Due to intense persecution against the church in Jerusalem, an attack which was spearheaded by Saul of Tarsus, all of the disciples who were not apostles had to leave the city and go elsewhere. But, even then there was a positive consequence of the saints being scattered: “. . . those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
From that general statement in verse four, Luke then goes on to mention a specific case of someone teaching the lost: “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (8:5). As a result of Philip’s labors there, a number of conversions took place. Let us look deeper.
- Philip’s role in the conversion process – This brother was not an apostle, as the apostles remained in Jerusalem at that time (8:1). He later is identified as “Philip the evangelist” (21:8). The work of an evangelist is to preach the word of God (2 Timothy 4:2,5). That is exactly what he did in Samaria.
What message did Philip declare to the lost souls in Samaria? Like the other scattered followers of Jesus, he preached “the word” (8:4). The Bible says that he preached “Christ” (8:5). It is further stated that “he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12). So, he declared to his listeners the rule (“kingdom”) and authority (“name”) of the Godhead. After the people of Samaria heard Philip’s message, “both men and women were baptized” (8:13). If they responded to what he taught them by being baptized, then obviously he also had taught them about baptism.
Do denominational preachers “preach Christ” in the manner that Philip did? No, they do not. Let me explain. When Philip “preached Christ,” his message included the truth about water baptism (8:12,35,36). To “preach Christ” (8:5) is the same as “preach the word” (8:4), which is the same as “preach the gospel” (8:25). It is true that denomination preachers who propagate believe-and-pray salvation preach about Jesus’ earthly life and His person. However, they do not teach that baptism is essential for salvation (2:38), so they do not “preach Christ” like Philip did. Preaching about Jesus and preaching Jesus are not the same.
What else did Philip do in addition to teaching God’s word? He did miracles, including casting out unclean spirits and healing those with physical infirmities (8:6,7). Genuine miracles were done by Philip – supernatural acts of power which had observable and undeniable results. The people saw them and rejoiced that such a blessing had come to their city. But why? Why would Philip do miracles? In order to prove that his message came from God and thus, must be true. Philip declared the message of salvation, with the Lord “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20).
- How the Samarians were saved – No one who believes that the Bible is inspired doubts or denies that those people were saved. “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (8:6). Just like every other case of conversion recorded in the book of Acts, these people first heard and understood the word of God. The gospel is God’s power to salvation, and faith comes by hearing it (Romans 1:16; 10:17).
In addition, the Bible says that the Samarians believed: “. . . they believed Philip as he preached . . .” (8:12). Without faith/believing, no person can please God (Hebrews 11:6). Eternal life comes via faith, and one who does not believe in Jesus is condemned (John 3:15-18). Yes, faith is an essential component in every true conversion to the Lord.
What else did they do in response to Philip’s preaching? “(B)oth men and women were baptized” (8:12). So, they heard the word of God, heeded it, believed it, and were baptized. Were they saved? Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Because the people in Samaria complied with that instruction, then, yes, they were saved. What was the purpose of their baptism? It would have been the same as the purpose for which lost souls were baptized on Pentecost – “for the remission of sins” (2:38), the same reason that Saul of Tarsus was later immersed – to “wash away” his sins (22:16). That is not water salvation; it is blood salvation that comes about at the point of being baptized into Jesus and His death (Romans 6:3).
Because it is the case that the Lord “shows no partiality” (10:34), it must be the case that those who obeyed the gospel in Samaria repented of their sins (3:19) and confessed faith in Jesus (Romans 10:10), though repentance and confession are not specifically mentioned in the case of the Samarians.
Among those good folks in Samaria who “received the word of God” (8:14), only a former sorcerer, Simon, is mentioned by name (8:9,13). Though not named specifically, all of the newly redeemed had their name written where it matters the most – “in the Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3).
God’s plan to save man from sin is wonderful, but simple. Let us be a Philip and be ready to teach the lost about His way of redemption. Friend, if you have not yet obeyed the truth, why are you waiting?
— Roger D. Campbell