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Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Acts 8

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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A new direction in Luke’s account begins with this chapter. Thus far, he has dealt with the church in Jerusalem. He will now take another direction with a new focus as he gives an account of the dispersion of the Jerusalem church and the spread of the gospel to"all nations."The enemies of Jesus have now set out on a course to attempt to exterminate His followers. They have tried the less violent and more ordinary means of dealing with this challenge; but the threats, imprisonments, and whippings have not worked. Instead of demoralizing this fledgling group of Christians, each attack seems to have pumped fresh energy and new, more determined resolve into their souls. Thus, like wicked men have done before and since, these enemies of Christianity have declared an all out purge upon God’s people.

Verse 1

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And Saul was consenting unto his death: Saul, who later becomes the great Apostle Paul, not only approves of the murder of Stephen, but he is pleased by it. In the Greek, the word "consenting" has the meaning "to think well of ... to take pleasure with others in anything" (Vine, Vol. I 229).

Surely, the martyrdom of Stephen plays a part in the eventual conversion of Saul. It should be noted that Saul has a clear conscience and is sincere in his persecution of Christians. In spite of his sincerity in persecuting the church, he is sincerely wrong. He later says, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (26:9). The lesson for us is that it is possible to have a clear conscience, to be sincere, and yet to be wrong. We must always be willing to test or try the way we are in."There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 16:25).

And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem: With the stoning of Stephen, a severe persecution against the church arises. This attempt to rid the world of Christianity is led by the Sanhedrin with both Pharisees and Sadducees joining forces. Ordinarily these two sects would be in opposition to each other. The hatred of Jesus and the opposition to truth historically have made strange bedfellows!

It is sad to have to ask the question, "What church is this "church at Jerusalem?" When these events were taking place, this question would not have been necessary. But today in the denominational system that exists, there are over one thousand institutions all claiming to be the church of the New Testament. This is an excellent place to ask, "To what church is Saul laying havoc? Is it the Roman Catholic Church? The answer is no. The Roman Catholic Church will not appear on the scene for at least another three hundred years. Is this the Lutheran Church? No, Martain Luther has not even been born yet. Is this the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church, or the Mormon Church? These churches cannot be the church under consideration because their founders, John Wesley, John Calvin, John Smith, and Joseph Smith will not even be born for several hundred years. The fact is none of today’s modern denominations are in existence when this passage is written. It will be fifteen hundred years before denominationalism begins in earnest. The church under consideration is the church of Christ, the Lord’s Church, the ONE church of the New Testament (Matthew 16:18-19).

and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria: This attempt to smother the infant church results only in its being spread that much faster. The religious fervor, fired off by the death of Stephen and the ensuing persecution, causes the early disciples to go "every where preaching the word." In effect, the actions of the Jewish Sanhedrin release a fire storm of religious zeal that has been pent up in the hearts of God’s people.

except the apostles: We are not told why the apostles do not flee Jerusalem, and it would be pure speculation to advance a reason. The one thing that is noteworthy is the fact that the first evangelism conducted by the early church is carried out by ordinary members of the church rather than by those we might consider as the "preachers." The apostles remain in Jerusalem while the gospel is being spread to the surrounding areas (see notes on 8:4).

Verse 2

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

It takes considerable courage to give an honorable burial to their first martyr, but the disciples are willing to bear the consequences; they are not cowards. It is Jewish law that one who is executed is not to be mourned. He is to be buried with "the burial of an ass" (Jeremiah 22:19). The disciples throw caution to the wind and make "great lamentation over him." Literally, they "beat their breast" in grief (Vincent 487).

Verse 3

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

As for Saul: Saul is known far and wide by Christians as an enemy of the church. This same man will become one of the New Testament heroes; but as for now, he is just Saul, the one to be feared. "Note the quiet introduction of the Apostle Paul. Uninspired writers would have stopped to give an extended biography of one so prominent. There is not the slightest trace of hero worship in an inspired writing. The only hero of the apostles was their Lord" (Walker 57).

he made havoc of the church: It is obvious Saul has no pity for the death of Stephen; instead he mounts a zealous attack on the church. The rage Saul has against the Lord’s church should not be underestimated. The word "havoc" "is commonly applied to wild beasts, to lions, wolves, etc., and denotes the devastations which they commit. Saul raged against the church like a wild beast..." (Barnes 429). Vincent says, "…it is used as the laying waste of a vineyard by the wild boar" (487). The NIV renders the passage, "Saul began to destroy the church."What a sad commentary; Saul in his own mention of these events said that he was "exceedingly mad against them" (26:11).

entering into every house: Saul’s zeal recognizes no bounds. He enters into "every house" in search of Christians. There is no way to escape this reign of terror except to flee the city.

and haling: Thayer says this word "haling" means to "draw or drag one (before the judge, to prison, to punishment ..)" (607-2-4951). Saul supervises the dragging of Christians to prison.

men and women committed them to prison: There is no distinction made between the sexes; they all suffer the rage of Saul. The fact that "women" are mentioned indicates the presence of prominent women in the church who are just as faithful to their convictions as are the men.

