Called To Break Down Barriers

Acts 8:26-39

SS Lesson for 08/13/2017


Devotional Scripture:  Acts 10:9-48


Overview and Key Verse of the Lesson

The lesson explains how God breaks down barriers to the gospel and that we are Called to Break Down Barriers. The study's aim is to learn that God will eliminate barriers and cause them to disappear when He is reaching out to a person. The study's application is to understand that we must be alert to the opportunities to teach about God and Jesus regardless of perceived barriers.

                                                              (Adapted from the Bible Expositor and Illuminator Commentary)


Key Verse: Acts 8:35

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him


Commentary from The Bible Knowledge Commentary

8:26. Though Luke gave no record of God’s commanding Philip to preach to the Samaritans (v. 5), God did sovereignly direct Philip toward Gaza (see the map at Acts 9). The highway is referred to as the desert road. The expression may refer to a desert road or a desert city. Ancient Gaza was destroyed in 93 b.c. and the city was rebuilt nearer the Mediterranean in 57 b.c. The old city was called Desert Gaza. The Greek for the angel’s command could be translated, “Arise and go to the south to the road... that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is desert.” This reference to the road in 8:36 may imply that the road, not the city, was in a deserted area.

8:27. The Ethiopian eunuch is described rather fully as an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. “Ethiopia” here refers not to modern-day Ethiopia but to ancient Nubia, the region from Aswan in southern Egypt to Khartoum, Sudan. Candace was a title given to the queen-mother, as Pharaoh was used of the king of Egypt. Governmental power rested in the hands of Candace, for the royal son, worshiped as an offspring of the sun, was therefore above such mundane activities as ruling over a nation. Rulership was therefore vested with the queen-mother. The fact that this eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship is interesting. The Law prohibited eunuchs from entering the Lord’s assembly (Deut. 23:1). However, Isaiah 56:3-5 predicts great blessing for eunuchs in the Millennial Age. Evidently this eunuch was a worshiper of Yahweh though not a full-fledged proselyte.

8:28-30. The eunuch’s wealth is revealed in the simple description sitting in his chariot. As this finance officer was riding, he was reading from the Book of Isaiah. Since it was customary to read aloud, Philip could have easily heard the portion of Scripture the eunuch was reading (v. 30). Interestingly Philip was guided first by an angel (v. 26) and then by the Holy Spirit (v. 29).

8:31-35. The quotation from Isaiah 53:7-8 was perplexing to the eunuch. Welcoming the opportunity to have Philip explain the passage, he invited the apostle into his chariot. The Ethiopian knew the passage described an individual, but was it Isaiah or someone else? Philip seized the opportunity to present the good news about Jesus from Isaiah 53 (cf. John 5:39).

8:36-39. The first consequence of Philip’s evangelization was the eunuch’s conversion. His response, Why shouldn’t I be baptized? indicates that water baptism was the seal of a personal decision to trust in Christ (cf. Matt. 28:19). The second result was joy, for the eunuch... went on his way rejoicing. A third result was a further outreach of the gospel to one who was neither Jew nor Samaritan, but a Gentile (African) worshiper of Yahweh who was not a full-fledged proselyte to Judaism. Possibly the eunuch was uncircumcised. (As indicated in the niv marg., Acts 8:37 is included only in late Gr. mss. and therefore was probably not in the original ms.)

When the baptism was completed the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again. Whatever happened to the Ethiopian eunuch after that is unknown.

8:40. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus. This city is the same as Ashdod, an ancient Philistine capital. As he traveled to Caesarea he proclaimed the gospel in all the towns along the way (see Azotus and Caesarea on the map at chap. 9). Evidently Philip then settled in Caesarea for he was still there about 20 years later (cf. 21:8). Significantly an evangelist may be resident or itinerary; Philip carried on both types of ministries.

