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Persecution – Stephen Buried
When Stephen was stoned, Saul already demonstrated his involvement by acting as a robe keeper (Acts 7:58). Now Luke notes that he was in hearty agreement with the stoning. Immediately after this remark of Saul’s consent to Stephen’s death, Luke mentions the first major persecution of the church. With Stephen’s death the floodgates are opened. The spirit of hatred that the religious leaders possess takes full possession of them and comes to full development.
With Stephen’s death also the extra year of grace that Israel was given by God to bring forth fruit for Him comes to an end (Luke 13:6-1 Samuel :). Now that Stephen has been rejected and with that the second offer of grace, the offer of salvation goes to the nations. For this, God will use the man who is still developing into the greatest persecutor of Christians.
First the gospel will be brought to the regions of Judea and Samaria. The church is scattered to these regions. These are the regions that the Lord Jesus mentioned in His commission to the disciples to proclaim the gospel there (Acts 1:8). So far, this has not been done. The Lord uses persecution to process this (Acts 8:4). Because of this they are as it were sent out into the harvest (Luke 10:2). The apostles remain in Jerusalem. Are they disobeying their commission? It may be that it is courageous to stay in Jerusalem right now and that God wants it that way.
After the Council has cooled its anger in the stoning of Stephen, this first martyr for the faith is brought to the grave by devout men. The loud lamentation over him fits in with this. They are sad, but not in the way that unbelievers are saddened who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-2 Chronicles :).
Luke then turns our attention to Saul again for a moment. He has seen with joy that Stephen was killed. That event has unleashed in him the cherished feelings of hatred, which he expresses by destroying the church (cf. Psalms 83:4). In doing so he works meticulously. He enters every house where he suspects Christians live or gather (Acts 2:46; Acts 5:42).
When he finds them, he arrests them and puts them in prison (Acts 22:4), where he wants to slander them under torture (Acts 26:9-1 Kings :). In doing so, he makes no distinction between men and women. People driven by hatred have no eye for differences in bearing capacity. Especially the weak are a grateful target for them. Maybe it is precisely in a general sense the weak who have been left behind in Jerusalem because they have no possibilities to flee.
All the hatred that erupts only accomplishes the will of God, because through the scattering that results from this, the gospel goes to many places. The persecution is like an unpleasant wind that carries the seed to other places with the happy consequence that it can germinate there. The hatred that drives them away does not frighten them, but on the contrary makes them courageous witnesses.
The proclamation of the Word is done by every scattered believer. The proclamation of the gospel clearly does not depend on a gift, but on a heart full of the Lord. What is meant by the enemy to eradicate, God uses to expand His work.
We find here a beautiful application of Samson’s riddle: “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14). The eater and the strong is the enemy who goes around like the roaring lion, looking for whom he might devour (1 Peter 5:8). But instead of devouring the believers, new life is created as a result of faith in the preached gospel. We see a wonderful example of what is happening in the area of Samaria, of which Luke gives us an account in the next section.
Preaching of Philip in Samaria
We have met Philip before as “one of the seven” deacons (Acts 6:5). He has faithfully performed his duty as a deacon and thereby obtained great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 3:13). As a result he has now become an evangelist (Acts 21:8). He preaches in Samaria.
The inhabitants of Samaria, the Samaritans, are a mixture of Jews and pagans who have lived in Israel since the transportation of the ten tribes by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:24-Mark :). At first they were idolaters, but they also began to worship Yahweh, adhering only to the five books of Moses. Because of that mixture they were despised by the true Jews. They had Mount Gerizim as a place of worship in contrast to the Jews who had Jerusalem as a place of worship (John 4:20). Through the preaching of Christ, new worship came for them as well, separate from Jerusalem and Mount Gerizim (John 4:21-Jeremiah :).
