Summary: The refugees who were driven from Jerusalem by the persecution of Saul found numerous opportunities to preach Christ in areas where He was not known. Jerusalem may have rejected the truth, but that was not the only place to serve Christ....
February 11, 2014
By: Tom Lowe
Series: The Early Church
Lesson III.A.1: Philip in Samaria (8:4-25)
The refugees who were driven from Jerusalem by the persecution of Saul found numerous opportunities to preach Christ in areas where He was not known. Jerusalem may have rejected the truth, but that was not the only place to serve Christ and proclaim His gospel. After the death of Stephen, Philip, another one of the seven men chosen to assist the apostles “by waiting tables” emerges as a prominent leader of a more liberal leaning group of Christians that had fled into Samaria.
The Samaritans were of Israelite origin, but with a considerable mixture of Gentile blood. When the Northern Kingdom was invaded by the Assyrians and conquered in 722 b.c., the Hebrew people who were not deported remained in the land and married with foreigners who moved in to the land from the East. The same sort of thing happened when the Southern Kingdom fell in 587 b.c. The people of Judah who were not forced to go to Babylonia stayed and mingled with the neighboring tribes. When the exiles returned from Babylonia, they were racial purest and refused to permit their kinsmen the privilege of worshipping with them or sharing in the building of the temple. Nehemiah and Ezra faced problems in rebuilding the remnant nation and they perpetuated the tension between the two groups by their separatist policy.
The real separation between the Jews and Samaritans came when the son of Jehoida, the high priest, was expelled from the temple (Neh. 13:28). The Samaritans erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, and the hostility between the Jews and Samaritans became more intense with the passing years. The Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch as being God’s Word. They rejected the Jewish teaching of the Messiah, because it was associated with David. David was responsible for making Jerusalem the religious center for the Hebrew people, and the Samaritans said that Mount Gerizim was the place where God would place His name. While they did not believe in a Messiah, they looked for a Taheb (Restorer).
The Taheb was not a Messiah in the Jewish meaning of an anointed descendent of David, but the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (Actually, this is a prophesy regarding Jesus Christ.). They believed this prophetic figure would restore the temple on Mount Gerizim, reestablish the sacrificial cult, and gain recognition from the pagans.
John is the only Gospel writer who mentions a ministry of Jesus among the people of Samaria. In Mathew’s Gospel, when Jesus instructed His disciples for their trial mission, He forbid them to preach in a Samaritan town—“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matt. 10:5). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples were forbidden by the people of Samaria to pass through their land. John, who went with Peter later to inspect the results of Philip’s work in Samaria, joined with his brother James in begging Jesus to consume the Samaritans with fire—“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” (Luke 9:54). It is also Luke who records the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).
Part 1: Preaching Accompanied By Signs (vv. 4-8)
4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.
8 And there was great joy in that city.
The Lord Jesus had said they should be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. Now the Word is going to Samaria. Samaria is north of Jerusalem, but Luke said Philip “went down” because Samaria is lower in elevation than Jerusalem. “Samaria” is used for the territory, and for the city, the ancient capital of the northern kingdom of Israel; also known as “Sebaste.” It is not clear what is meant here, city or territory.
Philip is introduced in Chapter six—“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:3-6). In the twenty-first chapter, beginning in verse 7, we find these words—“And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day. And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:7-9). Philip the deacon, one of the seven, became Philip the evangelist. He was among those who were driven from Jerusalem by Paul’s persecution. In the twenty-first chapter he is seen entertaining Paul on his missionary journey. Don’t you think they must have talked about those early days and of the martyred Stephen?