A Conversion Story The Coming to Faith of an Ethiopian Eunuch Acts 8:26-40
A Man Searching for God
The eunuch had journeyed many miles from his native land to worship at Jerusalem, and now returning home he was sitting in his chariot reading from the prophecy of Isaiah, a copy of which he probably purchased while in Jerusalem. Such a scroll, written in either Hebrew or Greek, would have been expensive to buy and even difficult for a Gentile to obtain. However, as a high ranking official in the court of Candace Queen of the Ethiopians he obviously had both the means and status to make this purchase.
The Ethiopia of that time was an ancient kingdom that corresponds to modern Nubia, a region that stretches along the Nile River from Aswan in Southern Egypt to Khartoum in Northern Sudan. The Queen mother, who held the dynastic title of Candace, ruled the country on behalf of her son the king who, it seems, was regarded as sacred supposedly being the incarnation of the sun god and therefore considered above the secular and ordinary affairs of state. The eunuch was the Queen's treasurer having responsibility for all her wealth.
A Worshipper of God
Though this eunuch was a non-Jew and from a foreign culture he evidently had come into contact with the religion of Judaism and the reality of the one true God, and it was to worship this God, presumably at one of the Jewish festivals, that he travelled the long journey to Jerusalem. If he was physically a eunuch he would not have been a full proselyte to Judaism (Deut 23:1), but he may have had the status of a 'God-fearer,' a non-Jew who worshipped the God of Israel. Maybe he came to Jerusalem being aware of, and having taken encouragement from the words of promise spoken by the Lord through prophet Isaiah from which he was reading:
‘Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off’ (Isa 56:3-5 KJV).
Indeed, as the story shows he not only acknowledged the God of Israel by worshipping at Jerusalem, but he was also seeking for something deeper and that evidently was a personal relationship with God and the peace that this gives. The eunuch though, left Jerusalem disappointed for the temple as it stood then was a desolate house and no longer recognized by God because of Israel's rejection of the Messiah , yet the eunuch was about to discover that God doesn't change and those who seek Him will truly find, and be found by Him. The eunuch was about to become part of another 'house,' a spiritual temple (Ephesians 2:19-22), the 'building' of which began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost with 120 believers (Acts 1: 15) who experienced the 'pouring out' of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, 17) and it continues to 'grow' being added to each time someone somewhere believes in the Lord Jesus.
The eunuch not only crossed land borders travelling many miles of road to reach Jerusalem, he also crossed national, cultural and religious boundaries and in so doing demonstrated an all-important universal truth: only the one true God should be worshipped. The first two of the Ten Commandments given to Israel at Mount Sinai stipulate:
"I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them" (Ex 20:2–5).
To worship anything or anyone else other than God is idolatry. During the temptation in the wilderness the Lord Jesus answered the Devil's false promise of glory and brazen demand for worship with words from the Pentateuch; "You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt 4:10 - Deut 6:13). John the apostle and seer of Patmos overwhelmed by all that he was witnessing fell at the feet of an angel to worship from whom he immediately received the sharp rebuke: "See that you do not do that! ...Worship God!" (Rev 19:10).
There are two fundamental reasons as to why only God should be worshipped. The first one being - because He is transcendent. This means that God is above everything and everyone else in His nature, glory and power. All, therefore, is beneath and subject to Him. Paul the apostle summarized this truth when preaching in Athens:
“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).
The second reason why only God should be worshipped is that He alone is worthy of worship. On one occasion a rich young ruler came running to Jesus and kneeling before Him asked:
“Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
To which Jesus replied;
“Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God." (Mark 10:17-18)
The Lord Jesus challenged the ruler's mistaken perception of good as something measured by human attainment. No one is good, absolutely perfect, except God alone. He is inherently and essentially good. In Him all that is evil is absent and all that is good is present and therefore He is the true source and standard of goodness. Jesus shared this quality because He is divine, but the young ruler was assessing Him by human standards without appreciating His true identity.
When Moses was in mount Sinai with the Lord the second time after the sin of Israel over the golden calf the Lord passed by and proclaimed the glory of His name and thus the qualities of His person: "The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth" (Ex 34:6). 'Goodness and truth' point to the fact that He is faithful, kind and just and therefore everything He is, does and says is characterised by good, being always right, pure and worthy. The Lord Jesus reminds us of one aspect of God's goodness in the 'Sermon on the Mount:'
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:44-45). He has ever done this throughout history so that people might seek Him (Acts 14:17; 17:26-27) and what's more, the apostle Paul expounding the meaning of the gospel in his letter to the Christians at Rome challenged the self-righteous hypocrites, who had experienced the riches of God's goodness, by reminding them that His goodness should lead to repentance:
‘Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?’ (Romans 2:4).
But to truly be a worshipper of God "those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Indeed, these were the essential elements that were missing even in the worship of the eunuch for, as already indicated, the temple in Jerusalem by then had lost its status as the House of God being abandoned by Him at the Cross (Matt 27:50-51) because of the unbelief of Israel. They rejected and crucified their Messiah and became lo-ammi - 'not My people' (Hosea 1:9) and the temple a 'desolate house' (Matt 23:37-39) that would ultimately be destroyed (Matt 24:1-2). The Lord Jesus informed the Samaritan woman at Sychar's well:
“Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).
One of the tragedies of life and unfortunately, deceptions of religion is that there are many who sincerely seek to worship God yet like the eunuch, they do not know Him personally nor do they 'worship in spirit and truth.' They recognize His transcendence and express reverence for His name in their devotions and place of worship, but lacking in their hearts is the spiritual dimension of an intimate knowledge and personal relationship with Him based upon the revelation of truth brought to us by the Son of God, the record of which is in the Bible.
