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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Acts 8



Verses 1-40

NOT CONTENT WITH slaying Stephen, the religious leaders in Jerusalem at this point launched the first great persecution against the church, and in this Saul was especially prominent. He ravaged the church like a wolf, invading the privacy of homes to secure his victims. In result, the disciples were scattered abroad through the provinces of Judaea and Samaria. Now, according to the Lord’s words to His disciples in Acts 1:8, these provinces were to come after Jerusalem, and before their mission widened out to the uttermost parts of the earth; so again it was a case of God making man’s wrath to serve His purpose. Yet, remarkably enough, the Apostles, to whom the commission was given, were the exceptions to the rule. They still remained in Jerusalem.

This being so, the narrative leaves them unnoticed and continues with those who went everywhere evangelizing, and particularly with Philip, another of the seven. He went to the city of Samaria and preached; the power of God was with him, and wonderful blessing followed, as is always the way when a servant of God moves in the direct line of God’s purpose. The sowing among the Samaritans had been done by the Lord Himself, as recorded in John 4:1-54. Then many had said not only, “Is not this the Christ?” but also, “This is indeed the Christ.” Now Philip, coming to them, “preached Christ,” as the One who had died, was risen again, and now in glory; as a consequence, a great time of reaping took place. There was great joy in that city.

Philip’s message being received, he began to preach among them, “the things concerning the kingdom of God,” and this led to multitudes being baptized. Amongst them was Simon the sorcerer, who also “believed” and was baptized. He found himself, as verse Acts 8:7 shows, in the presence of a Power far mightier than the unclean spirits, with whom he formerly had traffic.

The remarkable thing about the work in Samaria was that although so many had believed the Gospel, and been baptized, none had received the gift of the Holy Ghost. The order that Peter had propounded in Acts 2:38, was not observed in the case of the Samaritans. God so ordered, we believe, for a special reason. There had been religious rivalry between Jerusalem and Samaria, as John 4:1-54 witnesses, and therefore there must have been a strong tendency to carry over into the new conditions this ancient prejudice. This would have meant a Samaritan church independent of, if not in rivalry to, a Jerusalem church; and thus any practical expression of the “one body” would have been imperilled even before the truth of it had been revealed. As things were, they only received the Spirit when Peter and John had come down and laid hands on them, thus formally identifying the Apostles and the church in Jerusalem with these new believers in Samaria. The oneness of the church was preserved.

When the Holy Ghost was given, there was the drawing of the line between reality and unreality. Not all baptized prove to be real, but the Spirit is only given to those that are real. Hence at Samaria the baptized Simon was left without the Holy Spirit. Verses Acts 8:12; Acts 8:16 show us that the baptized person professes an entrance into the kingdom of God, and to take upon himself the name of the Lord Jesus, as his new Master, just as Israel of old were baptized to Moses—see 1 Corinthians 10:2. Simon submitted to all this, nevertheless, when the test came, reality was not found in him. He would never have said, “Give me also this power,” had he already possessed it. Nor did he understand it, as proved by his offer of money.

It must have been a great blow to Simon, who formerly had dominated the people of Samaria by his supernatural doings, to find a multitude now possessing a power, in the presence of which his own dark acts were as nothing. They possessed the gift of the Holy Spirit, and he had been left out. This led him to expose himself very thoroughly by offering money to the Apostles. He wished to purchase not only the Spirit for himself but also the power to convey Him to others by the imposition of his hands. He felt doubtless that if such a power as that could be his, any money laid out in its purchase would prove a very profitable investment.

This is the third recorded uprising of evil within the circle of those who had been baptized: first, Ananias; second, the murmuring as to the neglected widows; third, Simon the sorcerer. In each case, you notice, money was involved. In this third case we see the beginning of the Satanic endeavour to turn the pure faith of Christ into a money-making religion. In Samaria it was but a trickling stream, flowing through one man. It soon increased into a flood, sweeping immense riches to Rome. In the religious system which has its centre there, everything which is supposed to be a gift of God may be purchased with money.

Peter did not spare Simon the sorcerer. He told him plainly that this atrocious thought of his meant that his heart was not right with God, that he was entirely outside the true faith of Christ, and that both he and his money would perish. Peter’s words surely were prophetic of the doom that ultimately will overtake the great ecclesiastical system, which through the centuries has turned Christianity into “the religion of money.”

