After the stoning of Stephen, the Greek speaking believers fled Jerusalem to avoid arrest. The persecution was not a general one; Palestinian believers were left alone. Philip went to Samaria and through his preaching and miraculous signs a number of Samaritans became believers. The unusual feature of these conversions is that although they were "baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus", they did not "receive the Holy Spirit." This prompts a visit from Peter and John.
v14. The visit of the apostles is prompted, not so much by the conversion of the Samaritans, but by a missing element in their conversion. Although Philip preached "the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ", and although many hearers "believed" and were "baptized", there was no outward evidence that they had received the Holy Spirit, this evidence being the pentecostal sign of ecstatic prophecy - "tongues". The Spirit is received upon believing, such is the promise and up till this point in time, that reception was observable. The unusual nature of this event serves as an important theological marker. The gospel was about to move from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. It had touched Jews, advanced to Jews of the dispersion (Greek-speaking Jews), now to Samaritans (half-cast Jews), and soon to God-fearers and then Gentiles. The visit of the apostles to the Samaritan believers, believers who subsequently receive the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, serves to authorize the gospel's move to the ends of the earth.
v15. When the apostles arrive, they prayed that the Samaritan believers would be given the Spirit.
v16. Luke notes that the Samaritans had not received the Holy Spiri; the Spirit "had not fallen on them". All that had happened was that "they had been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." Baptism into the name is a technical term for immersion (the meaning of the Greek word baptizw) into the person of God. This involves an immersion of instruction into the knowledge of God, along with an immersion in water as a sign of repentance. Yet, for some reason or other, the believers were not immersed in the Spirit - they were not born anew, obviously evidenced by a dearth of the pentecostal signs common in the New Testament church. This unusual situation must be addressed, and it is most likely that the apostles addressed it with sound teaching. Was Philip's preaching suspect? Like Apollos, who "knew only the baptism of John", maybe Philip needed the apostles to explain "the way of God more adequately" to his converts. Certainly, as far as Luke is concerned, this is exactly what the apostles did; during their time in Samaria they "had testified and spoken the word of the Lord", v25.
v17. Luke doesn't give us a blow-by-blow description of the apostles' ministry in Samaria, but in the end, they were able to pray for the Samaritan believers who then consequently received the Holy Spirit, outwardly enacted by the laying on of hands (an expression of prayer).
v18-19. Luke doesn't tell us exactly what happened when the believers received the Spirit, but it was probably the usual "speaking in tongues and extolling God", 10:46. Simon Magus, a practitioner of religious magic, and supposedly a convert of Philip, 8:9-13, is so impressed by the phenomena, that he offers to pay for this power. By trying to buy the apostles "trick", Simon demonstrates the superficial nature of his conversion and by implication, the faulty nature of Philip's preaching.
v20-23. Simon shows he has no appreciation of the inward nature of the gospel. He is still stuck fast in his old unregenerate ways, "a captive to sin", and must "repent of this wickedness".
v24. Simon is terror struck and pleads with Peter to intercede with God on his behalf.
v25. Having fully proclaimed the gospel and witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit on the Samaritan believers, Peter and John return to Jerusalem to report the news that the gospel is on its way to the ends of the earth.
Believers can often get worried about the gift of the Holy Spirit (God's gift of his intimate presence in our lives). We may wonder if we have received the Spirit. This is particularly so if we meet a Christian who, illustrating the events of the day of Pentecost, asks us "did you speak in tongues when you were converted?" Well, most of us haven't, so we end up feeling uneasy as to our standing as a believer.
The truth is, the modern day phenomenon of tongue-speaking probably has little to do with tongues in the New Testament. The New Testament tells us that at Pentecost, and at those moments when the gospel moved beyond Israel to the whole world, a miraculous fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy occurred - "your sons and daughters will prophecy." On the day of Pentecost the crowd said, "we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues."
Although this miraculous form of ecstatic prophecy is not with us today, the Spirit is still received by new believers, who, experiencing the release of the Spirit in their lives, declare the wonders of God. At that moment we touch the divine, we touch God in Jesus. We "pant" after him, desire him, for the Spirit is now within us, filling us and so we cry "Abba Father".
Yet, how do we receive and release the Spirit in our lives? The Spirit is received and released by hearing and believing the gospel. Our passage for study reminds us how important it is to have a right hearing of the gospel. If we don't hear the truth, then our faith-response will be defective. Belief in a truncated gospel impairs the reception and release of the Spirit.
So then, let us give priority to the hearing of God's word - listen carefully to the reading of scripture, listen carefully to its exposition, and inwardly digest its truth.
The term "filled with the Spirit" is often equated with the term "the release of the Spirit." How is the Spirit released in our lives and what does this entail?