BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
PERSECUTION SCATTERS THE BELIEVERS
(Philip preaches in Samaria)
The day that Stephen was killed a great persecution swept over the Church at Jerusalem causing most of the believers to flee into Judea and Samaria. Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem, along with a few GODly men who came and buried Stephen. Saul, one of the official witnesses to the slaying of Stephen (and who later became the great Church leader, the Apostle Paul) was on a rampage, going from door to door, dragging Christians from their homes and throwing them in jail because of their belief in JESUS.
In Acts chapter 8, taking up at verse 4, we see that, after the believers were scattered from Jerusalem, Philip, one of the seven chosen servants (Acts 6:5) of the early Church, fled to the forbidden territory of the, still hated, Samaritans in northern Israel. It was now the appointed time of the LORD to begin to show all mankind that the Gospel of CHRIST was intended, not only for the Jews, but for Samaritans and Gentiles as well. JESUS had already left a clear message through HIS life examples that, in the coming Christian Faith, there would be no such thing as an enemy, except satan, in all the world. No one is outside of the love of CHRIST, and no one is outside of the purpose of GOD. GOD wishes all mankind to be saved.
Second Kings, chapter 17, chronicles the origins of the Jews and Samaritans hatred for each other. By the first century A.D., the quarrels between the two groups were centuries old. In fact, one would have to go all the way back to the eighth century B.C., when the Assyrians, under the leadership of Shalmanaser, the son of the great Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser, conquered the northern kingdom of Israel (722 B.C.), whose capital, at that time, was Samaria.
As conquerors often did in those days, the Assyrians transported the greater portion of the Jewish population to Assyria and re-settled Israel with its own people. The small portion of the Jewish people, who were left in Israel, eventually began to intermarry with the Assyrians who were supplanted there. The progenitors from those marriages became the hated Samaritans, or, so-called, half-breed Jews, that we read about in JESUS’ day.
Most of the Jews who were transported to Assyria, stubbornly and steadfastly refused to lose their identity as “pure-blood Jews”, by intermarrying with the Assyrians. They held strong resentment towards their brothers and sisters back home in Israel, because they did not cling to the same convictions that they had towards their “pure-blood” status.
Before King David moved the Worship Center up to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6), all of the Jewish people, including the Samaritans, went to Mount Gerizim to pay homage to the LORD (Joshua 8:33). After David’s restructuring and move to Jerusalem, the Samaritans continued to worship at Mount Gerizim (John 4:20) while the pure blood Jews adhered to David’s new system in Jerusalem.
In John chapter 4, verses 4-41, some fourteen generations after King David’s death, we see JESUS finally entering into Samaria to initiate an end to the ancient hostilities that had so long crippled the unity possibilities of GOD’s people. There the Apostle John, through his writings of JESUS’, now famous encounter with the women at “Jacob’s Well”, gives us a vivid description of what JESUS now expected from those who desired to be one of HIS followers into the future.
Here we see JESUS attempting to teach HIS disciples and future believers that the time had indeed come to put an end to petty disputes that had spilled over, even into the way that they were worshipping the FATHER. There JESUS tells us that GOD is looking for anyone who can worship HIM in “spirit”, and in “truth” because GOD HIMSELF is SPIRIT.
While in Samaria Philip performed many miracles, and the people of that hated city listened to him because of those miracles. Many evil spirits were cast out of people, and many who had been crippled were healed. Scripture doesn’t even hint that Philip may have wanted to withhold what power GOD had given him, from the people of Samaria. Instead he gladly healed, and he exorcized demons, and he taught everyone who cared to listen, the Word of GOD, and, the good news about CHRIST, and the HOLY SPIRIT.
There was a man by the name of Simon Magnus, or, “Simon the magician” who had become known as a great man in Samaria because of the magic that he performed. All of the people of Samaria thought him to be the possessor of the great power of GOD. However, Philip’s miracles and the message of the good news of GOD’s Kingdom and JESUS CHRIST, had won the people over from Simon. In fact, Simon himself was baptized and began following Philip everywhere he went. He was utterly amazed by the miracles and signs that he performed, and he foolishly sought to buy the power of the SPIRIT that enabled Philip, and also Peter and John (who had just arrived in Samaria to pray and share the news of the HOLY SPIRIT with the people) to do those miracles. However, after being rebuked by Peter that he repent from his evil thoughts, Simon requested that the Apostle pray in intercession to GOD for him that nothing terrible would happen to him because of his ignorant thoughts.
And so we see, that, the miracles that accentuated the ministry of our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST, continued on in the early days of the Church. Those miracles were used by GOD to authenticate those men and women who were acting as HIS representatives in carrying HIS Gospel message to the people.
