8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
8:2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
8:3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
8:4 [cf. Acts 11:19] Those [lay people (apostles stayed in Jerusalem as per 8:1)] who had been scattered [Gr. “diaspeiro” means “to scatter seed” (cf. Matt. 13:37-38)] preached [to announce to others the good news of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ] the word wherever [the persecution that followed Stephen’s death scattered the believers beyond Jerusalem; Judea and Samaria as per Acts 8:1] they went.
Stephen’s death marked the start of a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. This persecution was the key event which ignited the expansion of the church. The believers who fled Jerusalem carried the good news with them throughout Judea and Samaria. These ordinary believers were the first to take the gospel beyond Jerusalem—a reminder that each of us, not just missionaries, are responsible for taking the good news to unreached peoples.
8:5 Philip [not the apostle of Jn. 1:43-44; one of the seven Greek-speaking Jews chosen to distribute food to widows (Acts 6:5); later known as Philip the evangelist per Acts 21:8; had four daughters per Acts 21:9] went down to a [unnamed] city [perhaps to the ancient capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel or to Sychar, the city located near Jacob’s well where Jesus talked with the woman (Jn. 4:4-7)] in Samaria [a place most Jewish believers never thought they would enter (cf. Jn. 4:9)] and proclaimed the Christ [the focus of Philip’s preaching] there.
Philip, later known as Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), serves as an example of what the scattered Christians did. He ventured to an unnamed city in Samaria, a place where most Jewish believers never thought they would go, and unwittingly became the first missionary in Acts. The Jews considered the Samaritans half-breeds and religious apostates and did not associate with them (see John 4:9).
Believers today must venture to places they never thought they would go in order to connect with those in need of the gospel. Though he was in new circumstances as a result of the persecution after Stephen’s death, Philip continued to spread the good news about Jesus. He made Jesus the Messiah the focal point of his preaching. We too are to spread the gospel even when we find ourselves in new circumstances that we did not choose.
8:6 When the crowds heard Philip [the first missionary in Acts] and saw the miraculous signs [the apostles (2:43; 5:12) and Stephen (6:8) had also performed signs and wonders; signs point beyond themselves to something else] he did, they all paid close attention to what he said [the signs and wonders made people receptive to the Word].
Like the apostles (2:43) and Stephen (6:8), Philip performed signs and wonders. These signs pointed beyond themselves to the reality and power of Jesus whom Philip preached. They also served to authenticate Philip and his message. The crowds were attentive and receptive to what Philip had to say because of what they had seen him do. However, ultimately it was not the signs but Philip’s message that led people to faith in Christ.
8:7 [an example of the signs Philip was performing…] With shrieks [perhaps angry that they had been cast out of their human hosts], evil spirits [although under the control of Satan they must submit to the authority of Christ] came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.
8:8 So [as a result of the exorcisms and physical healings] there was great joy [a recurring theme of Acts; where Christ is there is real joy] in that city.
Exorcism and physical healing are two examples of the signs performed by Philip. Many were delivered from the unclean spirits that had possessed and tormented their lives. Although demons are under the control of Satan, they must submit to the authority of Christ. These exorcised spirits shrieked with a loud voice as they were cast out of their human hosts. God also used Philip to bring physical healing to many who were paralyzed and lame. As a result, the people of the community experienced great joy they had never known before.
8:9 Now for some time a man named Simon [a charlatan who used his magic to line his pockets] had practiced sorcery [utilized Satanic/demonic power to do so (cf. Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9)] in the city and amazed [thus they believed the things Simon said] all the people of Samaria. He boasted [Simon had a big ego] that he was someone great [Philip proclaimed Christ and Simon promoted himself; cf. Theudas in Acts 5:36],
Philip’s ministry caught the attention of a man named Simon, a sorcerer who utilized Satanic and demonic powers to work his magic. He was a well-known and popular figure who had swept the Samaritans off their feet with his magic. As with any charlatan, Simon had a big ego and was quite impressed with himself. He claimed to be somebody great. In contrast to Philip who proclaimed Christ, Simon shamelessly promoted himself.
8:10 and all the people, both high and low [Simon had swept people from all segments of society off their feet], gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power [Simon’s power did not come from God (cf. Acts 8:18-19)] known as the Great Power [Simon certainly encouraged people to think about him in this way as per v. 9; extrabiblical second-century sources refer to a Simon who was revered as a high god among the Samaritans].”
Like popular magicians of our day who command large television audiences, Simon had developed a following of people from all segments of society. People from the least to the greatest hung on Simon’s every word and lapped up his manipulative and egotistical rhetoric. He had cleverly deceived others in order to magnify himself. The people were so impressed by this sorcerer that they called him the Great Power of God. Simon had certainly encouraged people to think about him in this way and undoubtedly wore the title proudly.