Philip does not preach a doctrine, but a Person, Christ. Further on in this chapter we read that he is preaching “Jesus” to the eunuch (Acts 8:35) because he connects to what the eunuch reads. He reads Isaiah 53 and in it the Lord Jesus is presented in His humiliation. By preaching “Christ” in Samaria, Philip connects to the resurrection and glorification of the Lord (Acts 2:36).
The preaching of Philip has great results. One of the reasons for this is that the Lord Himself had already worked in Samaria and that many people already knew Him there, who in turn had become witnesses (John 4:39). Sowing was already done, and harvesting is now possible (John 4:35-Zechariah :). The seed of the preaching falls into prepared earth. There is also faith in the coming of the Messiah (John 4:25). Philip can preach Him as already come.
Through his preaching there is unity among the crowds. Obedience to God’s Word works unity. Besides hearing the preaching, which is mentioned first, they also see the signs he performs. By the way, in Acts we see that besides the apostles, signs and wonders are only done by Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:6). The signs that Philip performs consist of freeing people from spiritual and physical captivity in a wonderful way.
They are not called wonders, but signs because all these healings refer to the glorified Lord Who thereby underlines and affirms the preached Word (Mark 16:20). The Christ Who is preached by Philip proves His redemptive and restorative power in these wonders. All these wonders mean that the power to deliver and restore lies with Him. They are a foretaste of the powers of the future age (Hebrews 6:5). The fact that the unclean spirits shout out loudly indicates that they are reluctantly leaving their victims, but that they have to because of the higher power of the Lord Jesus.
The deliverance from the power of sin through the work of Christ, together with a benevolent deliverance from the consequences of sin, brings great joy. The effect of the preaching of Philip to the eunuch also brings joy (Acts 8:39). Joy is inextricably connected with the gospel. The angel who announces the birth of the Lord Jesus speaks of “great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Wherever the Lord Jesus is received, sorrow over sins is followed by joy over the forgiveness thereof (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Joy belongs to the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17) and is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Simon the Magician
Before Philip came to Samaria, there was a man active who brought the people into ecstasy. He did this through magic. He was also not modest in his performance, but presented himself as “someone great”, someone of importance. (While I read this comment again, I get a postcard in the mailbox, which shows that people like Simon are still very much alive. The card says among other things: I am a great African medium and clairvoyant ... I offer you a solution for all your problems ... but also protection against bad influences ... I help you ... I bring success.’ This slave of Satan certainly does not suffer from an inferiority complex).
With his magic, Simon turned his attention to himself, and with success. He got everyone’s attention focused on himself. He appealed to everyone, he appealed to small and great, young and old. Everyone was impressed by him and attributed divine power to him. His sorceries were wonders of the lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Nor was it a hype, a star suddenly appearing and just as suddenly disappearing again. On the contrary, he continued to fascinate the people “for a long time”. At the same time, it shows that what the devil has to offer is always only for a certain time. It never satisfies constantly.
The gospel, on the other hand, has a lasting effect. This is what the people who listen attentively to Philip and pay attention to his preaching discover. When they did not know any better, they were captivated by Simon’s magic. But when they see the wonders of Philip, they clearly see the difference between fake and real and that real and fake have nothing to do with each other. “What does straw have [in common] with grain?” (Jeremiah 23:28). Simon preached himself, Philip preaches the kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of God is the atmosphere in which the reign of the Lord Jesus is acknowledged. Faith in the Name of the Lord Jesus brings someone into that sphere. That is why baptism follows directly as external evidence through which someone shows that he wants to belong to Him and to follow Him. Men and women are baptized. In the Old Testament only what was male was circumcised. In the New Testament, when it comes to saving and following Christ, there is no difference anymore between men and women before God (Galatians 3:27-Hosea :).
Receiving the Holy Spirit, as was the case in Acts 2 (Acts 2:38), is not yet mentioned here. They receive the Holy Spirit only after Peter and John have come from Jerusalem and have made themselves one with them by the laying on of hands. God does this consciously this way. For there was a religious rivalry between Jerusalem and Samaria and this does not give them a chance to do a disturbing work.
