Philip Teaches the Man from Ethiopia

Scripture Reference: Acts 8:4-5, 26-40

Story Overview: An angel of God told Philip to go to a certain desert road that led to Gaza. Philip did just as the angel said and he found a very important man riding in a chariot. This man was from the country of Ethiopia and he was a chief official of the Queen. He was reading from an Old Testament scroll but was not able to understand it. Philip got into the chariot with the man and began explaining what it meant and all about Jesus. When the chariot passed some water, the official asked Philip to baptize him (and he did!)

Suggested Emphasis: Teachers, preachers, elders, and other Christians can help us understand the bible.

Background Study
Way to Introduce the Story
The Story
Review Questions
Craft and Activity Ideas
Other Online Resources

Background Study:

Click here for an overview of the Book of Acts

The Gospel Spread  Acts 8:4-5
Philip was a respected and faithful man who was one of the seven deacons first appointed in a congregation of Christians.   The church first began in Jerusalem among the Jews but, following the Stoning of Stephen, a great persecution rose up against the Christians and they left Jerusalem in large numbers.  Christians, like Philip, began teaching people about Jesus wherever they went.  This meant the good news of Jesus Christ spread out from Jerusalem to a wider and wider circle of people.  Philip’s first stop was Samaria where he taught many, including Simon the Sorcerer.

 

An Angel Directs Philip to Meet the Ethiopian Eunuch  Acts 8:26-29
Angels played a part in the early days of the church and are mentioned a number of times in the Book of Acts.  Here are the three times they are mentioned:

  • Sending Off  (Acts 8:26) Giving Philip specific road directions that led him to where the Eunuch was pondering Scripture.
  • Shepherding, Protecting and Guiding (Acts 12:7-10) Waking Peter up and directing him past guards, through the prison gates and finally down a street to the place where Christians were praying.
  • Dispensing God’s Judgement (Acts 12:23)  When King Herod sat on a throne and put himself forward as God an angel proceeded to strike him down.  Herod was eaten by worms and died.

The angel directed Philip to use the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  The distance between the two places was approximately (80 kilometres/50 miles long.  Philip followed the angel’s instructions even though there is no indication he knew what lay ahead.  But his mission was revealed when he met the Ethiopian’s chariot and the Holy Spirit told him to “go to the chariot and stay near it.”

Ethiopia probably refers to ancient Nubia which is present day southern Egypt and northern Sudan.  “Candace” was a title used for the leading woman of the country so the Ethiopian Eunuch would have had a very important and trusted position as “an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Queen.  Men placed in charge of the living quarters, the harem in particular, were sometimes made eunuchs (castrated) but the term “eunuch” could also be used in a more general way for an official or officer.  Having access to the Queen’s treasury lends me to think this was literal for this man.

Special Note to Teachers:  More than one teacher has been flustered when a child asks the completely natural question, “What is a eunuch?”  For younger children I have just answered that a eunuch was a special servant to the queen and was not allowed to have girlfriends, wives or children.  For the older child I have just said that a eunuch is a man who has had an operation that makes him unable to father children.  If an older child was being genuinely curious (and not asking to seek attention) I would consider telling him or her that castration involves removing the testicles.  But, in that case, I would mention it to the parents after class so they can follow up at home if needed.  We want to encourage children to ask questions about God’s Word so never make a child feel it is not acceptable to ask.   Be a teacher that children can trust to give straight answers.

The Ethiopian Eunuch had been on his own journey to Jerusalem and was on his way back home.  Ethiopia was an extremely wealthy nation at that time and men in his position must have had business dealings with people from distant lands.  Perhaps this is how he came to know of the God of Israel and had a desire to go to Jerusalem to worship.

The Ethiopian was probably a proselyte (a Gentile who has converted to Judaism) but would not have been allowed full privileges at the temple because he was a eunuch (Deuteronomy 23:1).  It is interesting that he chose to read from Isaiah.  As a eunuch he must have been drawn to Isaiah’s writing because Isaiah talks about God’s acceptance of those, including eunuchs, who worship him (Isaiah 56:3-5).

 

Philip Helps the Ethiopian Understand the Scripture  Acts 8:30-35
Whatever the Ethiopian’s experience in Jerusalem had been like he must have seen many slaughtered lambs.  His chosen reading to pass the hours away was from the prophet Isaiah and he must have wondered about the lamb Isaiah was referring to.  When Philip ran up beside the chariot the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7-8 and he was confused by what he was reading.  He invited Philip to join him in the chariot and explain it to him.

God’s providence is clearly seen in this incident.  He knew in advance exactly where the chariot would be and what the eunuch would be reading.  He knew the eunuch would be confused and curious as to the real meaning.  He knew the eunuch had an open and humble heart and was ready to hear truth at that very moment.  So God used an angel to direct Philip to this place and the Spirit knew the very moment to tell Philip to “go to the chariot and stay near it.”

Philip went on to explain the good news of Jesus Christ.  His words aren’t recorded but he probably connected the sacrifice of lambs at the temple with the final and perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Priests had to sacrifice many lambs year after year but the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all.  His sacrifice was for the sins of everyone on the earth.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.  But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.  Hebrews 9:24-28, NIV

Note: Children can relate to the Ethiopian Eunuch because they often hear preaching or read Scripture that they do not understand.  Just as the Spirit sent Philip to help the Ethiopian understand God provides a family of faith to surround children and help them learn what they need for a growing and maturing faith.  Think of the people in your congregation who provide this for children.  This can be elders, preachers, teachers and other Christians.  The children might also have other people like relatives who help them understand what the Scripture says.

