Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch Part 2 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.


This Ethiopian eunuch had just been to Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish religion. Although Judaism was the God-given religion, he was leaving the city still in the dark. He was reading from a scroll on which was recorded the words of the prophet Isaiah, but he was not understanding what he was reading. The fact that the Ethiopian was a pilgrim returning from Jerusalem, and that he was reading Isaiah, indicates that he already was at least a Jewish proselyte—a proselyte of the gate, a proselyte of righteousness. If this was so, he would not be admitted to the inner sanctuary at Jerusalem, but he would be allowed to stand in an outer court, in order to worship. In addition, the Law prohibited eunuchs from entering the Lord’s assembly—“He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the LORD” (Deut. 23:1). However, Isaiah 56:3-5 predicts great blessing for eunuchs in the Millennial age—“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people"; and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.” The eunuch was concerned enough about his spiritual life to travel over 200 miles to Jerusalem to worship God, but his heart was still not satisfied.

If the eunuch at this time could not enter the congregation of Israel, Philip was able to afford him the opportunity through faith in Christ to enter the congregation of the new Israel of God. In this sense then what Philip did was a new departure.

The conversion of the Ethiopian is significant, not because it introduced a new principle, but as an illustration of how far afield the gospel was already spreading.

Jesus had sent Philip to this desert region and what he found there was this Ethiopian, who was seeking something, diligently, sincerely, earnestly, not self-satisfied, reaching out for something more than he had ever known before, and yet a man not understanding what it all meant. While in Jerusalem he must have been told about the death of Stephan and about the man that was proclaimed to be the Messiah by His followers. He saw many converts to this new religion who seemed happy and were willing witnesses of Jesus; he may have heard some of the disciples preaching to the crowds of pilgrims who were there to celebrate the feast of tabernacles.

In Philip’s time, there were just two ways to spread anything about which you are greatly interested. The first was to live it yourself, and the other was to talk about it. That is what happened during the early days of Christianity. The early Christians drew other people to them because they had something that other people recognized as supremely worthwhile. In the second century, Tertullian wrote, “See how these Christians love one another.” That is the real reason why this movement spread. But they also talked about it, and the interesting thing is that when Philip climbed up into the chariot with the Ethiopian, he opened his mouth (v. 35). When people saw the early Christians they cried, “Look at them!” And that exclamation was followed by, “Listen to them!”


29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot."

The Holy Spirit is leading Philip by an unmistakable voice within (as in Acts 10:19 and 16:6-7), and he was on the scene ahead of Philip as He must in any conversion. He is preparing the man’s heart by making him discontented and causing him to realize his own ignorance. God directed Philip to the right person at the right time. Philip is the man of God whom the Spirit of God is using. The Word of God is already in the chariot, because the Ethiopian is reading from the prophet Isaiah.

Interestingly, Philip was guided first by an angel (v. 26) and then here by the Holy Spirit. The instruction, "Go up and join this chariot" would reveal to Philip the previously unknown object of his journey, and encourage him to expect something extraordinary to happen.


30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

Since it was customary for the ancient people to read aloud, Philip could have easily heard the portion of Scripture the eunuch was reading.


31 And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

While he was profoundly interested in what he was reading, he was equally ignorant. He said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" This was an expression of great discontent. “He invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” If he was filled with discontent he was also full of desire for instruction.


32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: "As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth."

The quotation is from Isaiah 53:7-8 and is important as the first definite application of the passage to Jesus as the Suffering Servant.

Before the coming of Christ, the Jews did understand that this was a Messianic passage and that the sufferings of the servant was a prophecy of the sufferings of their Messiah. Later some assumed the suffering servant to refer to the prophet and others to the people of Israel.


34 And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?"

This quotation from Isaiah was perplexing to the eunuch. He knew the passage described an individual, but was it Isaiah or someone else? His confusion was understandable, since even the Jewish experts were divided on the meaning of this passage. Some believed the slaughtered sheep represented Israel; others thought Isaiah was referring to himself, and others thought the Messiah was Isaiah’s subject.

The respect with which he addresses Philip was prompted by the reverence for one whom he perceived to be his superior in spiritual things. What a marvelous place to begin to talk about Jesus! When the Spirit of God leads, how wonderfully everything opens up! He will take the things of Christ and make them clear.


35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God. Philip seized the opportunity to present the good news about Jesus from Isaiah 53. He showed the eunuch that the passage he had been reading was a prophecy of Jesus. This goes back to our Lord’s own teaching that He had come to serve and give his life a ransom for many—“For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We can be certain that Philip included Isaiah 53:4-6 when he preached the good news about Jesus. The lesson may have lasted for hours as the chariot was driven slowly on, and it brought full conviction to the heart of the Nubian potentate. Jesus Christ was the sheep led to the slaughter.

Simon Peter, whom the Lord used so wonderfully in the conversion of multitudes, makes it clear that the Word of God must be involved if a person is saved. He wrote in his first Epistle: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever." That word is the good news which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25).

We will see that the Ethiopian was beginning to understand the gospel because the Holy Spirit was opening up his mind to God’s truth. It is not enough for a lost sinner to desire salvation; he must understand God’s plan of salvation. It is the heart that understands the Word that eventually bears fruit—“As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).

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