The Church Persecuted and Scattered (8:1-8)
1-2 After killing Stephen, the Jewish leaders grew bolder and decided to seize the other Christians also. Therefore, most of the believers left Jerusalem and scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, the two southern provinces of Israel. They did as Jesus had said: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23).
Jesus had also said to His disciples: “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Now, by means of this persecution and the scattering of the believers, God caused the Gospel to be spread throughout Judea and Samaria (see verse 4).
3 The fiercest persecutor of the Christians was a Jew named Saul (who later became the Apostle Paul). Saul had heard Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin. After hearing Stephen, Saul realized that this new Christian religion was irreconcilably opposed to many of the Jewish traditions. Saul saw that if this new religion continued to spread, the power and influence of the Jewish leaders would be undermined. Therefore, Saul decided that this new religion must be stamped out. He could no longer agree with his old teacher Gamaliel, who had advised that the Christians should be left alone (Acts 5:38-39). So Saul began to destroy the church. He seized both men and women and threw them into prison.
4-5 Philip was one of the seven ministers, or deacons, who had been appointed by the apostles to distribute food to the poorer members of the church (Acts 6:35). When the persecution came, Philip left Jerusalem and went northward to the province of Samaria. The Jews despised the Samaritans, because they were not pure Jews. Originally the Samaritans had been Jews, but then foreigners had invaded Samaria and had married the local Samaritan women. Thus the Samaritans in New Testament times were only half-Jews. As a result, there was much ill feeling between the Jews and Samaritans. Nevertheless, Philip, himself a Jew, went to Samaria and began to preach. This was the first time that any of the disciples had preached the Gospel to those who were not true Jews.
6-8 In these verses we again see how the Holy Spirit worked through those first Christian leaders (Acts 6:8). Philip, too, performed miraculous signs. Just as Christ had done, Philip also cast out EVIL SPIRITS (verse 7) and healed those who were crippled and paralyzed. For this reason, all paid close attention to what he said (verse 6).
Simon the Sorcerer (8:9-25)
9-11 In every age there have been men like Simon, who lead people astray by sorcery. Simon deceived people into thinking that he possessed some kind of divine power (verse 10). He boasted that he was someone great. Such false teachers and prophets are usually motivated by pride. Worst of all, many people believe these false teachers and become their followers.
12-13 The power that Philip had was greater than Simon’s power. Therefore, the people believed Philip’s word and were baptized.
Simon himself recognized that Philip’s power was greater than his own. Therefore, he also believed. Simon hoped that by believing he, too, could get some of Philip’s power for himself. We cannot be sure to what extent Simon’s faith was real; however, it certainly was not a deep faith. Simon believed only because he saw the great signs and miracles that Philip performed. Jesus Himself did not have much confidence in faith that was based mainly on miracles (see John 2:23-24). Faith must be deeper than that.
14 When news of Philip’s work in Samaria reached the apostles in Jerusalem, Peter and John went to Samaria to see for themselves what was happening. This is the same John who earlier had wanted to destroy a Samaritan village by calling fire down from heaven (Luke 9:51-56).
15-16 Peter and John found that the Samaritans had indeed believed and been baptized, but that the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them (verse 16)—that is, the Spirit had not come upon them with power as He had come upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-4).
The New Testament teaches that everyone who believes in Christ and is baptized also receives the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 12:13; Ephe-sians 1:13). Therefore, when these Samaritans believed, they surely received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had begun to dwell within them. But the Samaritans had not experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, such as was manifested on the day of Pentecost. They had not yet received the filling of the Spirit, or the “second blessing,” as it is called by some (see Acts 2:4; 1 Corinthians 12:13 and comments; General Article: Holy Spirit Baptism).
17 When Peter and John laid their hands on these new Samaritan believers, they received the Holy Spirit—that is, the Spirit came upon them with power and with visible manifestations. Something happened that others standing there could see or hear, because according to verse 18, Simon saw that the Spirit was given. It is very possible that these Samaritans began to speak in tongues, just as the disciples had done on the day of Pentecost.
Some Christians believe that before anyone can receive the filling or anointing of the Holy Spirit, it is necessary that a specially appointed church leader lay hands on him (see Acts 19:1-7). But usually in the New Testament when people receive the Spirit, no mention is made of the laying on of hands (Acts 2:38,41; 8:38-39; 10:4448; 16:30-33). If the laying on of hands were necessary, surely somewhere in the New Testament God would have clearly said so. The laying on of hands was a Jewish custom, which was used for granting special blessings or for appointing someone to a special task (see Acts 6:6 and comment). The custom was simply carried over into the new Christian church, and it has been commonly practiced ever since (Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).
18-19 Simon saw that Peter and John’s power was even greater than Philip’s. Simon supposed that Peter and John could give other people the Holy Spirit just by laying hands on them. Simon wanted this power too, and he was prepared to pay money for it!