 

The Ethiopian Responds to the Gospel in Baptism  Acts 8:36-38
This was truly good news to a man who was searching for truth in his life.  His response was immediate and he wanted to put his faith into action.  Part of the good news that Philip shared must have included the parallel between Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and the death, burial and resurrection experienced in Christian baptism.  When the chariot drew alongside water the Ethiopian immediately wanted to be baptised.  The chariot was ordered to stop and both Philip and the eunuch walked down into the water so the eunuch could be baptised.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all;but the life he lives, he lives to God.    Romans 6:3-10, NIV

 

Rejoicing and Preaching  Acts 8:39-40
This occasion was important but certainly not sombre.  If the worship experience in Jerusalem had been disappointing in any way then the salvation now experienced certainly made up for it.  The Ethiopian rejoiced in his new salvation.  He was going back to Ethiopia a new man.

As soon as they came up out of the water the Spirit took Philip away until Philip “finds himself” in the town of Azotus.  He continues preaching in the area and finally settles in the town of Caesarea (88.5 kilometres/55 miles north-west of Jerusalem).  We next read about Philip 20 years later when Paul stops in Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-9).  He is then referred to as “Philip the Evangelist” who had “four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”

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Way to Introduce the Story:
Before class use a sheet of paper to write the words from Isaiah that the Eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32b-33) Roll the paper up to form a scroll. When the children arrive open the scroll and have one of the children read it. Ask them what this verse means and then discuss the fact that sometimes the word of God can be difficult to understand. Elders, preachers, bible class teachers, and others who study their bibles can often help us to understand what we read. In today’s story we are going to read about a man who read the very same verses that we just read. Someone helped him to understand.

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The Story:
To persecute someone is to cause harm to them on purpose so that they suffer.  A man named Saul was one of the Jewish leaders who persecuted Christians.  He even went from house to house and dragged off men and women and put them in prison.  Soon many Christians began to leave Jerusalem and move to other places.

It was sad that they had to leave Jerusalem but the good thing was that wherever the Christians went they preached about Jesus.  Because of that many more people heard the good news.  One of the Christians preaching about Jesus was named Philip.  He was a man who was wise and lived according to the Holy Spirit.  Philip travelled to Samaria and told the people there about Jesus.

After this an angel of God came to Philip and gave him special instructions to go to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.  Philip knew that angels were servants of God that sometimes delivered messages from him.  So he did just as the angel directed.  When he arrived at the road Philip looked up and saw an important looking man in a chariot.

The man was from the Ethiopia.  At that time this country was very rich and powerful.  The man was an important official in charge of all of the Queen’s treasures.  He was on his way back home after going to Jerusalem to worship.  The man was reading from a scroll that contained the writings of the prophet Isaiah.  He was reading about a lamb that was sacrificed but he did not know what that meant.

The Holy Spirit of God told Philip to go up to the chariot so Philip ran up to it.  Philip asked the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Sometimes it is difficult to understand what we are reading in the word of God.  Sometimes we need help from people who understand the Bible better than we do.  The man had many questions and asked Philip to help him understand.

The Ethiopian showed Philip the Scripture he was reading and Philip began to explain it to him.

Then Philip went on to tell him more and more about Jesus Christ so that the man could understand that Jesus was the Lamb of God.  The man must have thought, “Oh, I see, now I understand what Isaiah was talking about.”  The Ethiopian was so happy to hear the Good News of Jesus.

The Ethiopian was so excited.  He wanted to have his sins forgiven so that he could be a follower of Jesus.  When the chariot passed near some water the Ethiopian said, “Look, here is water.  Why shouldn’t I be baptised?”

The Ethiopian ordered the chariot to stop and both he and Philip went down into to the water so Philip could baptise him.
As soon as they came up out of the water the Holy Spirit took Philip away.  He later appeared in another town and went on teaching many other people about Jesus.

Even though the Ethiopian man never saw Philip again the bible says that he “went on his way rejoicing.”  He was now a Christian and his life would never be the same.

Philip helped this man understand the Scriptures.  When you have questions about what you are reading in the Bible who can help you understand?

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Visual Aids: You might like to try telling the story using one of the following free visual aids.  The first and second work well if you are showing it on a computer, laptop or tablet. The third one works well for printing.

  1. Philip and the Ethiopian Official-Slide Show to download
    (.pptx 9 MB file size)
  2. Philip and the Ethiopian Official-Slide Show to download-older format
    (.ppt 8.47 MB file size)
  3. Philip and the Ethiopian Official-Visual Aid to download and print
    (.pdf 3.4 MB file size)



Review Questions:

  1. Who told Philip to go to the desert road to Gaza? An angel of the Lord
  2. What was the Ethiopian Official riding in? A chariot
  3. What was the Ethiopian Official doing when Philip first saw him? Reading a scroll of the book of Isaiah
  4. What did the Ethiopian Official want to do after Philip taught him about Jesus? He wanted to be baptised

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Craft and Activity ideas for the class (choose age appropriate ones):

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Other Online Resources:

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Download this Slideshow

Download this Slideshow

One Response to Philip Teaches the Man from Ethiopia

  1. bjatons9463 says:

    Lesson plan that could easily be adapted for an age. Great memory verse activity found at http://kidsbibledebjackson.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/philip-ethiopian-eunuch.html

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