The death of Stephen turned out to be a crucial event in the history of the early church because it led the church to the next phase in the fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy (cf. Acts 1:8). After Stephen’s death, a great and widespread persecution rose up against the church in Jerusalem. But by divine arrangement, the persecution served to scatter the disciples throughout Judea and Samaria and opened the door of the gospel to areas beyond Jerusalem. Chapter 8 records the ministry of Philip, who was one of the seven men chosen to serve in chapter 6. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he effectively advanced the gospel into new territories.
Did You Know...?
1. The city of Samaria (8:5) This was not necessarily the capital city named Samaria, since there is no definite article in the Greek rendering. It is literally ‘a city of Samaria.’ The district of Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee. Philip probably went to the city of Samaria or Sychar, which were two principal cities in the district of Samaria at that time. [ref]
- Rise of Great Persecution (8:1-3)
- Preaching of the Word and Its Results (8:4-8)
- Conversion of Simon (8:9-13)
- Peter and John Sent to Samaria (8:14-25)
Why do you think the death of Stephen led to the rise of the great persecution?Hide Answer
Stephen’s accusers stoned him to death on the charges of blasphemy because his defense of the Christian faith had seriously challenged the established traditions and views of the mainstream Jews. Hence, it was inevitable that the adversaries of Stephen, including Saul, now turned their attention to the Christians in Jerusalem and began an all-out attack on the church.
What feelings do you get as you read verse 1-3? How would you feel if you were to witness and experience this situation today?Hide Answer
The death of Stephen, the scattering of the disciples, the violence of Saul, the all-out arrest and imprisonment of both men and women disciples all give us a dismal and sad picture of the great sufferings that the church was undergoing. Oppositions against the church not only did not subside but continued to mount and intensify. Persecutions and arrests had now even penetrated into believers’ homes. It seemed as if the evil forces had prevailed and were unstoppable.
What motivated Saul to commit such violent acts? How does this serve as a warning for us today?Hide Answer
Saul persecuted the Christians out of ignorance. He did not know who Jesus was (1Tim 1:13) and he also thought that he was being zealous for his forefathers and God (Acts 22:1-3). This teaches us that zeal that is not based on true knowledge can be misguided and very dangerous. We should always seek to know the will of God while we serve God with our zeal. Then, our fervor will please God and edify people.
What impact did the persecution have on the preaching of the gospel?Hide Answer
The scattering of the disciples led to the rapid expansion of the gospel beyond Jerusalem. Whereas the apostles had been the primary evangelists in Jerusalem, now, every believer became an active witness for the Lord.
Based on verse 4, what do you think was the believers’ attitude toward the great persecution?Hide Answer
The fact that they went everywhere to preach the word shows that the persecution did not shake their faith in the Lord Jesus. They did not complain or shrink back, but saw their adversity as an opportunity from the Lord to carry out their mission.
What can we learn from these believers?Hide Answer
We tend to only focus on our sufferings and our loss when bad things happen to us in our lives, and we may even lose faith in the Lord. But from the example of these early believers, we learn that difficulties in life ought not deter us from serving the Lord and preaching the gospel. We need to see beyond our own interests to see God’s higher purpose in the sufferings we experience.
Philip went down to Samaria to preach Christ. Is there a “Samaria” today that you can reach out to?Hide Answer
In the early days of the church, believers did not think of reaching out to places beyond Jerusalem. Not only so, Samaria was considered by the Jews a region of an impure race. So for Philip and the other believers to reach out to the Samaritans was a bold and important step in the expansion of the church.
Today, there may be places or groups of people that have either been neglected or looked upon unfavorably by the majority of people. We should take the initiative to bring the gospel of salvation to them and not let our negligence or prejudices become a hindrance. We should also not be afraid to venture into unchartered territories to share the gospel message.
What role did miracles play in Philip’s preaching and in the Samaritans’ conversion?Hide Answer
The miracles confirmed the message ofPhilip. The people submitted to God when they heard and saw the mighty works of God that accompanied the preaching.
What blessing did the Samaritans experience upon their conversion? Why?Hide Answer
They experienced great joy (8). Jesus Christ brings joy into believers’ lives because He has reconciled us with God, gives us the hope of eternal life, sets us free from the bondage of Satan, and grants us peace in our hearts.
What status did Simon formerly enjoy in Samaria?Hide Answer
He was greatly revered by all the people throughout the region of Samaria. People extolled him as if he was divine.
Contrast the multitude’s response to Simon’s sorcery and their response to the miracles Philip did.Hide Answer
1. Whereas the people honored the man Simon because of the sorceries he had performed, the people turned to the Lord as a result of the miracles Philip did. In other words, Simon’s sorceries were self serving, but the miracles by Philip led people to God.
2. Whereas the sorceries astonished the people and caused great fear, the miracles from God brought them great joy.
What does this tell us about the differences between the work of the evil spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit?Hide Answer
1. The work of the evil spirit puffs up a person’s pride, but the work of the Holy Spirit brings glory to God.
2. The work of the evil spirit may cause awe, but it is harmful to people. The work of the Holy Spirit brings people great joy because it provides healing and leads them to salvation.
What was it about Philip’s ministry that impressed Simon the most?Hide Answer
Simon was amazed at the miracles and signs that Philip had performed. He appeared to be more interested in supernatural power than living a new Christian life.
Why do you think God did not pour out the Holy Spirit on the believers in Samaria until the church sent Peter and John to them to pray for them?Hide Answer
The fact that none of the converts in the city received the Holy Spirit suggests that God had intentionally delayed the sending of the Holy Spirit to these new believers. The unity and oneness of the church is very important in God’s eyes. It was God’s will for this new group of believers to be united with the church in Jerusalem and not become an isolated Christian group. All Christians need to identify themselves as members of the body of Christ, regardless of where they are or what their ethnicity is.
