For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

8:1.  “And Saul was consenting unto his death.  And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Only three Sauls are mentioned in Scripture, and significantly all are evil.  The first is an Edomite king mentioned in Ge 36:37, and it is to be remembered that the Edomites, although descended from Esau (known also as Edom), and therefore related to Israel, were her bitter foes.

The second is Saul, the first king of Israel, inveterate enemy of David, and type of the beast emperor who will rule in the coming Tribulation, and who will be cast into the lake of fire by the Lord returning in power and glory to establish His millennial kingdom.

And the third is he who here consented unto (took pleasure in, heartily approved of) Stephen’s death, and was the murderous enemy of the Christians until the time of his conversion as recorded in chapter 9, after which his name was changed and he became Paul the devoted follower of Christ, and great apostle to the Gentiles.

What a trophy of grace was this third Saul!

Regarding the “great persecution against the church,” other translations emphasis that it was on that very day, the day of Stephen’s martyrdom, that the persecution began.  It required apparently, only this one public expression of hatred against Christ and those dear to Him, to tear away the mask, and unleash the full fury of Jewish malice, nerving the coward hands for their murderous work.  The favor the Christians enjoyed (see 2:47) was of brief duration.  There is nothing like a clear presentation of the gospel to expose the enmity of the unregenerate heart, Paul describing unbelievers as “haters of God” (Ro 1:30).

The persecution resulted in the scattering from Jerusalem of all the believers except the apostles, but so far from stopping the gospel, it simply resulted in its wider proclamation, throughout Judaea and Samaria, meaning land of praise and guardianship respectively.  As a result many in Judaea would have occasion to praise the God Who makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and to accomplish His purposes, though unwittingly.  Many a Samaritan, hearing the good tidings, would be made to realize that in spite of his sins he had never ceased to be under the guardianship of the God Who would have all men to be saved.

The fact that the apostles remained in Jerusalem, indicates that God had put forth His hand to preserve them even in the stronghold of the enemy.  All of this brings us the peaceful assurance that nothing befalls His own except what He commands or permits, enabling us to rest in the promise that whether “scattered” or kept “in Jerusalem,” “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro. 8:28).

8:2.  “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” 

Cruel men who were the unwitting servants of Satan, might take up stones to usher Stephen out of the world, but God-fearing men took up that body, now no longer needed, and gave it honorable burial until that glorious resurrection day when it will rise again glorious, powerful, spiritual, fashioned like unto the Lord’s body of glory.  How different will be the resurrection of those amongst his murderers who died unrepentant and unbelieving!

That day the devout lamented with a great lamentation, but Scripture reminds us that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps 30:5).  It was in anticipation of that coming morning that Stephen gladly laid down his life, and it is to be in anticipation of that same coming morning that you and I are to live our lives, and if necessary lay them down for Christ’s sake.  The man whose eye is filled with the glory of that morning, appraises at their true value the baubles men call riches, and he gladly leaves them for those whose eyes the god of this world has blinded.

8:3.  “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”

The persecutor’s malevolent activity is briefly stated here, but from the lips of Saul, converted and become Paul the apostle, we learn further details of that murderous work, see e.g., 22:4, 19-20; 26:10-11.

Gaebelein draws attention to the parallel between the treatment accorded Stephen and that later meted out to Paul, “The Jews and Saul with them, as we believe, disputed and resisted Stephen in the synagogue.  The Jews disputed with Paul, resisted him, and rejected his testimony.  Stephen was accused of blasphemy: so was Paul (Ac 19:37).  Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses, the holy place and the customs: so was Paul (Ac 21:28; 24:6; 25:8; 28:17).  They rushed upon Stephen with one accord and seized him.  The same happened to Paul (Ac 19:29).  Stephen was dragged out of the city.  So was Paul (Ac 14:19).  Stephen was tried before the Sanhedrin; so did Paul appear before the Sanhedrin.  Stephen was stoned, and so was Paul at Lystra.  Stephen suffered martyrdom; so did Paul in Rome.”

How many of the details he was shown aren’t disclosed, but Paul was told by Ananias that suffering would accompany his service to Christ, “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Ac 9:16).  That knowledge didn’t deter him from becoming the devoted bond-slave of the One he had formerly persecuted.