20-23 Simon’s heart was not right. He was thinking only about his own glory and fame. He didn’t realize that the power of the Spirit cannot be bought with money. Man cannot control the Holy Spirit for his own benefit. Simon was seeking only his own advantage. He wasn’t thinking of using the Holy Spirit’s power to serve and glorify God. Simon’s heart was full of bitterness (verse 23)—that is, full of jealousy—because Peter, John, and Philip had more power than he had. Simon had fallen captive to sin, because he sought only his own glory, not God’s.
What did Simon need to do? Peter told him what he must do: “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord” (verse 22). Peter did not say: “Repent of this mistake.” Rather, he said, “Repent of this wickedness.” We should never call our sin merely a “mistake”; in God’s sight it is wickedness.
Then Peter said, “Perhaps [the Lord] will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” Peter wasn’t sure whether Simon would be forgiven or not, because he wasn’t sure whether Simon would truly repent. Only if Simon truly repented would he be forgiven. All who truly repent of their sin are forgiven (1 John 1:9).
24-25 When Simon heard Peter’s words, he was filled with fear. Simon had seen Peter’s great power, and now he feared that the words of such a powerful man might indeed come true. So he asked Peter to pray for him, that God’s judgment might not fall on him.
Whether Simon truly repented or not no one knows. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.
After proclaiming God’s word in that place, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching in the villages as they went.
Philip and the Ethiopian (8:26-40)
26 Some time later an angel of the Lord told Philip to go to the road running south from Jerusalem to Gaza. (Gaza was a city southwest of Jerusalem.) Notice how God led Philip. In this verse, an angel of the Lord spoke to him. In verse 29, the Holy Spirit spoke to him. Some think that the angel’s voice was, in fact, the voice of the Holy Spirit. But regardless of whose voice He used, God spoke to Philip, and Philip immediately did what God commanded.
27 On the road to Gaza Philip met a eunuch,44 who was an official in charge of all the treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians.45
28 Although the eunuch was not a true Jew, he was probably a follower of the Jewish religion. He had just been worshiping at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and now he was returning in his chariot46 to his own country. As he was riding along, he was reading from the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah.
29-31 The eunuch did not fully understand what he was reading. Where could he find a better teacher than Philip to explain the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy! Because the verses in Isaiah that the eunuch was reading were written specifically about Jesus Christ.
32-33 The eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8.47 In these verses, Isaiah is prophesying that Christ will be led like a sheep to the slaughter.
Most of the Old Testament prophets prophesied that Christwouldcomeasaking, or as an “anointed one” (the Messiah), or as a Savior. But in Isaiah Chapter 53, Isaiah writes that the coming One (Christ) would come as a “suffering servant,” who would sacrifice His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind. The Jews could not believe that the king or Savior they were waiting for was actually the same person as this “suffering servant” described by Isaiah. But Christ clearly said concerning Himself: “… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus also said: “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” (Mark 9:12). Therefore, from Jesus’ own words about Himself, we can understand that the prophecy of Isaiah quoted here is indeed written about Christ.
34-35 At the time of Philip’s meeting with the eunuch, the New Testament had not yet been written. There was only the Old Testament. Thus, aside from the Old Testament prophecies, there was nothing else written about Christ. It was indeed amazing that this very passage the eunuch was reading, Isaiah Chapter 53, gives the clearest description of Christ found anywhere in the Old Testament. Therefore, when the eunuch asked Philip who the prophet was talking about, Philip was immediately able to answer: “Jesus Christ.” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus (verse 35).
36-38 When he had finished telling the eunuch about Jesus Christ, Philip baptized him.48 The eunuch did not have to wait a long time. Philip did not say: “I can’t baptize you now. You need more teaching. Come back another time.” Philip did not say: “Before I can baptize you, I need proof that your faith is genuine.” No, Philip didn’t say these things. Rather, as soon as Philip had finished explaining the Gospel and the eunuch had believed, Philip baptized him. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a person must wait a long time and receive extensive teaching before he can be baptized. Nowhere is it written that a person must first prove that his faith is genuine before being baptized. These ideas do not come from the New Testament. If any person, after hearing the Gospel, believes in Jesus Christ and asks for baptism, he should be baptized at the first suitable occasion and not be made to wait. Only God knows whether a person has truly believed from his heart or not. We men cannot know for sure. Therefore, even though we cannot be absolutely sure of a person’s faith, we must not refuse him if he asks for baptism; otherwise we will be disobeying the New Testament. Yes, it’s possible that a few will be baptized who do not have true faith; but it is God’s business to judge them, not ours.
Notice that although Philip was not an apostle, he had the authority to baptize (verse 12). From this we can understand that deacons and elders of the church also have the authority to baptize.
39 The Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and Philip disappeared from the eunuch’s sight (2 Kings 2:16; Ezekiel 3:14; 8:3).
40 God’s Spirit brought Philip to Azotus, a city north of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. After that, Philip traveled farther northward to the city of Caesarea, preaching the Gospel as he went. It seems as if he decided to settle in Caesarea, because the next time Philip is mentioned in the book of Acts, he is living in Caesarea with four grown daughters, who were prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9).