The Book of Acts (Chapter 8:1-23) (Part 14)
With the martyrdom of Stephen persecution broke out against the followers of the Lord Jesus. Through the death of Stephen Satan launched an all- out attack on the faithful believers in Jerusalem. This persecution was at the behest of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. It began with “false brethren” that is to say those who professed to follow the LORD but persecuted Jesus’ followers. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Saul was one of the main instigators of this persecution. The believers had a foretaste of what was to come when Peter and John had been arrested and beaten. Satan will always go for the leaders first. If he cannot persuade them to compromise their preaching through spiritual seduction he will use cruder methods. He could not defeat the believers in Jerusalem so he started to persecute them, and so we read…
(Vs.1-2) “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.”
When the Lord Jesus spoke about the persecution of His faithful followers that was coming He told them; “”But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23a). Now seeking to be persecuted is not normal and if we can escape then we should, however, persecution is inevitable for all who follow the Lord Jesus. He also said; “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).
The Apostles remained in Jerusalem and were protected by the LORD during this time. Why they were not arrested and imprisoned we are not told. Possibly these men were still necessary for the spiritual formation and doctrinal foundation of the newly formed Body of Messiah. There were even some devout men who risked their lives to bury Stephen. Now persecution never starts with secular governments. Persecution starts from false brethren or from those who claim to know God but persecute Bible believing Christians. The Lord Jesus said; “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16-19).
Today this kind of betrayal is happening in countries like North Korea where children are encouraged to spy on their parents and to report their parents to the authorities if they see their parents reading a Bible. The Lord Jesus also said; “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another” (Matthew 24:9-10). He also said; “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:36). Persecution is never desirable and to seek it is not natural or normal, however, at times it is necessary to separate the true brethren from false brethren.
(Vs.3) “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
The Lord Jesus said that there would be those who kill His followers and think they are doing God’s work for Him. Saul (later the Apostle Paul) was one of these people. After he had been saved and brought to faith in Jesus he spoke about his past zeal for God that was not an enlightened one. He wrote; “As to zeal persecuting the Church” (Philippians 3:6). He also wrote; “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man; yet because I had acted in ignorance and unbelief, I was shown mercy” (1 Timothy 1:13). Saul’s zeal for God was quite apparent but he was acting in ignorance. However, there are those within the rank and file of Christendom (Institutionalised Christianity) who wilfully persecute born again Bible believing Christians. This has happened down through history especially during the 600 or more years of the Inquisition. Even among Protestants especially those in the Calvinistic camp there were Bible believing Christians persecuted and in some cases martyred because they believed in Biblical truths such as believers baptism and the gifts of the Spirit and not in a State Church.
The Lord Jesus also said that the day would come when His faithful followers would be killed by those who think they are doing God’s will. He said; “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Today it is Islam whose adherents are killing Christians and thinking they are doing God a service. The day is also coming when those within the professing Christina Church will betray their fellow Christians to save their own necks. In many countries today where persecution is happening the authorities are breaking down doors of believer’s houses and taking them off to prison to be incarcerated, tortured and even killed because of their loyalty to the Lord Jesus. Religious people always persecute true believers. It has always been this way and will always be this way. In the Last Days betrayal in the Church by false brethren will become common place. It has been happening for years in those countries where the gospel has been supressed. It is coming to the western democracies before the Lord Jesus comes back.
(Vs.4) “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
Persecution will always lead to the spreading of the good news of Jesus. Sometimes persecution comes to galvanize the Church into action. It is very easy to settle down within an established fellowship and this is a good thing, however, the danger is always there to lose the cutting edge of evangelism. The persecution under Saul caused believers to flee from Jerusalem and to take the good news of Jesus with them. Even though the fellowship had been scattered they went about preaching the good news about Jesus. Satan could not stop God’s word spreading. In times of persecution believers continue to spread the word of God. The Lord Jesus also said; “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23). Of course you take the good news with you and share it with others. This is what the believers did. God wants to reach all men and women everywhere and sometimes He has to allow persecution to get the local fellowship moving in evangelism and discipleship.
(Vs. 5-8) “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralysed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.
The Samaritans were a race of people despised by Jews. The Samaritans were treated as “mongrel Jews” in that they were the decedents of those Jewish people who had intermarried with the Assyrians after the capture of Samaria in 722BC by the Assyrians. God in His love and wisdom wanted the believers in Jerusalem to take the good news of Jesus to those who were not living in Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus had said this would happen. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). While persecution was not desirable it was necessary in order to spread the good news about Jesus.
