8:1-24) Persecution, Scattering, and Philip
As we move forward with the Acts studies, I want to re-emphasize
something of importance. It is always tempting to want to read our
own belief systems back into early Church history. But doing that
will do damage to a true study of Acts. This book has to stand on its
own merits. The Acts of the Apostles is a 'divine' historical book. To
appreciate this book we must see ourselves as travelers with the
apostles, and, we must attempt to do our best to take on a Jewish
mind set of that time.
Here's what we must keep in mind. The Acts of the Apostles covers
a period of time when the new covenant is being introduced. There
has never been anything like this new faith. And because the new
covenant is replacing a former covenant, and because Acts deals
largely with a transitional period, we will see activities take place in
Acts that are pretty much fixed for that period of time. Once the
transitional time frame is complete, the Church will find herself with
some well-established doctrines in place.
You can almost compare the time that Acts covers, to the 40 years
of Israel's wanderings before she entered the land of Canaan. Once
Israel entered the promised land, which happened after Moses left
the scene, many of the things that took place in the wilderness
ceased. For example, it says, "The manna ceased on the day after
they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of
Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the
land of Canaan during that year." (Joshua
I am sharing this just to help you keep focus. It isn't a matter of
miracles, or healings, or works of the supernatural stopping with the
departure of the apostles. It is more an issue of the Church entering
into a new era. She will have a well-established foundation.
With that being said, let's continue. Our last study completed itself
with Stephen saying, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!"
then says, "He fell asleep."
The idea of believers falling asleep is a common Hebrew idiom. It
says, "Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city
of David." (1Kings2:10)
This expression is found in a great many
places in the older testament.
To add to this, in the new covenant there is no death for believers.
Jesus said, "He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent
Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has
passed out of death into life." (John
5:24) If we have passed out of
death into life, then there can be no death experience to be had for
a believer. Our passing will be as it was with Stephen. You can be
sure that as Stephen closed his mortal eyes, his spiritual eyes
beheld the full glory of heaven.
In this study we will take up from Stephen. It is here that we see the
first general persecution of the church. This persecution resulted in
the scattering of disciples. We especially want to look at Philip the
evangelist, in how the gospel goes out into another people group.
This is Acts Study #18 (Acts
8:1-24) Persecution, Scattering, and Philip the
"Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And
on that day a great persecution began against the church in
Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of
Judea and Samaria, except the apostles."
.... 'Hearty agreement' is the Greek word 'suneudokeo.' Saul
simply standing by. The Greek word carries the idea of pleasure
and satisfaction. Here we see the character of a man who has
made himself an enemy of Christ. We will later see how the power
of the gospel can completely transform a Saul into a Paul.
.... It appears the persecution began the day Stephen was stoned.
The mob intensified in fury. While the Scriptures do not say, there
are various historical accounts as to how many believers were put
to death. They range from 2000 to 3000. With this in view it is no
wonder it is called a 'great persecution.' But we also want to keep
in mind that there were large numbers of Jews, who, though not yet
fully accepting Jesus as Messiah, yet had strong leanings towards
the apostolic band.
.... The disciples were scattering throughout Judea and Samaria.
But the enemy's fury is playing against him. Wherever the disciples
go, they carry the testimony of Jesus with them. It can truly be said
that "they loved not their life even when faced with death."
.... The apostles, and probably a good number of believers, did not
leave Jerusalem. It was God's will that their leadership remain in
"Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud
lamentation over him."
.... The 'devout' men may have been a mixture of Jews. Many of
the Jews probably felt a sense of shame over the stoning of
Stephen. After all, great miracles, healings, and the casting out of
demons were taking place. Acts
2:47 says the apostolic party was
"having favor with all the people."
The term 'devout' is also used in the Scriptures for certain Jews and
others who had not yet received Jesus, but who were truly 'towards
God' in their hearts. These folk usually came to the Lord in time.
The word for 'buried' speaks of a funeral. Stephen's burial was not a
hidden thing. 'Loud lamentation' (kopetos) means the 'beating of
head and breast.'
"But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after
house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in
.... The word 'ravaging' is strong. 'Lumainomai' connects to a
which means to dishonor by use of force. Saul was totally
irrational in his use of force, by dragging men and women out of
their homes. His rage was so intense that he saw no need for mercy
for anyone. It is difficult for us to imagine that this would become
the man to give us the great Pauline writings.
God's Purpose in Scattering
"Therefore, those who had been scattered went about
preaching the word."
.... Continue to keep in mind that we are fellow travelers. Let's go
down to Samaria with Philip.
"Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began
proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving
attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the
signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had
unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud
voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.
So there was much rejoicing in that city."
.... It is generally thought that the city of Samaria that Philip went
the same city where Jesus ministered to the lady at the well. If this is
case, then the peoples were well prepared for the gospel. It says,
city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the
testified, 'He told me all the things that I have done.'" (John
.... We will shortly see that while Philip did signs and miracles, and
while many were being baptized, Philip was unable to grant them
the seal of the Holy Spirit. This had to be done through the hands of
the apostles. We will see why shortly.
