Acts 8:39

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Thursday, 14 July 2022

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. Acts 8:39

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The last verse saw Philip and the eunuch going down into the water where Philip baptized the eunuch. With that remembered, it next says, “Now when they came up out of the water.”

Though the act of full immersion baptism is debated based on the words of the last verse, the thought of coming up “out of the water” gives a good indication of being in the water, not “by” the water or having a jar of water in the hand. If they were in the water, it seems likely that the intent is to fully immerse. But, as previously stated, the Greek word transliterated as “baptize” signifies full immersion. Despite this, the baptism was conducted and then they came up out of the water. At this time, it says that “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away.”

Here, the word harpazó is used. It signifies to seize, snatch, catch away, and so on. It is a forceful action of removal. Some, in an attempt to eliminate the supernatural element, will say that this was a strong urge that was so irresistible, Philip had to depart immediately. If this was the case, other words sufficient to the situation would be more appropriate. An example of this is found in Acts 18 –

“When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.”

Philip was not merely compelled. Rather, he was snatched away by an external force, meaning the Spirit. As incredible as this sounds, it is not without precedent. It happened in the Old Testament, such as in the taking away of Enoch in Genesis 5, and which is explained in Hebrews 11:5. Elijah was also taken bodily to heaven in a chariot of fire and a whirlwind in 2 Kings 2:11. Ezekiel was taken in the spirit to another location in Ezekiel 3, but that could simply be a vision and not a physical transportation.

In the New Testament, the word harpazó is used fourteen times. Each time it is used with a clear reference to a physical removal, even if it is stopping such a physical removal (such as in John 10:28). It is used of Paul being caught up to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2 & 4. Admittedly, Paul says there, “whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know.” Even if it was out of the body, there was a removal from one place to another that was not accomplished by the one being transported. If it was in the body (of which he was not sure), then a physical transport would have taken place.

The word is also used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 when speaking of the saints being “caught up” together with the dead in Christ at the rapture. Due to the sudden and external nature of the words in these other instances, it seems unlikely the Spirit would inspire Luke to use this word unless Philip was abruptly and miraculously transported. A sudden urge to leave might cause Philip to get up and say, “Great baptism, now I simply must go,” but it would leave the eunuch thinking Philip was a bit odd. Rather, the purpose was certainly to confirm to the eunuch, and to those with him, that God had accepted the rite of baptism and demonstrated that fact with the sudden and remarkable catching away of Philip. With this certainly being the case, it next says, “so that the eunuch saw him no more.”

In the desert, one can see a long way in the distance. If Philip had suddenly departed, no matter how fast his feet could run or his mount could gallop, it would be a good long span before he could not be seen any longer. If that is how Philip departed, Luke would surely have said something like, “And so Philip departed in haste, leaving the eunuch behind.” The words shout out for a sudden, miraculous, and immediate removal of Philip from the spot. With that, and speaking of the eunuch, it says, “and he went on his way rejoicing.”

It is a mistranslation. Rather, it says, “for he was going his way rejoicing.” There is a reason (for) and the verb is imperfect (he was going). In 2 Kings, when Elijah was taken to heaven, it says –

“Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. 16 Then they said to him, ‘Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.’
And he said, ‘You shall not send anyone.’
17 But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, ‘Send them!’ Therefore they sent fifty men, and they searched for three days but did not find him. 18 And when they came back to him, for he had stayed in Jericho, he said to them, ‘Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?’” 2 Kings 2:15-18

Luke is providing a contrast to this account. The prophets from Jericho wanted to find Elijah, not wanting to entertain the thought that they would never see him again. The eunuch in Acts didn’t do this. He did not send any of those with him to look for Philip. He did not travel back up the road to Jerusalem. Rather, he knew that Philip had been caught away, and he was content with that, even to the point of rejoicing. He had received a visual confirmation that his faith was confirmed as saving faith and that his act of obedience in being baptized according to the Lord’s word was acceptable.

Life application: The Ethiopian eunuch had very limited interaction with Philip, but it was long enough for him to make a reasoned decision about what he had heard. He accepted the message, he believed, and he was obedient to the command of the Lord in receiving baptism. In the end, he went away rejoicing.

But someone had to tell him about Jesus and share the gospel with him. The Lord sent Philip. There are people in your area, your family, your work environment, and your general sphere of life that need to hear about Jesus. Are you hoping the Lord will send someone to tell them about Jesus? He has. He has sent you. The only question is, “Are you going to be obedient to the commission you have been given?”

Don’t wait for the Lord to do the miraculous and send someone along to tell these people. He already performed the greatest miracle in your life when He saved you. It’s time for you to respond in kind and share what you know!

Lord God, thank You for the salvation that I have been given through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Now, give me the strong desire, will, and ability to tell others the same message I have heard. Help me to be the next link in getting this word out to others. To Your glory, I pray. Amen.