Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
– Acts 8:26-40, New International Version
When Philip spoke in Samaria, many people believed his preaching and were baptized. Then Peter and John came to Samaria and prayed for the people to receive the Holy Spirit. As a result, the people “were receiving” the Holy Spirit. When their ministry in Samaria was finished, Peter and John started back to Jerusalem. On the way they were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
An angel of the Lord directed Philip to travel south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Luke notes that this was a desert road. While he was traveling on this road, he came across an Ethiopian eunuch who had been to Jerusalem to worship. Fernando (p. 283) says, “This suggests that he may have been a God-fearer or a proselyte.” He was returning to his home and had a long journey ahead of him.
The Ethiopian was sitting in his chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “‘Go up and join this chariot.'” Philip then ran to the chariot. As he ran up, Philip heard the Ethiopian reading and asked him, “‘Do you understand what you are reading?'” The Ethiopian answered, “‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?'” Then, the Ethiopian invited Philip to sit with him.
Becoming a Christian
As Luke approaches the subject, what does one have to do to become a Christian? The Ethiopian was reading Isaiah 53:7-8 concerning the suffering servant. He wondered if the prophet was speaking of himself or someone else. This was Philip’s opportunity to preach Jesus to him. The passage was a prophecy about Jesus.
When they came to some water, he asked, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Verse 37 is in some versions, but not others. In the NAU verse 37 says, “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'” According to Bruce (p. 190), this verse “certainly reflects primitive Christian practice.” The eunuch stopped the chariot and Philip baptized him in water.
Philip Snatched Away
When Philip and the Ethiopian came up out of the water, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.” The Ethiopian did not see him any more. Philip found himself at Azotus, which was 20 miles north of Gaza. From Azotus Philip traveled north to Caesarea. As he traveled, he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea. We find him in Caesarea twenty years later. He is known by Luke (Acts 21:8) as “Philip the evangelist.” He is the father of four daughters who prophesied.
The Ethiopian went away from the experience “rejoicing.” Luke does not say anything about receiving the Spirit, but joy is a part of the work that the Spirit performs. When disciples (Acts 13:52) see spiritual results, they often have an accompanying joy. It is Paul, however, who writes about joy as a fruit of the Spirit.
The Missionary Expansion
The ministry of Philip brought about the expansion of the church. Jesus said that empowered disciples would be witnesses in Samaria and to the uttermost part of the globe. Philip ministered in Samaria and to the Ethiopian who, in turn, no doubt witnessed at home in Ethiopia. According to Gangel (p. 128):
This double-barreled record of Philip’s ministry is a potent part of Luke’s gospel story. First, the gospel to the hated Samaritans, a half-breed race with distorted theology in the eyes of the good Palestinian Jews. Now, a Gentile secular official from a foreign land will take Jesus home with him. The church of Jesus Christ began sending missionaries to Africa almost two thousand years ago. The first was an African, a high government official, possibly a man with physical limitations.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Lampe, G. W. H. The Seal of the Spirit. London: SPCK, 1967. Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.