The first section of Acts, which is contained in chapters 2-7, records the Great Unity of believers, when they were all together in one place in Jerusalem. This unity all came to an end when those in the ekklesia who had been involved in it were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Since the believers were no longer all together in one place in Jerusalem, they could no longer all be unified into one, and so the Great Unity came to an end. Then started instead the second great period of Acts, which we might call the “Great Scattering.” This scattering might have come about by tragic circumstances, that is, the beginning of a persecution, but God used this scattering to spread His Word. We will study this second great period of the book of Acts and the “Great Scattering” in this study.
The Great Scattering is brought about by persecution, as we said above. This persecution was touched off by the stoning of the man Stephen, as we read about it in Acts 7:59-60.
59. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60. Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the twelve to take on their duties in caring for the poor. Stephen’s death marked a turning point in the history of Acts, and that turning point was largely due to the actions of a young man named Saul. We read about him first of all in Acts 7:58.
58. and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
This young man Saul, a Pharisee and probably a member of the Sanhedrin, was in complete agreement with the death of Stephen, as is signified by the fact that the ones who actually did the stoning laid down their clothes at his feet. This man Saul then was the primary instigator of a great persecution aimed at the leadership among the believers, as we read in Acts 8:1-3.
1. Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Saul not only consented to the death of Stephen, but he also acted to stir up further persecution against the leadership ekklesia among the believers. He made havoc among them, entering their houses and dragging them off. Women who were leaders were not exempted from this. Saul, it seems, was an equal opportunity persecutor, and he did not hesitate to drag the female ekklesia members off to prison along with the men. The result was that all the chosen leaders among the believers were scattered, at first throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Only the apostles themselves were exceptions to this.
So in this way the Great Scattering was begun. Yet this was only the beginning. The question now is, “What did these believers do once they were scattered?” We do not have to wonder, for we are told the answer immediately in Acts 8:4.
4. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
The ekklesia members thus scattered did not remain silent wherever they went after they were forced out of Jerusalem. Instead, they proclaimed the word everywhere they went. Ultimately, this was all in line with God’s plan. Though the persecution of Saul was stirred up by His enemies, the results of that persecution were just as He wanted them to be. For this was in accord with Christ’s Own command to His disciples, as we read about it back in the introduction to the book of Acts in Acts 1:8.
8. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The Lord promised His disciples that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, they would become His witnesses. First of all, this witness would be in Jerusalem. Yet then, the witness would extend beyond that city. All Judea and Samaria would be reached with their witness next. And the word would not stop even there. Instead, it would proceed onward, even out to the remotest parts of the earth.
So, though certainly this persecution was not a good thing, yet it moved things on from the first to the second part of Christ’s plan. The word, which up to chapter 7 had only been proclaimed in Jerusalem, now moved beyond that city, and began to be proclaimed throughout Judea and Samaria. Therefore, the Great Scattering was a part of God’s plan, and helped to bring about what He desired to accomplish in the Acts period.
Yet there is one other fact we need to keep firmly in mind about the Great Scattering. That is, we need to take careful note of whom the scattered ones proclaimed to. We read a clear statement of this in Acts 11:19.
19. Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.
We see that the scattered ones, when they were proclaiming the word, did not proclaim it to all men indiscriminately. Instead, they limited their proclamation to Jews only. This is important to keep in mind, and is another defining feature of the Great Scattering period. They did not proclaim to all. They proclaimed the word only to Jews.
Now let us move on to examine in more specific detail what these ones who were involved in the Great Scattering did as they were scattered abroad. Obviously, there were too many involved in the Great Scattering for God’s Word to record the actions and work of them all. So our Lord records this period by following the career of a single one of these scattered men, relating to us what he did and how he worked as an example of what all the scattered ones did at this time. The example the Bible gives is Philip in Acts 8:5-40.
There are two Philips, one who was one of the twelve according to Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14, John 1:43-48, John 6:5-7, John 12:21-22, John 14:8-9, and Acts 1:13. The other Philip was one of the seven, the second listed after Stephen, as we see in Acts 6:5.
5. And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
Now the question is, which Philip is the one whose career we have recorded in Acts 8? I believe there are two clear clues to this. The first we have already read in Acts 8:1, where the Spirit said, “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” This clearly tells us that the apostles (or the twelve) were not scattered. Yet this Philip was scattered. This would lead us to believe that this Philip must have been the Philip of the seven, not the Philip of the twelve. The second clue is in Acts 21:8.