The area around Azotus and Caesarea was later visited by Peter (9:32-43). Even though Philip the evangelist resided in Caesarea, the Lord called Peter from Joppa to give the gospel to Cornelius in Caesarea (chaps. 10-11).


Commentary from the Bible Expositor and Illuminator Commentary

Among the seven men called to serve the early church in Acts 6 were Stephen and Philip (vs. 5). Stephen proved to be a powerful witness for the risen Christ. In fact, he became such a threat to the Jewish religious establishment that he was murdered by a mob of his enemies (6:9-7:60). After Stephen's death, Philip came to the forefront as an evangelist. He carried on an effective ministry in Samaria, where many came to faith in Christ (Acts 8:5-13). His ministry was not limited to the crowds in Samaria, however. Indeed, from there, the Lord directed Philip to one individual traveling along a road in a desert area south and west of Jerusalem. The man was an important Ethiopian official who was reading Isaiah 53 from a scroll as he traveled home from Jerusalem. When he invited Philip to explain to him the meaning of the text he was reading, Philip "began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." The fact that he began at this Scripture shows that Philip not only explained that the words of Isaiah spoke of the Messiah but also that he went beyond the Isaiah passage to present the Lord Jesus, "whose suffering and death had accomplished exactly what Isaiah had predicted" (Kent, Jerusalem to Rome, Baker). It is also clear from what transpired in the following verses that "Philip's explanations must have been sufficiently broad to include the necessity of a personal response and the need for Christian baptism." This unique opportunity was divinely arranged, for the angel of the Lord had directed Philip to this very spot (Acts 8:26). God's purpose was accomplished when the Ethiopian man professed faith in Christ and was baptized (vss. 36-38). While much of Acts deals with the preaching of the gospel in cities and synagogues throughout the Mediterranean world, this interesting episode, in an obscure area and witnessed by very few people, has great importance in the biblical account and several lessons for us today. First, we should note that this Philip was not the Philip who was one of Jesus' twelve disciples (cf. Acts 1:13). Rather, he was a wise, faithful, and godly man who simply was willing to serve the church as he served the Lord (6:3-5). God uses those who show themselves faithful, not just those whom people consider leaders of the church. Philip was available and willing, and God turned him into a powerful witness for Christ. He was later called "the evangelist" (21:8). Second, this incident reminds us that the Old Testament clearly speaks of Jesus. We cannot get a full portrait of the Lord apart from the Hebrew Scriptures. Third, Philip began where the Ethiopian was in his understanding or lack of it. We too should seek to meet people where they are and patiently and lovingly lead them to Jesus, not try to force the gospel on them before they understand it. Finally, while it is the Word of God that reveals the truth to sinners, God uses people like us to explain it to them and persuade them to believe it. !t is crucial that we know the Bible and are willing and able to present the gospel clearly to others.


Lesson Introduction and Background

From the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

Approximately 8,500 Sudanese live in Omaha. Most have immigrated since 1995 because of warfare in their nation. The number of Somalis who live in Minneapolis is estimated to exceed 60,000. Louisville has about 80,000 immigrant refugees from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, and Somalia. Your nearest city likely has its own population of new immigrants whose culture is very different from the traditions of that city. How do we effectively understand and communicate with people having languages and customs different from our own? Our lesson today reveals how Philip reached across cultural lines for Christ.


Acts 8 records two episodes in which Philip, a Jewish Christian from Jerusalem, was pressed to cross cultural lines. First, he found himself in Samaria after persecution broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1b, 4-8). The Samaritans of a certain city had for years been under the sway of a sorcerer named Simon (8:9-11). This was a people invested in the occult—surely not how Philip was accustomed to living! But despite crossing two cultural lines, Philip preached boldly, and many Samaritans came to faith in Christ (8:12). Dealing with those cultural distinctives was a stretch for Philip, but at least he did not have to deal with barriers such as language difference or economic status. Yet the second episode (today’s lesson) challenged Philip to cross even more cultural lines. As we consider his success in this, we take care to remember that he is “Philip the evangelist” of Acts 21:8, not the apostle Philip of Mark 3:18; etc.



Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Philip’s Call (Acts 8:26-29)


26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert.

27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship,

28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."


Call using a discerning spirit to hear God's call (26)

By knowing God's voice (John 10:1-6)

10:1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

By being a wise listener (Prov 1:5)

5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance — 

By being a humble servant who listens (1 Sam 3:10)

10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

By being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19)

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

By God empowering our ears to listen (Isa 50:4)

4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

By being guided by God (Prov 1:3-5)

3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young —  5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance


Respond to call by obedience (27-28)

By not only hearing but being obedient (Luke 11:28)

28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." 

Obedience through love (John 14:15)

15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command.

Obedience is an obligation (Rom 8:12-14)

12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation — but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Obedience regardless of circumstances (Dan 3:16-18)

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Obedience through suffering (Heb 5:8)

8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered

Obedience that leads to righteousness (Rom 6:16)

16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Obedience that shows love for God (1 John 5:2-3)

2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands.

Obedient because of being chosen by God and sanctified by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:2)

2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.


Rely on the Holy Spirit's guidance (29)

Relying on the Holy Spirit through having the Mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:12-16)

12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.   14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

Guidance that is part of God's plan for our life (Jer 29:11)

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Guidance into truth (John 16:13-15)

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

Guidance that is not under the law (Gal 5:18)

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Guidance that represents we are a child of God (Rom 8:14)

14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.


The Ethiopian’s Need to Understand (Acts 8:30-34)


30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth.

33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth."  

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?"


A readiness to understand (from the Bible Expositor and Illuminator)

God saw readiness in an unsaved man, a readiness to learn more about the One of whom the Scripture he was reading spoke. Seeing the eagerness of this man to know more about the Messiah, God looked for someone ready to explain the passage and how it pertained to Christ. We have seen that Philip was the one chosen to witness to this Ethiopian official, and now God brought the two together. Is this not how God works even today? Does He not work upon the hearts of the unsaved, preparing them to hear the gospel? Does He not look for someone who is able and available to be used and then lead him to the place of divine appointment? Are we ready to be used?


Be sensitive to other's understanding (30-31)

Do You Understand? (from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary)

The National Institute for Literacy says that America has a higher percentage of illiterate adults than either Canada or several nations of Europe. More than 20 percent of American adults cannot read well enough to apply for a good job (or keep it if they get hired). These 45 million-or-so Americans are unable to read a children’s story or help with their children’s education. As troubling as these statistics are, they pale in comparison with the problem of biblical illiteracy. A little over a year ago, a candidate for the U.S. presidency did what politicians often do: he tried to make voters think he was more religious than his off-the-campaign-trail behavior indicated. To validate his profession of “being religious,” he named the book of Job as his favorite book in the New Testament! Perhaps he simply misspoke, but his gaffe is symptomatic of a problem in modern culture. This problem is particularly troubling within the church itself. What some politely call a “diversity” in doctrinal viewpoints among Christians is described more accurately as “a crisis of biblical illiteracy” (Barna Research, “Religious Beliefs Vary Widely by Denomination,” June 25, 2001). The Ethiopian’s problem was not really one of illiteracy—scriptural or otherwise. As a Jew, he could read, and he knew the Scriptures to a point. What he needed was someone to help him understand the Scriptures beyond the confines of the Old Testament. Specifically, he needed to be able to identify himself with Israel’s hope—the Messiah. Would you have been biblically literate enough to lead that man to Christ as Philip did?

Sensitive to keep from causing others to stumble (1 Cor 8:9)

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

Sensitive because if God accepts others, we should also (Rom 14:1-3)

14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

Sensitive because knowledge makes one proud (1 Cor 8:1-2)

We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.

