Acts 8:26-40

In the previous passage, Philip has tremendous success evangelizing Samaria (Acts 8:5-8). He is directed by an angel away from this successful ministry to a lonely road leading south to Gaza. Here he ministers to just one soul. The Holy Spirit directs God’s people to evangelize individuals as well as crowds. There is no apparent reason for Philip to go that direction, but he instantly obeys God’s directive. The Lord always has a plan and a purpose when commissioning an ambassador.

How the Ethiopian eunuch that Philip encounters has become a proselyte of Judaism remains a mystery. He is not a slave but an important officer of Candice in charge of all her majesty’s treasure. He bears the full responsibility of the disbursement of funds in this kingdom. He is a court official or statesman of the queen in ancient Ethiopia. “Candice” is a title - such as Caesar or Pharaoh - used by female monarchs between 300 BC and 300 AD. The name of this queen is probably Amanitere (v. 27). Her seat of government is on the island of Meroe on the Nile River.

The Gospel has not as yet traveled southward beyond Egypt. One of Luke’s objectives in writing Acts is to show how Jesus’ mandate is fulfilled by bringing redemption to “the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). An aspect of Jesus’ Great Commission is to “go into the highways and the hedges” (Mt. 22:9). Whereas Judaism may have reached Africa at this point, the Gospel of Christ has not. Though Samaria is the borderland between Jews and Gentiles, ministering to an Ethiopian begins the expansion of the Gospel “to every nation” (Lk. 24:47). This passage demonstrates how the Holy Spirit positions a Believer to share the Gospel and how He prepares a person to receive it. It also depicts God’s supernatural methods and perfect timing when He draws an individual to a more complete knowledge of Himself.

Although the ethnicity of the eunuch is not stated, he is probably African. Church tradition holds this is the man who will spread the gospel message throughout his continent.

A brief chronology of this narrative is as follows:

~ An angel appears to Philip and instructs him to go toward Gaza.
~ Philip obeys and sees an Ethiopian eunuch who has recently left Jerusalem after a time of worship.
~ The eunuch is sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah.
~ The Holy Spirit instructs Philip to go to him.
~ Philip runs to his chariot and hears the eunuch reading aloud from Isaiah 53:7-8.
~ Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading.
~ The eunuch says he needs someone to teach him and invites Philip to join him.
~ The eunuch asks whether Isaiah is referring to himself in these verses or to another person.
~ Philip uses this passage to share the Gospel message.
~ As they travel on together, the eunuch sees a body of water and asks if he can be baptized.
~ Philip says if he believes with all his heart he can be.
~ The eunuch clearly confesses Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.
~ Philip then baptizes him.
~ The eunuch continues his journey joyfully and Philip is miraculously relocated in Azotus.

Philip is initially directed by an angel to travel the sixty miles from Jerusalem to Gaza along the Mediterranean coast. Gaza is the southernmost of five ancient coastal cities southwest of Jerusalem and are all connected by one road. “Gaza” is a term often employed to refer to desolate or deserted lands. This expression is used, not to call attention to the terrain, but to the fact this country is largely uninhabited. Further along this direct trade route is Egypt and then Africa.

The eunuch has recently traveled over a thousand miles from Ethiopia to Jerusalem in order to worship. It is a long and perilous journey. His visit to Jerusalem cannot have included temple worship, for this is forbidden to Gentiles (Deut. 23 & Lev. 21). What he may have heard in Jerusalem regarding Jesus’ teachings, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension is unknown. During the trip home he has open before him the scroll of Isaiah. As is the custom for Orientals in that day, he is reading aloud (v. 30). 

An educated Ethiopian would know the Greek language, thus it is not surprising he is reading the Septuagint version of Isaiah. All prophecy demands a degree of clarification. Paul counsels young Timothy to “hold fast to sound doctrine” and compliments the noble Bereans for “searching the Scriptures daily” to validate truth (I Tim. 4:16 & Acts 17:11). Bible reading by itself is not the complete solution. The burning question is, “Do you comprehend what you are reading?”

Honest investigation fosters honest answers. The eunuch reads in Isaiah of an individual who is brutalized and humiliated.

Some might consider it intrusive for someone to ask another if he understands what he is reading. Having explained the deeper meaning of a certain parable, Jesus asks His disciples if they “really understood” Him (Mt. 13:51).

The eunuch’s question to Philip proves he is perplexed and in need of further instruction (v. 31). Philip takes this opportunity to explain more completely. The identity of this Man is still the burning question today. In the temple, Jesus directly identifies the Person in this section of Isaiah as Himself (Mk. 10 & Lk. 22).

Isaiah 53:7-8
Had Philip time and opportunity to select a prophetic passage from which to share the salvation message, he could not have found verses more appropriate than the ones the eunuch is currently reading. Few Biblical texts so succinctly link both old and new covenants. This chapter in Isaiah is referenced frequently by numerous New Testament authors.

The Word of God is difficult to understand without a Holy Spirit filled teacher, so Philip is sent as a personal instructor. This text in Isaiah perfectly exemplifies the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.

But these two verses are a source of consternation for the eunuch. “Who is this Man” and what part does He play in God’s plan of salvation? The entire purpose of both the Old and New Testaments is to reveal this Man to the world (v. 34).

Whatever the eunuch might have heard regarding Jesus during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it does not appear he makes the connection that the Suffering Servant is the Messiah. These two verses focus on the shameful treatment Christ endures. A brief exegesis of the Hebrew passage in Isaiah will prove helpful.

“He is oppressed and He is afflicted, yet He does not open His mouth in protest. He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep is silent before the shearers, so He does not resist. He is taken from prison and from judgment - and who can fully comprehend His situation? He is cut off out of the land of the living and for the transgression of others He is killed.” (Isaiah 53:7-8, paraphrased)

Isaiah 53:7
This verse stresses His compliance and endurance. It also depicts the extreme contrast between the Messiah’s voluntary submission and the unfair treatment He receives. Isaiah predicts He will allow Himself to be maltreated and describes the accompanying distress. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells His disciples, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful (perilpos) even to the point of death (Mt. 26:38). “Perilpos” is a single Greek word referring to unimaginable and overwhelming distress. Jesus bore our sorrows as well as the grief involved in sin. The Messiah is brutalized, yet suffers willingly. Though tormented, His words are few. 

The Lord Jesus is hunted, hounded, and under great stress. “Oppressed” (negas) refers to the urgency and pressure imposed upon a debtor by someone demanding payment. The Son of God made Himself responsible for our debt and undertook the accompanying penalty. No human being can pay the necessary price. The Messiah humbles Himself and is killed in order to atone for our sins.

“He does not open His mouth” to protest, resist, or fight. Jesus tells Peter in the garden He can call 12,000 angels for immediate assistance, yet He does not (Mt. 26:53). The Master maintains His composure. “When He is reviled, He does not react (I Pet. 2:23). It is probable His silence is a result of the depth of sorrow He is experiencing. Jesus remains calm through His entire ordeal. He does not complain when arrested, but asks the question, “Since I have not spoken evil, why do you strike Me?” (Jn. 18:23). Jesus’ attitude is not silent resignation to His fate, but a steadfast resolve to comply with His Father’s will.

Following the scene in Gethsemane are five mock trials. All are held for one specific purpose: to condemn Jesus to death. He stands before Annas the high priest, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and returned to Pilate.  Never is a single word forced from Him.

Isaiah 53:8
This verse serves to summarize how judgment is passed upon Christ. The phrase “taken from prison” is meant to emphasize His patience under violent oppression and detention. Jesus serves no time in prison, for all the arrangements are so hasty no period of incarceration is possible. The violence of the proceedings are masked by legal formalities. He is arrested Thursday night and crucified Friday morning.

The eunuch notes that true justice is “taken from Him” and consequently “His life is also taken from Him” (Acts 8:33). When Pilate tells Jesus he has the power to release him, he is informed that he has no power except what the Father allows (Jn. 19:11). Secular authority has no eternal jurisdiction over Him. The sentence of capital punishment is permitted by the Heavenly Father.

“Who will declare His generation?” is a timeless and universal question. Can anyone fully comprehend and explain the true nature of His sacrifice? Who is able to interpret the real meaning of His death? He is cut off, cut down, or snatched away suddenly and prematurely. The abruptness of Christ’s life is also in view here. The extreme jealousy of the religious leaders is the foundational reason He is so quickly sentenced and executed. He knows His death sentence is a direct result of their envy (Mt. 27:18). 

The midway point in this verse in Isaiah transitions from the thoughts of the prophet to the thoughts of Jehovah. “For the transgression of My people is he stricken” (Isa. 53:8). God’s people are those who wholly trust in the sacrifice of His Son. Those who accept Christ as their Savior are the ones who benefit from His vicarious death on Calvary.

The eunuch wants to know the true identity of “this man.” Does the prophet refer to himself or someone else? Because Isaiah uses the analogy of Jesus’ submissive demeanor “as a Lamb,” any exegetical teaching Philip provides must have included the concept of atonement. Without the acceptance of His sacrifice there can be no conversion (Acts 8:37).

The Lamb of God

Isaiah allegorizes His compliance by comparing the Messiah to a Lamb submitting to shearing. Lambs do not attempt to escape this process. This illustrates the majestic patience of Christ in His affliction. Lambs are noted for their gentleness, innocence, and defenselessness. Isaiah’s prophetical use of a Lamb is employed to emphasize the substitutionary aspect of Calvary. Every reference to the “Lamb of God” from Matthew to Revelation spring from this phrase in Isaiah. Verses from this chapter are often quoted.

Sheep are first introduced as expiatory animals when Able offered a sacrifice (Gen. 4:2-4). A spotless lamb has great significance, for this is the animal specified for the Passover. Lambs are frequently specified in propitiatory rituals throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is the animal used daily in both morning and evening sacrifices, on the Day of Atonement, and on many other occasions. 

John the Baptist is raised by Godly parents. His father, Zacharias, is a priest (Lk. 1:5-66). There is no doubt he has Isaiah 53 in mind when he calls attention to Jesus as “The Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29). Peter refers to Jesus as “the Lamb without spot or blemish (I Pet. 1:19). More than two dozen times in Revelation Jesus is referred to as “The Lamb.” For example:

~ The elders fall down to sing to the Lamb who Redeems (5:8-9).
~ The Lamb is worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing (5:12).
~ Sinners wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb ((7:14).
~ The Lamb is in the midst of the throne (7:17).
~ Satan is overthrown by the blood of the Lamb (12:11).
~ Those who love the Lamb follow Him wherever He goes (14:4).
~ The Lamb overcomes all those who make war with Him, for He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (17:14).
~ All Believers are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:9).
~ The Lamb the perpetual Light in the city of God (21:23).

From Genesis 4 to Revelation 22, Jesus is “the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Every human being will ultimately sit in the eunuch’s chariot and ask, “Who is this man?” It is not the most important question in life: it is the only question. What is the answer? He is “The Lamb of God.”

It is apparent the eunuch continues his journey with Philip as his passenger. Observing a pond, a stream, or well the eunuch asks if anything prevents him from being baptized (v. 36). He has some knowledge of water baptism and he commands his chariot driver to stop. The scene describes total immersion. They both “go into the water” and “come out of the water.” (v. 38-39). 

Because all Gentiles are barred from worshipping in the temple, perhaps he fears his ethnicity may somehow prohibit baptism as well. Philip assures him that a sincere belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is the only prerequisite (v. 37). Philip does not suggest that water baptism guarantees salvation. An open and honest confession of faith that Jesus Christ is God’s Son has always been the essential qualification for water baptism. Peter assures us it is our relationship with the resurrected Christ that saves us, not the ordinance of baptism (I Pet. 3:21). 

The eunuch’s statement of trust in Christ is brief but comprehensive. Philip baptizes him in the Name destined to bring hope to Africa. As they emerge from the water, the Holy Spirit takes Philip away to Azotus to preach (v. 39).

Only after Philip completes his ministry in Samaria and Gaza does the Lord whisk him away to another assignment. The Holy Spirit suddenly and inexplicably transports Philip to Azotus, about thirty miles north of Gaza. Though liberal theologians dismiss the possibility of miraculous transportation, exciting supernatural events always await those who obey the Spirit of God.

Philip evangelizes cities along the Mediterranean coast, such as Joppa, Lydda, Askelon, and Arimathea. He prepares the way for the apostle’s ministry along the coastal highways of Palestine. These cities include Lydda, where Peter heals the paralytic Aeneas (9:32-34) and Joppa, where Tabitha is raised from the dead (9:36-42).

Philip proceeds north until reaching Caesarea. Built by Herod the Great, this is the capital of the Roman province of Judea. Twenty years after the events in this chapter we find Philip continuing to minister in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9).

The Eunuch still has a long journey ahead of him, for Ethiopia is hundreds of miles away. Prior to his encounter with Philip, the eunuch knows only Judaism. The dead ritualism associated with religion brings him no satisfaction. Having now met the Messiah, he “continues his journey with joy” (v. 40). Cold formalism cannot produce true happiness, but joy is a universally acknowledged aspect of the born-again experience.

This passage proves that people throughout the world hunger for truth. It also validates the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the African nations. “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God” (Ps. 68:31). Although the eunuch is not mentioned again in the Book of Acts, church history maintains he spreads the message of Christ throughout Africa.

Ed Kimball is a shoe salesman in Chicago and a Sunday School teacher. He loves the street children and spends all his spare time trying to win them to Jesus.

~ Because of Kimball, a little boy named D. L. Moody gets saved in 1858.
~ In 1859, Moody wins F. B. Meyer to God, who also grows up to become a preacher.
~Meyer wins J. W. Chapman to the Lord and he becomes an evangelist.
~Chapman wins a baseball player named Billy Sunday who also spends the rest of his life as an evangelist.
~Billy Sunday holds a revival in North Carolina alongside Mordecai Hamm.
~ Mordechai Hamm preaches and another individual gets saved who becomes a tremendous evangelist. His name is Billy Graham.

But how did the phenomenal chain of events start? When Ed Kimball decided it was more important to win impoverished children to Jesus than it was to sell shoes.

If it is true that vast sections of the African continent are won to Christ because of the eunuch, it is because Philip, when directed by the Holy Spirit, converses with one individual.


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