Since the Jews would normally not associate with the Samaritans in those days, it became even more paramount for the church in Jerusalem to recognize and embrace the believers in Samaria. God’s intentional delay in sending the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came to lay hands on the believers in Samaria sent a strong message to all that the believers in Samaria were equally accepted by God and had become members of Christ’s body, since they had received the same gospel message and had received the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands by the apostles.
What lesson can the church and her workers today learn from this?Hide Answer
It is God’s intention for His church to be one (cf. Jn 10:16). Some people may have the gift and calling to venture into new territories to preach the gospel. This is a good thing. However, this new area of ministry needs to be united with the rest of the church so that the church as a whole can remain as one body. Converts from this ministry should also see themselves as part of the original church.
For example, suppose a pioneer worker felt the calling to venture into a place where there has never been a True Jesus Church to preach the gospel of salvation. As a result, a number of people accepted the gospel and were baptized into Christ by this pioneer worker. Then the assembly of the established churches, such as represented by the general assembly or international assembly, should support this new area by sending workers to assist in the sacred work. On the other hand, the pioneer worker should welcome workers from the general assembly or international assembly, and the new converts in the new area ought to see themselves as members of the True Jesus Church.
As another example, suppose a sister started a campus crusade and won many people to Christ on campus. The closest local church or general assembly should support this ministry by providing the necessary resources to continue the ministry. This sister also ought to work with the church to further the ministry and not try to claim any exclusive ownership to the ministry or keep the new group of converts away from the church.
Another lesson all workers of God should learn from this event is that evangelical and pastoral work are not a one-person show. Although Philip was able to convert many people and even perform miracles, he still needed the support of the apostles from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit distributes various gifts to different believers so that they can work together to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-13). Therefore, it is critical for workers of God to work together to achieve the unity of Christ’s body and to bring glory to God.
How did Luke, the author, or anyone present at the time, know that the Holy Spirit had fallen upon none of them? Later on, how did Simon (or anyone else) know that the Holy Spirit was given?Hide Answer
It is obvious that the coming of the Holy Spirit was always accompanied by some external visible signs. That is why Simon “saw” that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given (18). By the same token, the absence of such external signs meant that the Holy Spirit had not fallen upon any of the believers.
Do believers receive the Holy Spirit upon their acceptance of Jesus Christ? Upon their baptism? What does this passage teach us about the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit?Hide Answer
The fact that the believers in Samaria did not receive the Holy Spirit even after their belief in the Lord Jesus and their baptism clearly contradicts the misconception that a Christian receives the Holy Spirit the moment he puts his faith in Jesus Christ.
The early believers, including the apostles, never assumed that the Holy Spirit was given upon a person’s initial acceptance of Jesus Christ or upon his baptism. If they had such a view, they certainly would not have concluded that the believers in Samaria had not received the Holy Spirit.
This passage per se does not describe the external evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. It simply tells us that the coming of the Holy Spirit was a visible phenomenon. But we know from other passages in Acts that speaking in tongues was the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, and it was the evidence with which the apostles determined whether a person had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; 11:15; 19:6).
Why was it such a serious offense to try to purchase the gift of God with money?Hide Answer
God gave us His grace freely because of His love and mercy. He had already paid the ultimate price by offering His only begotten Son. Believers are able to receive the Holy Spirit because of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ (Tit 3:4-7). No one can earn or purchase God’s saving grace (Ps 49:7-9). Only God alone may give His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. So it was a great insult to God for Simon to think that he could purchase God’s gift with money (cf. Song 8:7).
What does this tell us about the difference between what God offers and what this world offers.Hide Answer
When this world offers something good, it usually expects something in return, be it monetary or otherwise. In this sense, what this world offers can be purchased as long as you have something to give in exchange.
On the contrary, the gift of salvation that God offers has a value that is far beyond what we can give Him in return. But He gives it to us freely even though we have sinned against Him and do not deserve His grace.
Peter rebuked Simon, saying that his heart was not right in the sight of God. What was Simon’s ulterior motive?Hide Answer
Simon’s attempt to purchase the gift of God with money was driven by his lust for power and glory. Perhaps he was too used to being worshiped by people as someone great. He had given up his sorceries, but now, he wanted the power to lay hands and give people the Holy Spirit as he wishes. He hoped he would be able to regain his former glory with this special power.
What can we learn from verse 22 about what God counts as sin?Hide Answer
God considers wrong thoughts and intentions as sin even before they are committed in action (cf. Mt 5:22,28; Acts 5:1 5,9; Rom 2:16).
How could a person who had just believed and been baptized be “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity”? What lesson does this give to new believers?Hide Answer
A believer is not immune to sin. If we accept Jesus Christ and are baptized but allow our former sins to take possession of our hearts, we could still fall from the grace of God and be controlled by sin (cf. Mt 12:43-45; Heb 10:26-29). While we may have come to Christ because we have experienced some miracles in our lives and seen God’s great power, we need to put off our old selves and seek to grow in Christ through His word and His Spirit (Eph 4:21-24; 1Pet 2:1-2).
Where did Peter and John preach the gospel on their way back to Jerusalem? Why is this significant?Hide Answer
They preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans (25). By this time, the church in Jerusalem, including the apostles, had recognized the need to step outside the Jewish community to bring the message of salvation to even the Samaritans. This was a major step in the fulfillment of the Lord’s commission to preach the gospel to people of all nations.