Sensitive to not show favoritism (James 2:1-4)

2:1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Sensitive not to view others from a worldly point of view (2 Cor 5:16)

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.


Be prepared to explain Scripture through the aid of the Holy Spirit (32-34)

By always being prepared to provide the reason for the hope of faith (1 Peter 3:15)

 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

By witnessing about Jesus and Jesus only (1 Cor 2:1-3)

2:1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.   2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.

By relying on the testimony of God (1 John 5:9-12)

9 We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

By rightly dividing the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15)

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

By correctly interpreting and applying God's word by proclaiming the whole will of God (Acts 20:27)

27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

By correctly interpreting and applying God's word by not distorting God's word or using deception (2 Cor 4:2-5)

2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

By correctly interpreting and applying God's word by having it revealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:4-5)

4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.

By correctly interpreting and applying God's word by having it spiritually discerned by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:13-16)

13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.   14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:


The Ethiopian’s Conversion (Acts 8:35-38)


35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"

37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."  

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.


Through Witnessing about Jesus (35)

Witness to others because Jesus commanded it (Matt 28:18-20)

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Witness to others through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

Witness to others through teaching (2 Tim 2:2)

2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

Witness that starts at home (Luke 8:39)

39 "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Witness about what God has done for us (Ps 66:16)

16 Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.


Explaining that Jesus is the only way to salvation (36-38)

Expected Response, Expected Submission (from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary)

What do we see while we stand in the checkout lane of our local grocery store? Racks of tabloids picturing the latest antics of the world’s celebrities! On TV we see their fans follow them nearly everywhere, screaming and shrieking when they see their idols. It does seem almost idolatrous, doesn’t it? Some may think this kind of attitude toward celebrities began with the fans of the Beatles or Elvis. Yet some of us remember when teenaged “bobbysoxers” swooned at the sight of the young Frank Sinatra! Regardless of when the phenomenon began, it is now what we expect to see. For example, when a popular entertainer appeared in court a couple of years ago to enter his plea on a criminal charge, thousands of his fans gathered outside the courthouse. Some had been up all night in a bus convoy to be there for the occasion; others had even flown in from Japan and Europe! He did not disappoint them: after the hearing, he climbed atop his limousine and invited the screaming multitude to his nearby mansion for a celebration. We worship the God of the universe, not entertainers. And yet the expected response to hearing the gospel is both calmer and more thoughtful. The book of Acts tells us of convert after convert who entered the waters of baptism in humble submission as God was working in their hearts. This is still the response that God expects of those who come to him in faith.

Jesus is the only way because no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6)

6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the only way because salvation is found in no one else (Acts 4:12)

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

Jesus is the only way because He is the only access to God (Eph 2:18)

18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Jesus is the only way because He opened the way through the sacrifice of Himself (Heb 10:19-21)

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,

Jesus is the only way because He justified us and provided peace with God for us (Rom 5:1-2)

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.


Conclusion and Other Thoughts

Commentary Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh

We are not told how it was that Philip ended up in “the city of Samaria” (Acts 8:5). We can safely assume that Philip left Jerusalem because of the intense persecution that arose in connection with the death of Stephen (8:1). We are not told that Philip was divinely directed to this city. The impression I get is that he simply ended up there. When the power of God was manifested through Philip, both by means of his miracles and his message, many were converted. In the case of the conversion of the Ethiopian, we are very clearly told that Philip was specifically directed to this man, and to the meeting place, in a remote location in the desert.

This divine direction is given through the “angel of the Lord” (8:26) and through the Holy Spirit (8:29, 39). I think it is significant that both the “angel of the Lord” and the Holy Spirit are employed in guiding Philip to the eunuch. The “angel of the Lord” is perhaps God’s primary means of specifically guiding individuals in the Old Testament, while the Holy Spirit is the more dominant instrument of guidance in the New. Used together, the guidance of Philip and the salvation of the Ethiopian is shown to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and promises, pertaining to the salvation of Gentiles, as well as a New Testament phenomenon, brought about by means of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Old and New Testaments are demonstrated to be in harmony in this matter of the eunuch’s salvation.

