Acts 8:17

ESV Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
NIV Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
NASB Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.
CSB Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
NLT Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.
KJV Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

What does Acts 8:17 mean?

The apostles in Jerusalem have heard that Philip is teaching about Jesus in Samaria—and the people are believing. Philip has baptized the people, but they have not received the Holy Spirit. Peter and John go to see if Philip's work has really led these mixed-Jews to follow the Jewish Messiah (Acts 8:4–8, 14–16).

The Holy Spirit comes on the believers when Peter and John lay their hands on them. This is not standard operating procedure. This is a validation of Philip's message, Philip's association with Jesus' apostles, and the Samaritans' faith. On Pentecost, after Peter told the message of Jesus, people seemed to receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:37–41). Soon, Peter will witness a house full of Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit in the middle of his gospel presentation—no baptism and no laying on of hands (Acts 10:44). The Holy Spirit is not controlled by our actions—there is no magical sequence to receive Him. He comes when we repent and accept Jesus' sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins.

Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He charged the disciples, saying, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The gospel spread throughout Jerusalem until Saul started persecuting the church (Acts 8:1). Now, Philip is in Samaria. Soon, Philip (Acts 8:26–40) and Peter (Acts 10) will preach to Gentiles in Judea. It's interesting to note how much Peter is involved in these new mission fields. In Matthew 16:18–19, Jesus says that He will build His church on "this rock" and He gives the power to bind and loose on earth and in heaven. It's believed that "this rock" is not Peter but Peter's confession that Jesus is the Son of God, and that Jesus gave the authority to bind and loose to all the disciples. Still, it is largely Peter who validates that Samaritans and Gentiles can be saved (Acts 11:1–18).

After King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king. He was young and cruel, and Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes to rebel against him. The nation of Israel was split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. In order to ensure the kingdoms remained separated—both politically and religiously—Jeroboam created idols for the northern kingdom to worship (1 Kings 12). In time, the northern kingdom grew so idolatrous that God allowed Assyria to conquer them and lead most of them into exile. Assyria also brought in people from other nations to populate the area (2 Kings 17). The descendants of the few remaining Israelites and the foreigners became the Samaritans of Jesus' day—the people the Jews despised because of their mixed heritage and their syncretistic worship (John 4:9).

In this moment, as the Holy Spirit comes on the Samaritans, the work of Jeroboam and Rehoboam is undone and the split kingdom is again united under Jesus, David's heir. It's no wonder there is "much joy in that city" (Acts 8:8).
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