Simon also believes and is also baptized. He does not see a rival in Philip, but his superior. Simon constantly stays with Philip, as if he had his hopes set on him. With the eunuch this is different (Acts 8:39). Simon’s faith is of the kind mentioned in John 2 (John 2:23). Philip lets himself be deceived by Simon and baptizes him (or has him baptized).
What really drove Simon were the signs and great powers that Philip did. Likewise, there are many today who are attracted to the Christian faith because of the sensational things they observe on certain occasions, such as healings or so-called prophecies.
Peter and John in Samaria
The apostles in Jerusalem hear that Samaria received the word of God. This does not make them jealous, but they send Peter and John to contact Samaria. Once there they do not reproach the believers in Samaria for not having contacted them or the church in Jerusalem, but they acknowledge that God is at work here. That is why Peter will use the keys for the second time to open the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19), this time for the Samaritans. The kingdom of heaven is not the realm in heaven, but a realm ruled by a King Who rules on earth according to heavenly principles. In Acts 2, Peter opened the kingdom to the Jews. Later he will use the keys for the Gentiles as well (Acts 10:48).
By acknowledging this work of God in Samaria, the practical connection between Samaria and Jerusalem is also acknowledged. Local churches are not separate from each other, but belong together, however, without this being officially reported to other churches or being added to a list of ‘acknowledged churches’. Here there is no enmity or competition anymore (John 4:9). Peter and John descend from Jerusalem, which is also more than just a geographical indication. The spiritual application seems permissible that the apostles do not give their approval from an elevated position, but join them.
They show their dependence on God by going into prayer to ask Him to give the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans who have come to faith. The Holy Spirit had not yet come to them because it was a company that was in a way connected to Judaism. They first had to be fully accepted by the converted Jews in order to maintain unity. Receiving the Holy Spirit is thus preceded by baptism and the laying on of hands by the apostles.
With the converted Jews there is no laying on of hands. However, they too are baptized first and only then receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). With the conversion of the Gentiles we see that on the basis of faith first the Holy Spirit is received and then baptism takes place (Acts 10:44; Ephesians 1:13). This is the order since then.
In Samaria, by the laying on of hands of the apostles Peter and John, the connection between the believers in Jerusalem and Samaria is sealed and the believing Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit. This prevents the thought of two separate churches, one Jewish and one Samaritan. By the laying on of hands there is unity and acceptance. This was even more necessary because there was no connection between Jews and Samaritans, but mutual hatred. There is no mention of externally perceptible accompanying phenomena, as was the case with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-Numbers :).
Peter Sees Through and Judges Simon
The only outward display that is noticed is the laying on of the hands of the apostles. Simon sees this. He understands that this is something he cannot do, but what he would like to be able to do because of his spiritual ability. He is willing to pay for it and offers Peter and John money so that they would give him that power.
This is where the word ‘simony’ comes from, an expression that means that someone is looking for financial gain in spiritual things or for buying offices. Such people believe that godliness is a means of gain (1 Timothy 6:5). It covers all forms of trade in spiritual matters. It is the third time that evil appears in the church and all three times it has to do with money.
Simon had no inner part in the new life, as can be seen from the words Peter speaks to him. It seemed wonderful to him to lay hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit in this way. In this way he would regain his power over people. What Philip did not recognize, is sharply denounced by Peter. Simon is a corrupt man.
To think that spiritual gifts or even the Holy Spirit can be obtained from God through money makes Christ’s work worthless. It is considered great dishonor inflicted on God and Christ and is no different from the work of Satan. The sharp judgment of Peter is the only correct response. Simon is an outward follower, while he invents other things in his heart. He is still busy with himself.
Peter concludes from Simon’s question that his heart is not right before God. After pronouncing the judgment, Peter offers Simon the way to salvation. For that he needs to repent of his wickedness. He must radically condemn that evil lust for power and prestige before God and turn his back on it. At the same time he must pray to the Lord for the forgiveness of his heart’s indulgence. Here we see that not only deeds are judged, but also the intention of the heart. This concerns the devising and pursuit of evil in his heart, even before it has actually happened. There is still hope for Simon if he repents.