Verse 4

Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Because of this persecution, the "good news" is spread. The people spreading the gospel message are not necessarily officers of the church such as elders, deacons, evangelists, or preachers. They are disciples with the message of Jesus burning in their hearts. Everywhere they find refuge from the destruction of Saul, they teach the "word" of salvation. In the Lord’s church, there is no distinction as "laity and clergy." All have the obligation to spread the gospel as they have scriptural opportunity and ability. Until every disciple today has the love for Christ and His gospel, as did our forefathers, we will never duplicate what they accomplished in fewer than thirty years.

But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world (Romans 10:18).

Verse 5

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Then Philip: This Philip is one of the "seven" chosen in chapter six. His special calling to "wait tables" now ends with the dispersion of the church. He now becomes Philip the "evangelist" referred to by this title in 21:8.

went down: Luke’s geography is correct. Although Philip traveled north, the land from Jerusalem slopes downward toward Samaria.

to the city of Samaria: It is quite interesting that the first effort in evangelism is to these Samaritans whom the Jews look upon with absolute contempt. They consider the Samaritans to be a polluted nation of half-Jews.

The Judaeans regard the Samaritans as racial and religious half-breeds because of the foreign settlers planted in Samaria by the Assyrians to take the place of the upper classes of the land who were deported at the time of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. Before long, these settlers abandon their former pagan worship and became indistinguishable from the Israelites among whom they dwelt, but their alien origin continues to be used by the Jews as a pretext for refusing to have any dealings with them (Bruce 176-177).

and preached Christ unto them: Christ is the theme of these first evangelists. They have no time for the social gospel so often heard today. Philip has tremendous results preaching Jesus (see notes on verses 12 and 35).

Verse 6

And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake: The city of Samaria is overwhelmed by the message of Philip. The Samaritan people, in mass, turn to the gospel.

hearing and seeing the miracles which he did: Through the "laying on of the apostles’ hands," Philip receives the ability to work miracles (see notes on 6:6). He now uses this miraculous ability. The Samaritans not only hear the word but also see signs and great miracles to show the divine approval of the message (see notes on 2:17; 4:30).

Verse 7

For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: Philip begins his spiritual housecleaning of the unclean spirits by exercising the power given by the laying on of hands of the apostles. He exorcizes unclean spirits out of many. Reese poses the following intriguing comment and question about "unclean spirits":

One wonders if we are ignoring in the process the tremendous volume of references to these beings to be found in both the Old and New Testaments. The very thought of unseen agents of Satan involves a concept to which not a few are not willing to subscribe. Such things have no place in the age of scientific research and reason! Or do they? (Reese 191).

Demon possession is more than a mental or physical illness. Some have mistakenly thought those supposedly possessed with demons are actually sick. They are often thought to be epileptic. Although epilepsy often produces some of the same symptoms as demon possession, it is there that the similarity ends. It can be seen in this passage that the possession by"unclean spirits"is distinguished from illness such as"palsies."Jesus demonstrates His power over these agents of the devil; that power is now demonstrated by Philip when he also"casts out demons" (Matthew 12:22-29; Matthew 8:30-33).

Evidently, these demons do not leave their human hosts without a struggle. Luke says they"cried out with a loud voice."Perhaps they are affirming the Sonship of Jesus, as happened in Mark 3:11 and Luke 4:41, or perhaps they are expressing their devilish rage at being cast out.

and many taken with palsies: The term"palsies"is a general term that may include a number of diseases, such as paralysis of part of the body, an uncontrollable shaking, or frailties of the body in general.

and that were lame, were healed: Many who are crippled are also healed. It must be noted Philip experiences no failures in his attempts to heal, nor does he call for testimonies from those who are healed. Instead, he uses the miracles, which he performs by the power of God, to confirm his testimony.

Verse 8

And there was great joy in that city.

The coming of the gospel to the city of Samaria brings joy in at least three ways. First, the coming of the word of God into the lives of men always produces joy, both on earth and in heaven (Luke 15:10; Luke 8:39). Secondly, the Samaritans can rejoice in the reunion with their kinsmen. The enmity between the Samaritans and those Jews who are now Christians is removed by the gospel of Christ. Third, many who are sick and afflicted in various ways are being healed. Samaria has reason to rejoice!

Verse 9

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

But there was a certain man, called Simon: Here, we are introduced to one "Simon." He is also known as Simon the sorcerer or "Simon Magus." "Josephus mentions no less than twenty different Simons in his history, making this one of the most common names of antiquity, and imposing an intolerable burden upon any who would identify this Simon with any of those" (Coffman 155). There is much discussion as to the history of Simon after the events recorded here. Because this account contains all of the Biblical history revealed about this man, we will not enter into speculation.

which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria: Before the coming of Philip, Simon is the man to be dealt with in the city of Samaria. By the use of "sorcery," he has deceived the entire city.