8:4.  “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”

So far from hindering the Lord’s work, the persecution simply resulted in its wider proclamation; and while those persecuted refugees might have been excused for ceasing to preach the gospel, and lamenting instead their own misfortune, they appear to have been among those referred to in Heb 10:32-36 “But call to remembrance the former days, in which after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly, whilst ye were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.  For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.  Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.  For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.”

Few possess the spiritual vision to see that persecution is frequently God’s refining fire by which He not only purges away the dross from the believer’s life, but by which He separates also genuine faith from false profession.  The brightest days of her history have been those in which the Church underwent the fiercest persecution.  Lack of persecution simply declares our failure to preach the gospel.

8:5.  “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.”

This is not Philip the apostle, but one of the seven mentioned in chapter 6 as having been appointed to superintend the daily ministration to the widows.  Having proved himself faithful in small things, he had been elevated to a higher work: the preaching of the gospel.  How many today deny themselves that promotion by refusing to serve in obscurity, by refusing to do the lowly things they consider beneath their dignity!

There is no record of his having been sent out by the apostles or the elders, or by a committee.  It is God’s prerogative, not only to equip His servants with the necessary gift, but to send them when and where He Himself chooses.  It is to be noted further that there is no record of his having had any companion.  He appears to have gone out alone, and yet not alone.  God was with, and that was better than a thousand companions.  Nor is there any record of his having been guaranteed any financial support.  He went out in faith, trusting God to meet all his needs.  We should note also what he did.  He simply “preached Christ.”   Only when the Church reverts to that same simple order will she experience blessing.

8:6.  “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.”

Amid all the busy schemes for the multiplication of the Church today, the truth of Ro 1:16 has been largely ignored, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth....”  That same Scriptural gospel, preached in fellowship with God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, will work greater transformation in the hearts of men than all the busy schemes that have ever been invented.  Philip “preached Christ unto them.”  That’s why the people gave heed to what he said.

Relative to “the miracles which he did,” such miraculous manifestation was for the early apostolic age only.  It was connected with the laying of the foundation of the Church, but with that foundation laid, miracles ceased.  There was no further need of them, or of the ministry of the prophet.

8:7.  “For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.”

The means by which this exorcism was accomplished aren’t recorded, and speculation is futile.  As to whether men today may be demon-possessed, there is no question that some are, but it is a phenomenon altogether different from mental disorder.  Whether anyone today has the ability to exorcize demons is very questionable, in spite of the claims of some to the contrary.

As to whether a demon-possessed person can be saved, it is necessary to remember that such a person is not rendered incapable of logical reasoning and free-willed choice.  There doesn’t appear therefore, to be any reason why that person may not respond to the gospel, trust Christ as his Savior, and know deliverance from every form of Satan’s power, for it is to be remembered also that there can be no conversion for anyone apart from the activity of the Holy Spirit, and His power is greater than that of Satan and all his demon hordes combined.

As to whether a believer can become demon-possessed, it would seem unlikely in view of the fact that every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, it is to be remembered that believers can quench and grieve the Holy Spirit, and that being so, there is great need for them to avoid having anything to do with the occult, since we can’t be absolutely certain that such activity will not render us at least subject to some degree of demon influence.

Relative to the healing of the palsied and the lame, such miraculous instantaneous healing was also for the early apostolic age only, and is not to be looked for today.  That is not to say that God can’t heal miraculously today.  He can, and undoubtedly does, but not through a human medium endowed with the gift of healing as in the early apostolic age.  That gift was one of those given only in those early days when the millennial kingdom was still being offered to Israel.  There is no convincing proof of its existence after the early apostolic age, indicating that it was, with prophecy and tongues, one of several temporary gifts mentioned in 1 Cor 13.

8:8.  “And there was great joy in that city.”

As well there might be!  The gospel brings joy to all who receive it.

8:9.  “But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:”

8:10.  “To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.”

8:11.  “And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.”

The sorcery by which this man had enthralled many of the Samaritans, is usually translated magic or witchcraft, and was obviously of such a nature as to have impressed people from all walks of life “from the least to the greatest.”  The power of the gospel however, was greater.

8:12.  “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

Faith in the gospel broke the shackles of heathen superstition, and brought them out into the glorious liberty available to all who will trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  And the outward evidence of their deliverance was displayed in the obedience that led them to submit to baptism, the ordinance through which believers publicly confess their identification with Christ in His death and resurrection.  It is the first step of obedience to be taken by every believer.