Peter, who through the Holy Spirit can discern which spirit is in Simon (1 Corinthians 12:10), sees in what he is imprisoned. He is in “the gall of bitterness” because of his loss of influence on the Samaritans who believed the gospel. He is also “in the bondage of iniquity” because he is not seeking the right of God, but his own right.
Simon is more appalled by what Peter has said about the consequences of his act, than by his act itself. It does not seem like real repentance, all the more so because he is looking for human mediation. Instead of praying himself, he asks if Peter wants to pray to the Lord for him to save him from the terrible things Peter has announced about him.
It resembles the repentance of Pharaoh who asked Moses to pray for him so that the plagues would depart, but who then hardened his heart again (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:15). Also with him there was no real repentance, but only a desire to be redeemed from the plagues. We do not read Peter’s answer to Simon’s request.
It seems that Peter and John did not stay long with Philip. They did, however, solemnly testify and speak the word of the Lord before returning to Jerusalem. In the whole area of Samaria they find an open ear for the word of the Lord. When the Lord Jesus wanted to visit a village of the Samaritans, they refused to receive Him (Luke 9:52-2 Thessalonians :). Peter and John were there at that time and John is one of the disciples who, even because of that refusal, wanted to let fire come from heaven to consume them (Luke 9:54). Fortunately, the Lord forbade that and John has returned to his wish of that time. Now, on the way back to Jerusalem, together with Peter, he is allowed to preach the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
A New Order for Philip
In the section that follows now, Acts 8:26 till Acts 10:48, Luke describes the conversion histories of three people:
1. An Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8);
2. Saul (Acts 9);
3. Cornelius (Acts 10).
They are the descendants of the three sons of Noah – Shem and Ham and Japheth (Genesis 9:18) – through whom the whole world was populated (Genesis 9:19; Genesis 10:1-Jonah :):
1. The eunuch, the Ethiopian, is a descendant of Ham (Ethiopia or Cush (=black), Genesis 10:6).
2. Saul, the Jew, is a descendant of Shem.
3. Cornelius, the Roman, is a descendant of Japheth.
The Hamites populate Africa, the Shemites Asia and the Japhethites Europe. These three continents meet at Jerusalem. Jerusalem is therefore strategically the best place to send out from there the gospel into the world. The eunuch, Saul and Cornelius represent the entire human race.
All three are morally sincere people, but they need conversion. They are also socially the most difficult people for the gospel to reach:
1. The eunuch is a politician.
2. Saul is a theologian.
3. Cornelius is a soldier.
Yet in two of them there is already a longing for the gospel. Both the eunuch and Cornelius are seekers. There is already a work of God going on in them. With Saul it is completely different. This man is not looking for peace, but for victims to whom he begrudges this peace.
The Lord has a special messenger for each one of them:
1. For the eunuch this is Philip.
2. For Saul it is Ananias.
3. For Cornelius it is Peter.
Also the way the Lord addresses Himself to them is different:
1. The eunuch is reached with the Word.
2. To Saul the Lord Himself appears.
3. Cornelis sees an angel in a vision.
Different are also the circumstances in which they find themselves when they come to repentance:
1. The eunuch is on his way home.
2. Saul comes from home.
3. Cornelius is at home.
Philip has to leave a busy field of work to serve a single person. He follows the Lord who had to go through Samaria to bring the gospel to a single woman at the well of Jacob (John 4:4; John 4:7-Ruth :). Philip is used to make the gospel find its way to the nations. God uses an angel to show Philip the way, but Philip has to proclaim the gospel. He is given precise directions where to go, but he is not told what to do there.
