By Tyson Thorne

July 8, 2014

PhilipEthiopian large

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is that of Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8.26-.40). An angel sends Philip from Samaria south to Jerusalem (about 65 miles) and on to Gaza on the far southwestern shore of Israel (another 34 miles). Following Philips path is a journey of around 100 miles. Today that’s not such a big deal, but without planes, trains and automobiles that’s a considerable distance. Was it worth it? The journey was made so Philip could meet up with a single man, an Ethiopian man who besides being a eunuch, was also the treasurer of Ethiopia and apparently a Jew (He was in Israel to worship, according to verse 27).

That last detail about the Ethiopian is one of the most interesting. The Jewish Federation acknowledges a Jewish presence in Ethiopia as early as the fourth century AD. Here we find a Jew as a high ranking official in the African nation as early as the first half of the first century AD. Due to his position it is likely that a Jewish presence existed as early as 50 BC (being conservative) and possibly even a hundred years earlier. Some believe the first Jews migrated to Ethiopia as early as Solomon’s reign in 950 BC due to Solomon’s relationship with a mysterious woman known as the Queen of Sheba. While the Solomon connection isn’t proven, this passage can push back a Jewish community in Ethiopia to at least shortly before the Common Era.

While traveling in Gaza Philip see’s the Ethiopian’s chariot and is prompted by the Holy Spirit to catch up and make contact. The man was returning home so he would have been traveling south and away from Philip, meaning the deacon would have had to run across the barren landscape to catch up. Once there he hears the chariots occupant reading aloud a passage from Isaiah. Why he was reading aloud we’re not told, but it’s possible that he was reading to the chariot driver who may also have been Jewish (at least by belief if not by birth). Philip overhears and calls out to the chariot, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Apparently in good spirits, the man invites Philip into his chariot to explain it to him. The passage the man was reading was an easy transition to Jesus, the Messiah. The man not only believes, but stops at a watering hole and is baptized. Now the gospel would travel as far as Ethiopia. IT is at this point in the story things get truly amazing.

We’re told that as soon as the man was baptized “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away… [and] Philip found himself at Azotus…” It would seem that Philip was transported instantaneously to a city 60 miles to the north. This is unprecedented in all of Scripture. The only other references remotely like this is Enoch in Genesis 5 who “walked with God and then he disappeared because God took him away” and Elijah who was taken up in a whirlwind. Unlike the Old Testament instances Philip wasn’t taken by God to heaven, he was instead dropped off at Azotus where he continued to minister. Due to the ambiguity of Genesis, it is possible that Enoch was taken to another location on Earth where he lived out his remaining days, but there is no record. The easiest understanding of the passage, especially in consideration of the context, is that he was taken to heaven like Elijah.

We are told Philip continued to journey from Azotus to Ceasaria, a distance of about 53 miles, and stopping at every city along the way to tell everyone who would listen about Jesus. What an amazing man, and what an amazing life! Tradition holds that he settled in a coastal town in Turkey and headed a church there until his death.

Philips Journey

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