Simon the Sorcerer
The Samaritans are Saved
Through the Preaching of Peter
The events of Acts 3-8 transpire with mounting concern on the part of the Jews, and especially the Jewish authorities in Yerushalayim. The rising tension resulted in vigilante action taken against Stephen, and then an authorized effort under Rabbi Sha’ul to disrupt and destroy that new Messianic movement, involving persecution and even death of the believers. The persecution led various believers such as Philip to go to Samaria and bear witness of Yeshua.
Simon the Sorcerer DIG: What do Simon and Philip have in common in verses 5-11? How are they different? How has the crowd responded to both men in the past? Why would Peter and John come to them? Why might the Father delay pouring out His Spirit until Peter and John were on the scene? Do you think this was more of a lesson for the Samaritans or for the apostles? Why? In what ways does Simon’s reaction to the apostles in verses 18 and 19 show his deep understanding about the gospel? Do you think that Simon’s words in verse 24 reveal a change in his heart? Why or why not?
REFLECT: What cultural or ethnic prejudices were you brought up with? How is the gospel breaking through those prejudices in your life? What was your primary motivation in receiving Yeshua Messiah as Savior? What’s your primary motivation for continuing in the faith? Has your personal influence declined or increased since you became a believer? How? Why? Has jealousy of other believers hindered you in any way?
Having introduced Philip, the protagonist, into the story, Luke now turns to Simon, the antagonist. Although Simon had a Hebrew name, he was a Samaritan. At first he appeared to be a genuine believer. Even one as discerning as Philip accepted him as such and immersed him. Simon even continued on with Philip (8:13). Thus, he manifested the three marks of a genuine believer: he believed, he was obedient in immersion, and he continued with Philip. So Simon illustrates how hard it is to tell the wheat from the weeds (see the commentary on The Life of Christ, to see link click Ev – The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds).
Where did Simon go wrong? How did one who came so close miss out on true salvation? Faith must be grounded in truth, and his was not. This passage reveals four glaring faults in Simon’s theology. First, he had a wrong view of self. Now a man named Simon had an egotistical view of himself. Practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria led him to claim that he was someone great. Simon may have merely been a magician who liked having powers and controlling people. Or he may have been the leader of a heretical Jewish Gnostic sect. Gnostics usually claimed various spiritual beings in a chain of command leading to God and proposed set of practices as the means for attaining higher spiritual levels in their religious cult. He may well have been in touch with the supernatural; but it would have been with demons, not the power of God. Simon’s sin in verses 18-23 below confirms his ungodliness.171 Simon’s hold on the people of Samaria was complete. They all were paying special attention to him. Impressed by his powers of the occult, they mistakenly declared: This man is the power of God that is called “Great.” That title showed that Simon claimed deity for himself. And they kept paying attention to him, because for a long time he had astonished them with his magical arts (8:9-11). As long as Simon believed he was deity, he could not come to a proper sense of himself. Only the humble, aware of their inadequacies and shortcomings, have that sense of being lost that drives them to ADONAI. Simon, firmly locked in pride’s grip, did not.
Second, Simon had a wrong view of salvation. Through Philip’s preaching, revival broke out in the city: When they believed Philip proclaiming the Good News about the kingdom of God and the name of Messiah Yeshua, both men and women were immersed. The Samaritans needed to come to the realization that the kingdom of God would be a Jewish Kingdom and not a Samaritan Kingdom as they had thought (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Ca – Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman). So as more and more people believed in Messiah for their salvation, Simon saw his following dwindle. His declining popularity, his wish to be associated with God in some way, and his desire to learn more about what he perceived to be Philip’s power, motivated Simon to believe. And after being immersed, he continued with Philip as an opportunity to get that power and have more influence over people. And when he saw signs and great miracles happening, he was continually amazed (8:12-13). He had, so to speak, a professional interest in finding out the source of Philip’s amazing power. But his “faith” was grounded in the power miracles, not in the saving power of the Messiah. What he saw resulted in amazement, not holiness.
