Acts Lesson Eighteen: Acts 8:26-40 Philip Evangelizes an Ethiopian Eunuch
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:
He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,
so He does not open His mouth.
33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him.
Who will describe His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.
34 The eunuch replied to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or another person?” 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.
36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?” [37And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer. But he went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (HCSB)
In the previous lesson, Philip was being successful as an evangelist in the region of Samaria. Now, he is told by an angel to go to an area southwest of Jerusalem for another evangelistic mission, this time to an important Ethiopian eunuch. As we go through this passage, we’ll see three critical requirements for a successful missions trip or evangelistic outreach.
- A man of God. In this example, it is Philip. God uses people to reach the lost with the gospel message.
- The Spirit of God. The Spirit led Philip to the eunuch. The Spirit opened the heart of the eunuch to receive the message. When the Spirit brings an obedient messenger into contact with a softened heart, a harvest occurs.
- The Word of God. Scripture reveals the truth about Jesus and leads to understanding and submission to the truth.
A couple of other facts to remember as we go through this passage.
- In the minds of the Greeks and Romans at the time this occurred, Ethiopia was considered the “end of the earth” and illustrated part of the completion of Jesus’ Great Commission, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
- The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch may very well be the first conversion of a Gentile.
There are a few critical points to know regarding this unnamed Ethiopian official.
- Since he was in charge of Candace’s treasury, his official title was likely equivalent to a modern country’s Minister of Finance.
- Eunuchs were considered trustworthy and loyal to their rulers, making them particularly suited for a financial role.
- He had finished a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was heading home.
- He was likely a God-fearing Gentile who believed in Yahweh but had not become a complete convert to Judaism.
- Since he was a eunuch, he would not be able to become a full member of a Jewish congregation.
It was likely no accident that the eunuch was reading from Isaiah. Of all the Old Testament writings, Isaiah is the one that holds the greatest hope for the eunuch in the picture of God’s ideal future. Isaiah 56:3-8 No foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord should say, “The Lord will exclude me from His people”; and the eunuch should not say, “Look, I am a dried-up tree.” 4 For the Lord says this: “For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold firmly to My covenant, 5 I will give them, in My house and within My walls, a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off.6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord minister to Him, love the name of Yahweh and become His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold firmly to My covenant— 7 I will bring them to My holy mountain and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8 This is the declaration of the Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel: “I will gather to them still others besides those already gathered.”
Philip now runs up to the chariot and asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. When the eunuch replies that he doesn’t, the opportunity to evangelize presents itself. The passage that the eunuch is reading is Isaiah 53:7-8, but it’s from the Greek Septuagint and one of the most difficult of the servant texts to interpret. Here is a list of the basic pattern of suffering, humiliation, and exaltation of Jesus.
- The image of the slaughtered lamb is Jesus’ crucifixion.
- The silent lamb is Jesus’ silence before those who accuse Him.
- The justice that was denied to Jesus reminds us of the false accusations of blasphemy and the failure of Pilate to release Jesus.
- The phrase “describe His generation” is a difficult one to interpret. This may be a reference to all of Jesus’ disciples through the generations (years).
- The phrase “taken from the earth” is a reference to Jesus ascending in His glory and being exalted to the right hand of the Father.
The eunuch is curious to learn more about the passage, and this presents an opportunity for Philip to explain what the prophet is saying and point to the fulfillment in Jesus. In the same way, we need to be sensitive to those around us who are curious to learn more about God and be a faithful witness of the Gospel message.
Although the passage doesn’t explicitly state that Philip ended his explanation of the Gospel message with an invitation to commit his life to Jesus, it is obvious that an invitation occurred. This invitation led to the eunuch asking to be baptized as they passed by some water. Philip follows up this request for baptism with a question to confirm that the eunuch understood the Gospel and was willing to commit to Jesus. When the eunuch confirms his belief in the Gospel message, Philip tells the chariot to stop, and he baptizes the eunuch.
After the baptism, the two are separated. Philip is miraculously transported to Azotus, which is close to Gaza, and he then proceeds to Caesarea. During his journey up the coast, he was not idle but was faithful with his time, evangelizing in the towns as he went.
The eunuch continued his journey home, “rejoicing” as he went. It is likely that he shared his newfound joy with those around him and those that he met on the journey. There is no other confirmed information regarding him. Some of the later church fathers said he became a missionary to Ethiopia, but that is not confirmed through other sources. If nothing else, he would have shared what had happened to him with others.
As a summary, here are a few facts regarding this passage.
- Barriers to the spread of the Gospel continue to fall.
- The eunuch was a Gentile and black. His baptism into the fellowship of God’s people demonstrates that all are welcome, regardless of color or physical handicaps.
- The first converted foreigner in Acts was an African, long before Paul brought the message of the Gospel to Europe.
- Philip’s accomplishments were considerable.
- He pioneered the Samaritan mission.
- He opened the door for the Gentile mission.
- Peter followed him in evangelism in both Samaria and Caesarea (the conversion of Cornelius).
- Philip was a visionary in mission work outside of Israel and the Jews.
- Are you sensitive and responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit? In this passage, Philip’s submission to the Holy Spirit led to his obedience and the opportunity to share the Gospel leading to the eunuch’s salvation.
- Are you ready in and out of season to share the Gospel? Philip had no plans to travel outside of Samaria. Still, he was ready when called upon.
- Do you have the ability to discern whether someone has genuinely submitted to Jesus? Philip’s assessment was that the eunuch did understand and submit to the truth of the Gospel, allowing him to baptize the eunuch. This is in contrast to the previous passage where Simon the Sorcerer was able to fool Philip. We won’t always get it right, but we need to make a determination before baptizing someone.