#18 (Acts 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 5:12)

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!" It 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 Evangelist.

Vs1: "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 wasn't 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." (Rev12:11)

.... The apostles, and probably a good number of believers, did not leave Jerusalem. It was God's will that their leadership remain in place.

Vs2: "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 the head and breast.'

Vs3: "But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."

.... The word 'ravaging' is strong. 'Lumainomai' connects to a verb 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

Vs4: "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.

Vs5-8: "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 to was the same city where Jesus ministered to the lady at the well. If this is the case, then the peoples were well prepared for the gospel. It says, "From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, 'He told me all the things that I have done.'" (John 4:39)

.... 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 scene.

Even Simon Himself Believed

Vss9-13: "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 amazed."

..... 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

Vss14-17: "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 Spirit."

.... 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 later.)

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 2, 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, just 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?

Vss18-24: "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 me.'"

.... 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 believed?

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
#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.

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