8. On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.
Here mention is made of Philip the evangelist, and we are told that he was “of the seven.” He is living in Caesarea, and that is exactly where we leave the Philip of Acts 8, for according to verse 40, “And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.” So the clear indication would be that this Philip is the Philip of the seven, not of the twelve apostles.
So we read of the beginning of the work of this Philip after he was scattered in Acts 8:5.
5. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.
To understand this, we have to realize that Samaria was a region in Israel, and yet it was also a city that was the capital of that region, just like New York, New York. The Samaritans were descendants of the northern kingdom of Israel, mixed in with the captives from other nations that the king of Assyria had transported into the land when he had carried the Israelites captive from it. Since they were only half-Israelites, they were hated by most of the Jews from Judea and Galilee, as they were looked on as bastardized by them. In fact, they hated them more than most of the Gentiles, and often tried to deny that they had any Israelite ancestry at all (as Josephus does in his history.) In some ways we cannot blame them for this, for the Samaritans were known for sometimes claiming and sometimes denying Israelite ancestry, depending on whether it was convenient to do one or the other at the time. Yet the Lord seemed to consider them as long-lost Israelites (see John 4,) and does not deny their common ancestry with the Jews. Now, they are to be included in the proclamation of the news of Jesus Christ to all Israel.
Now Philip’s message has great success in Samaria, Samaria, as we can see in Acts 8:6-8.
6. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8. And there was great joy in that city.
So the Lord is clearly justified in sending the word to these half-Israelites, as many of them when they hear the word believe, and do so with great joy. So Philip’s mission is very successful. We read of yet more of his success in the following verses. First, we read that Satan had been active in Samaria before Philip arrived there, in Acts 8:9-11.
9. But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10. to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11. And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
So we read of this Samaritan Simon, who was a sorcerer. The people of Samaria had been listening to him for a long time, so apparently he was no common fraud. A trickster typically doesn’t stay in a place for very long, knowing that his deception will become clearer over time. Yet this Simon had been here for a long time, and with no sign that the people suspected that his power was anything but genuine. Indeed, he may have had real power from a Satanic source. Yet look at what is said in verse 12.
12. But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
So these people who had formerly been deceived by believing Satan’s deception through this man Simon now believe God’s representative Philip and the truths he is proclaiming. What Philip is proclaiming is listed here as two main topics, and lets us know what the topic of the proclaiming of all those scattered was during this time. First is the kingdom of God, God’s government over this earth, which even then was in the world and growing, though since it has withdrawn and the completion of it is postponed until the future. Second is the name of Jesus Christ, which means the true reputation of Christ based on His true character. When they believed these two parts of Philip’s message, they were baptized or identified as believers, both men and women.
13. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
Now, shockingly, we see that even Simon the sorcerer believes! Not only is he shown up in the eyes of the people, but also in his own eyes. He has never seen power like that which Philip displays, and he can see no recourse but to get on board with it. Moreover, he is identified by Philip as a true believer, so we can be certain this was no deception of his to try to get in with this new group and disrupt it. He saw that this was the truth, and he truly believed.
14. Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
Now we learn something else about the Great Scattering period: what the role of the twelve apostles and those associated with them was during this time. We saw back in verse 1 that they were not scattered when the rest had been scattered. However, when they hear of a successful ministry of one of those who was scattered, they send some of their number to that place to back up and confirm the work that had been done there. So they make Jerusalem their base of operations, but they are most willing to leave there and go anywhere to assist and enhance the work of others who have gone out proclaiming the Word in the scattering. That is what they do for the work of Philip here.
15. who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Now we see that when the apostles arrive in Samaria, they give out the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Apparently, Philip was not able to do this. He was able to display the gifts that he had, but he was not able to give these gifts out to others. This privilege was reserved for the apostles.
25. So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
So the apostles return to Jerusalem, the place where their work is centered. Again, we see the pattern. Yet notice that they were not unwilling to proclaim the Word themselves as they made their way back. It was not that the apostles were unwilling to proclaim the Word. It was just this was not the role the Spirit gave them in the Great Scattering period. Theirs was to be a supporting role, and not a role on the front lines of spreading the gospel. That was to be done by those who went out in the Great Scattering. They were the ones who were going to new places proclaiming the Word in this period. The twelve would only proclaim it incidentally as the opportunity arose as they were carrying out their other duties during this period.