Sorcery is the exercising of "the arts of the Magi, or magicians. ...those who made use of the knowledge of these arts for the purpose of imposing on mankind - astrologers, soothsayers, necromancers, fortune - tellers, etc. Such persons pretended to predict future events by the positions of the stars, and to cure diseases by incantations.... It was expressly forbidden the Jews to consult such persons on pain of death, Le. xix. 31; xx. 6 (Barnes 430).

The term, "bewitched" carries with it the idea that Simon has "amazed" (Vine, Vol. I 125) the people with his magical abilities.

giving out that himself was some great one: Simon is so good with his practice of the black arts that his own ego has become inflated to the point that he boasts that he is some "great one."

Verse 10

To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

It seems not only is Simon convinced of his position and power but he also has the whole city convinced. It is very common for ancient peoples to be brought under the delusions of crafty men. Because of his skills in his practice of deception, the Samaritans think Simon is the "great power of God."

Simon was an unqualified fraud; but, until the coming of the gospel, his evil influence dominated the whole city, "from least to the greatest."Nor does modern man have any right to despise the Samaritans for their gullibility, because there are many charlatans and deceivers receiving the adulation of their duped followers. It is only the word of God that "makes wise the simple," "opens the eyes of the blind, "and provides a "lamp unto our feet." In direct proportion, therefore, as men are ignorant of the word of God, they become the prey of deceivers (Coffman 156).

The practice of deception continues in the more modern form of false teachers, faith healers, and various other religious frauds.

Verse 11

And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

Not only is Simon skillful in the black magic that he works; he has, for an extended period of time, been successful in "amazing" the people of Samaria. It is against this background of entrenched ignorance that the gospel has one of its most brilliant hours (see notes on 8:9).

Verse 12

But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

May it forever be noted that when one preaches "Christ," as verse 5 tells us that Philip does, this preaching includes such things as preaching the kingdom or the church of God; preaching Jesus and his identity; and preaching the necessity of baptism for salvation. To preach Christ is to preach "all of the counsel of God" (20:27). This includes the facts, promises, and commandments of the gospel. Sermons that contain this type of information will save souls (see notes on verse 35).

But when they believed Philip: At the preaching of Philip, the scales fall off the eyes of the Samaritans, and they "believed" his word. Now they have "come out of darkness into the marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9) of Jesus Christ. The first step in man’s salvation, upon hearing the word, is to believe (Mark 16:16; John 8:24; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 11:6).

preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God: Philip teaches "things concerning the kingdom of God." The term "kingdom of God" is often used interchangeably with the term "church." Jesus says, "upon this rock I will build my church"; in the next breath He says, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19). In other words, when Jesus says He will build His church, He also tells Peter He will give him the keys to the church, the kingdom (see 17:7 for additional notes on the kingdom).

To show the distinction between the kingdom of God and the church, one might look at it this way. The kingdom of God includes more than the church. The kingdom includes heaven and all of its inhabitants, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the host of heavenly angels, plus God’s people on earth. God’s people on earth are by definition, the ekklesia, the church. Thus, the kingdom includes the church, or the church is a part of the kingdom.

Unlike some who tell us the "kingdom" was established sometime around 1914 or yet by others who are still looking for the "kingdom" to be established, we know the Lord’s kingdom was establish long before 1914. Jesus says His apostles will "not taste of death, til they have seen the kingdom of God come..." (Mark 9:1). Just as Jesus predicts, the kingdom or the church is established in the lifetime of the apostles. Paul and John both state that they are members of the kingdom (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9).

and the name of Jesus Christ: Philip preaches the authority and identity of Jesus as Savior. This preaching most assuredly includes Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection.

they were baptized: In every instance of conversion in the book of Acts, baptism is always mentioned. The other steps in the conversion process are not always mentioned because the candidate may have already complied with one or more of the steps in the plan of salvation. In other words, if the subject is already a believer as was the case in Acts 2:38, it is not necessary to give the instruction to believe. If the subject is repentant, as the jailor in Acts 16:30-34, there is no need to command repentance. But"baptism"is always commanded. Why? Baptism is the one requirement no one has obeyed (see notes on 2:38).

Baptism is an absolute essential if one wants to be saved. This is the act of obedience that changes the alien sinner into one who is "such as should be saved" (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21) (see notes on 2:38).

both men and women: The hearts of "both men and women "are touched by the gospel. One can only wonder if the Samaritan woman, with whom Jesus speaks at the well, comes to partake of the "water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:7-14).

Verse 13

Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Then Simon himself believed also: Never underestimate the power of the gospel! Simon, along with the citizenry of Samaria, is convinced of the truth of Philip’s preaching. One can only imagine how this master of sleight of hand and deceit must have felt when he witnesses the true "signs and wonders" as performed by Philip.

Luke plainly shows that there was no difference between the faith of Simon and that of the other people in Samaria. It says "Simon ALSO himself BELIEVED."He believed the same thing that the others believed, and he was baptized, as were the others. Not only did he have the kind of faith that motivated to action, but he continued in the fellowship of Philip, the preacher (Reese 259).