A Reader of Scripture
The eunuch in his search for truth and peace was reading from the sacred writings of the Jews, yet as he read the prophecy of Isaiah he did not fully understand what he was reading and this is why God sent to him a preacher. The place where the eunuch was reading from in the prophecy is known to us today as Isaiah 53, one of the four 'Servant Songs' of Isaiah. This song foretold about the personal and vicarious sufferings of the Lord's Servant and it seems that when Philip came to the eunuch he was reading aloud, as would have been the practice then, at the following words:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33)
The eunuch was reading the right thing - the Holy Scriptures. The scriptures themselves testify that their source is in God and that they have been uniquely communicated by Him (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). They are therefore rightly described as the authoritative word of God and the infallible guide to truth. Moreover, it is through the scriptures that the mind is illuminated and the heart instructed regarding the knowledge of God and the way of salvation (Psalm 119:105; 2 Tim 3:14-15).
A Man Sent by God
Philip, an evangelist, was instructed by the 'angel of the Lord' to leave Samaria, where he was labouring fruitfully in the gospel, and go to meet this eunuch somewhere on the road that went south from Jerusalem toward Gaza. He obeyed and upon reaching the eunuch was directed by the Spirit of God to join him. Philip ran to the man's chariot and hearing him read from Isaiah he asked:
“Do you understand what you are reading?”
To which the eunuch replied: “How can I, unless someone guides me?”
The eunuch then invited Philip into the chariot to sit with him (Acts 8:30-31).
The Role of the Preacher
The first responsibility of any preacher, worthy of the name, is to explain the meaning of scripture and to point people to Christ whether at a personal level, as in this case, or when addressing a larger audience. To accurately represent God's word and expound His truth is an immense privilege and yet a most solemn task. Sadly, the Bible is often misused, misrepresented and its truth manipulated by those who want to promote their own beliefs and ideas. All who use the Bible as a tool to further their own agenda and fail to faithfully represent God and preach Christ, will ultimately be held accountable by Almighty God on the Day of Judgment.
The eunuch wanted to know the identity of the person about whom he was reading:
“I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”
'Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him' (Acts 8:34-35). The word 'preached' means that Philip communicated the good news of the gospel to the eunuch. The detail of all that Philip shared is not given in the story; however three important things concerning Jesus are evident from what we are told.
Firstly, Philip 'preached Jesus to him.' The name Jesus means, Jehovah the Saviour and it found its full realization in the one who came to bear it. The angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph the husband of Mary and said:
‘Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins”’ (Matt 1:20-21).
And the apostle John wrote this testimony:
‘We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world’ (1 John 4:14).
Secondly, as already observed, Isaiah speaks about the Suffering Servant and as the words from Isaiah 53 quoted in Acts 8 indicate, the Servant, none other than the Lord Jesus, suffered the brutality of rejection and injustice that resulted in a violent death. In the historical fulfilment of this prophecy the gospel accounts show how that it was at the hands of Jews and Gentiles that this happened and that the Lord Jesus endured such humiliation with the silent submission foretold by the prophet. However, it was on the Cross that He suffered vicariously, that is, He suffered on behalf of sinners and bore the consequences of their sins. Thus the prophet wrote:
‘But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:5-6)
It is by the appreciation and acknowledgement of this truth that we can know the assurance of God's forgiveness and be reconciled to Him. I am a sinner but the Lord Jesus came to be my Saviour and as thee Substitute for sinners He bore upon the Cross the fullness of God's judgment that I personally deserve because of my sins, and thus by faith in the Lord Jesus who suffered, died and rose again I can have, know and enjoy peace with God (Romans 5:1).
Lastly, it is evident from the eunuch's confession - "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37) that Philip spoke of the divinity of Jesus. This is the truth that makes all the difference between Jesus and all other men. He not only became human, but He is also eternally divine. This fact has been demonstrated by His virgin birth, sinless life, miraculous ministry and glorious resurrection. It is central and essential to the gospel as the apostle John, in his record of Christ, reminds his readers:
‘And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name’ (John 20:30-31).
A person cannot be saved unless they believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus and confess Him as the Son of God. He reminded those who would not accept His testimony:
“You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:23-24).
'I am' is a divine name (Exodus 3:13-14) and unbelief regarding the identity of Jesus means, as He Himself stated to the Jews who opposed him: "You will die in your sins" and "where I go you cannot come" (John 8:21). He was speaking of heaven to which He returned at His ascension. The alternative to heaven is hell, a place of judgment; we will ultimately be in one or the other. Therefore not only does this truth about His identity make all the difference between Jesus and all other men, it also makes all the difference between heaven and hell. How you respond to His person will determine your ultimate destiny for eternity (John 3:36).
The Response of the Listener
The eunuch listened to Philip and his first response was to request baptism. It would appear that Philip told him that a believer in the Lord Jesus should be baptized and this of course was according to the great commission given by the Lord Himself:
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 18:18-20). Believer's baptism is an act of obedience that identifies an individual with very Godhead and demonstrates symbolically and publicly by immersion in water that they have died, been buried and raised again with Christ (Cf Romans 6:1-11). The eunuch believed in the Lord Jesus, confessed His person and was baptized by Philip in a pool or stream of water in a lonely desert area somewhere between Jerusalem and Gaza. The human witnesses to his baptism, other than Philip, would have been most likely the servants who travelled with him. They finally parted, the eunuch continuing his long journey home a happy man and Philip continuing with his work of evangelizing the lost.