After Stephen’s death, there began a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem. People scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. The Apostles did not scatter. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentations over him. Meanwhile, Saul went from house to house, dragging men and women and putting them in prison. According to Boring and Craddock, “the earliest Christians were Jews and were opposed by the defenders of Jewish orthodoxy, not because they confessed faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but because their practice was considered a violation of Jewish identity. Stephen was killed not because he was a Christian, but because of his violation of Jewish practice.”[i] Further evidence suggests that Christians were killed by other Jews for the sake of their name “Christians.”
Those who were scattered, went from place to place proclaiming the word. “Luke’s interest here is fulfilling Jesus’ word in 1:7, that the message be taken to Samaria and Judea, and to the ends of the earth.” So, if we take this scripture, those who were scattered, took the word into Samaria. It also suggests that thousands of Christians left their homes and property and became refugees in other territories. However, the Apostles did not scatter. “Luke suggests that the violence could have been directed at Hellenistic Christians like Stephen and not Palestinian Jews like the Apostles.”[ii] In addition, “Luke’s point is that the Apostles are Christ authorized representatives, and that Jerusalem is something like an official headquarters of the developing church.”[iii]
Philip was one of the seven chosen, along with Stephen, to oversee the welfare program of the church. He rises to the occasion as he spreads the message in the city of Samaria. “Philip did not proclaim new ideas, theories, or principles, but that God had acted decisively for human salvation by sending the Messiah.” He preached a message of hope to the Samaritans, as they anticipated, not a messiah, but the eschatological prophet called the “restorer.” [iv] What is important is that it was the same message to Jews and Samaritans. The crowds listened to him, and believed the signs that he did. He cast out demons and healed many who were paralyzed. While there was persecution, there was also great joy in the city.
We also read here when Simon the magician comes into the story (Simon Magus). He amazed the people of Samaria with his magic. The people listened to him intently as well. “The Bible consistently distinguishes magic from Jewish and Christian faith, often putting magicians over against advocates of authentic faith (See Gen. 41:8-24; Ex. 7:11).”[v] When the people believed Philip, and the message that he proclaimed, they were baptized. Even Simon believed and was baptized. He stayed with Philip, amazed at his works and power.
When the Apostles heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, Peter and John visited them. They prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the people in Samaria – they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Peter and John laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (That’s gonna mess some of yall up). “In Luke’s understanding, all Christians are baptized, all Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and all Christians live together in the one church guided by the apostles.”[vi]
When Simon the magician saw the power of Peter and John, he offered to pay money to receive it. “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” Simon eventually came to his senses and asked Peter and John to pray for him, that “nothing of what you have said, might come upon me.”
We shift again to Philip, as the angel of the Lord gave him instructions to get up and go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. On the way, he saw an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. The Eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home. “Luke sees the Ethiopian as a transition figure who worships the Jewish God, reads the Jewish scriptures, but is still an outsider to the people of God. He will now be evangelized and baptized by Philip and incorporated into the Christian community.”[vii] While seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Philip approaches him, asking if he understands what he is reading. The Eunuch responds, “How Can I, unless someone guides me?” He invited Philip into his chariot.
The passage where he was reading was Isaiah 53:7-8, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before his shearer, so he does not open his mouth.” The Eunuch asked Phillip who the scripture was speaking about. “Philip (and Luke) are clear that the scripture points to Jesus.”[viii] Then Phillip opened his mouth and proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. “Scripture is not in fact self-interpreting but requires a community of faith in order to be faithfully interpreted.”[ix] As they were going along, the Eunuch said, “Look here is some water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” Considering his revelation, it is important to note that, “The Bible itself had hindered the eunuch from participating in the covenant people of God (Deu. 23:1). But now the same book of Isaiah that had promised full participation to those excluded (Isa. 56:3-4), interpreted in the light of Christ, removes all hindrances.”[x] Phillip baptized him.
When they came out of the water, the Spirit snatched Philip away. “Like the Old Testament prophet Elijah (2 Kings. 2:16), and Ezekiel (Ezek. 11:26), the Spirit is not thought of as a subtle internal spiritual suggestion, but as a dynamic power.” The Eunuch did not see Philip anymore. He went on his way, praising God. Philip found himself in Azotus, and passing through, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. “The dynamic ending of the story responds to its beginning, showing the power of God at work in the growing and changing church.”[xi]
[i] Boring and Craddock, pg. 392.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 393.
[v] Pg. 393.
[vi] Ibid., pg. 394.
[vii] Ibid., pg. 395.
[viii] Ibid., pg. 396.
[ix] Ibid., pg. 395
[x] Ibid. pg. 396.