Acts: For the Cause of Christ #15
Title: Philip’s ministry
Last time we looked at Stephen’s ministry, his speech and martyrdom. We saw through Stephen’s speech where he surveyed Israel’s history that the nation of Israel had a long history of resisting God, His chosen leaders, and His Word. This culminated with the Israel rejecting the promised Messiah when Jesus was on earth. Stephen’s martyrdom sparked persecution from the Jewish Leadership against the new church community, causing many believers to flee Jerusalem to the surrounding areas.
It has been said that Chapters 1-7 focused on Israel and the continued offering of the Kingdom to Israel. We have seen that Peter more than once was offering and hoping for the national salvation of Israel by the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Chapters 8-12 seem to be a transitional section of Acts, as the focus shifts from Jerusalem. From the Israel, to Samaria, then to the Gentiles; the focus shifts from Peter to Paul.
Today we start this transition as we look at Philip, who like Stephen, was one of the seven chosen in chapter 6.
Philip in Samaria 8:4-8
As we said last week, verse 4 is a transitional verse from the previous context of Stephen’s death and Saul leading the persecution against the church into this new phase of the church. The believers in Jerusalem were facing harsh persecution from the Jewish Leadership, and many fled the city. We see in an earlier verse that they spread primarily into the surrounding region of Judea and Samaria. Remember we said way back at the beginning of our series that Chapter 1:8 is a key verse of Acts and shows the general outline, that verse reads, “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” God used the persecution to send the church into the surrounding area to continue to spread the witness of Jesus.
In verse 5 Luke now focuses on one of those scattering, Philip. He was one the seven men chosen in Acts 6 to be responsible for the ministry of caring for the widows, this is not the Apostle Philip as the Apostles were remaining in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Philip went to the Samaritans. Which specific city he went to, we do not know; there is a lot of speculation about which city Philip went to, but Scripture doesn’t tell us. We are told that Philip went preaching the Messiah to them. I shouldn’t say ‘preach’ here, in verse 5 the word used means to proclaim or announce as a herald. So Philip was God’s herald proclaiming the Messiah to the Samaritans. We need a little background on the Samaritans before we can continue:
“The Samaritans were greatly despised by the Jews because of their impure blood lines and their religious deviations from orthodox Judaism. Following the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC, the largely depopulated region was resettled by colonists brought in by the Assyrians from various part of their empire (II Kings 17:24). They intermarried with the Jews who had been left behind and the “Samaritans” were their descendants. the rebuilding of the temple and the walls at Jerusalem brought opposition from the Samaritans and eventually a rival temple was built on Mt. Gerzim. Ever since, Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9), and the feeling was reciprocated. Thus for Philip to share his faith with the Samaritans was a most uncommon acts” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome: Studies in the Book of Acts, © 1972, p 78).
Like the Apostles and Stephen, Philip’s preaching and teaching were accompanied by signs and wonders. God used Philip to heal paralytics and to cast out demons. The point is not the signs and wonders, but the Word of God. The Samaritans paid attention to Philip because God was doing signs through him, giving Philip and platform to preach and teach. Miracles and signs do not save. The Word of God leads to salvation. As a result of Philip’s teaching many Samaritans believed and were baptized.
Simon the Sorcerer 8:9-25
Here in verse 9 Luke introduces a new character. Luke simply calls him Simon, Church History, however, calls him Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer. Early church fathers have labeled this man as “The Father of All Heretics” and claimed he was an originator for the Gnostic heresies. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about this man other than what Luke has given us here. Luke does tell us Simon did practice sorcery in this city that Philip was ministering in at some in the past and perhaps at the same time as Philip. Maybe Simon was gone when Philip first arrived and missed the start of Philip’s ministry. We don’t know. We do know that the Samaritans paid a lot of attention to Simon, from the rich and powerful to the common. They even said that Simon’s power came from God. We don’t know if this man was a fraud or actually practicing the occult aided by demons. We see in verse 13 that Simon also claimed to believe and was baptized, though most question the validity of his faith and salvation.
News reached Jerusalem and the Apostles that the gospel had been preached in Samaria and that their were believers as well. The Twelve hadn’t to validate the truth of this news, and sent Peter and John to investigate. I think they also wanted to make sure that the message the Samaritans were believing was that same truth as they were teaching. It is also suggested that Peter and John went to validate, but were assuming that there was no concern over the belief of the Samaritans. Peter and John were satisfied with what they saw and heard. Whether they knew Philip was there before they arrived we don’t know. Philip drops from the scene for awhile and we will see him again in verse 26. Verses 15 and 16 need to be understood carefully. As we stated earlier, this is a transitional section in Acts, and we need to remember that Acts itself is transitional from the Old Testament dispensation of Law to the New Testament and the Church. The Apostles prayer allows God to show his acceptance of the Samaritans; and the laying on of hands, followed by the Spirit’s confirmation, seem to show fellowship with and identifies these new believers as part of the new community. The sign gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit being shown is such a fashion is not the normal happening at salvation. Though the passage does not specify, I think it is safe to assume that evidence of the Spirit coming on the Samaritans was similar to the upper room in Acts 2 and as we will see with Cornelius and his family in Acts 10. Some link this back to Peter’s presence and tie his presence with Cornelius in chapter 10 to Matthew 16:18-19 where Christ “commits” “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter; therefore Peter “unlocked” the door for the Jews in Acts 2, the Samaritans here in Acts 8 and the Gentiles in Acts 10, because after Acts 10 and 11 Peter fades out of the narrative of Acts and Paul begins to take an important role.