So we have seen how Philip’s work in Samaria is a pattern of what those who proclaimed were doing during this Great Scattering period. Yet Philip’s role as an example does not end here. We see more about how the Spirit leads the scattered ones through the activities of Philip in the latter half of this chapter.
26. Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.
Now this seems like a most strange thing indeed. Philip has had a very successful ministry in Samaria, Samaria. The people there are willing and eager to hear him, and he has enjoyed great success in his work for God there. Yet now the Lord is calling him away from this major city where he is able to do much work for God to an uninhabited desert, where chances are he will not meet anyone at all! Yet this is the Lord’s command through His angel, and so of course Philip can do nothing but obey.
27. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28. was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
We see here the Spirit of God directing Philip exactly what he should do. This is an amazing thing, when you think about it. We experience no such direct guidance today. The Spirit has told Philip where to go, what road to take, and who to talk to on that road. He is directly controlling what Philip does. And again, I believe Philip is a pattern for us of what the Lord was doing with all those scattered during the Great Scattering period. He was directing their actions, sending them exactly where he wanted them to go.
30. So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31. And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33. In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
34. So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35. Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
37. Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
38. So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
Here we see that the Spirit’s call to Philip was certainly justified. Though he might have left a successful ministry to wander off into an uninhabited place, he met a man there, a very important man that God very much wanted him to meet. He meets with this Ethiopian eunuch and proclaims the word to him, and the man believes and is identified with Jesus Christ. It was not in vain that the Spirit took him from Samaria to bring him to this uninhabited place. It may not have made sense at first, but we can see that in the end, it was all according to God’s plan.
39. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
Now here we see once again, just as in Samaria, Philip’s ability to represent the Lord is confirmed by a miracle. Philip is suddenly caught away from that place, and the eunuch sees him no more. Imagine having a man come to you and claim to speak God’s message to you. Then, after you believe it, he disappears into thin air! Certainly the eunuch had no doubt at this point but that God had sent this messenger to him. So here is another facet of the ministry of those involved in the Great Scattering: their proclamations were always proven by miracles that followed them.
40. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
Now here the pattern of Philip comes to an end, and in a very interesting way. Philip reappears at Azotus, and passing through there, he proclaims in all the cities he comes upon until he comes to Caesarea. At this point, the record leaves Philip. Why, we might wonder? But if we look at Acts 21:8-9, where Philip is finally mentioned again, we can discover the reason.
8. On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
This verse makes it clear why the record of Philip stops at Caesarea: it clearly is because Philip himself stopped there. He apparently settled down there, found Miss Right, married, and now has four daughters, all of whom are Godly like their father. No doubt Philip became a leader among the believers in Caesarea, having been taught in the Word by the twelve themselves. Certainly when Paul and his companions come to Caesarea, it is to Philip that they go, indicating his importance among the people there. So again I believe that Philip is an example for us here of those involved in the Great Scattering. They went to many places proclaiming the Word, but eventually came to a place where they settled down, had families, and became leaders among the believers in those places. Their ministries did not continue indefinitely. Eventually, they came to one place, settled there, and stopped scattering.
Now, let us leave the example of Philip, and consider one more example of the activities of those who were involved in the Great Scattering. This example is found in Acts 11.
19. Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.
Here, instead of a specific example of a scattered one like Philip, we have just some general statements about those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen. We read they traveled even outside the confines of the land of Israel. They did not just stop at Judea and Samaria, or even at Galilee. They went even further west into Phoenicia, over part of the Mediterranean to the island of Cyprus, or north into Antioch, the capital of Syria. Yet as they went, we learn that they did not proclaim to Gentiles. No, they were proclaiming the word to Jews only. This is another great truth of the scattering period: the message that was proclaimed then was only for the Jews.
Now in the record we have in Acts, we cannot learn that the scattering went out any further than this. Yet I think clearly it must have reached many places that Acts does not record for us. For example, we know that the proclaimers in this period must have reached Rome, for Paul tells us this in Romans 15:20-22.
20. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, 21. but as it is written:
“To whom He was not announced, they shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand.”