8:13.  “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”

Expositors are divided into two schools relative to the reality of Simon’s conversion, one contending for a genuine conversion, based on the words “Simon himself believed”; the other declaring that the language of Peter’s rebuke could not apply to a true believer.  It’s unlikely that a dispute which has remained unresolved for almost two thousand years will be settled this side of eternity, and that being so, it seems better to devote our time to gleaning what will edify, rather than gratify mere curiosity.  If his conversion was genuine, then his conduct was simply the result of spiritual immaturity, and reminds us of the sin into which any of us might fall.  If it wasn’t, then it discloses that he himself was deluded, and for a time at least, succeeded in deluding others - the lesson then being of the need to be absolutely certain as to the reality of our own profession.

8:14.  “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.”

We aren’t told why Peter and John were sent in response to the good news of blessing in Samaria.  As the sequel reveals, however, it was of God that the old animosity between Jew and Samaritan should not carry over into the Church, that new spiritual body of which all believers are members, and Christ the Head.   In that body all distinctions, whether national or social, are done away.

8:15.  “Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:”

8:16.  (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

8:17.  “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”

Various suggestions have been made as to why these Samaritan converts received the Holy Spirit only through the laying on of the hands of their Jewish brethren, and not directly, as had been the case on the day of Pentecost, and as has been the normal order for the whole Church age after those first early years. 

The most generally accepted reason is that it was to ensure that the old animosity between Jews and Samaritans would not carry over into the Church.  Another equally valid reason, however, is related to God’s covenant with Abraham, in which He declared, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Ge 12:3), and as the Lord Himself had announced to the Samaritan woman in Jn 4:22, “Salvation is of the Jews.” The Samaritans must accept this truth, and the Jews on the other hand must cease to despise the Samaritans. 

This continues to confirm that it was still the Jewish age, and God was still dealing with Israel.  They were to be the channel of blessing to all nations, as they will be in the Millennium.

During this Church age, the evidence of genuine conversion is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which occurs the moment the man puts his trust in Christ as Savior, and it was through the laying on of the hands of converted Jews that these Samaritan converts were to receive that sealing.  Done once, however, there was no need to perpetuate the procedure.  Thereafter it would be with believing Gentiles as it had been with believing Jews: the Holy Spirit would instantly indwell each convert the moment he trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

8:18.  “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,”

Having already noted the disagreement between scholars as to the reality of Simon’s conversion, and the seeming impossibility of resolving that dispute, we are left then to see in his offering the apostles money, either proof that he wasn’t a believer, or on the other hand, the evidence that an untaught believer may be guilty of very great error.

8:19.  “Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.”

Since reception of the Holy Spirit is the equivalent of conversion, Simon’s request, then, becomes the expression of a genuine desire to see souls saved; or, alternatively, the proof that he himself was still unconverted and desired this power only because he recognized it as being superior to that formerly available to him as a sorcerer.  The truth we need to see is that even the apostles had no power to impart the Holy Spirit apart from the conversion of the one who was to receive Him.  God was the Giver, the apostles being but the instruments used of Him on that special occasion to demonstrate the need for abandonment of the differences that had formerly made the Samaritans and Jews bitter enemies.  Those differences must not be carried over into the Church in which all distinctions are lost, there being neither Jew nor Gentile, but a new creature in Christ.

8:20.  “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.”

It is uncertain whether “gift” here refers to the gift of eternal life, or to the ability of the apostles to impart the Holy Spirit by the laying on of their hands.  If it is the former, then clearly Simon was an unbeliever; but if the latter, it may be that he was speaking as an untaught believer.  Likewise, there is disagreement among scholars as to whether “perish” here means loss of being or just loss of well-being.  The significance of Peter’s rebuke therefore, must be weighed in the light of these facts, and in the light of the explicit statement of verse 13 that “Simon himself believed.”  It is to be noted that Paul used equally strong language relative to the fornicator in 1 Co 5:13, “Put away ... that wicked person,” yet the one so described is shown in 2 Co 2:6-10 to have been a believer. 

