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 Philip is left alone in Samaria once again, but he is not to remain there for long. Any angel of the Lord now speaks to him, and gives him instructions to leave and tells him where to go. This might seem strange to us, but this is only because we live during the time of God’s silence, when He does not speak up and tell us exactly what He wants us to do. Yet if we remember the nature of the Acts period and what God was accomplishing then, we will realize that this event fits right in. God was not silent at that time. Instead, He was working in open, manifest, and powerful ways. The time in history which this book records was the kingdom of God on earth, His very government coming into the world in its first stages. He was not just working in this world, as He does even today, but was openly moving to establish His government over those who would submit to it. He had His government rulers in this world, and Philip was definitely one of them. That He would direct and guide such a man then should not surprise us in the least.
The truth is that when the kingdom comes, all men might even come to expect direct guidance from God. Isaiah 30:21 declares of that time, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.” Under such conditions, what we read of Philip here would not seem strange at all. It is only in our day when such things do not occur that we might find this to be unusual.
This command to Philip could have seemed most strange indeed. Remember that he at this time was in Samaria, a place where he had come preaching the word, and his proclamation had been extremely well-received. The positive reception he had there had even led such men as Simon the sorcerer to faith in the Lord Jesus. At this time, Philip would have been helping and guiding a multitude of believers in that city. To leave there at all must have seemed rather disappointing to him. Yet where he was sent was not to any place around where he then was, where there must have still been many Samaritan villages he could have reached with the truth. Rather, he is sent back the opposite way he had come, for Samaria is north of Jerusalem, and he is to go all the way to the south of Jerusalem to a road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is southwest of the city. Gaza was one of the ancient cities of the Philistines, Israel’s enemies on Judah’s western coast.
This seems strange enough in itself. Yet consider also that this road is said to be desert. In Biblical language, this means that it ran through uninhabited country. This was not the main road one would have taken to get from Jerusalem to Philistia. That main road was inhabited, and one would have passed through many villages full of people along that road. Yet this road runs through uninhabited wilderness. In other words, Philip was to go from a city where he was literally helping thousands of people, to a road in the wilderness where he might not meet even one!
This command does seem like a most strange one, but the story reveals to us that the Lord had a very specific purpose in this. There was to be a certain traveler along that road whom the Lord wanted Philip to meet. This one man might not have seemed important to us, had we been there and assessing things. But God had seen this man, and He thought him important enough to send one of His representatives all this distance to meet him. This was God’s care for even one seeker in His kingdom! And we can be certain that God cares just as much for men today, though He is not working openly to show it.
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,
In spite of the strangeness of the command, Philip does not hesitate to obey. He was a man of faith, and having received a word from God, he acted upon it. He did not need to understand why he was being given this command. All he needed was to know that it was God who had commanded him. This was a commendable attitude, and one we would all do well to emulate.
Now when he reaches this back road and is traveling along it, he comes upon a most surprising sight. This was the kind of road where it would be unusual to meet anyone traveling. Yet here comes a chariot of a very great and important person. This would be most unexpected from a human standpoint, but Philip must not have been very surprised, for he knew that he was where he was by the command of God. God has set up a very important meeting for him with the owner of this chariot.
Now we learn of the man in the chariot. This man is said to be a man of Ethiopia, the country in Africa that we know of today. He is a eunuch. This is something that we find most disturbing in our culture, yet it was all too common in that time, particularly among high officials like this. And this man is said to be a man of great authority, serving under Candace, who was the queen of the Ethiopians. The Companion Bible suggests that this was not a name for this queen, but rather was the official title of the queens of Ethiopia, much like “Pharaoh” was the official title of the kings of Egypt. We tend to look at ancient times as being most inhospitable to women, and yet I think sometimes this idea is exaggerated. In Africa at least, powerful female rulers were not uncommon, and this queen Candace was one such woman. This eunuch was her official in charge of her treasury. This tells us he was a man of great financial ability, as well as a most trustworthy official, to be put in charge of this queen’s wealth.
Yet oddly enough, he was not a man involved in the pagan worship of the Ethiopian gods. Instead, we learn that this man had come to Jerusalem to worship. Apparently, he was a seeker of the true God, and he had come to Israel in order to learn more about him. This was most commendable, not only in our eyes, but also in the eyes of God.