After the Holy Spirit descended upon the Samaritans, Simon the sorcerer comes to Peter and John with a proposition. This encounter leads me to think that Simon had only given lip service. His commitment to Christ and the Gospel only went as far as to make sure he was included with everyone else. Sure he was baptized, Philip probably baptized Simon himself. I’m not faulting Philip, there is no account in Scripture of Philip being faulted for baptizing Simon. Philip took Simon’s word that he had accepted Jesus as Messiah and Savior and baptized him. But if Simon had truly been saved, he may or may not have received sign gifts from the Spirit, but he would have understood that the Spirit is not given by men, and certainly cannot be bought. God gives the Spirit. Look at Peter’s response in verse 20. Peter tells Simon he hadn’t really been converted. Simon wanted to continue his powerful influential lifestyle and wanted “in” with the Apostles and wanted to be able to do miracles and give the power of the Spirit to others. He was a counterfeit that Satan was using to try and influence the Samaritan congregation. Peter, very likely through the power of the Spirit, was able to see through him. Simon was more concerned about getting out of judgement than being right with God. He asked Peter to pray for him instead of repenting and praying himself. Simon is an example of someone so close to the gospel and never accepting it. Simon is a negative of example given in Scripture.
After the confrontation with Simon, Peter and John headed back Jerusalem continuing to preach the gospel in Samaritan villages and cities. Though he is not mentioned here, it is possible that Philip was going with them. Because in the next verse Philip is told to go take a specific road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch 8:26-40
Verse 25, gives us the idea that Philip returned to Jerusalem with Peter and John, but the Lord had a special assignment for Philip. Then in verse 26 an angel appears to Philip and tells him take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. This road is apparently somewhat desolate as Luke refers to it as the desert road. Philip obeyed. As he was on the road he came across an Ethiopian caravan heading home. This caravan was for a eunuch of high office, the treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia. It is suggested that the name Candace is a name of a dynasty. It is thought this is not the Ethiopia we think of today, but the ancient civilization of Nubia, which was south of Egypt. This eunuch was evidently a proselyte of Judaism as we are told he was in Jerusalem to worship. There is disagreement over whether he could be a full proselyte and be a literal eunuch or if the term is being used in another way, like taking a vow or celibacy. We don’t know for sure, but I think it is likely the literal term of eunuch is the meaning here. If he was a eunuch in the literal meaning, then he could never have been fully accepted into Judaism as a proselyte. Either way, Philip saw him, the caravan had evidently stopped, and heard the eunuch was reading from Isaiah. The Spirit prompts Philip to go and talk with him.
I used to have an image in my head of the the chariot or carriage going at full speed through the desert and Philip running up to it and jumping on board. Maybe the Spirit gave him some supernatural help for Philip to do that.
Philip did run up to the eunuch, maybe he saw the servants were almost ready to start the journey again. Philip asked the man if he knew understood what he was reading. Look at verse 31. He needed a guide, someone to explain what Isaiah was talking about in the passage we know as chapter 53. “Isaiah 53 describes our Lord Jesus Christ in His birth (vv 1-2), life and ministry (v 3), substitutionary death (vv 4-9), and victorious resurrection (vv 10-12)” (Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Dynamic, © 1987, p 105). The eunuch seems to be focusing on the verse 7 and 8 of Isaiah 53, and didn’t understand Whom the prophet was speaking of. The Lord had prepared this man’s heart for Philip to explain the gospel and tell him about Jesus Christ.
The explanation of Who Jesus is and the gospel seem to happen as they were traveling. They were getting near the water and the eunuch asked about baptism. Now here we have a problem with the text. Some versions have verse 37 in the text and some have verse 37 in the footnote or with some reference material someplace else on the page? Verse 37 only appears in manuscripts from the West. It is not in a large portion of very reliable documents, and is thought to not original to Luke’s writing of Acts. It is thought that this verse was added sometime in the second-century when the practice was to have a confession of faith from a convert before baptism was administered. For our purposes today, we will include the verse, so reading from verse 36… Philip baptized the eunuch there. This is another example that baptism comes after salvation. Whether verse 37 is original or not, the eunuch must have made some profession of faith to ask about baptism. Baptism is by full immersion into water for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior to make a public statement of following in obedience to the Lord.
The Spirit performed a miracle with Philip, after the completion of the baptism Philip is caught up or carried away. This is the same verb Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians in describing the rapture. This miracle shows us that God is still at work. The eunuch is unable to form a relationship with Philip, but continues home rejoicing in his new relationship with God. A relationship the Judaism would never have given him. It is thought that this eunuch went home and shared the gospel there giving cause to start the Ethiopian Church. Our chapter ends with Philip being seen next at the city of Azotus which was located about twenty miles north of Gaza and thirty-five miles west of Jerusalem. However, Philip the Evangelist doesn’t stay still. He keeps going north and preaches the gospel in cities and towns until he came to Caesarea where he settles down. We see him again briefly in still in Caesarea having started a family there, in Acts 21.
Acts chapter 8 is part of the transition of focus from the Jewish nation to the church at large filled with Jews and Gentiles. But more specifically, Acts 8 is a compare and contrast of two different professions of faith, Simon the Sorcerer and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Simon professed acceptance of Jesus, but only sought the power of God without repentance to God. The eunuch was searching the Scriptures seeking to understand. The Spirit had been working in his heart and was ready for the truth. We also see that Philip was willing to go where the Lord lead. From Samaria to roads of the Judean desert, to traveling to towns and cities.
Are you a Simon? Have you only made a profession with your mouth and haven’t actually accepted Jesus Christ as Savior? Or are you like the Ethiopian searching the Scriptures looking to understand, needing someone to explain things? Or do you know someone like the Ethiopian needing a Philip? Are you willing to be a Philip? Are you ready to share the gospel when the Lord opens a door? Are you ready to follow His direction?