8:21.  “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”

Again, the exact meaning of having “neither part nor lot in this matter” isn’t clear.  Does it refer only to the matter of imparting the Holy Spirit, or to his whole relationship with God?  Does the wrong state of his heart in the sight of God imply an unconverted state, or does it refer to a sinful state of a believer, resulting simply from lack of knowledge?

8:22.  “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”

The “wicked person” (but still a believer) of 1 Co 5:13 also needed to repent and be forgiven before he could be restored to a right relationship with God and with other believers.

8:23.  “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”

Does this clearly refer to an unconverted state, or to the state of a believer fallen into sin, such as the Corinthian believer already mentioned, or such as Ananias and Sapphira?

8:24.  “Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.”

Can we be absolutely certain that this is the language of an unbeliever, and not that of an erring saint?  If we can’t be absolutely certain relative to all the questions surrounding this man Simon, we can’t make a correct judgment as to his spiritual state, nor is it essential that we do so.  If he was a believer, then the lesson is of the need to devote ourselves to the study of Scripture so as to be preserved from also committing sins of ignorance.

A further lesson is of the need for all of us (particularly those called to a public ministry) to be careful that our spiritual gift, or increasing knowledge, doesn’t result in our service degenerating into the pursuit of glory for ourselves rather than for God and for the good of His people.

8:25.  “And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”

Neither the concordances nor dictionaries I have consulted give much help in explaining the difference between “testified” and “preached,” nor have the commentaries been any more helpful; but it seems that connected with the word “testified” is the thought of presenting proof, suggesting that they may have been proving from the Scriptures that the Lord Jesus Christ was what He claimed to be: the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, as Paul did in 9:22. 

“Preaching” here needs no explanation.  They simply told out the good news of the gospel.

8:26.  “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.”

How different is God’s direction of Philip from what is found generally in Christendom today, where God’s way has been superseded by man’s, and where human organization has virtually eliminated the Holy Spirit’s control of the servant.  How foolish would this command have seemed had Philip been under the control of an organization!  The members of the Board would have deemed it folly for him to leave a flourishing work in Samaria to go down to a desert place, and for no apparent reason.  But God makes no mistakes.  I have never heard of anyone who was converted as a result of hearing or reading of Philip’s work in Samaria, but who can begin to count the multitudes who have been saved as a result of hearing or reading of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch?

Scripture is significantly silent relative to any kind of organization in connection with God’s work, but instructively full of mighty deeds accomplished by obedient individuals endued with divine power, going where and when God sent them, bearing the message He Himself had given them.  He still works through individuals, and only individuals, though in His mercy He may be pleased to bless His Word in spite of human organization, just as He gave the water when Moses struck the rock twice, and by that act of disobedience so angered God that he (Moses) was deprived of the privilege of entering Canaan.

The outpouring of blessing that marked the early apostolic age will not be seen again, however, until the Millennium, in spite of the proliferation of religious organizations set up for the purpose of directing the work of those who seek to spread the gospel.  We search Scripture in vain for any authority to set up an organization, or for any Christian or group of Christians to direct the work of other believers.  Even elders have not been given that authority.  It is the exclusive prerogative of the Holy Spirit, and for men to presume to direct the work of other believers is to arrogate His authority, and thereby hinder His work.

Since the south is the Biblical direction that speaks of faith, his being told to go “toward the south” reminds us that the path of obedience must always be one of faith, the servant looking to God, not man, for direction and the supply of his needs, and for the final results.

Its being “the way that goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza” has also something to teach us, for Jerusalem, meaning peace, was the city associated with God’s presence, while Gaza, meaning she was strong, was one of the great Philistine cities in OT times.  But the Philistine represents apostasy.  He who would do God’s work, and win souls for Christ, must be prepared to exchange peace for conflict with the great apostate travesty which rules Christendom today, and which is portrayed by the Philistine, the great harlot church being as much the enemy of God’s people today as was the Philistine in OT times.

“... which is desert.”  This scarcely needs comment.  Wherever the harlot church holds sway there is a spiritual desert, and it is the responsibility of the believer to pour out in that desert the gospel which is the water of life to the multitudes of souls dying there of spiritual thirst.

8:27.  “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,”

Philip’s obedience, like that of Abraham, was immediate, and if we would see blessing on our own lives and service, we must render the same prompt obedience to God’s commands.

Ethiopia means black, the Biblical color associated with famine and death, each being concomitant with an unsaved state, for that state is one of spiritual famine which ends in death.

