In this essay we are studying Acts 8:25-40.  Verse 25 is a transitional verse.  It reads, “Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.”  This verse informs us to two things.  First, it tells us that Peter and John returned to Jerusalem.  And second, it tells us that once they were sold on the idea of sharing the gospel with the Samaritans, they immediately went to work preaching the good news to Samaritan villages on their way home.

            In verse 26 an angel of the Lord tells Philip to go south along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  This could mean that Phillip went back to Jerusalem with Peter and John, but not necessarily.  The mention of the city of Gaza raises an interesting, though not particularly important historical question.  Gaza was the most southern of the five Philistine cities near the Mediterranean coast.  Gaza was destroyed in a war in 93 B.C.  Then a new city of Gaza was built a little further south and nearer the coast in 57 B.C.  The former became known as Old or Desert Gaza, and the latter as the new Gaza.  The Spirit could have been directing Phillip to either of these locations, though for our purposes, it doesn’t really matter. 

            Ethiopia (ancient Cush) was located immediately south of Egypt.  The modern state of Ethiopia is much further south, near the horn of Africa.  The border of Ethiopia in Phillip’s day was located about where the modern Aswan dam was built in the Upper Nile region of modern Egypt.  Racially, the Ethiopians were black. 

            Ancient Ethiopia had an unusual system of royal rule.  They had kings but the kings were considered children of the sun and too sacred to carry out the functions of government.  So their mothers ruled on their behalf.  And these queen mothers always went by the dynastic name of Candace. 

            Somewhere along the wilderness road to Gaza, Phillip was brought to a chariot of the treasurer of the country of Ethiopia.  The treasurer, a eunuch, had been to Jerusalem to worship and was reading the prophet Isaiah aloud (v. 28).  This suggests that he could have been Jewish.  Some scholars believe the man was more likely a God-fearing Gentile than a Jew.  But the problem with that interpretation is the fact that Luke made a big deal out of the reception of Samaritans into the Christian fellowship; and in chapters 10-11 he does the same with the conversion of Cornelius and his household, the first true Gentiles taken into the fellowship.  Therefore, had the Ethiopian been the first Gentile brought into the fellowship, Luke would have written his book differently.  For this reason I believe the Ethiopian was a Jew.  At any rate, the Holy Spirit told Philip “to go up to the chariot and join it (v. 29).”  So Philip did so. 

            When Philip began to run alongside the chariot, he was close enough to hear that the eunuch was reading from Isaiah.  In those days everyone who read did it aloud.  So he asked the official if he understood what he was reading (v. 30).  The official replied that he needed someone to guide him.  So he invited Philip to join him in the chariot (v. 31). 

            Now the passage from Isaiah that the eunuch was reading is quoted in verses 32-33.  It is Isa. 53:7-8.  Of course we immediately recognize it as part of Isaiah’s famous messianic passage about the Suffering Servant in which Isaiah predicts that some future person would be led like a sheep to the slaughter, humiliated, and killed by his generation.  The reason Christians have interpreted the passage as messianic is because Jesus himself applied Isaiah 53 to his suffering and death (Lk. 22:37). 

            Absolutely no one between the time when Isaiah made his Suffering Servant prophecy and the time of Jesus ever identified the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 with the Davidic Messiah Isaiah 11 and the Son of Man of Dan. 7:13.  But Jesus identified all three with one another and applied them to his own person.  Therefore Jesus is the Suffering Servant, the Davidic Messiah, and the Son of Man. 

            The official asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else (v. 34)?”  Some scholars have argued that Isaiah said these things about himself.  But obviously, Philip did not take it that way.  The Ethiopian’s question set up a perfect opportunity for Philip to share the gospel with him, and he immediately pounced on it.  Phillip did not hesitate to interpret the passage as fulfilled in Jesus.  He began with that scripture from Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading and from there taught him the good news about Jesus. 

            In verses 36-38, we saw that Philip was very persuasive.  We are not told what Phillip actually said.  But it is obvious that Philip connected the dots for the man regarding the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and Jesus.  He apparently told the official what the appropriate response to the gospel was.  Peter had modeled that on the day of Pentecost by saying: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Philip undoubtedly invited the Ethiopian to repent of his sins, to believe in Jesus, and to be baptized in Jesus’ name as soon as the opportunity arose. 

            As they journeyed on, they came to a stream or pond of some kind.  The eunuch immediately, upon seeing the water, said, “Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  So they stopped the chariot and went into the water, and Philip baptized the official. 

            The eunuch’s baptism confirms three things.  First, it confirms that personal faith in Christ precedes water baptism.  This scripture undermines the Roman Catholic view that saving grace is conveyed by water baptism.  It also undermines the practice of infant baptism. 

            Second, the eunuch’s baptism confirms that water baptism does not have to be administered by an apostle.  Phillip was a lay evangelist. 

            And third, it confirms that water baptism is a symbol of an inward work of grace.  At least that is the position of most Protestant denominations.

            At this point the divine purpose in sending Philip onto the road to Gaza was complete.  Therefore verse 39 tells us, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,” and the Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing.”  This snatching away of Phillip reminds one of the experiences of Elijah and Ezekiel.  Elijah seems to have been miraculously moved in 1 Kings 18:12.  And of course he was miraculously taken to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:1-12).  And Ezekiel, on at least two occasions, was lifted up by the Holy Spirit and moved from one location to another (Eze. 3:14-15; 8:3). 

            In this case, Phillip found himself suddenly transported to the city of Azotus, about 20 miles north of the place from which he was snatched.  Some interpreters believe the movement of Philip to Azotus (ancient Ashdod, the Philistine coastal city), was not a miracle.  But the evidence suggests that it was.  Then Philip preached the good news in every town along the coast from Azotus to Caesarea.

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