22. For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you.
Paul here tells the Romans that he has not been able to come to them previously because his aim was to proclaim the gospel where it had not yet been proclaimed, and it apparently had already been proclaimed in Rome.
Paul’s ministry, as we have it, extended mostly to the north and west of Israel. Yet there were many other places where Jews dwelt, and where the word must have been spread. It must have spread to the south and west, for example, for there were a great many Jews in Egypt, particularly in places like Alexandria, where the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament was translated. We have no mention of the gospel spreading here in the Bible, yet certainly it must have if, as Paul said in Romans 10:18, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’” Yes, Israel heard in all the world, so certainly Egypt must have heard.
There were also many Jews to the north and east of Israel, in places like Persia and Babylon. These were the first places that Jews were scattered, and the population of Jews in these places was in the millions. Yet at most we only have a small hint of the gospel having spread there in the book of I Peter, where in 5:13 Peter says, “13. She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.” This would seem to indicate that Peter was in Babylon among the believers there. So the gospel must have spread there in the scattering period, as we would expect.
Therefore the gospel certainly spread to many places in the scattering period, and we do not have a record of all of them, by any means. Yet now, let us return to our main passage in Acts 11, and learn what else we can learn of the scattering as it reached into Syria.
20. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
Now we read of a more specific ministry of some of these in Antioch in Syria. These do not speak only to those who know the language of the Jews, but even speak to the Hellenists, those who could only communicate with others in Greek, and proclaim the Lord Jesus to them. For the first time since Pentecost, it seems, the word is being spoken in some language other than Aramaic. The Lord is behind this, so it is very successful, and a great number believe and turn to the Lord.
22. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
Now we see the same pattern as in Acts 8. The apostles hear of this ministry, and they send support, just as they did in Acts 8. This time, however, it seems that none of the twelve are available, so they send Barnabas to go in their place. Certainly as the Word was spread to more and more places, the twelve had to recruit more and more to aid them in their supporting role. No better aid could have been recruited, for Barnabas was a man full of encouragement and help for these new believers, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Through his help, many more people are added to the Lord.
25. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Now here we have hinted for us what the next great stage of the Acts period was to be: the ministry of Paul. As the scattering period ended with those who had been scattered settling down in many places around the world, the great push to spread the gospel slowed to a stop. Yet there were many places that had not yet been reached, because for some reason those who were scattered never went there. Now, the Lord is about to call a new apostle, and to give him the task of reaching these previously unreached areas. This man is the apostle Paul, and his task will be to carry the Word to the places where the Great Scattering did not reach.
So we have seen that the Great Scattering spread the word of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem and Judea throughout the land of Israel and even beyond. The gospel was carried out by those who were trained personally by the twelve in the Great Unity. They went to many places proclaiming the Word, though they were proclaiming it to none but to Jews only. At first, it was only proclaimed in the language of Israel, Aramaic, but eventually it was proclaimed in other languages as well. We have a pattern of the things those scattered did set forth for us in detail in the record of the activities of the man Philip. This scattering and spreading of the word in the way we have described it continued until these scattered ones all found new homes and settled down. At this time, God called a new apostle to carry His Word out to yet unreached places: Paul. Paul’s ministry is the third way the gospel was spread, and is the third section of the book of Acts.
So we have seen the Great Scattering, the second section of Acts, as it is set forth in Acts 8-12. For us, we need to realize the difference between the way we spread the gospel today and the way it was spread during this important scattering period. The ones spreading it at this time were men who had been trained by the twelve themselves during the Great Unity in Jerusalem. As they went out, they displayed great miracles and signs backing up the Word, something which we cannot do at all today. They had direct guidance of the Spirit, even to the point of telling them what road to travel and whom to speak to on that road. We have no such direction. After they began a work, their work was backed up by the apostles, their God-appointed leaders. Yet we have no such God-appointed leaders, at most having leaders appointed and given their positions by men.
Though we too proclaim the gospel, and our gospel too concerns Jesus Christ, the only God-given tool we have to aid us in doing this is the Word of God, the Bible. The Spirit indwells the believer, but He does not such powerful work to aid in spreading the Word as he did for these in the Scattering. We need to recognize these differences, and realize that even the best of us are not like those involved in this Great Scattering. All we can do is proclaim the Word, and wait for the time when God’s government will come to earth and He will give us His appointed leaders once again. May that day come soon!