8:11 They followed him because he had amazed [bewitched; astounded] them for a long time with his magic [probably included healings, exorcisms, astrology, magic tricks].
People were attentive to Simon because of the amazing things they had seen him do. Simon likely had performed healings, practiced astrology, and dazzled people with a variety of magic tricks. However, these sorceries did not point people to anyone or anything beyond Simon. His agenda was to promote himself and not to point people to God. Simon had managed to keep people in darkness for a long time.
Today, many people groups are kept in darkness by hostile cultures, governments, and religions and have been waiting a long time for someone to tell them the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
8:12 But when they [the Samaritans; those who followed Simon the magician] believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God [the rule of God in the hearts of people; the coming reign of Christ on earth] and the name of Jesus Christ [cf. Acts 4:12], they were baptized [baptism is by immersion and is a visible testimony to God’s inner work of salvation; baptism follows salvation as an act of obedience to Jesus Christ’s command], both men and women.
Philip’s arrival in Samaria changed things for the people who had blindly followed Simon. He did not allow Simon’s popularity to intimidate or deter him from spreading the gospel. In the absence of any other message, what Simon said made sense to the people. Nobody questioned Simon or his message. However, everything changed when Philip arrived. Those who had previously followed Simon embraced Philip’s message about the kingdom and about Jesus Christ. Many men and women responded by placing their faith in Christ for salvation and were baptized.
Today, many unreached people groups are still waiting for someone to come to their village to proclaim the good news about God’s kingdom. Things will not change for these people until someone comes to explain the good news to them.
8:13 Simon himself believed [no object is given for Simon’s believing; no indication that he repented of his sins] and was baptized [many people who are not genuinely converted through religious motions]. And he followed [the man with a large following now followed Philip] Philip everywhere [Simon likely followed Philip because he wanted to “learn new tricks”], astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw [Simon’s primary interest appears to be professional rather than spiritual].
Simon was caught up in the excitement generated by Philip’s ministry. As a result he believed and later was baptized. However, verses 18-24 indicate that Simon’s belief was not genuine saving faith. Although Simon followed Philip everywhere, his primary interest seems to have been professional rather than spiritual. He was astounded by the signs and great miracles that Philip performed and likely wanted to learn some new tricks.
Like Simon, many people today who have never experienced a genuine conversion go through all sorts of religious exercises for the wrong reasons. For some, joining the church is often more cultural than it is a testimony of conversion or real faith.
8:14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.
8:15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
8:16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
8:17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money
8:19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
8:20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
8:21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.
8:22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.
8:23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
8:24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
8:25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Note: “Acts 8:26-40 illustrates how God’s search for sinners and seekers’ searching for God converge … God led Philip to be at the right place at the right time to guide the Ethiopian to faith in Jesus Christ.” ( Hobbs)
8:26 Now an angel of the Lord said [either by vision or by inward suggestion] to Philip, “Go [out of your way] south to the road — the desert road [camel track] — that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza [an important trade route in earlier times].”
• one of the seven chosen to wait on tables (Acts 6:1-6).
• forced to leave Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1-4).
• preached good news in Samaria (Acts 8:5-13).
• had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9).
8:27 So he started out [Philip was sensitive to God’s call and available for God’s use], and on his way he met an Ethiopian [in biblical times, Ethiopia refered to the area south of Egypt] eunuch [eunuchs often employed to fill high government posts; according to the early church historian Eusebius, the name of the Ethiopian was “Indich”], an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace [a dynastic title (like Pharaoh) rather than a proper name], queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship [either a proselyte to Judaism or (more likely) a Gentile who respected the faith of the Jews (because eunuchs were excluded from full participation in Israel’s worship as per Deut. 23:1)],
8:28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading [probably a Greek translation] the book [scroll] of Isaiah the prophet [God was preparing the Ethiopian eunuch for Philip’s visit].
8:29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go [take the initiative] to that [specific] chariot and stay near [walk beside] it.”
An angel of the Lord commanded Philip to leave Samaria and go south to a desert road which runs from Jerusalem to the Phoenician city of Gaza. On that road, Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch who was on his way home from Jerusalem. This man had traveled a long distance from his home to worship God in Jerusalem. The Ethiopian was sitting in his chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah when the Holy Spirit told Philip to take the initiative to go and walk beside the chariot.
We should be sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings to take the initiative in sharing our faith. When we do we will find open doors for sharing the gospel that we otherwise would have missed.
