The Church Persecuted and Scattered
1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Philip in Samaria
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Simon the Sorcerer
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them,and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” 24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” 25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
In Acts 7, Stephen was martyred (the proto-martyr) – the first killed for his faith in the NT. He was brought before the Jewish Council, accused and had false witnesses brought against him – they said he blasphemed the Law of Moses and the temple. So he was questioned.
He then recounted the history of Israel. In his reply, he showed that the people of Israel themselves had been unfaithful in not keeping the Law and not respecting the temple. Contrary to the devotion given of the land of Judea, many leaders of Jerusalem had been called from OUTSIDE of Judea. And yes, even though God said, “Well, alright, go ahead and build the temple” he doesn’t live in there.
Actually, David didn’t build the temple because – though he was a “man after God’s own heart” – he was also a man of blood. So it was David’s son Solomon who built the temple.
He main point was: God looks at the heart, not the external. We are the temple of the living God – we must worship in spirit and truth.
That didn’t sit well with the Council – they were PROUD of the land, the temple, and their own “holiness.” Jesus had previously said, “A day is coming when not one stone will be left on top of the other.” – that happened in 70 A.D.
The Council couldn’t handle it – so they yelled “lalalala!” covered their ears, dragged him outside, and stoned him to death. Stephen had seen Jesus in heaven waiting for him and said so. And all the men had laid their cloaks at Saul’s feet.
Saul was perhaps between 20-40 – a “young” man. He was called Saul of Tarsus. He later becomes converted, a vessel of God to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
- born in Tarsus – E. Asia minor
- son of a Jew – a “Hebrew of Hebrews”
- circumcised on the 8th day
- of the tribe of Benjamin
- a Pharisee
- probably grew up in Judea speaking Aramaic like a native
- trained in Jerusalem under Gamaliel (he advised the Council to let the apostles go because “if this is from God, you won’t be able to stop it”)
- he was a brilliant, dedicated servant of Judaism (Gal 1:14 – “I was advancing beyond my age – extremely zealous for tradition”)
- Technically, he’s a Helenistic/Grecian Jew
- born outside Jerusalem
- knows Greek culture, and speaks Greek like a native
- like many Grecian Jews, was more fanatical than the Jerusalem Jews
- may have been a member, or apprentice of the Sanhedrin – probably saw Stephen in the Council – you can imagine his anger rising – particularly when Stephen says, “You’re just like your ancestors you stiff-necked people!”
- He heartily approved the murder of Stephen
- He then becomes a driving force to persecute the church in Jerusalem and other places
- He went house to house, dragging out men and women
The same word used to describe his work = used to describe wild beast assaults and army attacks
- Later he describes that he was guilty of the deaths of some believers.
- Later he regrets this greatly (Acts 22). “When the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who did it.”
- 1 Timothy “Even though I was once a violent man, I was shown mercy because I did it in unbelief.”
Glad for God’s mercy? So was Paul/Saul.
Here is the first use of the word “persecution” by Luke. The rank and file of ordinary believers now starts to be affected. Originally, it was just the leaders – now it’s EVERYBODY. (Probably the Grecian speakers mostly – those who believed after Stephen). So, they had to spread.
The persecution was quite rapid and heated. Luke says, “ALL…” but means “many/most…” had to disperse.
Later, the church in Jerusalem flourishes under the leadership of James (but he is then martyred by the high priest in A.D. 62).
“With the martyring of Stephen, the church learned to abandon Israel to Jerusalem…”
Up to now, the preaching was all in Jerusalem. They had preached and taught in the temple mostly – and it was only later (Peter) that they realized “Hey, this good news is for the Gentiles too!”
They don’t have the same reluctance to go to Samaria (actually surprisingly – because of the long history of division and strife between the two areas). Samaria (in 8th century) had been conquered by the Assyrians and many immigrants had come and many other had been forcibly relocated. So it was a “mixed” nation.