The Samaritans are saved: Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the message of God, they sent Peter and John to check it out (This is the last mention of John in Acts, as Peter, then Paul, take center stage). The Samaritans despised Jerusalem, would they reject the apostles because they were from the Holy City? Would the Jews reject the Samaritans? It was shocking to them that the Samaritans could be included in the Kingdom because they practiced a hybrid religion (Luke 9:54). So apostles were sent for three reasons. First, to authenticate Samaritan salvation. Secondly, because Peter had the keys to the Kingdom. And thirdly, they came down and prayed for them to receive the Ruach ha-Kodesh. Although the Samaritans had believed and been immersed, the Ruach had not yet come upon them, they had only been immersed in the name of the Lord Yeshua (8:14-16).
Those who teach that believers receive the Spirit subsequent to salvation appeal to this and similar passages for support. Here is a clear example, they argue, of people who were saved, yet did not have the Ruach ha-Kodesh. Such teaching ignores the transitional nature of Acts (see below). It also fails in the face of the plain teaching of Scripture that if anyone does not have the Ruach of Messiah, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9). There is no such thing as a believer who does not yet have the Ruach ha-Kodesh, since by one Spirit we were all immersed into one body at conversion (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Bw – What God Does For Us at the Moment of Faith).
Why did the Samaritans (and later the Gentiles) have to wait for the apostles before receiving the Ruach? If the Samaritans had received the Ruach ha-Kodesh independent of the Messianic Community, the rift between them would have been perpetuated. There could well have been two separate entities, a Messianic Congregation and Samaritan Church. But God designed one Messianic Congregation/Church: For He Himself is our peace, who had made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).
God is never late. By delaying the Spirit’s coming until Peter and John arrived, ADONAI preserved the unity of the Messianic Congregation/Church. The apostles needed to see for themselves, and give first hand testimony to the Messianic Community in Jerusalem, that the Ruach had come upon the Samaritans. In addition, the Samaritans needed to learn that they were subject to the authority of the apostles. The Jewish believers and the Samaritan believers were linked together into one Body. When Peter and John arrived, they began laying their hands on the Samaritan believers and it became obvious that they were receiving the Ruach ha-Kodesh as evidenced by the speaking in languages (8:17).172 Nowhere does the Bible teach that the gift of tongues is anything other than human languages.173
A closer look at the keys to the Kingdom: At Caesarea Philippi Peter declared that Yeshua was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. In response, Jesus said: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Fx – On This Rock I Will Build My Church). Whenever the words key or keys is used symbolically in the Bible, it always symbolizes the authority to open or close doors (Judges 3:25; First Chronicles 9:27; Isaiah 22:20-24; Matthew 16:19a; Revelation 1:18, 3:7, 9:1 and 20:1). Peter will be responsible to open the doors of the Church. He has a special role in the book of Acts. In the Dispensation of the Torah, humanity was divided into two groups, Jews and Gentiles. But in the Dispensation of Grace, because of what went on in the intertestamental period, there were three groups of people, Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans (Matthew 10:5-6). Peter would be the key person (pun intended) in bringing in the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10) into the Church by receiving the Holy Spirit. Once he opened the door it stayed open.
As we proceed through the book of Acts we will be comparing the way salvation comes to the Jews, the Samaritans and the Gentiles, showing, as was the case with the way Yeshua healed, there is no set order. Acts is a transitional book and a historical book, and you cannot establish doctrine based upon history. You base doctrine on clear theological statements. The historical facts can illustrate the doctrine, but they cannot develop doctrine on their own.
The gift of languages (tongues) can be seen four times in the book, Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10 and Acts 19. There is no set order leading up to immersion by the Spirit and subsequent speaking in languages. In Acts 2 with salvation coming to the Jews, the order was first repentance, then water immersion, and then receiving Spirit immersion by the Ruach ha-Kodesh as evidenced by speaking in languages. Here in Acts 8 with salvation coming to the Samaritans, the order was this, first they believed, then came water immersion, then the apostles arrived, next they laid their hands on the Samaritans, and then they received Spirit immersion by the Ruach ha-Kodesh as evidenced by the speaking languages. Again, you don’t build doctrine on history. Keep this order in mind and we will see how it was different with the Samaritans, the Gentiles and John’s disciples.
