Early Persecution & Expansion of the Church to Incorporate Gentiles
Acts 8 – 12
Acts 8 – 12
Acts 8 – 12. The Lord Jesus had told the disciples, “ye will receive power, the Holy Spirit having come upon you, and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In the first seven chapters we have the witness of the disciples in Jerusalem and all Judea. In Acts 8:1-25 we have the witness in Samaria, in Acts 8:26-40 the salvation of Gentile who had visited Jerusalem, then in Acts 10-11 the gospel reaches Gentiles within the land, and finally in Acts 13-28 the witness is carried to the end of the earth! We find the door of blessing to the Gentiles opened gradually, and in fellowship with the apostles in Jerusalem. It was a transitional time, but we see the abounding grace of God and the unity of the Spirit carefully maintained.
O U T L I N E
The Ministry of Philip the Evangelist
Acts 8. In this chapter we have the first phase of the gospel going to the Gentiles; i.e. beginning with Samaria. It is remarkable that the instrument used by the spirit of God to do this work was Philip. He was one of the seven deacons chosen by the assembly and appointed by the apostles in Jerusalem to handle the distribution to the widows (Acts 6). Philip now comes out of obscurity, and we see him operating as an evangelist in ch.8 with the extraordinary privilege of taking the gospel to the Samaritans. Philip in Acts 8, like his fellow-deacon Stephen in Acts 7, are examples of what Paul says of the deacon in 1 Tim. 3:13; “For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus”. A deacon’s work is a lowly thing, but “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10), and God will often use a good deacon in other labors. We later find Phillip living in Caesarea with four daughters that prophesied. There he is called “Philip the evangelist”, and there he welcomed the travel-worn Paul into his home (Acts 21:8).
Samaritans Received Into the Assembly (8:1-25)
1 And Saul was consenting to his being killed. And on that day there arose a great persecution against the assembly which was in Jerusalem, and all were scattered into the countries of Judaea and Samaria except the apostles. 2 And pious men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul ravaged the assembly, entering into the houses one after another, and dragging off both men and women delivered them up to prison. 4 Those then that had been scattered went through the countries announcing the glad tidings of the word. vv.1-4 The Great Persecution. The first formal persecution of Christians, led by the zealot Saul of Tarsus. The effect of the persecution was that the believers in Jerusalem were scattered across the provinces of Judah and Samaria. The apostles remained in Jerusalem, which in interesting because the Lord had given them the command to go to all nations. The backdrop of this persecution was the death of Stephen. Devout or godly men buried Stephen and mourned over him. The one who seems to have taken the lead in the martyrdom of Stephen now takes the lead in the mass persecution of Christians. It began on the very day Stephen was slain (v.1). It says Saul ravaged the assembly; invading homes and arresting believers. He would never forgive himself for this. God makes the wrath of man to praise him. He turns the evil intentions of man into good. The persecution was intended to expunge Christianity from the face of earth, but instead it only contributed to its spread!
The Samaritans. The origin of the Samaritans is inseparably linked from the captivity of Israel, the ten northern tribes (2 Kings 17:7-41). Because the children of Israel had sinned, God cast them out of their land. They were taken captive by the king of Assyria and settled in various places, and they have not yet been restored to their land. Instead, "the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and made them dwell in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in its cities" (2 Kings 17:24). At the beginning they did not know Jehovah at all, and He sent lions among them to teach them to fear Him. God allowed the Samaritans to remain in His land as stewards of the land, not because they were better than Israel, but because He did not want the land to fall back under the curse of idolatry as it had under the reign of the Amorites. The Samaritans understood that to remain in the land required them to acknowledge Jehovah. But not knowing Jehovah, the Samaritans appealed to the king of Assyria, who sent one of the priests back to the northern part of the land to teach the Samaritans "the manner of the god of that land". The result was that they feared Jehovah in an outward way, but also served other gods. The Samaritans had a version of the Pentateuch, but they worshiped in Mount Gerizim rather than at Jerusalem. The restored captives of Judah deeply despised the Samaritans and had no relationship with them (John 4:9) because the Samaritans were not true Jews. Yet, in their religious pride, the Jews did far worst than that, and said to their Messiah, “Thou art a Samaritan!” (John 8:48). They religiously judged other men meanwhile they themselves were far worse. In doing that they were judging God! The Lord Jesus fulfilled the type of Joseph as a fruitful branch reaching over the wall of separation when He visited the town of Sychar in Samaria (John 4). Several years later Philip brought the gospel there to the cities, towns, and villages of Samaria, and the result was a tremendous harvest of souls (Acts 8).
