The witnesses at the stoning of Stephen, “laid down their clothes (robes or outer garments) at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” This young man was “consenting” unto Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1). That is, he heartily approved the stoning. He wanted the testimony cut off and was in favor of killing the preacher in order to stop the preaching of the gospel of Christ.

The young man, Saul “persecuted” and “wasted” the church of God beyond measure. He “profited in the Jews religion” above many his equal in Israel, and was exceedingly zealous of the “traditions” of his fathers (Gal. 1:13-14). He was “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel,of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6). All of this helps us to understand why Saul “made havoc of the church,” going from house to house, and “haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).

At the time of the stoning of Stephen there was a great presecution against the church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1). The apostles remained in the city of Jerusalem so that they might oversee the work of the various assemblies to be established by the scattered believers, who “went every where preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4). At this point we call attention to the fact that these scattered believers preached the Word “to none but unto the Jews only” (Acts 11:19). They were slow to take God’s instructions as set forth in Act 1:8—”ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” When God cannot rule, He always over-rules. Hence, His permission for the persecution of the Jerusalem church, and the scattering of its membership into the territory whereunto He had commissioned them to go. Stephen, having finished his course and gone on into the presence of the Lord, Philip, one of the seven numbered with Stephen in Acts 6:5, took up the message and carried it into the city of Samaria, where he “preached Christ unto them”(Acts 8:5). A thriving revival broke out in Samaria under the ministry of Philip—’And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8).

Simon the Sorcerer

Among those who heard Philip preach and saw the miracles which he did was a sorcerer by the name of Simon. Before Philip came that way, Simon, “in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries” (Acts 8:9-11).

Simon made great headway with his false teaching until a true messenger of God came on the scene “preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.” When they believed Philip’s testimony, “they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Even Simon, himself, believed and was baptized. As he continued with Philip, he wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done (Acts 8:13).

These believers were believers in what they heard and saw. They did not receive the Holy Ghost when they believed. Therefore, it is entirely possible for them to believe in the outward manifestation and not experience an inward work of grace. Such was the case of Simon, the sorcerer. When Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and laid their hands upon the believers, “they received the Holy Ghost.” Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given and he offered them money for the power to do the same thing. Peter pronounced judgment upon him and prayed that both he and his money would perish. He further stated, “thou halt neither part or lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Act 8:15-23).

The first thought of Simon the sorcerer was selfish. He asked Peter to pray to the Lord for him that none of these things which Peter had spoken should come upon him. He was thinking of his own escape from the just judgment of God. How unlike the plea of David, the man after God’s own heart. David’s cry was—”I have sinned against the Lord” (II Samuel 12:13). He was concerned not about himself but because he had sinned against the Lord. Simon was concerned not about the Lord but that he himself might be spared. This shows the difference between true and false confession.

The Laying on of Hands

It is very significant that the converts of Samaria did not receive the Holy Ghost until the hands of the Jerusalem apostles were laid upon them—”Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet He had fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:14-17).

We have a similar proposition concerning the converts of Apollos at Ephesus—”And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:1-6). It seems that the laying on of hands which originated under the Levitical order was carried on under both the ministry of the twelve and that of the apostle Paul during the Acts period. This was under the new covenant between God and Israel and not in connection with the mystery which was later revealed through the apostle Paul.

It is clear that the “laying on of hands” along with other outward manifestations are to be left behind as the believers move on “unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1-3). Even present day believers are loath to leave them, yet we have God’s own Word for it and we should follow the Word in place of the traditions of men. Hence the warning of Paul—”Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:810).

After Peter and John had finished their ministry with the redeemed ones, and had dealt with Simon, the sorcerer, they themselves “preached the Word of the Lord” and bore their testimony in Samaria. Then they returned to Jerusalem and preached the gospel in many villages on their return trip (Acts 8:25).

The Ethiopian Eunuch

was the treasurer of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. Philip came in contact with this Ethiopian and led him to the Lord Jesus Christ. The story of his conversion is clearly set forth in the following verses—”And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth: In His humiliation His judgment was taken away; and who shall declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:26-39).

When “the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip” telling him to leave Samaria, he was in the midst of a thriving revival; and humanly speaking, Philip should have remained to continue his preaching there. Even if the meeting had closed most preachers would have remained a few days to revel in the victory. But not so with Philip, he immediately left Samaria and the throngs for the desert and the lone Ethiopian.

This Ethiopian “had come to Jerusalem for to worship,” but was returning to his home without the Saviour. He was, in this respect, like many present day worshippers who religiously attend church services, go through all the form and ceremony, but are actually without God and without hope in the world. The very fact that the eunuch was admitted into the fellowship of the Jerusalem church is sufficient proof that he was a proselyte (Acts 2:10). The first uncircumcised Gentiles to be taken into fellowship with the Jewish believers were Cornelius and his household (Acts 15:14).

It is interesting to note that the unsaved Ethiopian was reading “Esaias the prophet” (Acts 8:28). The Lord was preparing his heart for the ministry of Philip, the evangelist. When we follow the leading of the Lord in perfect submission and obedience, He always goes before and prepares the way for a fruitful ministry.

We know from verse 26 that the angel of the Lord told Philip to make the journey in the desert; but it was the Holy Spirit who told him to go near and join himself to the chariot in which the eunuch was riding (Acts 8:29). This helps us to understand the importance which God attaches to the preaching of the gospel. An angel may be used to direct an evangelist on a certain journey, but the Spirit Himself takes charge in the act of soul-winning.

The portion of Isaiah’s prophecy which the eunuch was reading is found in chapter 53. Philip asked him saying—”Understandest thou what thou realest?” The Ethiopian answered—”How can I, except some man should guide me?” And he immediately invited Philip to “come up and sit with him.”

The scripture which the unsaved Ethiopian desired to be guided into read like this—”He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth: in His humiliation His judgment was taken away: and who shall declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth” (Acts 8:32-33).

The chief concern in the mind of the eunuch is revealed in his plea to Philip—”I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or of some other man?” It seems that he realized that salvation rested in a person, and he wanted to know just who this person was.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35).

The fact that this Ethiopian desired to be baptized with water is no strange thing. He had been a worshipper in the Jerusalem church where water baptism had been preached according to Acts 2:38—”Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Water baptism was definitely in the program of God’s church during the opening chapters of the book of Acts. Philip was laboring under a different dispensation to that which Paul speaks of in Colossians 1:25-26, as the dispensation of the “mystery.” Both baptism and circumcision were essential to fellowship in the church when the eunuch was saved.

Believers of today cannot move back into the dispensation covered by the opening chapters of the book of Acts. We are living on this side of Paul’s statement—”Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17).

After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved and baptized with water he went on his way “rejoicing” and Philip went on his way preaching (Acts 8:36-40).