In this scene, Phillip has gone from Samaria, and is travelling south on the “desert” road between Jerusalem and Gaza. While many scholars would use this as a time to float theories about which road he took toward Gaza, we might find it more interesting to look at why he went on this particular road trip: An angel of the Lord came to him and told him to go. There are plenty of instances recorded in the Scriptures that tell of an angel of the Lord coming to someone and telling them to do something, and we might even see this often enough not to question it, but if we step back and take another look, we will realize that this really doesn’t happen very often; in fact it is rare enough that these incidents are recorded in Scripture. To put it another way, this was a big deal.
Phillip obeys the angel’s command and heads south.
While on the road, Phillip sees an Ethiopian royal official, a eunuch as it happens. In many ancient cultures, palace officials above a certain rank were made eunuchs so that they could not father a child, and thus were not able to be a challenger for the throne, so great was their authority over the kingdom. We can infer that this may well have been a royal procession with many servants, guards and chariots. Once again the angel speaks to Phillip, and once again he obeys and approaches the chariot.
Walking alongside the chariot, Phillip discovers that the official is reading from Isaiah 53, the “suffering servant” passage (Is. 53:7-8). Let’s think about this for a moment; if you are on an evangelistic expedition, and you come upon someone reading that particular passage of Scripture, earnestly trying to comprehend its meaning, wouldn’t you see an almost unbelievable opportunity?
That angel was pretty smart, wouldn’t you say?
The eunuch actually asks Phillip to tell him who Isaiah was talking about, and invites him to ride in the chariot with him, and Phillip is only too happy to help. In the course of their conversation, Phillip just happens to tell the man all about Jesus…
The text doesn’t give us the details of this conversation, instead it skips to the thrill-packed conclusion: The man requests that Phillip baptize him when a body of water comes into view, and orders the procession halted. They step out of the chariot and into the water where the Ethiopian official is immersed in the waters of baptism. Then, Luke offers us a somewhat cryptic text:
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. (8:39-40)
What just happened here?
What we know for certain is that Phillip baptized the man into Christ, and then left the scene. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing, that is clear, and Phillip was next seen in Azotus. Was Phillip transported there supernaturally? Many scholars think so. Did the Spirit lead him to be on his way immediately, and Phillip left under his own power? Many other scholars think so.
As for me, I don’t know how Phillip got to Azotus, but I do know that all through this passage, Phillip was responsive to God’s leading, and that as a result, others came to salvation in Jesus Christ, and God was glorified. The inference I take from this story is that we too, must be responsive to God’s leading so that others will be saved and God will be glorified though us.
When we return to Luke’s narrative next time, we will find out what that rascal Saul has been up to…