In Ezra and Nehemiah, they had opposed the rebuilding of the temple. They built their own temple instead. The Jews in the 2nd century destroyed that temple. In 63 BC, the Romans conquered them both and the Samaritans were liberated from the Jews. In 25 BC, king Herod offered to rebuild the temple – but they said, “Noooo~” because they found out he was ALSO rebuilding the Jewish temple.
So, here, Philip and the others entering here to bring the gospel to them was pretty BOLD.
Philip went to a city in Samaria and preached. The Samaritans were actually considered heretics. They believed in MOST of the same stuff:
Moses, the Law, circumcision, a coming Messiah/Prophet (remember John 4 when Jesus met the woman at the well – “I would give you Living Water” – “We know that when [Taheb] comes, he will reveal all things” – amazing that she is here speaking with the ONE whom they’ve all – we’ve all – been waiting for. She is forgiven, realizes who he is, tells everyone about him. The people say, “Now we believe because of what’s happened in our own heart.”).
The Samaritans probably also realized that there was a persecution against the Jews in Jerusalem – so there is probably a common bond now between the two groups (Philip and the Christians are also outcasts just like the Samaritans). The people hear, and see, and are amazed. The Holy Spirit is present, ministering with signs. Demons are crying out and coming out. Paralytics are being healed. There was great joy in that city.
Imagine those miracles. And that joy.
When the Samaritans saw the miracles, they paid close attention (8:6). Just as at Pentecost, it is the Power of God that grabs people’s attention. Like Jesus, Philip performed miracles, he is doing the same ministry that Jesus did.
At this point, the story (by Luke) is intertwined with the story of Simon the Magician. He is noted in the writing of 2nd century Christians as “the first heretic.” He is the originator of a number of heresies. He was revered as “the First God.” At one point, he went to Rome before Claudius where his magic brought him great fame and fortune.
Simon is amazed to see the signs and wonders performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. v. 9-16
This is similar to the signs of Moses in Egypt. The sorcerers could do many magical things – same with the priests of Baal before Elijah – but they couldn’t do them all. This was a sign that this was the ONE true God, the power of the ONE true God.
Acts 1:8 “You will receive power…”
The apostles had to wait and pray and receive the Holy Spirit and his power to go out and preach and show greater things than those of the occult.
These things reached the ears of the apostles in Jerusalem. So, Peter and John were chosen to go down. This was a mission of good will – they also want to see the real conversions and confirm the validity of the ministry of the Grecian Jews.
When the Samaritans are baptized in Jesus’ name, there is no visible evidence of the receipt of the Holy Spirit. It’s only after the apostles come down that they can see evidence of the receipt of the Holy Spirit. Luke implies this is because the Samaritans should be brought into the church as a whole, not just as this one small group.
In other places, there is no laying on of hands. Later, when Ananias lays hands on Saul, he is transformed.
Here there is a delay in the receipt of the Holy Spirit – perhaps this is to SHOW the Jewish Christians that the Lord loves them as well.
How do we know they receive the Holy Spirit? Simon the sorcerer says he sees it – and wants it. Something obviously happened that shows that something miraculous has happened. He wants to buy that power with money (obviously to add it to his belt of “magic tricks”).
Philip says, “I can see you’re bitter. No. Pray to God that he gives you the spirit of repentance.”
Simon, “Oh, please pray for me.”
Later on with Paul and Elimas there is another sorcerer in Cyprus – defeated by the power of God.
There is great joy in the city – the gospel is shown to be the great power of God for salvation for those who would believe. And Peter and John start walking back toward Jerusalem, preaching in all the towns.
Earlier in Acts, Jesus had said, “The gospel will be preached in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria [now], and to the ends of the earth.”
Eventually, (especially in Antioch), the gospel became a big mission of the Gentiles.
There are warnings here against dabbling in the occult. God DETESTS these things:
- hidden/secret spiritual things
- New Age
Actually it’s not “New Age” – it was happening here. The best thing to do is to RENOUNCE them. “I did it for fun – no big deal” is not good enough. People were killed/stoned for that in the New Testament.
We’ve been changed out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his Son. God is pleased when we renounce those things and turn to him for truth and knowledge.