Those of the "once saved always saved" persuasion will have us believe that Simon is not a "true believer." The reason they will deny the faith of Simon is obvious: here is an example of an obedient believer who "falls from the grace of God." Peter tells Simon in verse 22, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness. ..." One can see, as Simon saw, a child of God can fall and be once again "in the bond of iniquity" (verse 23).

and when he was baptized: Baptism is the desired result of "believing." Simon realizes that "faith only" will not save him. His faith motivates him to be baptized "for the remission of (his) sins." At this point, Simon is in a saved condition; Jesus says so:"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Wonder of wonders, Simon, once the child of darkness, is now a Christian, walking in the light (see notes on 2:38)!

he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done: Brother Simon continues in the company of Philip, being truly amazed at the wonders he performs.

Verse 14

Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

The success of the gospel in Samaria is soon relayed back to the apostles who have remained in Jerusalem. The apostles dispatch Peter and John to Samaria."The purpose of this apostolic mission to Samaria was evidently to qualify certain men for the leadership through the laying on of the apostles’ hands and the accompanying endowment of them with miraculous powers" (Coffman 162).

Verse 15

Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

When Peter and John arrive in Samaria, they pray that the brethren "might receive the Holy Ghost." There are those who would use this verse in an attempt to disallow the "gift of the Holy Spirit" promised to "every one" who repents and is baptized (2:38). It has already been shown, in our study of Acts 2:38, "every one of you" who repents and is baptized shall receive "the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit." Therefore, since the Samaritans have obeyed the gospel, just like the people on Pentecost day in Acts 2:38, they have also received the "remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit." Does anyone believe the Samaritans did not receive the remission of sins when they were baptized? There is no mention of the remission of sins. But we all know the Samaritans received the remission of sins. By the same logic we can also know they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift is the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit as promised to every Christian (2:38-39).

Since the Samarians receive the "gift of the Holy Spirit" when they are baptized, the apostles have something else in mind when they pray for the Holy Spirit to "fall upon" Samaria.

Verse 16

(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus).

Since the Samaritans receive the promised "gift of the Holy Spirit" when they are baptized, what is being talked about when Luke says, He [the Holy Spirit] "was fallen upon none of them?" Luke is using the term "Holy Spirit" to refer to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Hebrews 2:4).

"That they might receive the Holy Spirit..."has reference to receiving the Holy Spirit in miraculous measure, because, having been baptized, they had already received the gift ordinary of the Holy Spirit as Peter promised on Pentecost (Acts 2:38) (Coffman 163).

As soon as the apostles heard of Philip’s good work in Samaria they sent Peter and John. But we ask "for what purpose?" What they did when they arrived would determine why they were sent. When they arrived they prayed and laid hands upon the Samaritans; through this means these received the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. This action was necessary because the Samaritans had only been baptized in water into Christ. They had then consequently only received the "gift of the Holy Spirit" (2:38) or the (indwelling personality of the Holy Spirit). The Holy Spirit in His miraculous powers had not "fallen upon" any of them. Luke uses the term "fallen upon" to describe the reception of the special powers. ... we must say the use of the term "Holy Spirit" in 15b is synonymous with "spiritual gifts." Nor is this unusual for there are other examples where the cause is placed for the effect" (De Welt 109).

The explanation that best harmonizes with the data in Acts, as well as in other New Testament references, is that the believers receive the Spirit when they were baptized. Then the apostles went to Samaria to lay hands upon the new converts so that the spiritual gifts might be conferred upon them (Gaertner 147).

Verse 17

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

These miraculous gifts of the Spirit could be conveyed only by the "laying on of the apostles’ hands." In spite of the fact that Philip can do miraculous wonders, a gift he himself has received through "the laying on of the apostles’ hands" (6:5-6), he cannot pass on these gifts.

As McGarvey reasons, "Seeing that this extraordinary gift of the Spirit was not necessary to the conversion and pardon of these persons, nor to the indwelling of the Spirit, it is proper to inquire for what purpose it was bestowed" (144). It should be remembered that the church is still very much in its infancy. The New Testament has not been written down. It is just in the process of being revealed. Therefore, in order for these fledgling churches to survive, God provides these special gifts to inspire the word, confirm the doctrine, ferret out false teachers, interpret tongues, and build up the church in general.

These gifts served a temporary purpose, until the facts, doctrine, commandments and promises of the new covenant were committed to writing by inspired men, when the prophecies, tongues, and miraculous knowledge of individual teachers gave place to the written word (McGarvey, Vol. I 145).

But when that which was perfect is come, then that which was in part shall be done away (1 Corinthians 12:10).

Miraculous gifts served as a type of night light to get the church through a very dark time to the brilliant light of the completely revealed word of God. Sadly, there are those who, in spite of the complete revelation of the light of God’s word, still want to keep the night light. When the New Testament is completely written down, the purpose of miracles ceases (1 Corinthians 13:8) (see notes on 2:17; 4:30).