8:30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man [Philip listened first] reading [aloud] Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip [tactfully and respectfully] asked.
When Philip approached the chariot he heard the Ethiopian reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip was familiar with the text and recognized it as coming from Isaiah. Listening enabled Philip to discover where the Ethiopian was in his understanding.
We often miss opportunities to share the gospel with others when we fail to listen first. Listening can help us determine what questions to ask that may further open an individual’s heart to a gospel witness. Philip took advantage of the opportunity to tactfully ask the man if he understood what he was reading.
8:31 “How can I [understand],” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him [see Rom. 10:14].
Frustrated at being unable to understand the passage he was reading, the Ethiopian told Philip that he needed for someone to guide him. He then invited Philip to sit with him in the chariot. There is, perhaps, no greater invitation than this that a follower of Jesus can receive from someone seeking after the truth.
More than once on my travels I have received such an invitation to sit and explain the Scriptures to someone holding their first copy of the Bible. On such occasions I never cease to wonder at how God’s Word can bring people of different backgrounds and nationalities together, and closer to God’s great gift of salvation.
8:32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture [Isaiah 53:7-8]: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth [see Matt. 27:14].
8:33 In his humiliation [see Matt. 27:28-29] he was deprived of justice [see Matt. 26:60]. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth [see Matt. 27:50].“
8:34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
8:35 Then Philip began with that very passage [became the starting point of Philip’s gospel presentation: “Like Philip, we have to meet (people) on whatever road they’re on and from there lead them to Calvary.” (Swindoll)] of Scripture [in which Isaiah foretold the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth] and told [with precision] him the good news about Jesus.
The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53—a passage in which Isaiah foretold the suffering and death of the Messiah. Jesus had quoted portions of Isaiah 53 to speak of His own suffering and death (see Matt. 8:17; Luke 22:37; John 12:38). Philip had likely learned the significance of this Old Testament passage from the teaching of the apostles. So, when the Ethiopian asked Philip to explain whether Isaiah was writing of himself or someone else, Philip was ready to answer him (see 1 Pet. 3:15). He could not have had a better starting point for sharing the good news about Jesus. Like Philip, we have to meet people where they are and then use the Scriptures to point them to Jesus.
8:36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water [perhaps a spring or stream or a pool of water] and the eunuch [eager to obey what he had been taught] said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized [Philip likely mentioned that baptism was the next step of obedience after trusting Christ]?”
Philip may have concluded his explanation of the gospel in the same way that he had heard Peter do earlier (Acts 2:38)—by explaining that baptism was the next step of obedience after trusting Christ. As Philip and the eunuch traveled down the road, they came to some water, perhaps a spring or a stream. Eager to obey what he had been taught, the eunuch took the initiative and asked to be baptized.
New believers all over the world today are taking the same step as the Ethiopian—being baptized as a testimony of their faith in Christ. For many of these baptism is a bold step that often invites persecution. God however, is using such boldness to encourage others to consider the life-changing claims of Christ.
8:37 [this verse not included in the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Acts] Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may [emphasizes that baptism was and is for believers].” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Although this verse is not included in the earliest manuscripts of the book of Acts, it serves to reinforce an important truth—one must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God prior to baptism. Baptism was and is for believers. The early church did not baptize converts unless they first testified that they believed that Jesus is the Son of God. In the case of the Ethiopian, those traveling with him would have heard this clear and simple testimony of his newfound faith in Jesus Christ.
8:38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip [convinced that the eunuch had genuinely committed his life to Christ (verse 37 added later to clarify that the Ethiopian had indeed believed in Christ before his baptism)] baptized [by immersion] him.
Eager to obey the command of Christ to be baptized (Matt. 28:19), the Ethiopian and Philip went down into the water and then “came up out of the water” (Acts 8:39). This language reinforces the fact that baptism, from the Greek word “baptizo” meaning to dip or submerge, was always by total immersion.
Baptism was and is a powerful testimony to others about one’s identification with Christ. However, the focus on this verse is not baptism, but the conversion of an Ethiopian official to Christ. Philip took advantage of a special opportunity to spread the gospel by doing as God directed in meeting and conversing with an Ethiopian eunuch and leading him to faith in Christ. We too are to spread the gospel in special God-given situations.
8:39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took [snatched up and transported] Philip away [to another place], and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way [and likely became the first preacher of the gospel in Ethiopia, a fulfillment of Psalm 68:31] rejoicing.
8:40 Philip, however, appeared [was found: idiomatic for “he came”] at Azotus [a town on the coast; known as Ashdod, a Philistine city, in the OT] and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.