Church Growth During Persecution
Can anyone ever imagine that the early church would grow even amid persecution? Though many were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), the church continued to add followers. This was due to the faithfulness of believers to continually share the good news of the Gospel. Not even the rise in persecution, nor the scattering of people, stopped them from believing and witnessing for Jesus. The Life Application Commentary says, “After the martyrdom of Stephen, the Jews stepped up their persecution of the followers of Christ….Persecution scatters the believers…The persecution forced the Christians out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria.” Regardless of the intense persecution, the gospel continued to spread. The Bible says, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them Christ” (Acts 8:4).” As they went, they were preaching the Good News about Jesus. The gospel message was spreading like wildfire! Satan had attempted to defeat the young church, but all he did was encourage the spread of the gospel” (The Life Application Commentary). During persecution and ridicule, the testimony of Jesus spread, and the Church grew.
Saul was a religious man who approved of Stephen’s death. As one author puts it, “Saul proved to be a leader in this widespread campaign of intolerance and terror” (The Life Application Commentary). Because of his zeal, many looked to him as a promising young Pharisee and rising leader for the Jewish faith. Warren Wiersbe states, “Saul’s zeal for the law was displayed most vividly in his persecution of the church (Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:6). He believed that persecuting believers was one way of serving God.” Therefore, he took his duties seriously and began to search for those who proclaimed Jesus as Lord. Once he found them, he had permission to lock up any Christ-followers he found. However, his story does not end there; instead, God took this persecutor and used him in many ways for His Kingdom.
In Acts 8:9-25, the Bible tells us about a man known as Simon, who “previously practiced sorcery.” His magic skills were so good that he had “astonished the people of Samaria, claiming he was someone great” (Acts 8:9). One author puts it, “This is Christianity’s first sharp confrontation with the occult.” Similarly, Warren Peel says, “Simon was a man steeped in the occult who practiced real magic.” Essentially, he was becoming a person of great notoriety and popularity. He was using sorcery to wow and astonish people. Warren Wiersbe states, “The people were amazed at the things that Simon did and, therefore, they believed the things that he said. Moreover, they considered him ‘the great power of God.’” To best understand, “sorcery is literally magic arts,” meaning demonically influenced magic. (Believers Study Bible). In this regard, Warren Peel says, “The Bible affirms clearly the existence of supernatural , and gives many illustrations of how people successfully harnessed demonic power…” The type of magic arts Simon used only glorified himself. There was nothing “God-glorifying” about Simon’s magic show. Everything he did was to make himself great in the eyes of others. Furthermore, his “magic” was nothing compared to the power of the Holy Spirit living inside believers.
When faithful followers of Christ shared Jesus with the Samaritans, they listened to those sharing the Gospel. Warren Wiersbe says, “Simon started to lose his following as the Samaritans listened to Philip’s messages, believed on Jesus Christ, were born again, and were baptized.” The Bible says even Simon believed after seeing the great miracles (Acts 8:13). However, his heart was revealed to a discerning Philip.
Acts 9:31 explains the beautiful conversion of Saul from being a persecutor to being a witness for Jesus. Understandably, Saul’s background is quite interesting. “He was born a Jew, studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel (22:3), and became a Pharisee (23;6). He was also a Roman citizen, a right he inherited from his father (22:8)” (John MacArthur). Acts 9 describes him as the great persecutor of the Christian faith. He vehemently brought persecution against those who followed Christ. Act 9:1 continues by stating, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” He intended to bring “Christ-followers” to justice because he felt they were leading people astray. However, God had incredible plans for him. While on the road to Damascus, Jesus revealed Himself to Paul (Acts 9:1-9). Due to this, Saul was converted, baptized, and commences to preach Christ as Saviour. Moreover, after his conversion, Paul gives his life witnessing for Jesus, church planting, discipleship, and whatever he can do to bring glory to God and witness for Jesus.
The Believers Study Bible (Nelson Publishers)
The MacArthur Bible Commentary (John MacArthur)
The Wiersbe Bible Commentary : The Complete New Testament (Warren Wiersbe)