There are two roads that descend from Jerusalem to Gaza and he has to take the desert road. An evangelist would never have chosen the desert road, but Philip does not ask questions, he goes. To get Ananias to go to Saul (Acts 9) and Peter to go to Cornelius (Acts 10), the Lord must use more urgency. With Ananias fear is the objection and with Peter his Jewish prejudices prevent direct obedience. The Lord has removed both obstacles and then they have both gone.
In Philip we have an example of immediate, unconditional obedience in simplicity of heart. He does not think of the difference between Samaria where he was surrounded with esteem and love and the road to Gaza which is desolate. He has confidence in his Master Who wants to use him for a eunuch who has been in Jerusalem to worship and is now on his way back to his country.
The word for “eunuch” is literally castrated. Besides the fact that he is a stranger, the fact that he is disembodied is an additional reason that he could never join the people of God (Deuteronomy 23:1). Nevertheless, he undertook a journey of about two thousand kilometers to Jerusalem. There is also salvation for the strangers and even for the emasculated (Isaiah 56:3). His conversion and faith in the Lord Jesus are therefore a foretaste of what we read in Psalm 68 (Psalms 68:31). Since then, many Ethiopians have extended their hands to God.
To bring the eunuch on the way of salvation God uses His Word and His servant Philip. What the eunuch sought in Jerusalem in duties and ceremonies of the law, he did not find there. He has been in Jerusalem to worship the true God, but he has only found a cold formalism there. In spite of his searching heart, the Lord did not let any of the apostles cross his path.
The eunuch has not found peace in Jerusalem, but he has taken something else from Jerusalem and that is a part of God’s Word. That is what he is reading in his chariot. With it he has a treasure with him that is larger than all the treasures he has to protect for the queen.
Then the meeting between Philip and the eunuch is prepared by the Spirit. The Spirit tells Philip that he must go up to “this” chariot, the chariot of the eunuch, and join it. Since it is the preaching of the gospel, it is not an angel who comes to Philip (Acts 8:29), but the Spirit who leads Philip. The Spirit tells us exactly where to go and what to do.
Thus, later, Ananias in connection with Saul and Peter in connection with Cornelius also receive precise directions to go to them and bring them God’s message (Acts 9:11; Acts 10:19-Proverbs :). In this way the Lord also wants to make clear to us where He wants us to go and what we should do and say.
Philip Preaches Jesus to Him
After the directions as to where Philip should go, we do not hear that the Spirit gives directions as to when Philip should make himself known to the eunuch, or as to what he should say to the eunuch. This is not difficult for an evangelist like Philip. He knows himself guided by the Spirit and quickly notices a reason for a conversation. His whole performance contains a lot of teaching for everyone who wants to bring the gospel to people.
After the directions of the Spirit we see that Philip is running to it quickly. Later, Ananias is reluctant to go to Saul (Acts 9:10-Esther :) and Peter even at first pertinently refuses to go to a heathen (Acts 10:14). But Philip longs to bring the gospel to this man. The love of Christ urges him (2 Corinthians 5:14). He does, however, proceed with deliberation. He notices what the person is doing because he hears him read the prophet Isaiah. The eunuch read aloud, which was common in those days.
Philip knows his Bible, because he recognizes what the eunuch is reading are words from the prophet Isaiah. He opens the conversation with the friendly question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Through his question he shows his interest in the questions that will have arisen in the eunuch. Do we know the questions people have? Can we empathize with them? The eunuch’s answer shows a longing, humble heart for someone who can and does help him.
He invites Philip to sit with him. Here we also have an important clue for passing on the Word. There is no question of racial difference, but of taking a place on the level of the other. Just as Philip sits with the eunuch, so we must sit with people. The preaching of the gospel cannot be done from the heights. If we are aware that we are by nature like those to whom we preach the gospel, we will sit beside them.
The place of Scripture that the eunuch reads is quoted by Luke. It is quite striking that just when the eunuch is at this Scripture, the Spirit tells Philip that he should join the chariot. At the right time, the eunuch meets Philip. This timing is from the Lord, because this is the Scripture that speaks especially about the Lord Jesus.