The spiritual state of the unbeliever is further demonstrated in its being said that he was an “eunuch,” for such a man is incapable of begetting offspring. There can be no perpetuation of his life through children.  His life is, as it were, cut off.  He is as good as dead.

“... of great authority.”  Many unsaved men hold high positions on earth, but the highest office earth has to offer can’t compensate for lack of spiritual life.

“... under Candace queen of the Ethiopians.”  Her name means possibly a sting, and her being queen of those whose name is synonymous with famine and death, would mark her as a type of the great apostate church which rules Christendom today.  Behind all the pomp and splendor of that terrible system lies the sting of death.  All who remain under her dominion will be brought down to hell.

“... who had charge of all her treasure.”  He represents therefore, not simply a sinner in need of a Savior, but a sinner holding high ecclesiastical office.  Such offices are not only worthless as a means of escaping hell and entering heaven, but are, in fact, an abomination to God, for such offices don’t exist outside the clerical system which rules Christendom today, and relative to which God says concerning her deeds, “Which I also hate,” and concerning her doctrine, “Which thing I hate” (Re 2:6,15).  Christendom has lain so long under the thraldom of the clerical system, however, that even genuine believers often fail to comprehend how evil the system is, and how abominable it is to God.  Its very existence is inimical to the development of spiritual gift, which is itself essential to the well-being of the Church.

Church membership, no matter whether the office be high or low, cannot bring remission of sin, and cannot therefore, save the man from hell and fit him for heaven.

“... and had come to Jerusalem for to worship.”  He appears to have been a proselyte of Judaism, but in spite of his having come to Jerusalem, the very center of Judaism, and in spite of his having engaged in the ritual of “worship,” he remained a sinner in need of a Savior, as must all who follow the same path.  Salvation is to be found, not in a place or in any religious ritual, but in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

8:28.  “Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.”

He was returning no better off than when he came, but in spite of his lack of knowledge, he was obviously sincere in his search for God, and such a man will never be abandoned by the God Who is Himself looking for just such sincere searchers, so that He might reveal Himself to them, as it is written, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord; and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:6-7).  The sinner who sincerely seeks God, has the assurance that the One he seeks is Himself the God Who seeks sinners, as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10).

We might well have supposed that a man of such high office would have used the travel time to pour over papers having to do with affairs of state, but he didn’t: he was reading the Scriptures, the most profitable work to which any man can devote his time.  How much better off the world would be if more men of high degree, as well as low, gave themselves to this same work!

8:29.  “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.”

We have noted already that Philip’s obedience was immediate, and we do well to note how much hinged on that punctuality.  Had he delayed for as much as a hour, his path and that of the Eunuch would never have crossed.  Nothing, of course, can thwart God’s purposes.  They will be accomplished in spite of our sloth, forgetfulness, tardiness, etc., but how much better when He doesn’t have to overrule our disobedience, and can instead make us partakers of the glory that is the recompense of work performed by faithful servants!  How much of His overruling is necessitated by our running before, or lagging behind His time!

8:30.  “And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?”

Philip’s “running” reminds us of the urgency of God’s business.  It requires haste, i.e., prompt obedience to His commands, because (1) the Lord could come at any moment, (2) death could usher me into His presence at any moment, (3) sudden sickness, e.g., stroke, heart attack, could render me incapable of rendering any service, (4) any of these things could befall the person to whom God wants me to bring the gospel, thus ending for ever my opportunity.  It is to the saint who has been commanded to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” as well as to the sinner on his way to hell, that the warning is given, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co 6:2)!  The need of the one to preach is as urgent as is the need of the other to hear.

Sadly, that sense of urgency which compelled the evangelistic efforts of past generations, is conspicuously absent today.   Professing Christians, busy with the things of this world, and indifferent to those of the world to come, appear to neither know nor care that relatives, friends, neighbors, men and women with whom we do business, etc., could be snatched from time into a lost eternity without a moment’s notice.

It is clear, both from his having gone up to Jerusalem to worship, and from his reading the Scriptures as he journeyed, that the eunuch was a man searching after God, and as we have noted already, it is to just such searchers that God reveals Himself.  The indifferent sinner is no candidate for salvation.

The fact that the only Scriptures available in those days were the writings of the OT, would remind us that the gospel is just as clearly presented there as in the NT, a fact which rebukes today’s almost total neglect of the OT.

His reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah would further remind us that few parts of Scripture have been more used of God to lead sinners to the Savior, and we do well to remember, that apart from the Gospels, few parts of Scripture set forth more clearly the sufferings of Christ.  The new, polite, socially acceptable, but worthless “gospel” glosses over those sufferings, as it does also the eternal sufferings to be endured by the man who rejects a crucified and risen Christ as his Savior.  The presentation of the sufferings of Christ as being necessary to save men from eternal suffering in the lake of fire, is the only gospel that will convict men of sin, and produce genuine conversion.  Any other “gospel” may produce profession, but mere profession will save no one from hell.

The evangelist’s question, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” is invested with a deeper significance than is usually comprehended.  It was another way of asking, “Are you saved?” for it is to be remembered that only the believer can understand Scripture, for “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co 2:14).  “Are you saved?” is a question seldom asked today, in spite of the fact that there are few questions more likely to get straight to the heart of the sinner’s problem.

8:31.  “And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?  And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.”

His confession of ignorance was tantamount to an acknowledgment of his unsaved state, a confession apart from which there can be no salvation.  Few today are willing to make that confession.

His further, “except some man should guide me,” reveals his desire to be taught, and reminds us that a teachable spirit is another prerequisite of salvation.

Philip’s dress isn’t described, but there is every reason to suppose that it was far inferior to that of this man who was the equivalent of prime minister of Ethiopia, yet the eunuch’s invitation to Philip to join him in his carriage declares also that he didn’t despise God’s messenger.  Multitudes in our modern sophisticated society deny themselves the privilege of hearing the gospel just because they do despise those who preach it.  He who would be saved must be prepared to accept God’s messenger no less than His message, for to despise His servants is to despise the Lord Himself.

8:32.  “The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:”

The sheep or lamb is one of the most easily recognized symbols of the Lord Jesus Christ, and its being led here to the slaughter points to the necessity of His substitutionary death to make atonement for sin. 

The lamb “dumb before his shearer,” on the other hand, points to another aspect of the Lord’s sacrifice. Since garments are the symbol of righteousness (the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, or the righteousness of Christ as the believer’s garment or covering), the lamb shorn of its fleece speaks of Christ’s willingness to stand before God as our Substitute, bearing our sins, having exchanged His spotless righteousness for our unrighteousness, so that He might bear the punishment we deserved, as it is written, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Co 5:21).

The lamb’s silent submission to being shorn points to the Lord’s refusal to justify Himself before His accusers or Pilate, e.g., “And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?  But Jesus held his peace” (Mt 26:62-63); “And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.  Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?  And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marveled greatly” (Mt 27:12-14).

8:33.  “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.”  

The translators of this verse belong to two principal schools: one taking it to mean that justice was denied Him; the other, that by humbling Himself, He delivered Himself from the judgment or condemnation of God.  This latter seems somewhat farfetched, and my personal opinion is that the former is correct.

There is similar variety of interpretation in relation to “who shall declare his generation?”  Some sample translations are: Who will tell the story of His age?  His generation who shall describe?  Who will make known His posterity?  Who can tell His family?  Who can tell of His times?  Who will tell the story of His generation?  Who will be able to calculate the number of His followers?  Who can express the wickedness of the people of His generation?  The context, however, indicates that the question relates to the fact that He would die without leaving any natural posterity.

Translators also differ in their understanding of the last clause, “... for his life is taken from the earth,” some taking it to mean simply that He would die; others, that He would be “raised up to a life above the land of the living.”  It seems that in the present context the reference is simply to His death.

8:34.  “And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?”

The eunuch’s lack of understanding declares, not only the natural man’s inability to understand the Scriptures, but the obligation upon us who do have that ability, to make the meaning known to others, as Paul asks, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Ro 10:14).  That this work of proclaiming the gospel isn’t the prerogative of a privileged class is made clear by the fact that the Lord Himself has commanded every believer, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).  However scant his knowledge, every believer, having himself grasped the truth of the gospel, is capable of transmitting that knowledge to others, so that no believer has a valid excuse for not preaching the gospel.

8:35.  “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.”