Verse 18

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given: Not every Christian in Samaria receives miraculous gifts. This does not happen in any church. Certain ones are selected to receive these gifts in order to further the work of the Lord’s church as has been noted. Simon soon becomes aware it is the unique ability of the apostles to transfer this power of the Holy Spirit. He can see it is by the "laying on of the apostles’ hands" this gift is given. Therefore, it is obvious this reception of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by external signs (something Simon could see). These visual signs distinguish these special gifts of the Holy Spirit from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit received by all Christians.

he offered them money: Brother Simon, like many new converts, has difficulty in overcoming old habits. It is customary to purchase secrets of magic and evidently Simon thinks the power of God can be bought. An interesting term is derived from Simon’s attempt to make this purchase. It is called "simony, " which is defined as "the act of buying or selling ecclesiastical preferment, ecclesiastical pardons, or other things regarded as sacred or spiritual" (Webster 1692).

Verse 19

Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

Little does Simon know that the ability to pass on these miraculous endowments cannot be bought, neither can the apostles give Simon the "power" to pass them on to anyone else. The ability to pass on spiritual gifts is limited to the apostles, as is made evident in the fact that Philip can work wonders, but he has not the "power" to pass this ability to anyone else. If Philip could have given the gift, the mission of Peter and John would have been unnecessary.

Verse 20

But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

The fiery Apostle Peter does not hesitate in his condemnation of Simon’s sinful proposal. Peter also lets Simon know he has put his soul in jeopardy by saying, "Thy money perish with thee."

Verse 21

Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: If this statement is kept in context, it means Simon has no part in the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit much less bestowing the Holy Spirit on others.

for thy heart is not right in the sight of God: Those of the "once saved always saved" persuasion, who cannot come to grips with the fact that Simon is a Christian, try to make these words mean Simon’s heart has never been right in the sight of God. "There is, of course, an ocean of difference between saying that a man’s heart is not right (present tense), and the declaration that it had never been right" (Coffman 165).

Verse 22

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

Here is the final unimpeachable proof that Simon is a Christian.

If Simon had not been a backslider from the faith, but had been an alien hypocrite pretending a faith and submission to a baptism which were worthless, Peter would never have commanded him to repent and pray, these very commandments standing here as an apostolic confirmation of the fact that Simon was in possession of a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, despite the fact of his sin. The door here opened for Simon’s return is the same that must be entered by all Christians who, when overtaken by sin, seek to return to the Lord (Coffman 166).

It is here that we come to understand what is commonly referred to as the "second law of pardon." There are those who ask the question, "If you believe that baptism is for the remission of sins, and a Christian sins, why is it not necessary to baptize the Christian again?" The answer is when one submits to the gospel and is baptized for the remission of his sins, he is also born into the family of God. Baptism is the birth of "water and of Spirit" that Jesus tells Nicodemus about in John 3. When a Christian makes a mistake and commits a sin, he does not have to be rebaptized ("born again)." He needs to be baptized (born) only once; then as a child of God, the Christian is on speaking terms with his heavenly Father. When a Christian sins If he will repent of his sins and ask God’s forgiveness, God has promised to forgive him (James 5:16; 1 John 2:1). The conclusion must not be overlooked: for an erring Christian, it will not do him one whit of good to be rebaptized; he must meet the "second law of pardon, " repent, and pray for his forgiveness.

What is indicated by the word "perhaps"? Is Peter saying there is a chance God will not forgive Simon? Absolutely not! If Simon will repent and ask God’s forgiveness, God is "faithful and just to forgive" (1 John 1:9). If any doubts are expressed by "perhaps, " they are whether or not Simon will repent.

Verse 23

For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness: Peter warns Simon that he is in the "gall of bitterness." Gall is a yellowish-green secretion from the liver and is used to describe anything that is very bitter. Reese says, "…this is a Hebraism; the usual mode of expressing the superlative –’You are in the bitterness of bitterness’." (262).

and in the bond of iniquity: This description of Simon is explicit and leaves no doubt as to his spiritual condition. Simon is once again in the grip of sin.

Verse 24

Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

There are those who would make Simon to be a hypocrite in this whole matter. This simply is not the case.

Simon saw the danger that he was in; evidently he repented and prayed God, and even asked Peter to pray for him, as though his own prayer was not sufficient to obtain forgiveness. Simon is anxious to escape the penalty for his sin, and hopes that Peter can avert it; Peter had by the Holy Spirit diagnosed his case correctly. Simon was a converted man, but was in sin at this point. We are led to believe that Simon surely repented and corrected his life (Boles 131).

Here the curtain drops on the life of Simon, the once-upon-a-time sorcerer who beguiled the hearts of Samaria. Simon yields his dark arts to the "power of God unto salvation" and becomes a born-again Christian. The conversion of this powerful wizard is a milestone in demonstrating the power of God over the power of deceit. What happens to Simon from here? We have no scripture, and anything we might say would be speculation. For this reason we feel as McGarvey, "It is not wise to fill the memory with idle tales in regard to Biblical characters" (149). This notable character is a most remarkable man who sees many things the whole world needs to see. Here is a brief summary of what Simon sees:

1. Simon sees the difference between the genuine miracles performed by the power of God and the frauds he professes.

2. Simon sees that the kingdom of God, the church, is already established.

3. Simon sees he needs to believe and be baptized in order to be become a Christian.

4. Simon sees that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

5. Simon sees that a child of God can fall from grace.

6. Simon sees that the erring Christian must repent and pray for the forgiveness of sins.

Verse 25

And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

The special mission of Peter and John has been accomplished. The Samaritan Christians now have the much-needed gifts of the Holy Spirit vested in certain of their membership so that the works of the church may move forward. The apostles preaching in "many villages" as they make their return to Jerusalem. This coming of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit also frees Philip to leave Samaria and continue the Lord’s work in other fields, as we will soon see.

