University Bible Fellowship of
Toronto
           
 
           
 
 
Bible Search 

PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPIAN

Acts 8:26-8:40
Key Verse: 8:35

In the previous passage we learned that through the great persecution the gospel was spread to Samaria, a despised land. There was a great work of God there through Philip, and the gospel work was supported by the apostles in Jerusalem. In today’s passage the gospel was further spread to an Ethiopian through Philip. We see a beautiful encountering in God between Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian of high official, a thirsty soul. In this study may we learn God’s way of working.

First, the Ethiopian, a thirsty soul. Look at verse 1. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’” Just before, God worked powerfully through Philip. Now a sudden and unexpected direction was given to Philip. The direction was to go to the desert road, which would not be a pleasant road. What was his response to this direction? Look at verse 2. “So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.”

Here we can think about the man Philip met. He was an Ethiopian eunuch. In ancient times those who entered the palace service usually became eunuchs. This Ethiopian eunuch was a man of high rank as an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. So he seemed to have human glory and honour and wealth. But such things could not quench the thirst of his soul. Verse 27b says, “This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship.” Probably he got a special vacation from the queen and went to Jerusalem to worship. Regardless of his high position, he had to worship. So he went to Jerusalem. This may mean that he was actually Jewish either by birth or by conversion. Even such a person as the Ethiopian of high official had deep desire for worship. It is an undeniable truth that all human beings want to worship, especially worship the right one. Bible depicts many of this. In Matthew’s gospel at the time of Jesus’ birth the Magi, traditionally Wise Men, from the east came to Jerusalem to worship the king of the Jews, the Messiah Jesus. In John’s gospel there was a man named Nicodemus, a man of standing at that time. He was very religious, scholarly and wealthy, and could be the object of the envy of all Israelites, particularly young people. But he came to Jesus at night seeking for the true one, whom he could worship and through whom he could see the kingdom of God. Even a Samaritan woman, who apparently went too far from God changing her boy friend 5 times, also had a deep desire to worship the one who could explain everything to her and to whom she could give all her heart. All mankind want to meet the true object of worship and find salvation of their souls and commit their lives to the person who is beyond human. The desire to worship the right one is the noble desire God endowed to men. The Ethiopian eunuch was not an exception.

Look at verse 28: “and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.” It would be difficult to read a book sitting in the chariot on the desert road, because the chariot was wavering a lot. In that situation some could read easy books. But the eunuch was reading the book of Isaiah, which he got hard time to understand. This showed his unceasing searching mind. His soul was not satisfied with his worship in Jerusalem. For he could not find a true object of his worship. Yet, he did not give up. He was searching and seeking constantly and continuously. What a precious soul! God never fails to bless such souls. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Our Lord Jesus also promised, “…seek and you will find…he who seeks finds…” (Mt 7:7,8)

This Ethiopian eunuch also had a learning mind. When Philip came to his chariot and spoke to him, he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Of course, there was the leading of the Spirit. But we cannot deny that to the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip was totally a stranger on the desert road. Yet, he welcomed Philip and was willing to ask a question and learn. Indeed he had a humble learning mind. God richly blesses a learning mind.

Lastly the Ethiopian valued his new-found identity more than anything else. Look at verses 36-38. “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized? And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” The Ethiopian eunuch took initiative and was willingly and promptly baptized in public. He could have worried about what the queen would think of him when he was baptized. His baptism could have caused a bad luck on his career and future. However, such things did not matter to him, because his new-found identity in Christ Jesus was all the world to him. He became a man of truth faith in Jesus.

Second, Philip, the evangelist. Philip was sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. “An angel of the Lord said to him” in verse 26, and “the Spirit told him” in verse 29 showed that Philip was close to God and always open to him. And he was willing to obey any direction. When an angel of the Lord told him to go to the desert road, he was immediate to go there and approach anyone. So he started out. Humanly speaking, meeting the Ethiopian eunuch, an important official sitting in a chariot was burdensome. But when the Spirit told him, “go to that chariot and stay near it,” Philip ran up to the chariot. He was a man of obedience.

He also knew how to begin the conversation. When he got to the chariot, he heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. Philip could have said first, ignoring what the man was doing. Usually people are quick to speak and slow to listen. That’s why James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” Philip had ears to hear although God sent him to speak. When Philip attentively heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet, he could have an idea what to ask. He asked a very proper question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Then the eunuch said, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” In this way the conversation could begin. Certainly in doing all these Philip was carefully following the Spirit.