There was a ray of hope for Simon, which Peter held out for him, in verse Acts 8:22. He might repent, and therefore forgiveness for him was still a possibility. Notice how the very thought of his heart is characterized as wickedness, without referring to his words; an illustration this, of the statement, that, “the thought of foolishness is sin.” Being still in bondage to money, he was still in the bond of iniquity and bitterness. The love of money being “the root of all evil;” that is, of every kind of evil, a large part of the bitterness which fills the earth, springs from it. Peter told Simon to pray to God; but from his answer, recorded in verse Acts 8:24, it looks as if he lacked the repentance which would lead him to pray for himself, and wished to make sure of Peter’s intercession on his behalf without paying for it. Multitudes since that day have paid handsome sums hoping to obtain the intercession of Peter!

The Apostles had been slow to go forth from Jerusalem, as verse Acts 8:1 of our chapter told us. Philip had been the pioneer at Samaria, but now that Peter and John had come down they further ministered the Word to the converts, and also evangelized in many Samaritan villages on their return journey. However there was more pioneer work to be done, and as to this the angel of the Lord spoke not to the Apostles but to Philip.

Philip’s ready and simple obedience to the Lord’s instructions is very striking. He was told to leave the place of his successful labours and depart to the desert region south west of Jerusalem. The record is that told to, “Arise and go,” he “arose and went,” though his brethren may have thought him misguided and eccentric in doing so. If he did not know, when starting, the object of his journey, he soon discovered it, for his steps were guided so that he should intercept an important Ethiopian official who was a seeker after God. This man had taken a toilsome journey to Jerusalem according to the little light he had. He arrived there too late to get any benefit from the temple, for as the house of God it had been disowned. He was too late to find the Lord, for He had been rejected and had gone to heaven. He did however get an important book of Old Testament scripture, and he was on his return journey needing but one thing more.

That one thing more Philip was sent to supply, for God was not going to allow an Ethiopian to stretch out his hands to Him without getting an answer. He needed New Testament light, so, as the New Testament was not yet written, Philip was sent with the New Testament message. The Spirit of God was in control, hence everything moved to time with smooth perfection. The Ethiopian had just reached the middle of Isaiah 53:1-12 when Philip addressed him, and his keen mind was filled with the question which that chapter inevitably raises in the thoughts of every intelligent reader— Is the prophet speaking of himself, or of “some other man?” The Ethiopian raised his question: Philip found there his text, and preached unto him “JESUS.”

All that Philip told the Ethiopian is summed up for us by Luke in that sacred Name, and this is easily understood when we remember how Matthew 1:21 introduces us to it and to its significance. All that the man needed—the light and the salvation—was found in JESUS and while Philip was speaking he found it! Now Isaiah 53:1-12 presents Jesus as the One who died an atoning and substitutionary death, the One whose life was taken from the earth, and the Ethiopian, who evidently knew something of baptism and its significance, desired to be identified with Him in His death. In baptism we are “identified with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5), and he felt that nothing hindered him being identified in this way with the One on whom he now believed. Verse Acts 8:37 is to be omitted as lacking any real manuscript authority: nevertheless nothing did hinder, though he was not a Jew, and Philip baptized him.

In this way the first Gentile was reached and baptized and sent on his way back to his own people with the knowledge of the Saviour. Philip disappeared from his sight more rapidly than he had appeared but, since he had believed not on Philip but on Jesus, this did not unduly disturb him, and he went on his way rejoicing. His faith was not entwined around Philip but around the One whom he had preached. For him it was not Jerusalem but Jesus, and also it was not Philip but Jesus. To be enamoured of the preacher makes for weakness: to be enamoured of the Saviour makes for spiritual strength.

As for Philip, the supernatural way in which he was removed to Azotus did not disturb him. He travelled north to Caesarea preaching in the cities as he went. Seven times in this chapter is preaching mentioned, and in five of these occasions the word used is one we have carried over into our language as, “evangelize.” The occasions are in verses Acts 8:4, Acts 8:12, Acts 8:25 (second occurrence), 35, and 40. In three out of the five it is Philip who evangelizes, so we need not be surprised that presently he is designated, “Philip the evangelist” (Acts 21:8).

The conversion of the Ethiopian was a sign that the time for the blessing of the Gentiles was at hand. He was like the lonely swallow in transit, betokening the advent of summer. In chapter 9, is recounted the call and conversion of the man who is to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. As is so often the case the Lord’s choice fell upon the most unlikely person. The arch-persecutor of the saints is to become the pattern servant of the Lord. To this end he was dealt with in an unprecedented way. The Lord Himself dealt with him directly, excluding in all essential things any human instrumentality.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 8:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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