Following the stoning of Stephen there was a general persecution of the Greek speaking (Hellenistic) believers in Jerusalem. There were obviously racial overtones to this persecution. In escaping Jerusalem, these Hellenist Jewish believers were able to carry the gospel beyond the city. In chapter 8 Luke focuses on Philip, one of the deacons. His ministry in Samaria produced such spectacular results that the apostles sent Peter and John to investigate. Our passage for study describes Philip's encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch.
v26. In Old Testament prophetic style Philip is guided by "an angel" (synonymous with the "Spirit of the Lord") to minister to a "seeker" on the Jerusalem-Gaza road.
v27-28. The Ethiopian was an official from an ancient kingdom that stretched from the first cataract on the Nile at Aswan, south to Khartoum. As a court official, he may have been a eunuch, or just carried the title. He was obviously a god-fearer of sorts, a Gentile follower of the Jewish faith, although as a eunuch, his participation in religious celebrations would have been limited.
v29-31. The Ethiopian was travelling in a covered wagon and was reading from Isaiah 53. The ancient practice was to read aloud, since the manuscripts of the time were not easy to read. Philip is prompted by the Spirit to run beside the wagon (such prompting could be in the form of a direct word, although more likely just an inner conviction). Philip asks whether the Ethiopian understands what he is reading. Philip is then invited to interpret.
v32-33. Neither the prophets, nor the teachers of the law, ever made the link between the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the Davidic Messiah of Isaiah 11 and the glorious Son of Man of Daniel 7. Jesus certainly made the link, and it was not till after his death and resurrection that the disciples made the link. The Ethiopian was using the Septuagint (Greek) version of Isaiah.
v34-35. The Ethiopian's question allowed Philip to explain the gospel. We can well imagine Philip starting with the Isaiah passage and going on to explain how Jesus was the suffering Servant for the sin of the many. So, Philip communicated the gospel to the Ethiopian.
v36-38. Although not recorded, Philip obviously concluded his gospel presentation with a call to "repent and be baptized" (Repentance is not about feeling sorry, but is rather a turning to Jesus in faith. Following the practice of John the Baptist, repentance is expressed outwardly in water immersion or dipping). The Ethiopian obviously felt the time was right, for they were soon on the lookout for some water.
v37. This verse is found in the AV (from the Western text), but dates from the 2nd century. "And Philip said, 'If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" This addition at least shows the weight the early church put on a public confession of Jesus as God's son.
v39. The Spirit now leads Philip toward further missionary opportunities. The Western text includes the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Ethiopian after baptism. He obviously does receive the Spirit (he "went on his way rejoicing"), as do all who believe in Jesus.
v40. Philip moves north along the coast road, preaching in the old Philistine cities on the way. In church tradition it is believed he settled down in Caesarea, a family man with four daughters renowned as prophets.
Jesus promised his disciples that "when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth", Jn.16:13; "he will teach you all things", Jn.14:26. Of course, Jesus this promise to his disciples and he did add, "and will remind you of everything I have said to you." A promise to a specific group of people is not necessarily a promise for everyone. Obviously, only the disciples could be reminded of Jesus' actual words. Still, in John's first letter we find the promise "the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you..... his anointing teaches you about all things ...." 1Jn.2:27.
Clearly, God is in the business of revealing truth to those who seek it. The Holy Spirit is the instrument of that revelation, and this is why he is called "the Spirit of truth". Although some Bible verses may imply that the revelation of truth through the Spirit supersedes both education and intellect, the Bible as a whole dispels this misunderstanding. The ministries of the Word serve to build us up, Eph.4:11-13, and we are bound to test the truth, 1Cor.2:13. Yet, although human initiative is required in the truth business, it is God who expedites the truth.
So it was that an Ethiopian eunuch, confused by a prophecy concerning a Suffering Servant, discovered the truth through the initiative of the Spirit and the willing ability of Philip. Of this we can be sure, our Lord will not leave us in the dark when it comes to the truth that sets us free. As we listen to the Word expounded, join with our brothers and sisters in a Bible study, research a Bible passage in a good commentary, or just meditate on a daily Bible reading, so the mystery will be revealed.
1. If the Holy Spirit leads us into "all truth", does this mean literally all truth or just particular truth?
2. If believers possess the truth, why do we so often hold contrary views?