One of the unexpected details in this chapter is that shortly after its founding the church in Samaria had to proceed without long-term input from the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Peter and John returned to Jerusalem and Philip was taken away from Samaria as well. This feature, which was repeated in many of the churches that Paul founded on his missionary journeys, indicates that new churches should be able to stand on their own feet very quickly.
It is also a reminder that the Lord can give unforeseen and surprising calls to his servants. We can imagine how one would think that Philip was needed in Samaria because of the ‘revival’ taking place there, and therefore he should ignore any inclination to go elsewhere. But that was not how Philip saw it and his example should be followed by others of God’s servants.
Philip received a divine command to head to a deserted location on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. No doubt, he was given more precise instructions by the angel as to where to go. Luke does not give any details as to how the angel communicated this message, which is a reminder of two details at least. One is that such spiritual phenomena was common in the early church and did not need to be explained, and the other is that God, who was guiding Luke as to what details he should record, prevented this information being given to us. It is enough for us to know that God uses angels in the outworking of his kingdom.
As we can see from the story, the Lord Jesus, who is directing from heaven the affairs of his church on earth, had his eye on a very important government official from Ethiopia (in New Testament times, this name was given to the area south of Egypt and was much larger than modern Ethiopia). Often this individual is described as a black person, but the details in the story don’t indicate his nationality. There is nothing to deny the possibility that he was a Jew, certainly he was aware of the Old Testament, and he had been to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. And we know that even in recent years Jews have returned to modern-day Israel from Ethiopia. Luke did not regard the eunuch as a Gentile because he later records Peter as saying that Cornelius was the first Gentile to become a Christian
This individual was a very prominent person and therefore he is an example of the exceptions that Paul mentions to the Corinthians: ‘For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth’ (1 Cor. 1:26).
When we are introduced to the Ethiopian in this incident he is a puzzled man. But Jesus knew all about the treasurer’s needs and had arranged for his concerns to be dealt with. The Saviour directed the Spirit to tell Philip to go and speak to the travelling stranger. We will think tomorrow about what happened.