Chapter 19: A truly amazing conversion
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. 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, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’ 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’
31 And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 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. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.’ 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?’ 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 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?’ 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.’ 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 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.
40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
Get up and go!
After the apostles leave, Philip remains. But in the absence of his leaders he is not idle. God’s angel tells him to ‘get up and go.’
General directions are given first—go ‘toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’. More specific instructions follow as he goes towards the ‘desert’. He follows those instructions! God’s guidance is often like that. He expects us to trust and obey His commands and follow the principles of Scripture. As we do, the detailed path becomes clearer. Anyone who trusts in the Lord and puts Him first in the details of daily living is guided by Him.2 Guidance is no problem when you stay close to your divine Guide.
‘So he arose and went’. Philip is devoted to Christ and to obeying His command to preach the gospel! He sees the chief treasurer of the Ethiopian queen, Candace. Here is a eunuch, converted to Judaism, but not yet to Christ, returning from worship in Jerusalem. He reads and considers God’s words through Isaiah, the prophet of redemption as he travels in his chariot, no doubt chauffeur-driven. We rarely find that many people actually are reading the Bible as we seek to witness to them! God’s hand and planning is on this situation.
Philip receives his next instruction from the Holy Spirit ‘Go near and overtake this chariot’, he is told. He runs. He is keen to do God’s will and reach people with the good news of Jesus. But this high official is not only converted to Judaism, and not only reading God’s word from the prophet of redemption, Isaiah. He also reads the Scripture out loud! As Philip now hears this, he fearlessly seizes his God-given opportunity. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ he asks this influential man.
It gets better and better and better still!
Amazingly, it gets even better! With humility not often found in lofty status-conscious officials, the Ethiopian replies, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ Even better still, he asks Philip to sit with him in his chariot. Much better again, the chapter he reads from must be the most cross-centred chapter in the Old Testament. It gives the clearest prophecy about God’s redemption through Jesus! It explains, eight hundred years before it happened, why Jesus will die on the cross for us. The situation continues to grow bigger with blessing as Philip continues his witness to this man. The Ethiopian is thinking through the verses he is reading. He now asks Philip if Isaiah is writing about himself or ‘some other man’.
Remember that Philip’s passion is to ‘preach Christ’.3 This question is his invitation to preach ‘Jesus to him’, as He shares about the Lamb of God who was denied justice and who died.
Imagine the impact as he explains from the preceding verse, Isaiah 53:6, that ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all’. Perhaps Philip shares Peter’s way of applying this prophecy, as shown in his first letter, that Jesus ‘Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed’.4 If so, surely he encourages this treasurer, as Peter encourages his readers, about the Saviour-Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, who forgives them as ‘sheep going astray’, but rejoices that they ‘have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [their] souls’.
The Ethiopian is immediately and deeply struck by his message of Jesus dying for sinners and his need to repent and trust Him. As the chariot continues down the road they come to some water.
The eunuch says, ‘See, here is water’ and then asks, ‘What hinders me to be baptised?’ Having come from Jerusalem, still buzzing about what happened at and since Pentecost, he has heard of thousands of conversions to Jesus Christ, and perhaps witnessed the baptisms that followed. Now that Philip has explained the gospel to him, the man seems to grasp that, as he has put his faith in Christ, he should be baptised too.
Believe and be baptised
Philip stresses that baptism means nothing without believing on Christ in his heart. All Jesus has done in bearing our sins and punishment on the cross, and by giving us the power of His indwelling risen life, are not made real to us by any outward ceremony. Neither baptism nor any other ceremony can save us. Only belief in Christ in the heart, with the attitude of repentance from sin, can constitute saving faith. Romans 10:9–11 is helpful here: ‘if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”’
If you really have asked Christ into your life to save you, you will be willing to let others know that you have trusted, and do trust, Him. The eunuch’s reply shows that he has that saving faith. He recognises that the only Saviour, ‘Jesus Christ’, alone ‘is the Son of God’. He knows Christ has died for him and entered his life. His faith is so real that he now confesses it by word to Philip. Immediately, he will underline that confession in the waters of baptism, even if Philip and his chariot driver are the only witnesses there. (We are not told if there were others.) He is immersed in the water then and there—scorning the dignity of his position—and with Philip he then comes ‘up out of the water’.
On his way rejoicing
How Philip gets to Philistia we have no idea, but we read that he is now there, ‘found at Azotus’, (also known as Ashdod.) He goes on from there to what is probably his family home in Caesarea.
All the way home, like Peter and John who left Samaria before him, he preaches the gospel. ‘All the cities’ hear of his Lord and Saviour. Philip is serious about proclaiming his Saviour, and so should every Christian be.
After the preacher and the newly converted Ethiopian official part company, we read that ‘he went on his way rejoicing’. Does the word ‘he’ refer to Philip or to the eunuch? The fact is that each of them now goes ‘on his way rejoicing’. The good news of Jesus brings joy to those who, like Queen Candace’s official, trust Him wholeheartedly. It also rejoices the hearts of those having the privilege of helping others to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. There is joy in being converted and joy in being used by the Saviour!
Questions on Chapter 19
A truly amazing conversion—Acts 8:26–40
A. What mix of direct instructions from God, guidance by circumstances, and responses by Philip blend together for God to guide him? What can blend together under God to guide you?
Acts 8:26–40, Proverbs 3:5–6, Psalm 23:1–3, John 12:26, Romans 12:1–2, 1 Peter 2:21
B. Consider Philip’s conversation with the eunuch. Look at Isaiah 52:13–53:12 and the other references below. If you were asked to ‘preach Jesus’ from Isaiah 53, what would you say about Him?
Acts 8:30–35, Isaiah 52:13–53:12, 1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 3:18
C. What does Philip do on his way back to Caesarea, and how does that reflect the same approach as other Christians we have met so far in the book of Acts? What example does that give to you?
Acts 8:40, Acts 8:25, Acts 7:51–53, Acts 6:4, Acts 4:31, 19–20, 8–12, Acts 3:12–26, Acts 2:14–40
- Because, like the King James Authorised Version, the NKJV is based on the Textus Receptus (‘Received Text’) it does not lack some of the verses that some other translations, with a more eclectic approach, leave out. Verse 37 here is missing from some translations and paraphrases, but the author is very happy to accept it as God’s word and include it. All will agree that it is fully consistent with the gospel that is taught and revealed throughout the New Testament. ↩
- Proverbs 3:5–6 ↩
- Acts 8:5 ↩
- 1 Peter 2:24–25 ↩