Acts 8 Saul’s Inquisition, Philip’s Ministry

Tod Kennedy, September 26, 1999

Applications or “So what?” from Acts 8

  1. Persecution of believers is a part of life. Let us not be surprised when it happens. Jesus told us in John 17.14-16 that the unbelieving world hates believers because, like him, believers are not part of the unbelievers’ world system.
  2. Biblical witnessing for Christ is a supernatural activity. We want God to direct us to the right people and every time we tell someone the gospel, God must convince that person of its truth.
  3. What we say about the gospel must be accurate, clear, and documented by Scripture.
  4. Sorcery and magic are wrong because they attempt to take God’s place or do what only God can do. If the magic is supernatural, Satan is the source. If it is false, but claims to be real, it can lead people away from God and toward Satan.
  5. New believers can be terribly confused about biblical truth. We ought to give them basic doctrine instruction immediately after their salvation.
  6. No one can buy a spiritual gift. God sovereignly distributes them through the Holy Spirit.
  7. We ought to use the Word of God, the appropriate verses, when we witness. Remember, only the Bible has the message of eternal salvation.

Summary Outline

  1. Saul, later to be the apostle Paul, was a whole-hearted supporter of the murder of Stephen. When Paul left the scene of the crime, he initiated his own wave of terror against believers in Christ. (Acts 8.1-3).
  2. When the believers scattered because of persecution, they carried the gospel with them. Philip, one of the seven table-servers, went to Samaria, which was about thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem (Acts 8.4-5).
  3. God gave Philip certain temporary spiritual gifts. The miracles caught the public’s attention so that when Philip spoke the gospel, many believed it. Eternal salvation was through believing the gospel. The apostles sent Peter and John from Jerusalem to Samaria; God gave the Holy Spirit to these new believers through Peter and John. This was a public recognition at a crucial point in church history that Samaritans were equal members in the church (Acts 8.6-17).
  4. A new believer, Simon wrongly tried to purchase Peter and John’s temporary authority to give the Holy Spirit to believers. He completely missed the spiritual significance of spiritual gifts, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the Apostle’s ministry. Peter told him to repent; apparently, Simon did (Acts 8.18-25).
  5. An angel instructed Philip to go south; an Ethiopian official was traveling between Jerusalem and Gaza. This official was reading Isaiah 53 and needed to be taught what Isaiah meant. Philip opened to Isaiah 53 and explained that this spoke of Jesus; the official believed in Jesus and then requested water baptism, so Philip baptized him. Following this, the Holy Spirit miraculously took Philip to Azotus, the Old Testament Ashdod, which is 20 miles north of Gaza. Philip continued to preach the gospel (Acts 8.26-40).