Verse 26

And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.

And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying: A messenger from God speaks to Philip with fresh instructions for a new work.

Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza: From the city of Samaria, Philip is instructed to begin a providential trip that will bring him in contact with a man in need of conversion. Philip is told to go south to intercept the "way" (road) that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. The timing of this event shows God is in control. According to McGarvey, Philip "by a journey of nearly fifty miles" comes to the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza (151). This point of intersection is only a few miles from Jerusalem; therefore, Philip has to leave at least a full day before the Ethiopian in order to make the connection. By the providence of God, the conversion of this man of Ethiopia and the spread of the gospel into a foreign country are about to happen.

which is desert: The word "desert, " as used by the angel, does not mean a barren waste land devoid of water as one often thinks, but rather the meaning is a place of little population. Vine defines the word as "primarily a solitude, an uninhabited place in contrast to a town or village..." (Vol. I 297). The event about to be described is going to take place in this desolate place.

Verse 27

And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

And he arose and went: Philip, being the faithful evangelist he is, does not hesitate. He begins his trip south out of Samaria toward the road that leads to Gaza.

and, behold, a man of Ethiopia: In New Testament times, the country of Ethiopia was rich and productive because of its location on the Nile River. Reese describes the geography of the country:

Ethiopia was one of the great kingdoms of Africa. Ethiopia lay south of Egypt, on the Nile River. It was bounded on the north by Egypt, on the east by the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, on the south by the (then) unknown regions of the interior of Africa, and on the west by Libya and the great Libyan deserts (265).

an eunuch: According to Deuteronomy 23:1, a man who was a "eunuch" was not allowed full religious privileges enjoyed by other Jews. Perhaps the account of the conversion of this eunuch is to show that in Christianity no such distinction is to made between men.

of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure: This man is not some insignificant fellow but rather a man of influence and position in Ethiopia. He is the queen’s treasurer. "Candace" is a title given to all the queens of Ethiopia as Pharaoh is the title given to all the kings of Egypt.

and had come to Jerusalem for to worship: There is some discussion as to whether this man is a natural born Jew or a proselyte to the Jewish religion or even as some suggest, a "God fearing Gentile." From the scriptural evidence given, the eunuch could not have been a "God fearing Gentile" because Peter has not yet preached to the Gentiles. According to the promise of Jesus in Matthew 16:18-19, Peter is given "the keys of the kingdom of heaven, " the keys being the gospel. The promise is that Peter will be the first to use the keys (preach the gospel) to both Jews and Gentiles. This promise is fulfilled beginning with Peter’s preaching to the Jews on Pentecost in chapter two and completed when Peter is called to preach to the house of Cornelius in chapter ten. The first Gentile convert is Cornelius. What a great honor: Peter is the first man to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. There is no reason to believe the eunuch is not a Jew.

History reveals there was "a colony of Jews in Ethiopia ... and it is not uncommon for Jews born and reared in foreign lands to attain eminent positions such as this man enjoyed, and especially in the department of finance, for which the Jewish people have always seemed to enjoy natural fitness (Reese 266).

This man has traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship God under the Old Testament law. One can only imagine the difficulties encountered in such a pilgrimage. This is a trip of approximately fifteen hundred miles. It is estimated it could have taken as long as two months to complete. Think of the heat, desert winds, cold nights, rain, dust, and all other unforeseen calamities that might accompany such a trip.

Verse 28

Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.

The eunuch is returning home to Ethiopia riding in what might be described as a streamlined wagon, called a chariot. This type of vehicle was capable of ten to fifteen miles per day, which allowed much time for reading. The eunuch is reading from the writings of the Prophet Isaiah (Esaias is the Greek word for Isaiah), and he is reading exactly at the right place, a prophecy declaring the sufferings of Jesus. What an opportunity for a preacher!

Here is what we have learned about this nobleman from Ethiopia:

1. He is a Jew, having traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship God.

2. He is probably an honest man as he is given charge over the queen’s money.

3. He is very religious, having traveled such a distance to worship.

4. He is a Bible reader with an humble spirit and a desire to learn.

5. He wants to know about Jesus.

6. Despite all of this, he is in a lost condition spiritually.

Here is a good, honest, important, zealous, religious man with a desire to know God’s word, but he is still in a lost condition. None of these qualities will save his soul: he needs to know about Jesus. It is no wonder God acted providentially to bring a preacher to this man: He wanted the door of eternal life to be opened unto him.