Now Phillip was an evangelist and when he went to Samaria he preached the good news about Jesus to them and saw many come to faith in Jesus. True to His word to the disciples the Lord Jesus confirmed the preaching of the word with signs following. Not only were souls healed but paralysed bodies made well. Demons also were driven out by the finger of God. The Lord Jesus was continuing His ministry through Phillip who was preaching and working in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was the normal thing to happen when the good news about Jesus was preached. In the future just before Jesus comes back this kind of miraculous power will once again accompany the preaching of God’s word but it will be in the midst of great difficulty and persecution of the faithful Body of Messiah. There is no doubt many were born again by the Spirit of God because joy is a fruit of the Spirit. These Samaritans were saved men and women! They were born again by the Spirit but were not as yet filled with the Holy Spirit.
(Vs.9-11) “Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.”
Whenever the LORD is doing a great thing Satan will have his agents also working. Simon was a charismatic man who undoubtedly had supernatural power which he was using to great effect in Samaria. He was no small fry but had a huge following all over the city. People would flock to his meetings to see miracles signs and wonders. Sounds familiar! Today we have men and women claiming to have “the Great Power of God” who fill auditoriums with people eager to see supernatural signs and wonders. They are on the internet and on television and in many of the mega churches plying their trade of signs, miracles and wonders to dazzle and titillate the senses of those whom have itching ears to hear and to see them perform. It is a circus if the truth be known.
Whether it is blowing on people to see them fall over, waving a coat over a crowd, asking pastors to come forward to touch a canary yellow jacket to receive and anointing, or whether it is a guru kicking people in the stomach and calling it the work of the Holy Spirit or a woman selling oil and other trinkets and magic charms on TV or others pronouncing healing and claiming healings that cannot be substantiated medically or those wicked money preachers of the faith prosperity camp profiteering on the blood of the Lamb, it is all spiritual seduction and the work of Satan. It is all lying signs and wonders.
Not only does Satan masquerade as an angel of light but his followers do the same thing. As the Apostle Paul wrote; “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their actions” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Paul, writing to Timothy spoke about these conniving deceivers ingratiating themselves within the Body of Messiah to fleece the sheep. Paul writes; “But evil men and impostors (enchanters) will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). These people not only deceive others but are themselves deceived. Many of them believe their own publicity! Then Paul went on to say that in the end they would be exposed for what they really are. He writes; “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also” (2 Timothy 3:8-9).
Jannes and Jambres were the magicians that duplicated the miracles of Moses and Aaron by the power of Satan. They were successful up to a point but the power of God was greater than the power of Satan and in the end these evil practitioners of the occult were exposed for what they really were and rendered powerless.
In the Last Days within Christendom (Institutionalised Christianity) there will be a great confrontation between the power of Satan and the power of God. The last apostate Church will be a supernatural church but its power will be from Satan and not God. The reason these connivers on TV and on the internet and filling stadiums with many people seducing them with their false fire and fanaticism can get away with these things is because on the whole God’s people lack Biblical discernment. In fact counterfeit signs, miracles and wonders will precede the coming of the Antichrist. (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
The true followers of the Lord Jesus will ultimately be expelled from the denominational church system in the same way the first century believers were expelled from Institutionalized Judaism. Those who have a heart for the LORD and His word will come to see the false fire and fanaticism for what it is and flee Babylon. Sadly there will be those who also see what is happening but decide not to leave and they will ultimately believe the lie of Antichrist. There will be no middle ground in the end. It will be Christ or antichrist! No matter how strong satanic power is, it cannot stop the good news about Jesus from spreading. The Word of God cannot be chained. (2 Timothy 2:9) Phillip was involved in a city wide evangelistic campaign! It was the preaching of God’s word that defeated the power of the occult operating in people’s lives.
(Vs 12-13) “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.”
There is no doubt that the Samaritans who responded to the evangelistic message of Phillip were soundly saved and converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were undoubtedly spiritually reborn from above by the Holy Spirit using the seed of the word of God. They had been spiritually reborn not of perishable seed but imperishable seed through the living and abiding word of God. Even Simon believed and was baptized and we are also told that he was constantly amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles taking place. Later he would try to manipulate the power of God for his own ends bringing upon himself disastrous results. God’s power prevailed over Satan and the power of the occult in people’s lives was broken. These Samaritans were now born again believers and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. However, they had not been Baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit. This was something further they needed.
