Why???? Why did the Jews persecute just the church? There is no record of them doing the same thing to other religious, in their minds, demagogues? Even more significant, why did the Roman government allow this sect of people to operate a government and court system within the Romans established? Was not the Roman authority there to govern the people?
At this time in history Christianity in the eyes of the Romans came out of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. The disciples were Jews. Jerusalem was predominantly Jews. Christianity mistakenly was viewed by Rome as a sect of Judaism. The Jews were allowed a certain amount of autonomy in keeping their own people in line making it easier for the Roman authorities, so they believed. We must recall though, the crucifixion of Jesus required the blessing or permission of the Roman authorities. The Romans saw Christianity (first to the Jew) as a sect or subdivision of Judaism. The first Christians were all Jews. The entire Bible is written by someone who was an Israeli (mistakenly called Jews). We do have instances where even in the life of Paul Jews might hold Roman citizenship. It was a crime for Sanhedrin authorities to judge or criminally punish those of Roman citizenry (Acts 25:10).
Saul witnessed the execution of Stephen in Acts 7. He was a Jew, a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee of the most stringent group, well-educated under Gamaliel, adherent to the “Law of Yahweh.” Saul (Paul) was so dedicated to his persecution and arresting of Christians, Acts 8:3 the (ERV) “all believers but the Apostles LEFT JERUSALEM for other parts of Judea and Samaria.” The Jews of Germany tried to flee their country prior to WWII for the same reasons of persecution by another Saul (Hitler); same fervor; same dedication; same goal.
Acts 8:4 states that where ever these Christians fled they took the good news of Christ with them and shared it with fellow Jews. We get a very odd introduction to Phillip, one of the seven chosen to “wait tables.” Luke simply tells us in verse 5 that “Phillip goes to Samaria.” We can probably safely assume it was Paul’s persecution that chased even Phillip out of town. For better understanding and since verse 3 states that all but the Apostles (the 12) fled Jerusalem, we must understand that there are two prominent “Phillips” in the Bible. One is Phillip the Apostle. The other is Phillip the Evangelist; waiter of tables. This Phillip in Acts is the evangelist, not the Phillip the Apostle. No contradiction of scripture!!!! Two different men.
Phillip is an example of a message spread, thanks to Saul who chased Christians like Phillip out of Jerusalem in the first place. People in Samaria witnessed the works of Phillip ((table waiter) and believed in his Messiah. Evil spirits were driven out; cripples were healed; as verse 8 puts it in the ERV…”What a happy day this was for that city.” The King James says there was great joy in the city. This is the same city Jesus healed the ten lepers. It was the second capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and eventually its name became synonymous with the Ten Tribe Kingdom of Israel. Sargon II of Assyrian conquered and renamed it Samerina. Today it is the West Bank but still a former territory of Israel B.C.
Phillip the evangelist encounters a well-known local sorcerer named Simon. According to the ERV he bewitched the people of Samaria with his magic. Verse 11 says he had been a practicing sorcery for a long time in this area. Amazingly or perhaps half-heartedly, Simon heard the message of Phillip and his cohorts and claimed to be a believer.
JIV: this part of scripture gets sticky but facts are facts. We teach – You Decide
Simon was truly impressed with the miracles of Phillip and his associates in Samaria. SO much so he claimed to become a believer. The theological question raised here; did Simon believe in the God of these miracles or did he believe these miracles to be a new kind of magic? Which belief was it? He believed in God and Jesus or the obvious miracle magic of Phillip.
The answer is alluded to when Simon witnesses Phillip’s laying on of hands for baptism of the Holy Spirit in new believers (Acts 8:18-24). He didn’t ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He asked for the skill and power to do this thing he saw as a great magic. He was willing to pay for it. Phillip in verse 23 tells him to REPENT. This is our insight to the heart of Simon. He wanted the power but by not seeking to be baptized in the Holy Spirit he did not want to “live” as a Christian. His motive for asking was for himself. It had nothing to do with living a life in Christ.
JIV NOTE: This is still true today. People claim belief in Christ but often as fire insurance instead of eternal assurance. I want to be, one thinks in his or her heart, but not conform and live as a believer. Our churches, pulpits, and pew dwellers are full of these people. No action or desire beyond hiring a preacher to do it for them.
In verse 24 Simon begs Phillip to “pray for me so that these bad things you just said (verse 22) won’t happen.” Here is a classic example of wondering about someone requesting prayer but no willing to humble him or herself to the point of seeking forgiveness directly instead of through a third person. 1 John 1:9 reads “if you confess your sin” leaves no room to ask someone else to do it for you. It should shed light on what it actually means to pray for someone but it certainly does not mean to pray as a substitute. Simon KNEW (YADDA) what he was told by Phillip to personally do! Acts 8:22 …PRAY & REPENT!