The greatest purpose of JESUS was to communicate to man how he must worship GOD in “truth”, the true sense of HIS Word. The purpose of the HOLY SPIRIT was to make the connection man needed in order that he may be able to worship GOD, not only in “truth”, but also with a discerning “human spirit”. And so, it is for the purpose of GOD that the Christian is called, and by the work of the HOLY SPIRIT that a person’s life is hallowed towards GOD. But it is by the sprinkling of the blood of JESUS CHRIST that past sins are forgiven, and we can look forward to a future of obedience to GOD.
It is important that a person comes to realize the purpose for which he or she came into the world, and that purpose is, and always has been, to serve GOD. And until a person is able to grasp and understand that, they will continue to find themselves living a life similar to that of the Samaritan woman before she met JESUS at Jacob’s well. She had been meandering around aimlessly for many years looking for “physical” answers from men, to problems, that had always been “spiritual”. We who are created must to know the truth of the CREATOR GOD. And when that happens, we will be able to embody the SPIRIT that can help us stay focused on HIM whose Word is the whole spiritual truth. And we also learn, just as Simon did, that the power of GOD (the HOLY SPIRIT) cannot be bought and sold, but rather, is given freely to those who believe in CHRIST JESUS.
PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH
In Isaiah 56, verses 3-5, GOD promises, through the prophet Isaiah, to pour out HIS blessings on the eunuchs of the world, who dedicate themselves to serving HIM and keeping HIS commandments. There the LORD says that HE will reward them with a special place in HIS house, and that it would be a memorial far greater than the honor they would have received by having sons and daughters, and that it would last forever.
In Acts chapter 8, verses 26-40, we begin to see the first signs of GOD’s fulfillment of that promise. This chapter of the book of Acts depicts a very significant phase in the history of the development of the early Church as it begins to show signs of an initial shedding of its “strictly Jewish membership status”.
Here in this passage, we see the Church being compelled by GOD to scatter and flee Jerusalem, as a result of the Christian persecutions sanctioned by the Emperor Nero that, followed the tragic death of Stephen. The “Adherents of the Way” of CHRIST were now unwittingly taking one of the most important steps in the history of the early Church, and, at one and the same time, were discovering that the ideology of Christianity was meant by GOD to permeate the whole world. And when they were forced to leave Jerusalem, they also were forced to spread the Good News of CHRIST JESUS as they traveled from place to place.
After preaching and teaching in Samaria, an angel of the LORD came to Philip and instructed him to go south down the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. As he traveled on his way he met a eunuch who was also the treasurer of Ethiopia. He was a man of great authority under the queen (Candace) of Ethiopia and he was returning from worshiping the LORD in Jerusalem.
Candace is the name given to the queens that ruled Ethiopia’s governmental affairs, as the king, or “Royal Son” was thought to be above those kinds of duties. Eunuchs were used in trusted positions in royal courts, especially those positions that involved working around the king’s wives and harems.
This particular eunuch was apparently a student of the Word of the GOD of Israel (the Holy Scriptures), and had converted over to Judaism. He was what was known as a “GOD-fearer” in those days, a person who was non-Jewish, who had converted to Judaism, but did not accept the ritual of circumcision, since he was, after all, a “eunuch”. A eunuch, as we know, is a person who has been castrated, or sexually mutilated, either voluntarily or involuntarily.
However, whatever his circumstances were, he appeared to be a man who was seeking to know GOD better, and GOD promises that, whoever is willing to seek HIM through HIS Word, will indeed, find HIM. And so we see this royal eunuch riding in his carriage reading aloud, perhaps from the Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the Old Testament), and contemplating the writings of the prophet, Isaiah, when suddenly the HOLY SPIRIT instructed Philip to go over to him and walk along beside his carriage.
Philip can now hear what the man was reading and asks him if he understood. The man replied, “How can I, when there is no one to instruct me?” he then invited Philip up into his carriage to sit with him and explain the Scriptures to him. The passage he was reading was that of Isaiah 53:7-8 which states;
“HE was led as a sheep to slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, HE did not open HIS mouth. HE was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of HIS descendants? For HIS life was taken from the earth.” (NLT)
The eunuch asked Philip if Isaiah was talking about himself or someone else, and Philip began with this same Scripture and then used many others to tell man the Good News about JESUS and the gift of Salvation to all mankind who believed. As they rode along, Philip was able to lead the man to CHRIST, and when they came to some water, the man requested that Philip Baptist him, and he did.
It is a life-changing thing, getting to know, and becoming accustomed to practicing the Word of GOD. GOD’s Word has already come, and in fact, has been with us since the beginning. The Word of GOD simply cannot be, nor will not be disregarded. The Word of GOD is synonymous with life, and therefore, the Word of GOD is effective, and penetrating. It absolutely scrutinizes all of our thoughts, desires, and intentions. All things lay naked before GOD, because HE absolutely sees all, hears all, and knows all that we do. And every one of us will have to make an account for the deeds done in our own bodies, in our own lifetimes. And, whether, or not, we believe that HE exist, therefore, becomes totally irrelevant.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website