(Vs.14-16) “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
These Samaritan believers had been baptized into the name of Jesus. The reason this is mentioned is because there were other forms of baptism around at the time and this was to identify the Samaritan believers with the Lord Jesus. This was different from the baptism of John. The normal way of Baptism was by immersion and to be administered in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as the Lord Jesus Himself had commanded. (Matthew 28:19).
We are told that the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that the Samaritans had “received the word of God.” Now the term “received the Holy Spirit” was a common term used to designate the work of the new birth. The instrument the Holy Spirit always uses in His convicting and converting work is the word of God, the Bible. As it is written that; “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). The Lord Jesus spoke about the word of God being like the seed that is sown in the soil of the heart by the Holy Spirit who also waters that seed causing that heart and life to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. (Luke 8:11) (Galatians 5:22-23) As Peter writes; “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23)
The Samaritan believers had been enlisted into the LORD’s army but would need to be furnished with spiritual armour and weapons to fight the spiritual battle that now lay ahead of them with the world, the flesh and the devil. They would need spiritual weapons to demolish spiritual strongholds. Paul writes; “For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The Samaritan believers were about to be given those spiritual weapons.
(Vs.17) “Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.”
Pentecost was repeated! The apostles were now seeing the same anointing of the Holy Spirit they had received as Jewish believers now being poured out upon these Samaritan believers who were not really Jewish. The Lord Jesus was showing the apostles that God is no respecter of persons but that He is a respecter of faith (Hebrews 11:6) and saves all who call upon Him whether they be Jew or Gentile empowering them with the same power of the Holy Spirit that the apostles had received themselves. The Lord Jesus was now gathering together His Body, the faithful Church. Now we are not told whether these Samaritans spoke in tongues yet there must have been some outward change, sign or manifestation of the Spirit because Simon saw what was happening to them when the apostles were laying hands on them. When we look at the other accounts in the book of Acts where believers were baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit there was a remarkable and outward manifestation of God’s power. Not all spoke in tongues but all were filled with a new boldness and confidence and testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the mighty works of God. They were empowered to witness. (Acts 1:8)
(Vs.18-19) “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Was Simon really saved or just wanting to “cash in” on the power of God? Possibly he saw “a good thing” and the means to draw the crowds to himself just like we see happening today with the money and faith prosperity preachers. It would seem Simon was not really saved at all. He had not counted on the discernment from the Spirit of God that the apostles had. Unlike today there are multitudes of pastors especially in Charismatic circles who do not have discernment at all but go along with many of these charlatans and false prophets (profits) and wolves in sheep’s clothing fleecing the flock and filling their own bank accounts with the proceeds from their meetings.
Many of these ‘wolves’ are even now circling the flock looking for stay lambs to rip and tear apart and many shepherds are not dealing with this problem. Many know that these connivers are out to destroy the flock but for the sake of their own denominational standing and their own reputation as ‘pastors’ choose to ignore these spiritual predators preying on the sheep. Many so called ‘shepherds’ actually lack discernment because they have never learned from the Spirit how to rightly divide the word of God. Simon was more interested in having ‘power’ than that holiness without which no man shall see the LORD. In the Last Days just before the Lord Jesus comes back the gift of discernment will once again come into operation and prominence in the faithful Body of Messiah and men like Simon will very quickly be discovered for what they really are. They will not get very far because their deeds and motives will be exposed. This gift is greatly needed in the Body of Messiah today. Peter was “on the ball” spiritually!
(Vs.20-23) “But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity. But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
It seems clear that Simon was not really saved, either that, or he was a very carnally minded man who did not understand how things work in the spiritual life. Most probably he had not really been born again. He was under the deception of “The Golden Calf Syndrome” a plague that is permeating the Body of Messiah today. He saw money and power. He was sadly mistaken as we see. His heart was not right with God. He had not really repented before God. The first thing he needed to do was “to repent of this wickedness.” How many of the money preaching televangelists need to see what happened to Simon. Their day is coming and coming soon! God calls what they are doing “wickedness.” They were around in the time of Jeremiah but were nowhere to be seen once the Babylonian invasion had started.
When persecution comes to the western churches where will these self- ordained apostles’ prophets and teachers go with their high sounding prophecies, with their jets, with their limousines, with their fancy jewellery, with their expensive clothes and with their sojourning in 5 star hotels all at the expense of the sheep? Simon was bitter because he had his show stolen away and he was still in the grip of his old sinful nature. In the end he came under conviction but was he truly repentant? He most certainly did not want to come under the judgement of God. His pride and arrogance had vanished like smoke. Only the LORD knows whether he was truly saved. Today more than ever we need the spirit of the Bereans of whom we read; “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).