JIV: This passage in scripture is why at times when someone asks for prayer I assure them that I will but after s/he seeks God him or herself first. I can pray for your understanding of scripture but I cannot pray, as no one else can, in absentee. 1 Timothy 2:3, 4 is specific. Even Jesus can’t do it unless we first seek him. He wants all to be saved but cannot make that free-will decision for anyone. He paid the price but we must seek its rewards.
At this point in Acts 8, Luke immediately changes topics. Phillip does not tell the man to quote the Lord’s Prayer or that they put hands on him to pray for him. It all abruptly stops at verse 24. Verse 25 finds them witnessing on their way back to Jerusalem.
What follows is one of those amazing facts that one is unlikely to hear from any other source. The information is there but seldom seen or put together. 1,000 years earlier in the Old Testament we find King Solomon on the throne of Israel. His wisdom is widely known. Many many seek counsel with him.
In the Bible we are introduced to an unnamed queen from the land of Sheba who travels to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon (see 1 Kings 10; 2 Chronicles 9). Accompanied by many attendants and camels, the Queen of Sheba brings a large quantity of spices, gold and precious stones with her. She is drawn to Jerusalem because of Solomon’s fame, and she tests the king with hard questions. Solomon is able to answer them all. In return King Solomon gives the Queen of Sheba gifts and “every desire that she expressed” (1 Kings 10:13). After receiving these gifts, the queen returns to the land of Sheba with her retinue.
Is this the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant? Many Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant resides within the “Chapel of the Tablet” next to the Church of Maryam Tsion in Aksum, Ethiopia. They believe that the Ark traveled with Solomon’s firstborn son, Menelik, from Jerusalem to the land of Sheba. Where is the land of Sheba? According to the *Kebra Nagast, it is ancient Ethiopia.
* The Kebra Nagast is a 14th-century account written in Ge’ez, an ancient South Semitic language that originated in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Need more understanding as to the question “is it possible Menelik was the son of Sheba and Solomon? His name means “son of the wise king.” Ethiopians claim the Queen of Sheba as part of their heritage, and through her union with King Solomon, Ethiopians today claim a connection between their kings and the Davidic monarchy of Israel. Judaism was for centuries the dominant religion of the Kingdom of Ethiopia. It spanned the Horn of Africa and across the Red Sea to Yemen territories of today. Haile Selassie (1930 to 1974) claimed to be a descendant of Sheba and Solomon. Emperor Menelik to Haile Selassie is 225 generations of continual rule in Ethiopia.
Now for the 1,000 year connection between Old Testament King Solomon, Queen Makeda of Sheba, New Testament Phillip and the Ethiopian leaving Jerusalem on the “desert road” with Judaism scrolls he did not understand (Acts 8:30-34). After the Queen Makeda returned to Ethiopia Judaism became their national religion. See the previous page picture of “Chapel of the Tablet” in Ethiopia. Genesis 49:10 states the scepter will not depart from the lineage of Judah.
JIV NOTE: The Bible never states the scepter won’t leave the Land of Judah. It says that it will not leave the lineage of Judah until Christ, himself a descendent of the Tribe of Judah, returns to earth with the New Jerusalem and His Millennial Reign.
The Ethiopian Eunuch, a royal member of the Ethiopian kingdom, was in Jerusalem seeking scrolls of Judaism scripture. Phillip was told of God to take the Desert Road out of Jerusalem but not told why (Acts 8:26). This is the same road the Ethiopian was taking to return to Ethiopia. Here Phillip and the Ethiopian cross paths. Phillip climbs into the royal chariot and explains the scripture to him about how the savior was “lead to the slaughter like a lamb.” Then Phillip introduces the Ethiopian to Christ the promised Messiah. He becomes a believer, is baptized and returns to Ethiopia to bring this good news to his people.
Fact: Today Ethiopia is one of two African nations where Christianity is still the dominant religion. Ethiopia is surrounded by nations that are over 95% Muslim yet it remains Christian. Judaism played a dominant role in Ethiopia since 950 B.C. In the 1st century A.D. Christianity became their dominant religion. All because of King Solomon, Queen of Sheba and a 1,000 years later, the “table waiter” Phillip and an Ethiopian dignitary. These are the facts. What do they add up to? A direct connection between the Queen of Sheba giving birth to Solomon’s first son (Menelik) who was the first Emperor of Ethiopia and his lineage continuing until 1974; almost 3,000 years.
PS; The name Haile Selassie means: The Trinity.
This is the Imperial standard of Ethiopia up to the recent past. Note the Lion of the Tribe of Judah as its center piece.
Rev. Dr. Jstark