.... Here again, this is one of those places where we have to be
cautious about wanting to read our own church doctrines back into
the setting. What happens in Samaria has puzzled quite a few folk,
but it is well understood when we understand the importance of
apostolic authority in setting the foundation for the Church.
.... The rejoicing in the city was over the miracle activity, the
healings, and the casting out of demons, and also because the of
the gospel being preacher. But again, no one of the city could be
brought into the new covenant until the apostles came on the
Even Simon Himself Believed
"Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was
practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria,
claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to
greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, 'This man is what is
called the Great Power of God.' And they were giving him attention
because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic
arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about
the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being
baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and
after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he
observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly
..... The expression 'practiced magic' is not to be confused with
modern-day magicians. The one who practiced 'mageuo' was a
wizard or a sorcerer, who practiced magic by invoking supernatural
(demonic) powers. (Mageuo means to practice witchcraft.) The
peoples of Samaria had for a long time looked to Simon as the
great power of God. This was the message he gave out. This
implies that he was both a false Messiah and a false prophet.
.... It says he was 'astonishing' the people. The force of this word
(existemi) speaks of people being literally overwhelmed, even
charmed. It appears the people had become enraptured with Simon
and with his demonic powers. This same word will be used for how
the Philip's miracles affected Simon. He was absolutely taken back
with the power the evangelist had. Simon's amazement meant he
was 'charmed' by the power present in Philip.
.... What broke Simon's hold over the people was the preaching of
Jesus as Messiah. The peoples were being baptized, and Simon
himself was baptized. Everything was in place.
The Apostles of the Lamb
"Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that
Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and
John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive
the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they
had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they
began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy
.... Now the big question --- Why could Philip not lay his hands on
the peoples for them to receive the Holy Spirit? The reason is that
the Samaritans were a separate people group from the Jews. Each
time a new people group is added to the new covenant, an apostle
must be present. During the time of the apostles there were four
distinct people groups; Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, and, believe it
or not, the disciples of John the Baptist. This latter group had
swelled to such a size as to take on its own identity. (More on this
Each time a new people group is given entrance into the new
covenant, it is as though the day of Pentecost reaches forward and
adds them to Pentecost 33 a.d. The only instances in Acts where
people speak in tongues, which, by the way, is always as a group
setting, and always as sovereign acts of God, are in Acts
10, and Acts
19. Was there any speaking in tongues with the
Samaritans? It doesn't say.
.... The Jews and Samaritans were sworn enemies. Each group had
its own temple, and its own priesthood. Each group claimed to be
the true Israel of God. Had the Spirit of the new covenant been
given the Samaritans without the oversight of an apostle, they
would have become a schismatic group. Since the apostles were all
Jews, the Samaritans would have set about structuring their new
religion in competition with the apostles in Jerusalem.
What then was God's answer? No matter now many miracles, and
casting out of demons Philip did, and regardless of their believings,
and baptisms, the Samaritans would only be given the seal of the
covenant through the hands of the apostles of the Lamb.
Why is this? Paul explains: "There is one body and one Spirit,
as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one
faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and
through all and in all." (Eph4:4-6)
The Church was to be built upon the foundation of the apostles and
prophets, with Jesus Christ being the corner stone. (Eph2:20)
And What of Simon the Sorcerer?
"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed
through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them
money, saying, 'Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone
on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.' But Peter
said to him, 'May your silver perish with you, because you thought
you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or
portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord
that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.
For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of
iniquity.' But Simon answered and said, 'Pray to the Lord for me
yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon
.... Of course Simon the Sorcerer never received the Holy Spirit
himself. Our question might me, 'But it says he believed and was
baptized.' We have to decide as to what was it that Simon
Simon believed that the miracles were from God, and though he
was baptized, his believing was never righteous believing. To
believe unto righteousness implies a repentance of the heart is in
place. Simon had no sense of a need for a Savior. His interest was
power directed. Even when Peter directed Simon towards
repentance, the sorcerer's reply reveals only a desire for self-preservation. He said, "Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that
nothing of what you have said may come upon me."
I want to mention that there is a legend that Simon later relocated
to Rome, and through his continued demonic activities, a statue
was erected to him, and he was was accorded as a god. (According
to Justin Martyr. Other writers also mention him. He is spoken of as
the fountain-head of heresy.)
There is much more to be said about these happenings in Samaria,
so let's leave the study open for discussion. Put your thoughts or
questions on the table.
Previous: #17 (Acts 7:1-60) A Message to the Stiff Necked
Next: #19 (Acts 8:25-40) Philip Goes After One Man - The Eunuch
This study on
Acts was originally part of a
series on the book of Acts given to members of
Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003.
They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, Founder and Senior Pastor of
Christian Challenge International.