Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Luke makes a sudden shift. He moves from the Samaritans receiving Gospel to Ethiopians.
An angel told Philip to go south on the road that went from Jerusalem to Gaza. He was not told why. He was only told to go. Philip had no idea he was to instruct and baptize the eunuch. Christ used Philip to extend His kingdom into Ethiopia.
We may not understand why God commands what He does. Our job does not need us to understand why. Our duty is to trust and obey God’s command. God often keeps His purpose hidden from us.
There were two ways from Jerusalem to Gaza. One way was through the desert. The other way was through a more populous country. Philip received specific instructions which way he was to go. Christ chose the location and the means he would expand His kingdom. Christ calls whom He wishes, when and where he wishes. He chose Philip. He chose a desert road. In His providence, He chose which passage the eunuch would read. He chose when they would pass by a body of water. Christ providentially intervened.
It was not uncommon that men of great power were eunuchs. Kings and queens often appointed eunuchs over their affairs.
The common use of the term eunuch refers to a castrated man. But this was not always the case. The Septuagint called Potiphar a eunuch in Genesis 39:1. Kings in the east preferred Castrated men as court officials. But the Mosaic law excluded eunuchs from Israel (Deut 23:1). But God did not reject them (Isaiah 56:3-5).
This man may or may not have been a eunuch physically. But he appears to be the first full Gentile convert to Christianity.
The name Candace was not the name of a particular queen. Rome called their emperors Caesars. Ethiopians called their queens Candaces.
The eunuch had come to worship in Jerusalem. Such a powerful man could not have come to Jerusalem in secret. In all probability, he had an entourage with him.
The eunuch was reading scripture. The fact he was reading from a scroll indicates wealth. A scroll was an expensive item in the first century. He was studying trying to understand what he was reading. When Philip asked him if he understood, he said no. He explained he needed instruction.
I heard a man yesterday decrying those who appealed to earlier church fathers. He claimed as a Pentecostal he relied only on the scripture. He did not put any stock in Calvin, Wesley, Luther, Augustine, and similar men. Scripture alone was his authority.
I would applaud his reliance on scripture as the final authority. Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Augustine are not infallible. They are not infallible either individually or collectively. But God has provided us, teachers. God has given the church men with great minds and intellect. He has given men who have thought and wrestled with the same issues we wrestle with today. We do ourselves a disservice when we ignore the council of 2000 years of the church’s history. God does not reveal anything new to the church today. He has not withheld His truth for 2000 years. Such ideas are not only reckless they are arrogant to the extreme. We should view any “new” revelation with extreme skepticism.
In this passage, the eunuch had the scripture. He was reading it. He studied it. He read it over and over trying to understand. He realized he needed something else. He needed a teacher. He needed the scriptures explained. He needed the perception of one who had encountered Christ. The “me and my bible” crowd believe they are the only authority on scripture. They refuse to read commentaries. They refuse the council of teachers God has given the church. They have a chronological arrogance. They refuse to allow anyone to teach them. Their interpretation alone is authoritative.
But the eunuch was teachable. He allowed Philip to teach him.
We must remember God has given us Scripture. But He has also given interpreters and teachers. God gives them to help us. That is why the Lord sent Philip to the eunuch.
Luke gives us the passage from Isaiah the eunuch was reading. It was Isaiah 53. Luke quotes only a small part of this chapter. But this entire chapter is a wonderful prophecy of Christ.
Here Isaiah states in plain language how God would redeem the church. The Son of God, by his death, purchased men’s lives. He offered himself in sacrifice to purge our sins. God’s own hand punished Him rather than us. And he even went down to hell to bring us to heaven. This passage teaches how God reconciles to Himself. It teaches how we obtain righteousness. It teaches how Christ delivers us from Satan’s tyranny. And it teaches how Christ frees from the burden of sin.
Luke only quotes a small part of the chapter. In context this makes sense. It is the essence of the Gospel. It is the essence of what the apostles taught. To redeem the church, Christ was so broken, that he appeared like a man who was without hope. It affirms Christ gives life. There came as a singular triumph out of great despair.
Isaiah compared Christ to a lamb which allowed itself to be led to slaughter. He compares Christ to a sheep, which offered herself to be shorn. The meaning is clear. Christ’s sacrifice was voluntary. Obedience was the only to appease God’s wrath. Christ appeased God’s wrath. Christ was obedient.
Yes, Christ spoke before Pilate, (John 18:34, 36). But He did not speak to save his life. Rather He spoke to show his willingness to offer himself. He spoke to show his obedience to the Father. He brought only Himself. He suffered the punishment God prepared for us.
Isaiah taught Christ needed to suffer to purchase life for us. And he taught Christ’s suffering and death was willing. Christ’s obedience blotted out our stubbornness.
Luke tells us Philip “opened his mouth” This is a phrase used to mean he began a long speech. In other words, Philip explained in detail what the scriptures meant. He did not make simple platitudes. He did not say, “It is about Jesus of Nazareth.” He explained in detail.
Philip wanted the eunuch to know. Faith is always based on knowledge. We must ground out faith in knowledge. That is why we study. That is the value in studying doctrine and theology. Without knowledge, there is no faith. There is only superstition.
Luke tells us Philip preached the good news about Jesus. He did not give a personal testimony. Philip did not tell the eunuch about what Jesus meant to him. Philip told the eunuch about Jesus, not about Philip.
Philip began with the scripture. He did not begin with stories about his personal experience. The eunuch did not care about that.
That is the model we are to follow. No one cares about your story. Your personal testimony has no power. But the scripture, the Jesus story has the power to change men’s souls.
Christ said, “you will be my witnesses” Acts 1:8. Share Christ not your personal testimony.
God used Philip’s teaching to change the eunuch. God made him a new creature. Being a new creation he desired baptism. So as they passed water He asked if there was anything that prohibited his baptism. Being in Christ there was nothing. He did not need to wait until the next baptismal service. He did not need to wait until the church gathered. Philip went into the water with him and baptized him right then and there.
Many make much out of the fact they went into the water for baptism. They claim immersion is the biblical form of baptism. While immersion is a reasonable inference it is not a necessary one. There is a lot of historical evidence to show the early church used other forms. There is even artwork with someone is standing in a body of water and water poured over them.
We must be careful not to divide over inferences taken from the bible. There is no command about the mode of baptism in scripture.
When they came out of the body of water The Spirit carried Philip away. This is often understood to mean Philip disappeared and reappeared in Azotus. While God has the power and ability to cause that to happen it is not a necessary interpretation. It would contradict God’s usual means.
The Spirit caring Philip away. This could mean the Spirit compelled Philip to leave immediately. The eunuch saw him no more. Means that Philip left and they never met again. Philip found himself in Azotus could mean the Spirit drove Philip to Azotus.
Of course, it could mean Philip disappear and reappeared in Azotus. To claim this interpretation is impossible would deny the power of God.
Again this event is not central to the story. It is not central to what Luke is teaching.
Luke’s intent is to state Philip vanished before the eunuch could reward him. Philip had no reward from the eunuch. This follows in the same context as Simon in Samaria who tried to buy the power of the spirit. Luke’s point is the Spirit is a free gift from God.
The eunuch went away rejoicing. Tradition has it that he returned to Ethiopia and spread the Gospel.