Persecution, church scattered, gospel message spreads
8:1 And Saul agreed completely with killing him. Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
We saw at the end of the last chapter that as Stephen was being stoned to death, Saul was minding the clothes of those who did it. Although he did not throw a stone it is said of him here that he was approving and pleased with his death. The enemies of Christ became bold at this public act of violence and there began a general persecution of believers throughout Jerusalem which caused many to flee to other places, while the apostles remained in Jerusalem. '
8:2-3 Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
While a party of devout men were burying Stephen, Saul went from bad to worse. He now actively took a main role in persecution the Christians, hounding them to their homes and dragging them off to prison. After his conversion he often confessed this (1 Cor. 15: 9; Gal. 1: 13; 1 Tim. 1: 13).
8:4 Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word.
God turns the evil intentions of men, and of Satan into good, for because of persecution the believers went elsewhere (see Math. 10: 23) and the gospel message spread. '
8:5 Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them.
8:6-8 The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the miraculous signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, were coming out of many who were possessed, and many paralyzed and lame people were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Philip, another non-apostle like Stephen (6:5), went to Samaria and boldly preached the gospel message with many signs and wonders following. The demon possessed were delivered and many that were crippled were healed. By the word and the miracles it was not just the ones and twos who got saved but multitudes took notice of the message and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. And the whole city was rejoicing in God.
We are all called to 'preach" the gospel in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4: 2) that is - whether the opportunity is favourable or unfavourable.
The Sorcerer's profession of faith
8:9-11 Now in that city was a man named Simon, who had been practicing magic and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. All the people, from the least to the greatest, paid close attention to him, saying, "This man is the power of God that is called 'Great.' " And they paid close attention to him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.
Living in the city was a man named Simon who practised magic (sorcery) and was well known right throughout the region of Samaria amazing people by his magic arts. He claimed to be some one great and the people listened and had been taken in by what he said and set him up as a God, proclaiming that he was '"the great power of God"". He had held the people spellbound for many years. '
8:12 But when they believed Philip as he was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they began to be baptized, both men and women.
However when Philip came preaching the message of the kingdom of God they were set free from Simon's influence, they accepted salvation and were baptised in water.
8:13 Even Simon himself believed, and after he was baptized, he stayed close to Philip constantly, and when he saw the signs and great miracles that were occurring, he was amazed.
Simon recognised real miracles when he saw them as opposed to his acts of delusions and made a profession of salvation himself and also was baptised and constantly followed Philip. Seeing the signs and miracles of great power which were being performed he was utterly amazed. The gospel of Christ and the preaching of the cross is God's power working unto salvation to every one who believes (Rom. 1: 16; 1 Cor. 1:18).
The Sorcerer's sin
8:14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.
The Samaritans were the first non-Jews to receive the gospel so Peter and John were sent to investigate.
8:15-16 These two went down and prayed for them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. (For the Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
They discovered that although the believers had been baptised in water in the name of Jesus Christ they had not been filled with the Holy Spirit and so they pray that they might receive Him. '
8:17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit.
After praying they laid their hands upon them and they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19: 6).
8:18-19 Now Simon, when he saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, offered them money, saying, "Give me this power too, so that everyone I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit."
It is evident that Simon must have seen or heard some outward sign that the Samaritan believers had received the Holy Spirit although it is not mentioned here, otherwise he would not have known. It would have most likely been the speaking in tongues. He did not seek to receive the blessing himself but became covetous and offered money to receive the gift of God that he too might by the laying on of his hands impart the Holy Spirit to others. His motive would appear to have been to have power over people and to make money out of it for himself. This was Simon's sin.
8:20 But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could acquire God's gift with money!
The apostles however were above being bribed and tempted in this way and Peter pronounces sentence upon Simon that he and his money would perish. All that is given by God is of grace, it cannot be earned or bought and is to be used not for personal gain or fame but for the blessing of the church.
8:21 You have no share or part in this matter because your heart is not right before God!
Because his heart was not right before God he could not receive any portion of the blessings.
8:22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that he may perhaps forgive you for the intent of your heart.
He is not left without any hope however for Peter calls on him to repent of his sin and earnestly seek God that He might grant him repentance and forgiveness ((2 Tim. 2: 25).
8:23 For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin.
Peter saw, probably by the gift of discernment, that the root of Simon's sin was bitterness of spirit (Heb. 12: 15) and being bound by unrighteous acts. '
8:24 But Simon replied, "You pray to the Lord for me so that nothing of what you have said may happen to me."
The account does not tell us whether Simon truly repented or if in asking to be prayed for he wanted to avoid the penalty of his wrong doing. For he did not ask the apostles to pray for him to repent but that the things Peter pronounced against him would not happen. '
8:25 So after Peter and John had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many Samaritan villages as they went.
After giving their testimony and proclaiming the gospel Peter and John returned to Jerusalem preaching the good news in every village they went through.
Was Simon really saved ? We are told that "he believed" and "was baptised" (v. 13) but Peter's rebuke leaves us uncertain about where Simon really stood with God. The early writings of the church history show Simon as a father of heresies.
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