whether Simon actually repented of his sins and was changed by his belief at this point. His later actions would say no, which puts his belief here as one of the mind, an acceptance of Christ as the Son of God, but not recognizing his own need for repentance. I see this in many today. They claim to be followers of Christ, but their words and actions point to a human wisdom and understanding of His word. They don’t produce the fruits of repentance, and they have a hard time discerning truth from lies.
15-17 “…prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit…as yet He had fallen upon none of them…they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”
This wasn’t some great power of the Apostles, nor was it proof that one could be saved and not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but a delay by God for a purpose. As mentioned earlier, this book is the acts of the Holy Spirit over obstacles. Here we have prejudice being overcome. Due to religious and national prejudice, Peter and John might possibly have doubted the true conversion of Samaritans by their confession of their belief, but they could not deny the appearance of the Holy Spirit as it happened right before their eyes. The same will happen when Peter preaches to Gentiles.
21-24 “…your heart is not right…repent…pray God…thought of your heart may be forgiven you…Simon answered…Pray to the Lord for me…”
Nothing is mentioned of an actual conversion. Commentaries agree that what is represented here is just a man wanting to obtain something to further promote himself and to avoid future penalty, not an episode of true repentance and faith. How sad. He is offered the truth multiple times, but won’t let go of self. He who loses his life will find it.
25 “…returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans”
Being convinced that even Samaritans could be saved, they didn’t hesitate to preach the Gospel to whomever they met on the way back to Jerusalem.
27 “…a man of Ethiopia…had come to Jerusalem to worship”
No mention is made of him being a Jew so he is most likely a Gentile proselyte to the Jewish faith. He is the type of Gentile God had intended. The Jews were supposed to be a witness to God for the entire world. He would speak through them, the Jews, and the Gentiles would hear of Him.
28 “…sitting in his chariot…”
Wonder about the size of this chariot. Surely had a driver, but there was also room for him to be seated and to have Philip come up and sit with him. Not really important to the story, but just an interesting question. Commentary suggested it could have been on wheels, but may have been a litter type, borne by men or animals. Commentary also mentioned the fact that he was obviously reading aloud, possibly so his driver and any others could hear the Word.
34 “…of whom does the prophet say this…”
The Spirit was already working on the heart of the man. There may be times that our word to others may be the cold first hit of truth they encounter, but often the Spirit has prepared the way beforehand. We must be faithful to share when He urges.
35-37 “…Philip…preached Jesus to him…See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized…If you believe with all your heart, you may…”
Philip obviously shared that he needed to repent, accept Christ as his redeemer, and be baptized to associate with Him. The man didn’t hesitate, he was ready to do whatever was necessary to be right with God.
38 “…went down into the water, and he baptized him…”
They didn’t stand on the edge so Philip could sprinkle water on him. They went into the water, and Philip immersed him. I know there is no saving power in baptism, but I feel we aren’t showing the due respect to God and His Word when we try to substitute our ways and ideas for what He has stated. Feels like we are still trying to be masters instead of fully surrendering to Him, which is idolatry.
39 “…the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away…”
Spirit moved him to another location. Wonder why the need to remove Philip so quickly and in this way. After checking the commentaries, which some seem to think the phrase caught Philip away only means the Spirit led him to leave immediately, which I don’t agree with, I’m thinking God wanted the Ethiopian to continue on his way home focused on God and not hindered by wanting Philip to go with him which would have been natural. Reminds me of the man who had the legion of demons. He wanted to go with Christ after he was freed, but Jesus told him to share Him where he was. Philip was transported to Azotus which the commentary said was ancient Ashdod near the coast. Philip then proceeds north preaching in cities along the Mediterranean coast till he came to Caesarea.
40 “…Philip was found at Azotus…”
Just a word here about the controversy regarding Philip’s departure. Noticed several of the commentaries mentioned they thought it only meant the Spirit led him to leave immediately. They concede the point that the text says he was taken away forcefully and immediately, but they say that was the same as when he was led there at the beginning. However, I have to disagree with that. The text says an angel spoke to him and told him to go south along the road to Gaza. Nothing forceful about that. Philip was instructed, and he obeyed. We’re further told that the Spirit told him to overtake the chariot which he did. Now, after he baptized the Ethiopian, it does not say that the Spirit or an angel told him to leave immediately. It says that the Spirit caught Philip away. I see no reason to use this language if the intent was to be similar to the previous leading of the Spirit. Obviously something different happened at this point. Just as an angel spoke to him at first, then the Spirit impressed him, now the Spirit has caught him away physically, suddenly, and miraculously, to another location. And the text says he was found, or found himself, at Azotus, not in any cities along the way. One commentator, which I admire and consider one of the better ones, believes otherwise and states that it isn’t “wise to suppose the existence of a miracle except where the effect cannot otherwise be accounted for…” I think he is incorrect in that statement as well. God chooses to perform His miracles as He sees fit. We must not discount a miracle of God simply because we can come up with another way in which it may have happened.
I hope you enjoy reading and studying His word. May it accomplish what He desires. Please feel free to comment or post questions. Thanks for reading!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.