28. was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
This eunuch had apparently completed his visit to Jerusalem, and was now returning to his post in Ethiopia. Yet he was not returning directly, and I believe we can see why from this verse. He was reading a scroll of Isaiah the prophet, which apparently he had just bought in Jerusalem. Perhaps he had not found what he sought in his visit to the temple, and now thought he might find the truth he wanted in the Scriptures.
As far as to why it was Isaiah he was reading, we can say a few things. First of all, remember that this was more than a thousand years before the printing press was invented. At this time, all books had to be hand-copied, which made them most expensive indeed. Because of this, there was no such thing as buying a complete Bible, as we do. Generally, one only bought one book, and even that would be expensive. Yet the most common one book to buy at that time was Isaiah. Even the poorest of synagogues which couldn’t afford any other scrolls of the Scriptures (except perhaps the Torah) would no doubt have a copy of the book of Isaiah. It had become probably the most popular book in Israel, and people loved the great and glorious promises Isaiah made about the future of their nation in the kingdom of God. Thus, when this man sought to buy a copy of the Scriptures, this book was doubtless recommended to him. Not only would it have been the book they had the most of in stock, but, the seller might have assured him, this book had God’s message to eunuchs in it, which would have interested this man greatly. The passage I refer to is Isaiah 56:3-5, which reads:
3. Do not let the son of the foreigner
Who has joined himself to the LORD
“The LORD has utterly separated me from His people”;
Nor let the eunuch say,
“Here I am, a dry tree.”
4. For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
5. Even to them I will give in My house
And within My walls a place and a name
Better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
That shall not be cut off.
This is what this man would have read about eunuchs like himself in the kingdom of God. Moreover, in case any are wondering how it could be that a eunuch of Ethiopia would come to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, consider that this very thing is predicted in this passage in the following verses.
6. “Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants—
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant—
7. Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
That this eunuch would be coming up to the “house of prayer for all nations” may seem strange to some who lack confidence in the power of God to carry out His word, but we see that it is in perfect harmony with this passage.
Now this man, as I mentioned before, had apparently been seeking further knowledge of the true God by his trip to Jerusalem. However, it seems that he is going away without achieving this, for as far as we can tell, he did not encounter the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ while he was there. Yet, as Otis Sellers suggests in his study of the book of Acts, there is a rule regarding God’s kingdom, that every seeker after God will not fail to find Him. This rule is set forth in Matthew 7:7-8. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” This man has sought, and God has sent His messenger Philip to him even now to see to it that he will find what he was seeking.
29. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
Remember that Philip is out traveling this road with no idea why he is there or where he is going. Now, the Spirit speaks to him and gives him further instructions. He is to go near and overtake this chariot. It would appear, then, that this chariot was moving very slowly. This is easily explained by the fact that this man was reading in the chariot as they were driving. This also explains why he had taken this uninhabited back road in the first place. He had wanted plenty of uninterrupted time to read and absorb the words of this important book that he had purchased. He did not want to wait until he returned to the court of Candace to peruse it, but was anxious to read it right away. I have read through the Bible so many times that it is hard to imagine at this point what it would be like to get my hands on a new book of Scripture. I suppose I could barely wait until I had left the place where I purchased it to open it and see some of the things it might have to say. I might sit in my car and finish it before I ever drove back to my home. This is along the lines of what this eunuch is doing. He is having his driver go slowly over this wilderness road while he reads and considers the words of Isaiah.
Now a person on foot can overtake horses if they are moving very slowly. Philip has been catching up with this chariot, probably first glimpsing it on the horizon, and eventually getting close enough to see what sort of chariot it is and to be surprised to find such a high official out in such an out-of-the-way place. Now the Spirit commands him to pick up speed to catch up to the chariot, which he would easily have been able to do.
Notice that the Spirit speaks here, as a Person. As I have pointed out, the Scriptures sometimes speak of the Person of the Spirit, and sometimes of His power, since the two are intimately related. Some, however, have tried to argue that the Spirit is just a power, and that He is not actually a Person at all. This passage shows this idea to be incorrect. A power does not speak. The Spirit speaking and giving Philip orders here shows that He is more than just a power or force.