5 And Philip, going down to a city of Samaria, preached the Christ to them; 6 and the crowds with one accord gave heed to the things spoken by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he wrought. 7 For from many who had unclean spirits they went out, crying with a loud voice; and many that were paralysed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city. vv.5-8 Philip in Samaria. It is remarkable that our Lord visited Samaria only several years before Philip, although it was the town of Sychar that Jesus visited rather than the “city” of Samaria which was the capital of the “nation” (v.9) of Samaria, and only short distance northwest of Sychar. We don’t know what city Philip first evangelized, but perhaps it was the city of Samaria. In any case, the gospel was later spread to “many villages of the Samaritans” (v.25). John 4 details the account of how the sinful woman came to know the Messiah and Savior of the World, and how she left her waterpot and went away into the city, and says to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all things I had ever done: is not he the Christ?” And the men went out of the city and came to Jesus. The Lord sowed a great crop that day, but now it was time for another to reap! “For in this is verified the true saying, It is one who sows and another who reaps” (John 4:37). No doubt an impact was made on Samaria by the two days of our Lord’s visit nearby, but at this time they stood in great need. Philip came to them preaching Christ, and the crowds believed not only because of what he said but because they saw the signs that accompanied his preaching, including casting our unclean spirits and healing the lame, etc. The result of the Samaritans being converted was that there was great joy in the city of Samaria.
9 But a certain man, by name Simon, had been before in the city, using magic arts, and astonishing the nation of Samaria, saying that himself was some great one. 10 To whom they had all given heed, from small to great, saying, This is the power of God which is called great. 11 And they gave heed to him, because that for a long time he had astonished them by his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip announcing the glad tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. 13 And Simon also himself believed; and, having been baptised, continued constantly with Philip; and, beholding the signs and great works of power which took place, was astonished. vv.9-12 Simon the Sorcerer. Now we find the dark underside of Samaria, in that departing from the truth of the scriptures, they had opened themselves up to deception. This was the trouble with the Samaritans, in that they worshiped Jehovah and also other gods. Simon purported himself to be a miracle worker with the power of God, but it was really the power of Satan that he wielded through magic arts and witchcraft. The common people were convinced that he was a messenger from God. He had the people under a spell, and only the gospel and the name of Jesus Christ could break that spell. The people of that city believed Philip, and they were baptized, placing themselves on Christian ground. Along with them, Simon the sorcerer was believed, and he too was baptized with the rest. This is the first case recorded in Scripture of false profession. Simon joined the Christian company, but there was not genuine faith in his heart. We see throughout the New Testament a distinction made between that which professes the name of Christ and includes some who make a false profession, versus the true harvest which contains only real believers. For example, see the Lord’s parable of the tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:25). When the church is spoken of as the body of Christ it includes only reality; individuals indwelt with the Holy Spirit. But when the church is spoken of as the house of God, it sometimes includes mere profession (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:9-17). How can it be that Simon was not a real believer if it says “Simon also himself believed”? His was the human belief of the intellect which does not extend to the heart. James tells us that “the demons even believe, and tremble” in fear (Jam. 2:19), but that is the not the same thing as genuine faith (see also John 2:23-25). It was important for Philip to come with the signs of power as a witness of the resurrection of Christ, yet often when there are signs of power we have those who believe in an intellectual way being convinced only by the external evidence rather than a work of faith in their heart.