There could be no mistaking it. God intended to save this one individual. He was an Ethiopian, a high government official, and possibly a eunuch. Had this man been saved in Jerusalem, it might have been looked upon as a kind of fluke, an exception. But this man was being sought by God. Here, in the midst of a Samaritan revival, and before the accounts of wide-spread evangelism of Gentiles, this Gentile was sought and saved by God, a kind of “first-fruits” of that which was to come. According to church tradition, this man was to become an evangelist among his own people. There is no mention of this in the Scriptures, however.

Obediently, Philip went to the place he was directed by the “angel of the Lord.” It was at this place that he saw the eunuch. Then, the Holy Spirit directed Philip to join himself with the chariot (8:29), and thus with its rider. While Philip was very precisely guided to the man, he was not told what to say. His message was to be indicated by the passage the eunuch was studying, and the question which he asked.

There is no doubt that Philip was guided to this man, in this remote desert spot. This is clear and it is emphatic in the text. While not so clear, nor so emphatic, it would seem that the eunuch was divinely prepared for Philip’s appearance as well. The man was not on his way to Jerusalem, but from the holy city. He had been there to worship. What could have happened in Jerusalem, which might have prepared the eunuch for his encounter with Philip, and with the gospel?

In the first place, the eunuch may have heard about Jesus. If this were the eunuch’s first pilgrimage to the holy land, he would have many questions. If the eunuch had been in Jerusalem before, he would likely have heard of Jesus, of His claim to be the Messiah, of His ministry, His rejection, His trial, His death and burial, and likely His empty tomb. He may have heard of the apostles, of their radical change after the death of Jesus, and of their ministry and message. At the time of the eunuch’s arrival in Jerusalem, the “headline news” would have had to do with Stephen’s ministry and martyrdom, and of the widespread persecution of the church, led (at least in part) by a Jew named Saul.

It would seem that the eunuch had a strong commitment to Judaism (his pilgrimage to Jerusalem was no small effort), and that he also had a strong sense of messianic expectation. Would he not have asked about Jesus? Would he not wish to look into this matter of Messiah personally, to see for himself what the Old Testament prophets had written? Did the eunuch purchase his copy of the Isaiah scroll (an expensive gesture) so that he could read the prophecies about Messiah? And who told the eunuch about baptism? We all assume that Philip did, but we do not know this to be so. The apostles had preached that Israelites must repent and be baptized, calling upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Is this why the eunuch was so eager to be baptized, when he saw the water? There may have been a great deal of groundwork already accomplished in the eunuch’s life, so that he was ready to receive the message which Philip would disclose to him, from the Scriptures.

What a thrill it must have been for Philip to hear the eunuch reading aloud from the prophecy of Isaiah. What an evidence of God’s leading. Indeed, this was the right man. When Philip run alongside the eunuch’s chariot and asked if he understood what he was reading, the Ethiopian quickly accepted his help. He needed, as he said, someone to guide him. The Old Testament only went so far as to prophecy concerning things to come. The gospel was the record of these prophecies having been fulfilled. Philip was about to tell this man that the prophecies of Isaiah concerning Messiah were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Thus, he began with this text, proclaiming Jesus to him.

The prophecy which the eunuch was reading included these words, words which greatly perplexed him:


These words come from Isaiah 53:7-8. I would understand that these words were especially perplexing to the eunuch, and thus the focus of his attention and of his question. But I would also assume that the eunuch had read the entire text, and thus was well aware of the overall passage and of its context.

The problem which the eunuch had with this passage was wrapped up in the identity of the one referred to in the text:

“Please tell me of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” (Isaiah 53:34).