Verse 29

Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

Imagine this setting: Philip walks up to this crossroad, and there goes the chariot with the eunuch. Philip is waiting for further orders from God when the Spirit speaks to him and says, "Go near, and join thyself to this chariot."As has been observed, only God could have orchestrated such a meeting.

The Holy Spirit seems to be indicated here; whether the Holy Spirit spoke directly to Philip or through the angel, we are not told. It should be pointed out the part played in this conversion by these messengers of God. Both the angel and the Spirit speak only to the preacher; they do not speak to or in any way work directly upon the sinner. There are those today who think salvation is premised upon the visitation of the Holy Spirit or angels or some better-felt-than-told experience. With the one exception of Cornelius (which is a special case that will be discussed later, chapter 10), this idea is without precedent and without truth in the scriptures."The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16).

Verse 30

And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

And Philip ran thither to him: It would appear the chariot has already passed by the point where Philip intercepts the road. At the instruction of the Spirit, Philip now must run to overtake this nobleman from Ethiopia. It might help today if we had more preachers willing to do some "running" to preach the gospel.

and heard him read the prophet Esaias: The eunuch is reading the prophesy of Isaiah out loud. Bruce says:

Reading in ancient times was almost invariably aloud. Why this should be so will be apparent to anyone who tries to read a copy of ancient manuscript; the words require to be spelt out, and this is done more easily aloud than in silence" (187).

and said, Understandest thou what thou readest: This is a great opening for a religious discussion. This man is interested in the scriptures, and Philip is ready to teach him.

Verse 31

And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

The eunuch could have been offended by this abrupt question posed by Philip. Instead, we see the honest heart and sincere desire he has to know God’s will. The Ethiopian expresses the desire to have Philip teach him. If only the whole world had the attitude of this man!

Verse 32

The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:

The place of the scripture which he read was this: The "place" from which the eunuch is reading is Isaiah 53:7-8. He could not have selected a better place to be reading. This prophetic passage in Isaiah 53 describes the Suffering Servant. This prophecy is fulfilled in the death of Jesus. Walker says, "No Jewish rabbi could then, nor can he yet, interpret that passage. It is the finest single prophecy of the Old Testament from which to preach Jesus" (60).

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: This prophetic description of Jesus certainly is fulfilled when Jesus patiently yields himself to be put to death by wicked men.

Jesus meekly submitted to the outrages perpetrated against himself, offering no more resistance than a lamb, either sheared or slaughtered. The appropriateness of this simile is seen in the contrast between goats and sheep. A goat, for example, slaughtered in the traditional manner, responds with blood-chilling cries that may be heard a mile away; but a sheep submits to the butcher’s knife without a whimper (Coffman 172).

Verse 33

In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.

In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: Although Jesus is determined to be innocent by His Roman judges, His innocence draws no pity from the Jewish mob demanding His crucifixion. Therefore, His judgment of innocence is "taken away, " and He is crucified.

and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth: "Who shall declare his generation?" Thayer says these words mean, "who can describe the wickedness of the present generation" (112-1-1074)? Taken in light of the last phrase, the question is, realizing that Jesus has been taken from the earth, who shall describe the wickedness of the generation in which He lived?

Who will remember this generation of wicked men "who resisted every word of the Saviour, who mocked him, hated him, denied the signs he performed before their very eyes, suborned witnesses to swear lies at his trials, rejected the verdict of innocence announced by the governor, and through political blackmail, mob violence, and personal intimidation of the governor demanded and received his crucifixion?" (Coffman 172).

The "wicked generation" of Jesus’ day is remembered and preached by every faithful preacher beginning with Peter on Pentecost, the first martyr Stephen, here the evangelist Philip, later the great Apostle Paul, and countless saints through the ages, even until this very day. All who have the courage to "preach Jesus" have exposed the wicked men who crucified Jesus.

Verse 34

And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?

Is the prophet speaking about himself or some other man? It seems the man from Ethiopia has a desperation about him when he asks this question. One can very well suspect the eunuch realizes there is more to this prophecy than any Jewish rabbi has ever explained to him.

There is no evidence that between the time of Isaiah and the time of Christ anyone had identified the Suffering servant of Isaiah 53 with the Davidic Messiah of Isaiah 11 or with the "one like unto the Son of man" (Daniel 7:13); but Jesus identified them and fulfills them (Bruce 188).

Verse 35

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture: It is very likely Philip has previously used this text in Isaiah to preach Jesus. Philip wastes no time in getting to the subject that will lead this man to salvation.

and preached unto him Jesus: As has been previously noted, a better place could not be found to"preach Jesus"than chapter 53 of Isaiah. This is the same theme Philip preached to the Samaritans in verse five, and it should be the theme of all disciples who will be successful soul winners.

It should also be remembered that to preach Christ involves telling men of their need to believe in Jesus, to repent of their sins, to confess the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and to be baptized for the remission of their sins as well as any and all other doctrine that pertains to the commands, responsibilities, or promises of the gospel (see notes on verse 12).

Verse 36

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: The area where this event is taking place, although described as "desert" (see notes on verse 26), has plenty of water available.