Most importantly Philip was a good Bible teacher. The eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7,8. The passage was, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” Then the eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” What kind of question was it? It seemed to be a simple question, yet it was not. If the prophet was speaking about himself, he was speaking in the third person. What a suffering and sorrowful life it was for the prophet! And that’s it. There would be no further meaning. But if the prophet was talking about someone else, who could be that suffering servant? Actually, the question was a history-breaking and human mind blowing question. No human mind would grasp it without revelation from above. While on earth, Jesus taught his disciples his suffering and death again and again. But the disciples could not get it. So even after his resurrection, when he met two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus, he said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk 24:25-27). Later on when all the disciples gathered, he came and said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms…This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Lk 24:44-46). So what the eunuch asked was the key issue of the Scriptures and even now is a baffling question to most Jews. And whether one’s Christian faith is true or not hinges on this. The Ethiopian eunuch really needed somebody who could teach him correctly and truthfully.

When the eunuch had such a sincere and earnest seeking heart and humble attitude, God indeed sent him a right Bible teacher. Look at verse 35. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” This was truly a beautiful and very precious Bible study. Philip began with that very passage of Isaiah, which the eunuch had interested in. The story in the passage seemed to be a sorrowful one. But it was God’s sorrow, the sorrow of God the Father, who had to let his Son suffer beyond human understanding for the salvation of mankind. So the story was the story of God’s Son Jesus, who would be the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, and thus the good news for all mankind. There is no good news in this world under sin and death, except the good news about Jesus. As we thought of above, the whole Scripture points to Jesus. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn 5:39). The good news about Jesus is the revelation to perishing mankind. According to St. Paul, this was a mystery, the mystery of Christ. He said in Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” As for St. Paul sharing the gospel of Jesus was the administration of the mystery. In God’s history, when Philip told the Ethiopian eunuch the good news about Jesus, it was a historical moment because the mystery of Christ was revealed to the one who was related to the Gentile world for the first time.

The good news about Jesus is the only hope for mankind, and it is for all people. So at the time of Jesus’ birth, an angel of the Lord said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11). From the outset of his earthly messianic ministry, Jesus proclaimed the good news, saying, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15). After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk 16:15). As we studied in Acts, despite the continuous persecutions from the Jewish authorities, the apostles, day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Act 5:42). When the believers in Jerusalem had to be scattered because of a great persecution, Philip came to Samaria and preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (Ac 8:12). The good news about Jesus has never been changed but preserved and preached for the last more than 2000 years and it will be preached to all nations until Jesus comes again (Mt 24:14).

In this passage we cannot overlook the 1:1 encountering between Philip and the Ethiopian. We remember Jesus’ beautiful 1:1 encountering with Nicodemus and a Samaritan woman. Nicodemus could be a representative of intellects and Jesus talked with him at night, probably the whole night about the kingdom of God and God’s love, which bore fruit at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. The talk between Jesus and a Samaritan woman was the conversation between the heavenly prince, the most holy one and a sinful woman. It was done at daytime, the heat of the day at a well, and the 1:1 conversation led her to the spring of water welling up eternal life (Jn 4:14). We also cannot forget Jesus’ encountering Peter at the lake of Gennesaret early in the morning. When Peter’s whole night fishing was in vain with no fish caught at all, Jesus came into his boat and life and let him experience his power through the great catch of fish and called him to catch men. Now in this passage in God’s providence Philip and the Ethiopian met. The conversation was done in the chariot on the desert road. And the meeting between the two was beyond race and colour and social status. God met the Ethiopian hungry soul through Philip, the obedient gospel servant. The 1:1 encountering was genuine and bore a good fruit. The Ethiopian eunuch was converted and baptized. After that the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, and the eunuch could not see him again, but went on his way home rejoicing. Philip kept preaching the gospel wherever God led him.

In this study we see that in God’s initiating Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch a thirsty soul and shared with him the good news about Jesus. This was the historical moment in the Ethiopian’s life and also in the history of God as the good news would enter the Gentile territory through him. May we keep seeking heart and humble learning mind in our Christians life and be good and obedient Bible teachers and gospel servants like Philip so that such a beautiful 1:1 as one between Philip and the Ethiopian be done in the place where we are, and thus the good news about Jesus be spread in U of T campus and in our city and in this country.

UBF headquarters | Chicago UBF | UBF TV | Northwestern UBF | Washington UBF | New York UBF | Europe UBF  | Email Us | Site Admin
Home