30. So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
Philip obeys this command and runs up to the chariot. This would not have been unusual, for the customs at that time were that travelers would often join together on the road, not just for company but also for protection against the many dangers of travel at that time. Now, Philip is walking along beside this chariot, and he hears the man reading the prophet Isaiah. Our skill of reading silently to ourselves in our heads is not one that was very common in earlier times in history. Thus, though this man was probably reading to himself, he was sounding out the words aloud. This manuscript he had was probably in Greek, a copy of the Isaiah of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, often called the Septuagint, though technically this name only applied to the first five books of that translation.
According to Otis Sellers again, the social customs of that day were very strict in such a situation. The traveler who sought to join himself to another in this case was not allowed to speak first, but could only speak once spoken to. The exception to this is if he saw some way of which he might be of assistance. In that case, he could speak first and offer his assistance in whatever manner he was able. Thus, as Philip hears this man reading Isaiah, he speaks to him, asking him if he understands what he is reading. Implied in this question is the offer to help him in understanding if he is lacking in it, as we can also see from the eunuch’s response to his question.
31. And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch does not understand what he is reading, and asks how he can unless someone guides him? This is an acceptance of Philip’s unspoken offer to be that guide that he needed. Then, he invites Philip to come up and sit with him in the chariot. Philip is now able to help this seeker come to a knowledge of the truth.
All who first come to a study of the Scriptures feel the need for some sort of guidance. The Bible is very deep, and much that is written in it needs further explanation if we are to grasp all that God is talking about. Alas, we do not have God-sent expositors like Philip to aid us in understanding today. We do have many study aids and helps that can be invaluable to us in seeking to discover the truth. Yet unfortunately many of those who purport to be guides in the study of Scripture today show themselves to be blind guides such as Christ spoke of in Luke 6:39. “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?” We need to use care in whom we allow to guide us in understanding the Bible. Even the most trusted guide today is not inspired by God, like this man Philip was. Ultimately, all that we are taught must be checked back against Scripture, and as we gain more knowledge, many things must be re-evaluated. Yet today, as always, there is a great need for those who can accurately guide others in the study of the Word of God. Like this eunuch, there are always those who are seeking such guides, and it would be good if we could gain the knowledge to be prepared to be such a guide to those who need it.
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.
Now with Philip seated beside him the eunuch begins to read the passage of Isaiah that he has before him, and a most appropriate passage it is! This passage is from Isaiah 53:7-8, and speaks as plainly as almost any passage in the Old Testament of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Multiple times it is stated that He was silent before His accusers. He kept silent before the high priest and the Sanhedrin in Matthew 26:63 Mark 14:61. He answered nothing before Pilate in Matthew 27:12, 14, Mark 15:5, and John 19:9. He remained silent before Herod in Luke 23:9. He was indeed like this sheep, silently being led to the slaughter.
That the eunuch would have been reading this particular passage just as Philip got to him is more than a coincidence. Now it is clear why Philip was called away from his work in Samaria. The Lord wants him to explain this passage to this eunuch, and to bring him to an understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ through it.
33. In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
In translating the word “generation” from Hebrew, the Lord has used here the word genean, a word that is used in many other passages where “generation” is found in the New Testament. Our common idea of a “generation” today is of all the people of a certain age living on the earth at the same time. Yet notice that this cannot be the meaning here, for this generation is something you can declare. One certainly cannot declare all the people of a certain age living on the earth! This word does not mean “offspring,” as some make it, for offspring is not something you declare either. Moreover, I do not believe that the Lord was concerned with the fact that He died without having children in the normal, human way. Was He expecting to do this? Will He do this at any time in the future? If so, who would be “Mrs. God”? This is simply not what this passage is talking about.
This passage demonstrates my point that a “generation” is a word related to the verb “to generate,” and any time that any thing is generated, it is a generation. When power is generated in a power plant, that power is a generation. When excitement is generated in a room, that excitement is a generation. We do not usually use this word this way, and yet this is an accurate use of it nevertheless.
In this case, since the generation here is something that can be declared, I believe that this is talking about the Lord’s words. The things He taught while on earth were a great generation of truth. Yet, since He was put to death without these things ever being written down or recorded, the question as to who would declare His teachings that He had generated was an important one indeed. This book of Acts is answering that question magnificently. It was His apostles who would declare His generation, ultimately writing it down in the Bible to be kept for all time.
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?”
Now the eunuch answers Philip’s question about understanding with his own question about this passage. He is wondering whom the prophet is talking about? This was a very good question, and was the right question to ask regarding this passage. It is good when we come to the Word of God and are able to ask the right questions of it. Sometimes, people know so little of the Bible or have so many traditional ideas piled on top of any truth that the Bible might be teaching that they cannot even see their way to ask the right question. It is most difficult to bring such people to know the truth. This eunuch was looking at this passage with a questioning eye, and he had seen the real issue. Who is this wonderful Person the prophet is talking about? Then, he offers a guess of his own. Is it the prophet himself he is speaking of, or some other man?
35. Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
It would be interesting to know how exactly Philip went about answering this eunuch’s question, yet the Lord does not give us a record of his teaching. We do know that he opened his mouth, began with this Scripture, and proclaimed the Lord Jesus to him. Since Philip was inspired by God, we can be sure that the message was clear, and was what the eunuch needed to hear to enable him to believe the salvation-bringing message of Jesus Christ. From our knowledge of the truth gathered from many other passages in the Bible, we can probably well imagine what he might have said. Perhaps the Spirit is challenging each of us to think about this, and to decide what we would have said about the Lord Jesus starting from this passage.
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?”
Apparently in his teaching, Philip had discussed John’s baptism in water, and what it signified, as we have already discussed. Of course this eunuch was not present in Israel when men were identifying themselves as having the after-mind and being submissive to God. Yet this man now wants to join this throng, and testify before God that he is willing to submit to Him and to follow Him, no matter what might come after. Thus, seeing some body of water that they are passing by as they travel along the road, he asks Philip what might hinder him from being baptized.
This was a very interesting way that this man asked this question. He did not ask if he could be baptized, but what might hinder him from being baptized? Remember, this man had just come from the temple in Jerusalem. As a Gentile worshipper of the God of Israel, he would have run into many things in Jerusalem involving the worship of God which he would have loved to participate in. However, the fact that he was not a circumcised, law-keeping Israelite would have barred him from these things. He had encountered many things that he was hindered from taking part in. Now, he wonders what might hinder him from this privilege? What might stand in the way of his being identified with this metanoia company? Thank God, nothing stood in his way, for Jesus Christ had removed all the barriers, and now He sought this man for His Own.
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.”
Philip responds that if he believes with all his heart, in other words, with all his inner being, then he may be identified. The eunuch responds and acknowledges that he does believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Amen! For I believe this as well.
Yet does this verse really belong in the Bible? Many modern versions omit this verse. That is because it appears in almost no Greek manuscripts before the eighth century. The evidence for it consists of its being quoted by two early church fathers (in the second and third centuries,) and its inclusion in some Latin versions, like the Vulgate. It is not in the Syriac, and other important early translations. Thus, the evidence for it is rather thin.
Now this verse clearly did exist in some form as early as the second century, or it could not have been quoted. Yet it seems odd, if it was an early omission rather than an addition, that we do not find it in at least some of the earliest manuscripts. Ultimately, this kind of thing is a guessing game. The evidence seems to lean against the verse, but it does not seem to be a knock-out.
One could argue that this verse should be omitted by saying that this was some baptismal formula that someone added in to get it in the Bible. One could argue that this verse should be included based on the idea that some copyist did not like this precedent for baptism, as it did not fit his current practice, and so he cut the verse. One could also argue that this verse should be included based on the clear statement of the Godhood of Christ, which some copyist of Arian leaning may have objected to and cut it out. Ultimately, there is no answer here, for arguments can be imagined either way.
If we examine the verse for its internal testimony, we wonder if Philip’s answer really fits the eunuch’s question. We know that John’s baptism was about metanoia, the submissive attitude to God. Would belief in Jesus Christ have been necessary for this? I do not believe it would have been at the time John baptized, for then Christ had not yet been presented. Yet by the time Philip spoke to the eunuch, Jesus had been presented as Lord and Christ, and one could not truly be submissive to God and not believe this truth with all his heart. Certainly, we can find nothing wrong with the eunuch’s confession, as I said above, for I too believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
What would the passage look like without this verse? We do not have an answer of Philip recorded, yet the answer is clear from the passage: there was nothing standing in the eunuch’s way. Jesus Christ had bought the way for this eunuch to come to Him, even as Isaiah 56 had predicted. The first word of verse 38 should be “and,” not “so,” as the New King James has it, so there is nothing in this indicating a problem. So there is no hole in the passage with the verse taken out, as there is in, say, John 5 when verse 4 is removed.
Ultimately, we cannot answer the question regarding this verse with 100% surety. It seems likely that this verse should be left out based on the evidence, yet it still is far from an exact science. Usually, I would like to err on the side of inclusion, rather than cutting something out of God’s Word. Yet the evidence is weighty against this verse, so I am content with it being relegated to the margin.
38. So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
The eunuch now commands the chariot to stand still. Both Philip and the eunuch then go down into the water, and Philip baptizes him. Notice carefully that this passage does not tell us how this identification was done. Those who attempt to follow the Bible’s pattern of baptism can follow it so far as going down into the water, and then they are stuck. There is no word on what they are to do next. Many and varied are the inventions as to what follows this. Yet in the Word, there is a glaring hole between going down into the water and coming back out of it. It is as if God has purposefully left this detail of what exactly happens in the water out, so that we cannot try to follow it. Yet this does not stop those who are always willing to make something up from coming up with a ceremony of their own to put between going into the water and coming up out of it. This is not the way of the believer. We follow everything God has said. When He has remained silent, then we should not fill this silence in with ideas of our own. There is no evidence for any of the water rituals that go on today. We are not meant to make a ceremony out of baptism.
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.
Having completed his baptism, Philip and the eunuch come up out of the water. Suddenly, the Lord steps in, and a most miraculous thing takes place. The man Philip is caught away by the Lord, so that the eunuch sees him no more. We would probably put it that Philip suddenly disappeared. Imagine how this must have affected this eunuch, to see the one who had just spoken this message to him, this message that he had believed and been identified with, suddenly vanish in this miraculous way. There could have been no doubt left in his mind that he had been talking with a Divine messenger. And of course he was, though that messenger was just a man like any other man. It does not matter if God uses men or heavenly beings to carry His messages. What matter is that it is God Who sent them, and Who gives the power to the ones He commissions.
Now the eunuch goes on his way, continuing his journey back to Ethiopia. Yet he does so rejoicing! How could he help but be joyful, when the good news from God he had heard and believed had been so dramatically proven to him by this miraculous sign? He may not have found what he sought at Jerusalem, but now he can be sure that he has found the truth of God.
40. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
Now we learn what happened to Philip when he disappeared from the eunuch’s sight. He did not just become invisible, like what would happen in the movie The Lord of the Rings when anyone would put on the ring. Instead, he had been transported from one place to another. To do this, God had to suspend all the laws of time and space as we know them. Yet God created these laws in the first place, and He is well capable of suspending them if He so wishes, or perhaps of utilizing laws of which we are not aware. In the kingdom to come He might often do this, perhaps even transporting men to heaven and back in a moment of time. This way, He can meet with His rulers and impart to them any information He wishes. He can also move men from one place to another when He needs to as He sees fit. This will be an amazing thing, surely, but it will also aid Him in His governmental work. How often He might do things like this it is impossible to say, of course. The Acts period just gives us a preview of what the full kingdom will be like, and we must await the reality to come in order to understand how all these things fully work out.
And so Philip reappears at the town called Azotus. He passes through that town, and proclaims the truth in all the cities he travels through until he comes to Caesarea. This was not Caesarea Philippi, as mentioned in Matthew 16:13, but, as the Companion Bible states, was a place on the coast between Carmel and Joppa.
In this Caesarea, we leave Philip for now. As far as we can tell, when he came to that town his ministry was completed. The next time we see Philip, we find him dwelling in Caesarea, apparently having married there, and having had four daughters. Thus his amazing work comes to an end. He is really the pattern for us of those who went out after the persecution of Stephen. They went to many places, proclaiming the word and spreading it throughout Israel and its surroundings until they found a new place in which to settle down and dwell. We must not imagine them planting churches, for that was not their purpose. We must not imagine them training in new “missionaries” to take their place. They were the ones trained by the apostles themselves for the work they were to perform, and they did the work or no one else did it. In the Acts period, the gospel was only carried by those who were called by God to proclaim it. So the second period of the book of Acts proceeded. It would wait until the calling of a new apostle, Paul, with a new commission by God for the Word to start spreading out in the hands of one who was neither one of the twelve, nor one of these trained up by the twelve. During this period of Acts, the work was all done by men like Philip, men trained to their work by the twelve apostles of the Lord.