At long last the word of God is going out to the nations as promised by Jesus in Acts 1:8, but probably not as originally expected by the Apostles. Instead, the Gospel explodes outwardly in the form of evangelism brought on by persecution. It wasn’t planned—at least not by the Church. Nevertheless, the prophecy was fulfilled as the King of the Kingdom of God reached out to embrace the uttermost parts of the earth, beginning with Samaria and bringing all under his authority.
Philip “went down to a city of Samaria” (Acts 8:5). The writers of the NT always spoke of leaving Jerusalem as going down, and of coming to Jerusalem as going up. So Luke has Philip going down from Jerusalem to a city of Samaria. He fled there from his persecutors, who probably would have second thoughts of going into the unclean land of the Samaritans. Most Jews would make a wide berth of Samaria while traveling north to Galilee or elsewhere, but Philip, as Jesus before him (John 4:1-4), went through Samaria to flee his persecutors.
Philip preached the Gospel to the people in a city there and the Samaritans believed, giving heed to what he said (Acts 8:5-6). This probably came as a surprise to the Apostles, considering the implication that the Apostles were sent to Philip (Acts 8:14) probably to investigate an anomaly and make a judgment accordingly. Nothing is said of their own preaching to the Samaritans until their return to Jerusalem from Philip’s mission (Acts 8:25). Therefore, the Apostles probably had not quite understood Acts 1:8 in the light of Matthew 10:5-7. They were more conservative in their approach to the Gospel than were the Hellenist Messianics of Acts 6 and beyond. Nevertheless, the Lord and King of the Kingdom is not restricted by our limitations. He worked with the Apostles in Jerusalem and also with the Hellenist Messianics as they were persecuted from city to city; and the Gospel was preached, and believers were multiplied in both environments.
What is interesting concerning the Samaritans is that they did not receive the Holy Spirit immediately after confessing their faith in Jesus. Why would that be? Some scholars try to make a difference between receiving the Holy Spirit and the gifts, saying it was the gifts that were not received here, while others believe that Philip was not empowered by God to do what the Apostles were able to do. I don’t see the difference between receiving the Holy Spirit and receiving the gifts that proceed from him. If the Spirit dwells within, then the believer has the gifts he is willing to impart. Neither do I believe that God put a difference between Philip’s preaching and the Apostles, after all, Philip didn’t have to call the Apostles to join him in the Ethiopian eunuch’s carriage, nor later as he evangelized the Mediterranean coast northward to Caesarea.
What, then, occurred in this city of Samaria? I believe the delay was a sign to the Samaritans. After all, one cannot erase centuries of bigotry with mere words. A demonstration of the truth was needed to show beyond all doubt that they MUST look to Jerusalem and not to Gerizim, and in looking to Jerusalem, it is the Apostolic Church and not Judaism where the truth lay (cp. John 4:21-24). The Samaritans had to understand very clearly that they must not look to their own traditions to know the truth about Christ but to the Jerusalem church. Therefore, when Peter and John arrived and prayed that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit, they didn’t receive merely the gifts, but they had their own Pentecostal experience. That is, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and gave them the gifts of the Spirit. This was a sign both to the Samaritans and to the Jews at Jerusalem. Both had to understand who the King was and what he demanded of those who yielded to him. In Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek (Samaritan), man nor woman, free nor slave, rich nor poor, (Galatians 3:29; Colossians 3:11).