To understand the differences in the four appearances of languages in Acts, we will ask six questions as we come to each passage. However, the one key common element in all four cases is that languages (ie tongues) are for the purpose of authentication.
1. Who received it? The believers of Samaria.
2. What were they? They were Samaritans, who historically did not like Jews and were antagonistic toward Jerusalem. In fact, they often attacked and even killed Jews who were headed from Galilee to Yerushalayim through Samaria (Luke 9:51-53).
3. What were the circumstances? Philip preached to the Samaritans who believed and were saved. But this raised some questions from the apostles in Tziyon who had the old Samaritan antagonism in mind. So Peter and John were sent to authenticate these reports.
4. What was the means? The laying on of hands by Peter and John, apostles, who came from Jerusalem.
5. What was the purpose in this context? As is in every case in the book of Acts, speaking in tongues is used for the purpose of authentication. That was true in Acts 2, is true here in Acts 8, and it will be true in Acts 10 and Acts 19, the four places it is found. For the Jewish apostles it proved that the Samaritans were able to be saved. It was hard for them to believe, but that’s what it would authenticate for the apostles in Tziyon. And for the Samaritans it authenticated the authority of the Jewish apostles. This was to teach the Samaritans that they were not to create a separate Samaritan Church because that’s exactly what they had done when the Jews rejected them when Ezra returned to Palestine from the Babylonian Captivity to rebuild the Temple (see the commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah As – Opposition to Rebuilding the Temple). They built their own rival Temple on Mount Gerizim with a holy place and a most holy place. So they were not to build a Samaritan Church in opposition to the Messianic Community/Church.
6. What were the results? The Samaritans did receive the immersion of the Ruach ha-Kodesh and became members of the Body of Messiah, and no rival Samaritan Church was ever set up.174
Now back to Simon the sorcerer. This passage reveals the third of four glaring faults in Simon’s theology. Third, he had a wrong view of the Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Ruach ha-Kodesh was given through the laying on of hands by the apostles as evidenced by the speaking in other languages it was way too much for him. Philip had impressed him, but Peter and John had overwhelmed him. It was obvious that something supernatural must have occurred. Simon offered them money, saying: Give this power to me, too – so that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Ruach ha-Kodesh. He treated the two apostles as though they were fellow practitioners of magic and was ready to negotiate the price to buy the secret of their power. Nothing God has, however, is for sale. Certainly not the Ruach ha-Kodesh. Therefore, Peter was irate and said to him, “May your silver go to ruin, and you with it (J. B. Phillips’ rendering, “To hell with you and your money!” conveys the actual sense of Peter’s words) – because you thought you could buy God’s gift with money. You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God (8:18-21). Simon’s view of the Ruach as a commodity to be bought and added to his repertoire of spiritual tricks was utterly detestable and betrayed his lost condition.
Fourth, Simon had a wrong view of sin. Peter followed his condemnation of Simon with a call for salvation. Therefore, repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible (if you repent), the intent of your heart may be pardoned. Peter, using the expression for the most serious offenses against God in the TaNaKh (Deuteronomy 18:18-20), warns Simon of the seriousness of his situation: For I see in you the poison of bitterness and the bondage of unrighteousness! Simon, however, was not persuaded. Although probably shaken and afraid, he refused to ask the Lord for forgiveness. Instead, he said to the apostles, “Pray for me, so that none of what you have said may come upon me” (8:22-24) His only concern to escape the consequences of his sin. True repentance, however, consists of more than mere sorrow for sin (Second Corinthians 7:9-10).175
So when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, continually proclaiming the Good News to many Samaritan villages (8:25). In sum, this file shows the gospel as it begins to move away from an exclusive concern of Isra’el. The gospel is for every person, for each one to consider, it is hoped, with ears and a heart that responds. This is as true today as it was then. Here we see Jews crossing racial and ethnic lines with the gospel, the message of hope to the Samaritans, and taking that initiative is at the heart of the Messianic Community’s/Church’s mission in the world: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18b-20).176