Doctrine Summaries, Definitions, and Descriptions

  1. Persecution is normal for the Christian; Paul wrote to Timothy “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). Persecution of Christians was local and sporadic until about A.D. 250.  It was often initiated by religious authority (Acts 7) and by government authority (Nero, A.D. 54-68; Domitian, A.D. 81-96; Aurelius, A.D. 161-180; Decius; A.D. 249-251; and Diocletian A.D. 284-305).  Some persecution was by arrest and interrogation, and sometimes included jail time (Acts 4-5); other persecution was by mob violence as in Acts 7 and 17; Herod Agrippa executed the Apostles James (Acts 12.1-2); Jews stoned Paul at Lystra (Acts 14.19); Peter wrotes in 2 Peter 3.1-6 that unbelievers enjoyed ridiculing believers; Paul recorded, in 2 Thessalonians 1.4-5, what probably was physical, verbal, and mental persecution of the new Thessalonian believers; the apostle John was put in some sort of solitary confinement on the Island of Patmos (Revelation 1.5).  Polycarp, at the age of 86 or older, was burned to death at Smyrna because he would not recant his faith. Rome instigated major persecutions in A.D. 249-251, under Decius, A.D. 258-259, under Valerian, and from A.D. 296-310, under Diocletian and especially under Galerius. The intermingling of church and state which began with Constantine and the growth of the papacy eventually brought  persecution by both church and state. There were numerous reasons for persecution: religious establishments have always resorted to the persecution of “heretics”; when the Roman political order thought that Christianity was a threat, the Romans sought to remove the threat by removing Christians; Christians became the scapegoat for failed political policies—Nero and the infamous “Christian torches” is one example.
  2. Saul, also named Paul, was born in Tarsus, an important city within the Roman world. He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and a Roman citizen by birth. We do not know for sure how his family first acquired Roman citizenship, but “Presumably Paul’s father, grandfather or even great-grandfather had rendered some outstanding service to the Roman cause….One thing is certain, however:  among the citizens and other residents of Tarsus, the few Roman citizens, whether Greeks or Jews by birth, would constitute a social elite.” (F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 38-39) (Acts 16.37; 21.39; 22.3, 25-29; Romans 11.1; Philippians 3.5). Saul was a Pharisee, and Gamaliel, the leading Pharisee of the day, had taught him (Acts 23.6; 26.5; Philippians 3.5).  He had a wonderful heritage, intellect, ability, and training. He succeeded at whatever he did (Philippians 3.4-6).  Saul was hostile to Christ and Christians.  He was present at the stoning of Stephen; while there he must have heard the message which Stephen delivered. Later he was armed with written authority to seek out and persecute believers (Acts 7.58-60; 8.1-3; 9.1-2; 22.4-8; 26.9-12; 1 Corinthians 15.9; Galatians 1.13; Philippians 3.6).  Later, the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Saul while he was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus to harass and arrest believers. Saul believed in Christ as savior at that time. The Lord immediately sent him to Ananias, a believer, in Damascus. God removed Paul’s temporary blindness and instructed him through Ananias (Acts 9.1-19; 22.3-16; 26.12-18).  Soon after Paul met Ananias, he went into Arabia where the Lord taught him and prepared him for his ministry. Following this training he returned to Damascus to witness and teach Bible doctrine (Acts 9.20-22; Galatians 1.16-18). Later, Saul began his missionary travels. Saul began to go by his Roman name, Paul, about the time his missionary trips to the Gentiles began (Acts 13.1-13).
  3. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is the act by which the Holy Spirit indwells a person the moment he believes in Christ, and by this indwelling identifies and unites that  believer with Christ and his spiritual body, the church (1 Corinthians 12.13; Ephesians 1.23). It happens to every church age believer; you cannot be a believer and in the church apart from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a fact, not an experience. It is not something that is felt nor does it have confirming signs. It is an act of God that occurs at the time a person believes in Christ. During the transition from the age of Israel to the church age, God used the apostles to give the Holy Spirit to select groups of new believers in order to identify these believers as members of the body of Christ (Samaritans, in Acts 8.14-18; Gentiles, in Acts 10.43-48; Ephesians who knew only John the Baptist’s baptism, in Acts 19.1-7).
  4. Eternal salvation comes to a person when he believers in Jesus as savior—faith alone in Christ alone. The good news is that Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe in Him because He died in our place for our sins. Paul wrote of this in Romans 1.9, 15-16, 1 Corinthians 15.1-4, 2 Corinthians 10.1, Galatians 4.13, Ephesians 1.13, Philippians 4.15, and 2 Timothy 1.8. This good news or gospel of eternal salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone is for the entire world. Eternal salvation becomes the possession of every person at the moment he believes in God’s Son for salvation. People wrongly try to add many things to the gospel—discipleship, changing your life, making Jesus the Lord of your life, stop sinning, Christian service, going to church, giving up certain activities, or obedience to God. They may say that unless your life shows morality and Christian growth and service you may not be a Christian. They change grace—grace means that God has done everything Himself and offers us salvation for free—ever so subtly by making us do something to help insure our salvation. They change faith, again very subtly, by making it include obedience to God instead of simply believing in Christ. Faith is a belief, a trust, an inner conviction, a reliance that something is true—faith must be directed toward the right object, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2.8-9; Romans 1.4-8).