If the prophet was referring to himself, his suffering (and death) would not come as a surprise. After all, the prophets were rejected, despised, and persecuted (cf. Stephen’s words in 7:52). But how could Isaiah be speaking of himself? The immediately preceding verses spoke of the death of this mysterious figure, but a substitutionary death—a death for the benefit of others:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6).

If Isaiah could not be referring to himself, and he was referring to another, than was this person not Messiah? But if this was the Messiah, He was not the kind of Messiah that Israel was looking for. They looked for a hero, to rid Israel of her oppressors. In fact, this description perfectly portrayed the coming of Jesus, and His rejection by Israel. Jesus’ message, was rejected by Israel, just like the rest of the prophets (Isaiah 53:1). Jesus was not outwardly attractive, and indeed, He was rejected by men, who viewed His suffering and death as deservedly from God. He was, however, from God’s point of view, sinless. His suffering and death were for the sins of others, rather than His own. If these words of Isaiah were a description of Messiah, then Jesus was the Messiah. No wonder the identity of this One was so important to the eunuch.

Philip’s answer was to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, beginning with this text, and then from the rest of the Old Testament (Acts 8:35). The eunuch joyfully accepted Philip’s words. When he saw water (a rare thing in this desert place) he wished to make the best use of it. He wanted to be baptized. Who told him of the need for baptism is not stated, but he was right in seeing it as an important responsibility for a true believer. When the chariot stopped, both got out, and Philip baptized him.

Even more quickly than he appeared on the scene, Philip disappeared. Some may doubt the fact of a miraculous disappearance and transporting of Philip, but the words strongly imply such. Philip was “snatched away” by the Holy Spirit, in a way that is similar to the transporting of Old Testament saints like Elijah, end even of New Testament personalities. Philip found himself at Azotus, some twenty or so miles distant, from which place he passed on to other cities, preaching the gospel as he went on his way to Caesarea (Acts 9:40).

The Ethiopian, on the other hand, proceeded in a more normal way, back to his native land. We are told no more of this man in the New Testament, although some ancients viewed this man as the father of evangelism in Ethiopia. What we are told is that this man went his way rejoicing (8:39). When the gospel comes and is received, there is great joy. Such was the case in the city of Samaria (8:8). It is always the case (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6). This is, I believe, the “joy of our salvation” (cf. Psalm 51:12). Sin may rob of this joy for a season, but repentance will restore it to us, and us to God. It is difficult to believe that salvation has come when there is no joy.

                                                 (Adapted from URL


Concluding Thoughts from the NIV Standard  Lesson Commentary

Philip was prepared for this encounter because he knew not just the book of Isaiah, but the gospel as well. The exposition of Scripture is a powerful way to present the gospel to those who seek truth. We can fumble our own divine appointments if we cannot answer basic questions. A Christian should love the Bible not just for the marvelous encouragement it is personally, but also as the true sword of the Spirit to be used in fighting unbelief among those who need the gospel (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). There is no mention in the text of Philip’s being a trained rabbi or scribe; he probably was quite ordinary, not unlike Peter and John (Acts 4:13). Lacking a formal theological education is no excuse for us today! Having been chosen as one “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3) implies Philip’s love for Scripture, since it is the ultimate source of wisdom (Psalm 119:105; etc.). God used Philip’s self-preparedness to good effect. That preparedness was likely the reason the Lord selected him for the divine appointment with a foreigner in the first place. And it took place on Philip’s home turf! Opportunities to cross cultural lines with the gospel are all around.


Practical Points from the Bible Expositor and Illuminator Commentary

1.      It is important to meet the appointments that God sets for us (Acts 8:26)

2.      There is no treasure as great as the gospel of Christ (vs. 27)

3.      If we make the effort to learn about God, He will provide understanding (vss. 28-31)

4.      It is an honor to introduce someone to Christ through His Word (vss. 32-35)

5.      God can save us no matter where we are, as long as we believe (vss. 36-38)

6.      We can rejoice when we lead someone to Christ (vs. 39)