The Scripture is this one: “HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. “IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH” (Isaiah 53:7-Ruth :, quoted from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament). These verses describe the suffering, death and burial of the Lord Jesus and the consequences thereof.
He was like a lamb being led to the slaughter, but He did not open His mouth, He bowed under the mistreatment, He suffered willingly. The prophet Jeremiah also compares himself to a lamb, but he does not keep his mouth shut and calls for vengeance (Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 11:20Jeremiah 12:1-Numbers :). For the Lord Jesus the way to slaughter was much worse. He knew perfectly where He was going, but did not open His mouth. It underlines the voluntary surrender of Christ. Shearing means taking away everything that is worthy of a man, but He did not protest against the unworthy treatment that was done to Him.
Everything expresses His voluntary surrender in a way that shows how unique He is. No one can be compared with Him. He was treated in a humiliating way and His judgment was taken away, indicating that He did not even receive a just condemnation, because His judgment was predetermined: He had to die.
And who thinks of “His generation”, to tell something about it? He is considered so worthless that one cannot imagine anything at all about Him. However, for those who have an eye for it or receive it through teaching, like the eunuch, discover who His generation is. “His generation’ can be applied to the consequences of His death, which has produced many spiritual offspring. ‘His generation’ can also be applied to His origin, in which we may think of His existence as the eternal Son and His humble origin as a Man from the carpenter’s family of Joseph. No one of His contemporaries is concerned with that. For them He has been taken from the earth, His life is over and He no longer exists.
The explanation of these verses is not simple, yet the eunuch has thought about what he has read. He understands that it is about Someone, a Person. His question is a wonderful reason for Philip to preach “Jesus” to him. In Samaria he preached “Christ” (Acts 8:5). The Samaritans had to know that the “Christ” had come. The eunuch must know that “Jesus” is the Messiah.
Philip Baptizes the Eunuch
We do not know what else they discussed on the way, but we do see the result. The eunuch accepted the Lord Jesus in faith as the Messiah and was therefore born of God (1 John 5:1). When they come to a water, he asks to be baptized. Philip will have spoken about this too, but the desire comes from the eunuch himself.
Baptism is done on the basis of the confession of faith. There is no probation period. Philip does not have to ask permission from the apostles or the church in Jerusalem. He does it directly. They both descend into the water, which indicates that baptism takes place by immersion.
Baptism is a personal matter, with which the church has nothing to do. The Lord – and not the church – has sent His disciples to baptize. They are just as responsible to Him for this as they are for the preaching of the Word, which is also not done by the church (the church does not teach).
When the baptism has taken place and they have come out of the water again, Philip’s task as far as the eunuch is concerned is over. Philip is snatched away by the Spirit of the Lord and placed somewhere else. Time and space mean nothing to God. This supernatural way of disappearing belongs to this beginning time which is full of wonders and signs.
Without being surprised by the sudden disappearance of his companion, the eunuch travels on his way rejoicing over the redemption he had sought in Jerusalem in vain. What he sought, he found in the Word of God, in Jesus Christ. When someone has truly found Christ, the servant disappears from sight and Christ is everything.
The eunuch and Philip did not see each other again on earth, we may assume. They did not have to. The eunuch could stand on his own two feet as an independent Christian. Servants are not allowed to bind anyone to themselves. The eunuch went back to his country and took up his daily work again. He has remained in the position he was in when he was called by the gospel (1 Corinthians 7:24).
Further Service of Philip
Philip is not brought back by the Spirit to Samaria to become, for example, “shepherd of the flock”. He goes where the Spirit leads him and is therefore found in Azotus, a city of the Philistines. There he proclaims the gospel, as well as to the other cities in the whole strip of Gaza, ‘the seacoast’ (Zephaniah 2:4-Deuteronomy :). From there he passed through the country, until he finally arrived in Caesarea, where he apparently went to live (Acts 21:8).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany