The Sorcerer and the Eunuch
Following the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, the Samaritans had intermarried with Assyrians. Over time, this corrupted their faith, leading to pagan beliefs, practices and superstitions. One man who took advantage of this was Simon.
Simon the Sorcerer
“But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practised sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God.’ And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.”
When Simon saw what he perceived to be the power of Philip, and how the people were becoming baptized and healed, he too wanted this power, “Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.”
When he saw that the people received the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid their hands on them, he thought he could buy this power too, “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'”
But Peter was furious with him and said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.”
Notice the words “gift of God”. It was not a “gift of the apostles”, as Simon had assumed.
So Peter gives him a chance to redeem himself, “Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask the Lord if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”
Scared and realizing he had made a grave error, he pleaded, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
But the apostles returned to Jerusalem, spreading the Word to many villages in Samaria.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
“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.’” That was the southern-most, coastal settlement, before the desert that led to Hellenist regions of North Africa.
“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, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.”
Ethiopians were Gentiles, not Jews, but the fact this man was reading Isaiah means he was most likely a proselyte – a convert to Judaism.
“Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.”
Unlike Simon, this man had genuine authority, but was humble enough to ask for advice. The part in Isaiah he didn’t understand was,
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgement,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.” [Is#53:7-8]
So the Eunuch said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” So Philip explains the passage, teaches more about Scripture and the role Jesus had fulfilled.
The man must have been greatly impressed, because as they passed by some water he says, “‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ 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.’”
“So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.”
There is no mention of the Eunuch receiving the Holy Spirit. The apostles themselves believed Jesus was the Son of God, even before he was crucified, but that did not automatically give them the Holy Spirit.
Neither Simon nor the eunuch received the Holy Spirit. They were only baptized. Simon would very likely never have the purity of heart needed to receive it, whereas the eunuch did.
Philip had the authority to baptize people, but not to grant anyone the gift of the Holy Spirit. That comes from God – when he decides the time is right. For the Samaritans, the time had come, as it had for the apostles at Pentecost. But the time had not come to grant it to the Gentiles, of whom the eunuch was one.
God had a plan. Christianity (and with it the Holy Spirit) would be offered to the Jews first, then the Samaritans, and finally the Gentiles (everyone else). Acts 8 is about the Samaritans. It would not be the Gentile’s time until Acts 10. Before that could occur, God needed to put one more step in place, as we will see in Acts 9.