Why did the Samaritan believers not receive the Holy Spirit upon believing in Acts 8?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Absolutely, Acts 8:14-17 is most unusual: “[14] Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: [15] Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: [16] (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) [17] Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”

Some today take these verses to teach that after we trust Christ, we must obtain a “second blessing.” They say there is a mysterious, hair-raising “Holy Ghost” encounter to be experienced after the moment of salvation. Others will even go so far as to say that the Holy Spirit does not always immediately come to the believer upon faith in the Gospel of Grace. We can avoid all this confusion and disagreement if we just handle the Book of Acts as God designed it.

The events in Acts are not the standard way God always dealt with anyone or even how He deals with us today. Never forget that Acts is a transitional Book. Anyone who reads it in its entirety can see how it begins one way (chapter 1) and ends totally different (chapter 28). Why? God is gradually moving from Israel’s prophetic program to our (the Body of Christ’s) mystery program. The Dispensation of Law is fading and the Dispensation of Grace is rising. As for Acts 8:14-17, it does not concern us. It has nothing to do with the Lord’s current dealings with man. Though it is terribly abused, we do not have to fear it. We can learn from it if we are willing to hear it!

In short, Acts 8:14-17 is proof that the Samaritans must submit to Jerusalem. Why is this reconciliation even necessary? Samaria—central/northern Israel—had broken away from Judah (and capital city Jerusalem) after King Solomon’s death. Over 900 years prior to Acts, Solomon’s idolatry brought about this second course of chastisement (Leviticus 26:18-20). Study carefully 1 Kings chapters 11–12. The Northern Kingdom (frequently called “Samaria” or “Ephraim”) forsook David’s royal line and formed new dynasties of kings. Those 10 northern tribes were ultimately taken into Assyrian Captivity circa 722 B.C. David’s house continued ruling the Southern Kingdom, Judah and Benjamin, until the Babylonian Captivity beginning in 606 B.C. The divided kingdom—Israel (north) and Judah (south)—will be reunited under the New Covenant.

Look at Ezekiel chapter 37, God prophesying of the day when Israel and Judah would both again be merged under the political authority of the house of David: “[15] The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, [16] Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and for all the house of Israel his companions: [17] And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand. [18] And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? [19] Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.

“[20] And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. [21] And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: [22] And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. [23] Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. [24] And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.” (Notice especially verses 22 and 24.)

Like the Jews, the Samaritans were descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson (see John 4:4-6,12). However, the Samaritans were half Gentile by blood, the result of Jews and Assyrians intermarrying centuries before Christ. This explains the animosity between Jews and Samaritans that John chapter 4 highlights most vividly.

In Matthew chapter 10, when commissioning His 12 Apostles, the Lord Jesus said: “[5] These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: [6] But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The 12 Apostles were instructed not to preach to Gentiles—and that included Samaritans. Later, in light of the Holy Spirit being poured out in Acts chapter 2, Jesus changed those orders: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

With Acts chapter 8 opening, believing Jew Philip visits Samaria. He preaches Jesus Christ to them before Apostles Peter and John come from Jerusalem (pointing back to our opening passage and question). Philip preaching to Samaria is a rebuke to unbelieving Israel. Here, the despised Samaritans are trusting Jesus Christ and yet the full-blooded Jews are not! The Jews looked down upon the Samaritans because the Samaritans were part Gentile by blood. Samaritans being converted to Christ was God the Holy Spirit’s way of signaling to Israel that they—the full-blooded Jews—were most wretched (unbelieving).

Focus now on Acts 8:14: “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:….” Peter and John were Apostles of the Jerusalem Church. They were to be (and will be) the rulers of Israel in the ages to come (see Matthew 19:27-28). Israel here is the Northern and Southern Kingdoms reunited (the second course of chastisement reversed). All Jews—even the Samaritans—must surrender to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is “the city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35). The political revolt of the 10 northern tribes must be overturned. They will come back under the head of Jerusalem (the Davidic line). By the Samaritans allowing two of the chief Jerusalem Apostles to impart the Holy Spirit to them, the Samaritans demonstrate that they have returned to David. Here is a foretaste of the New Covenant, the agreement that will be inaugurated at Christ’s Second Coming (Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11:25-29; Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 10:15-17; Ezekiel 36:21-38)!

Also see:
» Who will be Israel’s King in the Millennium—Jesus Christ or David?
» Why does the Book of Acts end so abruptly?
» Could you explain Acts 19:1-7?