4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. 9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
As part of the scattering (“diaspora”), Philip ends up in Samaria. You might recall the words of Christ in the first chapter: that the disciples would be witnesses in Jerusalem, then Samaria, then the ends of the world. Now the gospel enters Phase 2 of this promise—going to the land of those hated by true Jews in the first century. The received the gospel willingly and spectacularly, with signs and wonders following. Two facts present themselves in this pericope: The Simon Factor and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
- The Simon Factor. Simon had been a magician, which was a truly abominable practice. His activities had been worthy of death in ancient Israel, and he had made quite a name for himself doing it. When he got saved, it made no small stir. But we notice that, although Simon’s life was changed, it still needed changing: he was in pursuit of his own greatness more than that of the gospel. He needed a reprioritization; a humbling—a period of growth. Simon’s “salvation,” then, wasn’t a punctiliar moment in time, but a process.
- The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Look carefully at the order of events in this chapter, particularly verses 14-16: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had receive the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It was evident here that the Samaritans had received justification for their sins already. They had already been “saved.” They had begun the process of the life of sanctification that we call “salvation” (or at least the first part of it, until a person is with Christ). The early Church recognized that something was missing; that something further needed to happen. When they received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, it is clear from this text that it was a second definite work—something in addition to “salvation.”
There are many people who believe that “salvation” is a single moment in time—that a person can always recall their “spiritual birthday” because that was the moment that their lives changed. As far as they are concerned, someone should be able to ask you when you were saved—and you should be able to respond with a day or date on the calendar. But that’s a little like someone asking you when you were alive. The “alive” bit is an ongoing process. It’s the same with salvation. There is a moment in which you turn INITIALLY from sin and trust Christ—and then there are all the moments afterward in which the Holy Spirit leads you through a twisting, turning, road of sanctification in which you grow in Him. We must stop thinking of “salvation” as a moment—the Bible indicates here that salvation and sanctification are functions of one another. Let’s not forget that Paul will eventually tell the Corinthians that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Co 1.18). Once we understand salvation correctly, we’ll not fall for that old hyper-Wesleyan silliness about wondering whether or not you’ve “lost” your salvation through error. As an Assembly of God minister, I hold to a classical Arminian position on soteriology: that is, a person doesn’t “lose” salvation…but is capable of changing his mind and rejecting it individually. But that is not the same as “losing” it—especially through sin. If a person can lose his salvation by sinning, then in what sense was is “salvation?” What, exactly, was he saved from—if sin got him in the end? I submit to you that salvation is the moment AND process by which you learn to trust Christ for your salvation—rather than your own obedience to a code. The Simon Factor proves this—a man who got saved, and then had more repenting and growing to do afterward.
Let us not overlook the significance of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, as well. It is fair to wonder why the gospel spread so rapidly in those days. The reason: Jesus had promised that they would be empowered after receiving the promise of the Father. Once they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they became firebrands of the gospel. I submit to you that a church that does not evangelize is a church that is in need of a Holy Ghost revival. In the book of Acts, we see that the church saw this as a normative experience—not something “extra” that they could do without. They immediately sent Peter and John down to rectify the situation—implying that they placed a great deal of importance on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. And look at verse 17: “then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” How did they know? There must have been some sort of visible physical evidence in order for the early church to (a) know that the Samaritans weren’t yet baptized in the Holy Spirit, and (b) recognize that, after verse 16, they had been. Just what was this physical evidence? As we saw earlier and will see more times in Acts, there is physical evidence. This passage doesn’t list it specifically, but implies it; other passages will reveal it to be speaking in tongues.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is for all Christians. We are told to make disciples. In our own power, we are quite limited in this task. When we receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to do what Christ commanded. We should not see this as some mystical, unnecessary act: it was part of the normative behavior of the early Church—which spread supernaturally and was followed by mighty signs and wonders. Some might argue that this happened only for that generation, in order give the gospel a boost of some sort. But this view reduces God to an arbitrary figure who decided that THIS generation needed something from Him and THIS one over here does not. If God is unchanging and consistent, it seems inconceivable to view the early apostles as somehow “special” as human beings touched by God.
And this means that we should see the same stuff they did.
Our reading of this passage shows us that we should grow in Christ, unmarred by the worry of our salvific status. We should not be in pursuit of our own greatness, but His. We should be assured of His rescue of us—and we should seek the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, so that we may be empowered to make disciples.