Acts chapter 8

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What does Acts chapter 8 mean?

In Acts 6:1–6, the church chooses the first deacons, giving them the responsibility to make sure the benevolence funds are distributed fairly. But these men are more than accountants. Stephen is a powerful apologist. His arguments explaining how Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the prophecies of the Messiah frustrate devout Jews to the point they falsely accuse him of threatening to destroy the temple (Acts 6:8–15). Stephen's defense explains that the temple is accepted by God, but not demanded by Him as a place of worship. It is certainly not meant to be an object of worship. Stephen also uses Jewish history to show how the Jews had been God's people since before they had the Law or even resided in Judea. Finally, he compares his accusers to the hard-hearted ancestors who killed God's prophets and compares those prophets to Jesus. The mob responds by stoning him, making Stephen the first Christian martyr (Acts 7).

During the stoning, a young Pharisee-trained man named Saul (Acts 22:3) watches over the cloaks of the attackers (Acts 7:58). Saul continues the momentum which Stephen's murder sets in motion. As the Jesus-followers flee Jerusalem, Saul begins the persecution of the church (Acts 8:1–3).

Among the refugees is one of Stephen's fellow deacons, Philip. He first travels north, to Samaria. Samaritans were considered a hybrid people, descended from the humiliated Israelites of the northern kingdom of Israel and the foreigners the Assyrians moved in when they exiled the Jews (2 Kings 17). The Jews reviled them for their mixed ethnicity and their syncretistic religion. But Jesus has promised that the Samaritans will learn proper worship—in spirit and truth (John 4:21–24)—and Philip is the means. Philip's ministry is great; he proclaims Christ, expels demons, and heals many. The crowds paid attention to what he said. Both men and women believed and were baptized. Observing Philip is a sorcerer named Simon, who had formerly amazed the Samaritans and to whom they had paid attention. Simon also believes and is baptized. As he continues with Philip, he is amazed at the evangelist's miraculous powers (Acts 8:4–13).

Having heard that the Samaritans received God's Word, the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John to Samaria. The Holy Spirit had not yet come on the people, but when the apostles prayed for them and laid their hands on them, the believing Samaritans received the Holy Spirit. Many today take this as proof that Jesus-followers do not receive the Holy Spirit unless a Christian leader lays hands on them. This isn't the case. At this point, the spread of the gospel was still very new and until now very few non-Jews had received the Holy Spirit. God waits until Peter and John arrive so that these pillars of the church can verify that even Samaritans can be saved (Acts 8:14–17).

When Peter and John arrive, Simon the sorcerer sees the people receiving the Holy Spirit, and offers to buy their power. Peter rebukes him strongly, demanding he repent from his wickedness. It seems Simon is more interested in money than being right with God, but he is afraid of Peter's threats and asks for intercessory prayer. Peter and John leave, spreading the news of Jesus throughout other Samaritan towns on their return to Jerusalem (Acts 8:18–25).

Philip receives instructions from God to travel south to a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. There, he meets an Ethiopian official in charge of the queen's treasury. The man is riding in a chariot, reading the book of Isaiah. Philip offers to explain the prophecy to him and shows how Jesus fulfilled what Isaiah wrote hundreds of years before. This incident underscores the need for discipleship—mutual training and teaching of Scripture—rather than attempting to learn entirely on one's own. The Ethiopian official believes and asks to be baptized. Philip obliges, and the Holy Spirit takes Philip away to Azotus, formerly the Philistine city of Ashdod. He continues to spread the gospel as he works his way up the coast to Caesarea (Acts 8:26–40).

In Acts 9, the church's chief persecutor, Saul, will come to a saving relationship with Jesus. In Acts 10, Peter will discover definitively that anyone can repent and be saved by Jesus. Most of the rest of the book of Acts records Saul—now Paul—and his mission trips "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). On his last recorded trip to Jerusalem, Paul will travel through Caesarea and meet up with Philip and his four prophetess daughters (Acts 21:8–9). Philip will warmly welcome the man who drove him out of Jerusalem, likely finding great irony and joy in the meeting.
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