The trouble Saul and the others were making was ineffective in the end. Saul was setting out to destroy the church. He focused the persecution. But the more he did it, the more the Gospel spread. This was because those who were persecuted, and thus scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, planted the seeds of the Gospel everywhere.
Here is another interesting detail seen from the word “scattered” in verses 1 and 4. There are different words for “scattered” in Greek. One means dispersed so that the item is gone from that point on, like scattering a person’s ashes on the ocean’s waves. That is not the word used here. The word as used here means scattered in order to be planted. It is exactly like the Hebrew word jezreel. Jezreel means “scattered,” but it also means “planted.” It is what God did with Israel. He scattered the Jews throughout the world because of their sin, but he also brought them back and planted them in their land. So also here. The disciples were scattered as a result of the persecution. This is what the leaders intended. They wanted to get them out of Jerusalem, to break up their movement. Under Saul they did it with great vigor. But all they did by scattering the disciples was to plant them in the places to which they had been scattered, for there they “preached the word” (v. 4).
Is that true of you? Wherever you find yourself, whether scattered by work or family or education or some other means, have you considered yourself planted in that place? Have you put down roots and borne fruit for Jesus Christ? That is what these early Christians did. It is because of this activity that even the bad things that had happened to them—the persecution of the church—served to advance the cause of Christ. Later Paul would write, “We know that in all things God works for the good of them that love him” (Rom. 8:28). The persecution of the early church, even the stoning of Stephen, illustrates that principle.
The focus now shifts to Philip, the next in line of the distinguished deacons whose election was recounted just two chapters before. Stephen was the first great deacon. Now the mantle of his leadership passes to Philip, who actually begins the church’s Gentile mission.
Philip began his ministry in Samaria. That name should ring a bell in our minds because it was mentioned in chapter 1, where Jesus outlined His plan for the expansion of the missionary enterprise. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). When we were looking at that verse at the beginning of these studies, I pointed out that “Judea” and “Samaria” are probably to be taken together as embracing one region. The verse can be read as describing four regions: 1) Jerusalem, 2) Judea, 3) Samaria, and 4) the ends of the earth. But the best way to handle it is as referring to three regions: 1) Jerusalem, 2) Judea and Samaria, and 3) the regions beyond.
That is because of the way Luke unfolds the history of the church in Acts. Up to this point, that is, through the end of chapter 7, he has described the preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem. It had been effective. Thousands had believed. In fact, others had flocked into the city to be with the apostles and experience the healings that were taking place. Now, beginning with chapter 8, the Gospel expands to Samaria, and Philip becomes the instrument of the first great missionary outreach.