That “same scripture” is the one which presents the Lord Jesus Christ as “a sheep led to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer.”  It is the presentation of Christ as the unblemished Lamb, alone acceptable to God, alone capable of making atonement for sin, alone capable of meeting all the claims of a Holy God, alone capable of meeting man’s desperate need, alone capable of reconciling God and man, alone capable of saving man from hell and fitting him for heaven.

That same clear simple gospel has more power to save sinners than all the learned treatises penned by all the theologians who have ever lived; as Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Ro 1:16).

More success would attend the preaching of the gospel today if we abandoned all the worldly-wise methods of men, and simply “preached unto (them) Jesus.”

There can be little doubt that while in Jerusalem the eunuch had heard of Jesus, but not enough to lead him to see that that same Jesus was the Son of God, the One described in the words of Isaiah.  Philip, very obviously, enlightened him, showing that Jesus was the One spoken of, not only by Isaiah, but by all the prophets.

8:36.  “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”

Very obviously the eunuch had been converted as a result of Philip’s preaching, and clearly Philip had also instructed him relative to believer’s baptism, hence the man’s question, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?”

While certainly this is not the place for a detailed discussion of all that is involved in baptism, it is necessary to note a few things relative to this ordinance, the first truth being that it is for believers, and believers only.  Not only is there no scriptural warrant for infant baptism, but even an elementary knowledge of the significance of baptism makes it clear that it has no application whatsoever to anyone except one who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  To baptize an infant, or any other unbeliever, is to make a travesty of the ordinance.

Relative to its significance, this will be better understood if we keep in mind that in Scripture overwhelming waters are often used as the symbol of death, see for example the figurative references to the Lord’s death in Ps 69:1 “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul .... I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me”; and Ps 88:7, “Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves.  Selah.”  When the believer goes down under the water in baptism he is saying symbolically, “I am crucified with Christ:” and when he emerges he is declaring, “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me....” (Ga 2:20).  See also Romans chapter 6.

It is to be noted, incidentally, that to baptize by sprinkling or any method other than immersion, is to rob the ordinance of its spiritual significance.

8:37.  “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.  And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Bible scholars point out that this verse is not found in most of the original manuscripts, but the fact remains that what is stated in it in no way contradicts the teaching of Scripture, faith to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God being a fundamental of the Christian faith, essential for conversion.

8:38.  “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”

Its being emphasized that they both went down into the water, confirms that Scriptural baptism is by immersion.   Were mere sprinkling sufficient, there would have been no need for either of them to enter the water.

An incidental lesson we might learn from the eunuch’s stopping the chariot so that he might be baptized, is that the Lord’s business very evidently came first with him.  He might well have reasoned that he could more conveniently have been baptized when he reached home, but he refused to make obedience subservient to personal convenience.  As soon as the truth of baptism was known to him, he yielded immediate obedience.  Abraham, the friend of God, the father of all who believe, was marked by a similar spirit.  We would do well to cultivate it in our own lives.

8:39.  “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.”

It is instructive to note Philip’s perfect submission to the Holy Spirit.  There is no record of delay or protest when the Spirit sent him from Samaria to meet the eunuch; and here his being “caught away” by the Spirit implies the same submissive attitude.  We will be happier Christians, and God’s work will be better done, when that same spirit marks us.

The fact that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing, reminds us that the same joy ought to accompany us on our way home to heaven.  No person on earth has more cause than the Christian to be joyous.

8:40.  “But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”

Azotus is the Greek form of Ashdod, one of the Philistine cities mentioned frequently in the OT, and meaning I will spoil.  The NT counterpart of the OT Philistine is the apostate Israel of the apostolic age, and the professing but equally apostate professing church today, the one as much as the other being the spoiler of God’s people, as were the Philistines long ago.  Beyond the literal statement therefore of Philip’s being found at Azotus, and preaching in all the cities, may be the symbolic picture of the world in which we, like him, are also called upon to preach the gospel.  It is a world ruled spiritually by the spiritual Philistine, the apostate church, the spoiler and bitter foe of all that is of God, and of those who belong to Him.

Nor should we miss the spiritual implication of its being said that “he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea,” for Caesarea means severed.  Is there here perhaps a veiled allusion to that soon-coming day when the true Church will be severed from an ungodly world, and raptured home to heaven?  Until that moment, may we be given the grace as we “pass through,” to also preach the gospel “in all the cities.”  

[Acts 9]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough