What kind of meaning are we to attach to the events recorded in Acts 8, (especially Philip going to Samaria), seeing how these things immediately follow upon the significance of Stephen’s ministry to Israel in Acts 7, which ended with him being given the vision of the Lord standing on the Father’s right hand instead of sitting, and Israel stoning him to death in view of it?
In view of the prophesied time of “repentance to Israel” that God gave to His nation during the time covered by the opening seven chapters of the Book of Acts, (which specifically commenced on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and concluded with Stephen’s ministry in chapter 7), there is indeed great significance to what is recorded immediately following the stoning of Stephen, beginning with the events that are set forth in Acts 8.
For if God’s program with Israel was going to continue on as had been prophesied, (and as it was fully expected to do at that time), then Acts chapter 8 and following naturally would set forth the record of the direct fulfillment of the specific prophesied and expected events and activities that were scheduled to take place following the conclusion of the time of the “repentance to Israel.” But since this is not what we find Acts 8 and following describing, then what they relate actually testifies to the fact that God did not do what was expected. Or in other words, they testify how that all of a sudden God started doing some things that were not strictly according to what He had previously said, or that were not according to what had been previously prophesied that He would be doing.
Now it is these unprophesied and unexpected events, along with some other unusual activities, that make the record of Acts 8 and following so highly significant. For as the record relates how God began doing things that were downright curious, and even puzzling, it first of all makes it evident that God did not follow the conclusion of the prophesied time of “repentance to Israel” with the next course of prophesied and scheduled events that were expected to take place in His program with Israel. Instead the events and activities of Acts 8 and following relate how that God started doing things that were ‘not according to the program,’ so to speak.
And by doing these things God purposely began to make it apparent that His program with Israel was not continuing on as prophesied. Moreover by what He did God began to make it evident that He was not just making some minor unprophesied adjustments to His program with Israel, but rather He was actually doing things that were very different from what had been expected. In fact He was doing things that were clearly a departure from what was prophesied and from what was expected, and as such they were things that were in line with Him making a major change from what He had been doing.
Now the most outstanding of the unexpected and ‘not according to the program’ events that took place at that time is what is recorded in Acts 9, when the Lord Jesus Christ unexpectedly came back from heaven and God suddenly raised up Paul to be His brand new apostle to the Gentiles.
In fact this particular unexpected and unprophesied event is central to all the others, and it is the one that specifically defines and explains what God was doing at that time. For in view of the revelation of “the mystery of Christ” that God revealed to Paul, we are given to understand and appreciate why it is that Acts 8 and following does not record the prophesied continuation of God’s program with Israel.
For as God revealed to Paul, (and as God has Paul teach us to understand in his epistles to us), He has temporarily suspended His program with Israel in order to bring in this present dispensation of His grace to the Gentiles. And He has done this for the fulfilling of a secret purpose that He has in Christ, (“the mystery of Christ”), which He had previously kept hid in Himself since before the world began, and so said nothing about in ages and generations past.
But along with this most astounding, outstanding, and significant of the unprophesied events of that time, as mentioned God also did certain other unprophesied and unexpected things immediately following the conclusion of the prophesied time of giving “repentance to Israel.” And as noted, these were particularly designed by God to begin to make it apparent at that time that something unexpected and curious was going on. For things were not happening according to what had been prophesied and expected. And one of the events that began to make this apparent is what Acts 8 sets forth regarding Philip’s ministry in Samaria.
[Note: Actually Philip’s ministry in Samaria, and also beyond, did much more than this. For by means of it God also wisely and ingeniously provided for dealing with one of the immediate effects that came about from suddenly suspending His program with Israel. And this too is something we should understand and appreciate. However we will not deal with this additional matter at this time.]
Now in order to appreciate how Philip’s ministry in Samaria signified that all of a sudden things were not happening according to what had been prophesied and expected, we need to recognize that God previously had given some very specific instructions to Peter and the rest of Israel’s apostles, (and also to all the remnant of Israel), regarding exactly where they were to go in their evangelism during the remainder of the climactic stage in the program, and also precisely when it was that they were to go there. These instructions are set forth, for example, in the commissions that the Lord gave to them during His ministry among them, and especially just before He returned to the Father.
And indeed when we examine them these instructions are very specific. For example, though the apostles were instructed and commissioned to ‘go into all the world’ and to ‘go to all nations,’ the Lord did not tell them to do this randomly, or haphazardly, or all at once, or to do this in any old way that pleased them, or that seemed logical or right to them. Instead the Lord told them to do this in a very particular way, and to do it in a specific order.
For example, as Luke 24:47 sets forth, though their commission and ministry would have them going to “all nations,” they would be “beginning in Jerusalem.” And as is set forth in Acts 1:8, they would be “beginning in Jerusalem,” and then they would deal with “all Judea,” then “Samaria,” and then “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” This is the order in which their ministry was to be carried out.
Now this specified order of dealing with Jerusalem first, then all Judea, then Samaria, and then unto the uttermost part of the earth, is not simply one of practicality. It is much more than that. Rather it is the order for the expansion of their ministry, (and for the spread of “the gospel of the kingdom”), that is in perfect accordance with exactly how the prophetic events, (especially the signs), would be progressing during the remainder of the climactic stage and the final installment of Israel’s program.
Very simply put, those prophetic events and signs would be manifest first in Jerusalem, then in all Judea, then in Samaria, and then finally to all of the world. And in connection with this the ministry of the apostles, (along with that of the rest of the believing remnant of Israel with them), was to be timed, so to speak, so that it was carried out in conjunction with those progressively developing prophetic events and signs.
Wherefore to describe it very simply, the apostles were to begin their ministry in Jerusalem, and they were to stay there and carry it out there, until the progressively developing events and signs during the final installment of the program told them to move their ministry into all Judea. Then they were to carry out their ministry in all Judea and stay there until the progressively developing events and signs told them to move into Samaria. And they were to minister there until the events and signs told them to move out into the nations of the world.
Now it is the specific nature of these instructions, (and especially their precise timing designed to correspond with the progressively developing prophesied events and signs that take place during the final installment in Israel’s program), that makes what Acts 8 records to be so significant. For God’s events and activities described in Acts 8 and following do not follow what He had previously prescribed. Everything up until the end of Acts 7 follows what God had prescribed ‘to the letter,’ so to speak. But following the conclusion of the prophesied time of “repentance to Israel” God began to change things, with things happening that do not fit the previously prophesied and prescribed order of things.
And, once again, one of the obvious evidences that God was not now doing things ‘according to the program’ is Philip’s ministry to Samaria. For according to the commissions and instructions that God previously had given, Samaria was not yet due to be evangelized. Not only was Jerusalem not yet fully dealt with as had been prescribed, (which is why the apostles did not leave Jerusalem when the persecution arose, just as Acts 8:1 states), but neither the prophesied signs and events that indicated the start of the final installment in the program had yet to occur, nor yet those that would tell them to leave Jerusalem and move into all Judea.
Wherefore Philip’s ministry to Samaria was clearly ‘not according to the program.’ And neither was the way that God responded to those who believed Philip’s preaching, just as verses 14–17 relate.
So then by having Philip go to Samaria ‘not according to the program,’ God began to give clear evidence that His program with Israel was not continuing on as had been prophesied and as had been expected. Moreover He began to make it apparent that He was instituting some sort of a dramatic change.
But then by the rest of the unprophesied and unexpected events and activities that He did during that time, God made it quite evident just how great a change it was that He was making. For as He revealed to and through His new apostle Paul, He brought in a complete change of programs, involving the temporary suspension of His program with Israel and the ushering in of a new unprophesied and different dispensation of His grace to the Gentiles.
– K.R. Blades