14 And the apostles who were in Jerusalem, having heard that Samaria had received the word of God, sent to them Peter and John; 15 who, having come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for he was not yet fallen upon any of them, only they were baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit. vv.14-16 Peter and John Arrive: the Holy Spirit Given. Although those in Samaria that had believed the gospel were baptized to the name of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit had not come upon any of them. The apostles in Jerusalem heard of the work in Samaria and sent down Peter and John. These two apostles laid hands on the Samaritan believers – a sign of fellowship – and then they received the Holy Spirit! It is remarkable that the Holy Spirit did not come upon the Samaritans until Peter and John came down from Jerusalem to lay hands on them. For us to day, when someone believes the gospel of their salvation, they are immediately sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). Why then was it different in the case of the Samaritans? It was a unique thing here because this was the first time non-Jewish people were brought into the church. We see the care of the Holy Spirit, that the Samaritans – who were historically hated by the Jews – would be linked together with the Jews in Jerusalem, so that there would be one expression of the body of Christ. God caused it to happen this way in order to preserve the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3).
18 But Simon, having seen that by the laying on of the hands of the apostles the Holy Spirit was given, offered them money, 19 saying, Give to me also this power, in order that on whomsoever I may lay hands he may receive the Holy Spirit. 20 And Peter said to him, Thy money go with thee to destruction, because thou hast thought that the gift of God can be obtained by money. 21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not upright before God. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and supplicate the Lord, if indeed the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee; 23 for I see thee to be in the gall of bitterness, and bond of unrighteousness. 24 And Simon answering said, Supplicate “ye” for me to the Lord, so that nothing may come upon me of the things of which ye have spoken. vv.18-24 Simon is Exposed. It is notable that Simon did not receive the Holy Spirit with the others, and this showed that he was not a genuine believer. The Holy Spirit will only indwell someone who has truly believed the gospel. Additionally, Simon showed the state of his heart by offering money in exchange for “the gift of God”. When he saw that Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of hands, he wanted to purchase that ability with money. The motive of his heart was covetousness. He wanted the ability as another tool in his toolbox of magic tricks, in order to astonish the people, to exalt himself, and perhaps to continue taking their money.
25 They therefore, having testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and announced the glad tidings to many villages of the Samaritans. v.25 Conclusion.
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26-40)
In Acts 8, 9, and 10 we get a representive saved from each of the races descenfing from Noah’s sons.
- A descendant of Ham… Acts 8
- A descendant of Shem… Acts 9
- A descendant of Japheth… Acts 10
26 But the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Rise up and go southward on the way which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza: the same is desert. 27 And he rose up and went. And lo, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a man in power under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to worship at Jerusalem, 28 was returning and sitting in his chariot: and he was reading the prophet Esaias. vv.26-28 The Preparation of Soul and Circumstances.
29 And the Spirit said to Philip, Approach and join this chariot. v.29 The Urging of the Spirit.
30 And Philip, running up, heard him reading the prophet Esaias, and said, Dost thou then know what thou art reading of? 31 And he said, How should I then be able unless some one guide me? And he begged Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 And the passage of the scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter, and as a lamb is dumb in presence of him that shears him, thus he opens not his mouth.33In his humiliation his judgment has been taken away, and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” [quote Isaiah 53:7-8] 34 And the eunuch answering Philip said, I pray thee, concerning whom does the prophet say this? of himself or of some other? vv.30-34
35 And Philip, opening his mouth and beginning from that scripture, announced the glad tidings of Jesus to him.
36 And as they went along the way, they came upon a certain water, and the eunuch says, Behold water; what hinders my being baptised? 37 And he commanded the chariot to stop. And they went down both to the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him.
38 But when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no longer, for he went on his way rejoicing. 39 And Philip was found at Azotus, and passing through he announced the glad tidings to all the cities till he came to Caesarea.