Philip in Samaria Part 2 of 3
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
In the city where Philip preached there was a man by the name of Simon, who like many of the astrologers and magicians of that day, amazed people with his powers and gained for himself a comfortable living with his fabulous reputation. On the strength of his alleged powers, Simon had established himself as a sort of local diviner and his followers revered him. They considered him “the great power of God.” “Power” is a Jewish reverential substitute for God (Mark 14:62—“setting at the right hand of power,” where Luke in his parallel Luke 22:69 adds, as here, the explanatory words, “of God”). He had flung the spell of his personality over the city by his self-advertisement: “Giving out that himself was some great one.” The Samaritans worshipped Jehovah, but probably thought of Simon as a special agent of Deity. Simon’s sorcery* was energized by Satan and was used to magnify himself, while Philips miracles were empowered by God, and were used to glorify Christ. Simon started to lose his following as the Samaritans listened to Philip’s messages, believed on Jesus Christ, were born again, and were baptized. Observe the difference: Philip proclaimed another; the Messiah; Simon proclaimed himself. Many traditions revolve around Simon the sorcerer. It is alleged: (a) that he was the founder of the Gnostic heresies, (b) that he went to Rome and perverted Christian doctrine there, and (c) that he became involved in a miracle contest with Peter and lost.
*Sorcery refers to magic which originally referred to the practices of the Medo-Persians: a mixture of science and superstition, including astrology, divination, and the occult.
The people who had been under the spell of the sorcerer listened. Something very much unexpected happened. When the Magician heard Philip preach about the sovereignty of God and the name of Jesus Christ, he along with the people of the city believed and received baptism. The phrase “the kingdom of God” (v. 12) refers to the coming kingdom (Acts 1:3, 6). “The name of Jesus Christ” looks to His position as Messiah. In other words, the message meant that some Samaritans would become heirs of the Millennium by faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Simon recognized Philip was a competitor and possessed a power greater than his own. From what happened later, we wonder whether Simon’s motive was sincere in joining the Christian fellowship. Yet he attached himself to Philip and continued to be amazed by the great miracles performed. Simon’s faith is proof of the truth that faith based on signs is not a trustworthy faith—“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
We have no right to say that Simon was insincere. The same words used to describe the multitude are used of Simon, and I believe his belief was as sincere as that of the multitude and his baptism was as valid as theirs. Dear reader, I believe when a person says they have accepted Christ, that we must accept them at their word, since only the Lord can know their heart.
Part 3: Peter and John Visit Samaria (vv. 14-25)
14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
25 And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
With the abatement of the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem, news reached the apostles and others of the success of the ministry of Philip in Samaria. This departure of preaching to those who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel was not viewed by the Jewish Christians with enthusiasm, since it is evident that Hebrew believers did carry over with them into their new relationship with Christ the old prejudices against all things outside the Hebrew experience. Yet, since the Samaritans worshipped the same God and were stricter in the observance of the Law than the Jews, perhaps the disciples in Jerusalem considered them religiously far superior to the Gentiles. Peter and John seem to have been officially appointed by the church in Jerusalem to look into the matter. For some time the Jerusalem apostles exercised general supervision over the widespread work of evangelization.
Samaria as a center of operation was not chosen by the council of apostles in Jerusalem. It was undoubtedly in the original intention of Jesus Christ.
We are not told whether Philip was still in the city when Peter and John arrived. Upon their arrival, they observed a deficiency in the experience of the believers. The believers had been properly baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but as yet they had not received the Holy Spirit. Great multitudes intellectually accepting the truth of what Philip had declared, submitting themselves to the right of water baptism as an indication of their acceptance. It was remarkable. Why? Their belief was intellectual consent, and their baptism was intellectual consent. This first victory broke the spell of the sorcerer. He himself was captured. And the city passed under the spell of the evangelist.
Normally, the Holy Spirit baptizes, indwells, and seals at the moment of faith. Aside from the possibility that these people may not have been saved the delay served several purposes: (1) Peter and John’s prayer (for bestowing of the Holy Spirit and their laying on of hands (resulting in the coming of the Spirit) confirmed Philip’s ministry among the Samaritans. This authenticated this new work to the Jerusalem apostles. (2) Also, this confirmed Philip’s ministry to the Samaritans. This message Philip had preached was validated by the coming of the Spirit, a mark of the coming kingdom. (3) Perhaps the most important aspect of God withholding the Holy Spirit until apostolic representatives came from the Jerusalem church was to prevent a split. Because of the natural propensity of division between Jews and Samaritans it was essential for Peter and John to welcome the Samaritan believers into the church.
Peter and John prayed that the people might receive the Holy Spirit, seemingly a prayer for divine approval for evangelizing the Samaritans. After Peter and John put their hands upon the people, they received the Holy Spirit. Let’s look somewhat carefully at this story to see what Peter and John actually did. They prayed for them; they laid their hands upon them; and then they received the Holy Spirit. Peter knew full well that the Spirit had not fallen upon these men by the laying on of his hands. That is what Simon thought he saw, as we will see as the story develops; but Peter knew and declared that it was the gift of God.
We can hardly conclude from the incident that the apostles were able to do something by the imposition of hands which Philip with all his preaching and miracles could not perform. Later we notice that Paul was able to lay his hands upon the disciples of John at Ephesus, and they received the Holy Spirit—“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:6). In this same chapter (Acts 8) the apostles did not lay their hands upon the Ethiopian Eunuch. We are safe in assuming that the reception of the Holy Spirit by the Samaritan converts was equally beneficial for the apostles. It proved to them that God was involved in the ministry among the Samaritans, and the church in Jerusalem must accept what God authenticated.