The first natural water to which they came, unless it were a spring on the wayside, was the brook which flows through the valley of Elah, the brook which David crossed in going forth to meet Goliath. It is a mountain stream, which goes dry in the summer, but flows with a strong current through the winter and the spring. Such streams always wear out pools here and there very suitable for baptizing. If the chariot had already crossed this stream when the eunuch requested baptism, there was another in the Philistine plain, now called Wady el Hasy, which Robinson, the first to institute any intelligent inquiries on this subject, fixed upon as the place of baptism. It is a perennial stream, and suitable for baptizing at any season of the year. It is not at all improbable, however, that the real place of this baptism was one of the many artificial pools with which the country abounded at that time, and the ruins of which are found in every section (McGarvey, Vol. I 157).

and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized: When one preaches Jesus, he preaches baptism in water for the remission of sins. Upon seeing this"certain water, "the eunuch is reminded of what Philip has already taught him and immediately requests baptism. The baptism taught by Philip is not a baptism in the Spirit as some will maintain but baptism in water. Baptism in water is the"one"baptism required of those who desire to be saved (Ephesians 4:5) (see notes on 2:38).

We will note, as we proceed through the book of Acts, no inspired preacher ever "preached Jesus" without preaching baptism in water as Jesus commands. No gospel preacher today can preach Jesus without preaching the same command to be baptized. If one professes to be preaching Jesus and no one ever requests baptism, the facts become obvious: he is not preaching Jesus!

Verse 37

And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest: There is some question among scholars as to whether this statement by Philip is actually in the original text.

Verse 37 is left out of the Standard Version, but a footnote is inserted, saying that"some ancient authorities insert, wholly or in part, verse 37."It was found in one manuscript in the latter half of the second century, as it was quoted by"Irenaeus, "who was active from the year A.D. 170 to A.D. 210. It is supposed that this verse was written in the margin and later was transcribed as a part of the original text. Even if the verse be an interpolation, and should be left out, it does not change in any way the thought; nothing is added by retaining the verse so far as doctrine is concerned, and nothing certainly is lost by omitting the verse. However, the early records that contain it show that very early in the history of the church such a question was asked and such an answer was given (Boles 138-139).

And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: Here is a man who has been all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship God as directed under the Old Testament. He needs to know Jesus as his Saviour. He has just heard Jesus preached. How is Philip to know whether this stranger is a believer in Jesus or not? This Ethiopian nobleman from the depths of his heart makes this blessed statement, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.""For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:10).

Are there any more questions? This man is now ready to be baptized. The pattern established in this example was practiced by Christians in the first century and is practiced right on up to this day. In response to the question, "what do you believe, "the candidate for baptism makes the same"good confession"the eunuch made. Jesus explains in Matthew 10:32 : "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven."

Verse 38

And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

And he commanded the chariot to stand still: Someone suggested this statement indicates an attendant is driving and perhaps there are several others in the chariot. This situation could have been the case, but it may have very well been a simple matter of the eunuch’s commanding "whoa!"

and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him: What sentence structure could have been used in Greek or English to give us a better understanding of what happened?"They went down both into the water ... they came up out of the water."In this scriptural example, there is no mistake as to the mode of baptism. There is no place in this example for sprinkling or pouring. The eunuch is immersed in water. Baptism by its very definition means "to immerse" (Wigram-Green 114).

Verse 39

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

And when they were come up out of the water: After Philip baptizes the eunuch, they both come up out of the water.

the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: The Greek word for "caught away" is harpazo, which means "to snatch or catch away" (Vine, Vol. I 174). Some would make this catching away of Philip a miraculous event as when Elijah was caught away in 1 Kings 18. It is most likely the Spirit "caught away" Philip in the same way he was brought to the eunuch; the Spirit gave Philip instructions to go to some other location.

and he went on his way rejoicing: Philip has certainly produced joy in his preaching of Jesus. It is no wonder the eunuch is now rejoicing. Just a short time ago, he was riding along puzzling over a passage of scripture he did not understand; now, not only does he understand, but he is a beneficiary of the "Suffering Servant" that was revealed to him by the preacher Philip. This man has every reason to be happy.

This chapter is a vivid demonstration of the grand purpose of the book of Acts, that purpose being the preaching of the gospel to persuade men to become Christians. Following is the basic procedure that will be observed in every single act of conversion:

1. They hear the word of God.

2. They believe the word.

3. They repent of their sins.

4. They confess Jesus as the Son of God.

5. They are baptized in water for the remission of sins.

6. They rejoice!

This is the only way for any person to be saved.

Verse 40

But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

"Azotus" is the name for the ancient city of the Philistines, "Ashdod."This city was about twenty miles north of Gaza and about thirty-five miles from Jerusalem. Some will place emphasis upon the word "found" to prove further the idea of a miraculous "catching away." Whether this information proves anything or not, Philip continues his preaching in Azotus and all the cities between there and Caesarea. In Caesarea, Philip takes up residency and becomes known as "Philip the evangelist, " as well he was (21:8).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 8". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-8.html. 1993-2022.
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