JOHN 4 and ACTS 8
Why does the Lord forbid His 12 apostles to go to the Samaritans in Matthew 10, and yet He Himself deals with them in John 4? And what is going on with the Samaritans in Acts 8?
Briefly put, the background to the Lord’s actions in John 4 is found primarily in the doctrine of Ezekiel 34 through 37, along with Hosea, Zechariah, and other places.
In these places God describes among other things the reversal of Israel’s second course of punishment spoken about in Leviticus 26. This particular course of punishment and chastening saw the breaking of the pride of Israel’s power by means of the division of the nation into two. The reversal of this situation would come to pass at the end of the fifth and final course of punishment, and with the establishment of the kingdom. And this is one of the things prophesied about, for example, in Ezekiel 34-37. In view of this, the prospect of the joining of “Judah and the children of Israel his companions” together with “Joseph and all the house of Israel his companions” is a part of the good news of the “gospel of the kingdom.” And as such it too needed to be understood and appreciated when the Lord was in Israel. It needed to be acknowledged when the climactic stage in Israel’s program had arrived, and when the “gospel of the kingdom” was being preached.
Hence it is for this reason in particular that the Lord stops where He does as related in John 4, when as it says, “he must needs go through Samaria” on His way to Galilee. (Notice that it is not without significance that the account points out that the Lord “left Judaea” and when in Samaria He comes to a city called Sychar, which is near to the parcel of ground that Jacob “gave to his son Joseph.” The issue of the clear citation regarding Judah and Joseph is not just coincidental.)
Now God’s program with Israel indeed calls for “Judah and the children of Israel his companions” to be dealt with first, just as is set forth in the prophets. This was also set forth by the Lord when He concluded the commencement stage of His ministry and then commissioned His apostles, (e.g. Matthew 10:1-7ff; Acts 1:8). However during the commencement stage of His ministry the Lord did something that fell within His unique province to do, and that was to confirm the particular promise made unto the fathers concerning the reversal of the division of the nation. And this He did by doing what is related in John 4. This is why He dealt with the Samaritans on this occasion in the commencement stage of His ministry, but when commissioning His apostles regarding their role for the remainder of the program forbid them to deal with Samaria until Jerusalem and Judaea had been dealt with first.
It was not the apostles’ role to “confirm the promises made unto the fathers”; that was the Lord’s job, so to speak. And the promise regarding what was set forth back in Ezekiel 34-37, for example, He confirmed in John 4 by stopping in Samaria, dealing with the woman at the well and those that came out from Sychar, and having the issue of Him being Christ made manifest to them.
Now concerning the Samaritans of Acts 8 — The issue of God having Philip, and then Peter and John, deal with the Samaritans as recorded in Acts 8 is highly significant. For it pertains to the issue of God making it evident that Israel’s program was not continuing on as was expected following the conclusion of the events of Acts 1-7.
Acts 1-7 records things that transpired during the time of the extension of God’s mercy and forbearance to Israel following their rejection of Christ and before the scheduled beginning of the Lord’s day of purging and avenging wrath. As Psalm 110:1 stated, and as Peter declared in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, with the Lord having ascended back to the Father He would sit at His Father’s right hand “until I make thy foes thy footstool.” During that time while sitting, God would “give repentance to Israel.” And as the record of Acts 1-7 sets forth, this is just what He did.
Now in connection with all of the testifying of the 12 apostles and the abundant signs that they performed, God gave three specific and distinct honest opportunities for Israel’s leadership to repent concerning the reality of who Jesus of Nazareth is.
However as the account sets forth, Israel’s leaders spurned each of the three opportunities. And as Acts 7 sets forth, having spurned the third and most pointed of the three opportunities, God gave testimony to them through Stephen that the time of mercy and forbearance was over.
As Stephen both saw and announced, the Son of man was no longer sitting at the Father’s right hand, but was now “standing.” The time therefore had come for His foes to be made His footstool. The time had come for the Lord to begin to administer His day of purging and avenging wrath.
In accordance with the prophetic program and its schedule of events, what was scheduled to take place next was the issue of the Lord speaking unto Israel in His wrath and then beginning to “vex them in His sore displeasure” with the judgments of His day.
However as Acts 8 and following goes on to show, what was prophesied, scheduled, and expected to take place, did not begin to happen. The Lord did not begin to speak unto Israel in His wrath, nor did any of the judgments of His day begin to transpire. Instead completely unexpected things began to happen. Things that were clearly not in accordance with how Israel’s program was expected to progress. Things, therefore, which began to indicate first and foremost that God’s program with Israel was not continuing on as had been expected. And one of the first indications of this is what Acts 8 records regarding God dealing with the Samaritans.
Since the Samaritans were not scheduled to be dealt with until Jerusalem and all Judaea had been dealt with first, (and the completion of this would not be taking place until some time within the Lord’s day), obviously something unusual was happening for God to have Philip preach Christ to “the city of Samaria” as related in Acts 8. That God was doing it could not be denied. But it also could not be denied that God was not doing what had been expected.
Now the reality of there being a number of unusual happenings occurring at this time is just what Acts 8, 9, 10 and following relate. And this, once again, is all designed to testify to the fact that God’s program with Israel was not proceeding on as expected. Something was afoot.
Simply put, God for some reason began operating differently at the very time when the final installment in Israel’s program was expected to begin. What He was doing and why He was doing it was not immediately made known. But that He was doing something unexpected was readily apparent, with the issue of the Samaritans being dealt with before their time being one of the first clear indicators of this.
Of course we now understand and appreciate what God was doing. God revealed exactly what He was doing and why He was doing it to Paul, the brand new apostle that He raised up at that time as recorded in Acts 9. And as we now know through Paul’s epistles, Israel’s program did not continue on as expected because God temporarily suspended it. And in connection with doing so, He brought in this present unprophesied dispensation of His grace for us Gentiles. A new dispensation for the creation of a “new creature,” the church the body of Christ, for the purpose of fulfilling “the mystery of Christ” which God had kept hid in Himself since before the foundation of the world.
– K.R. Blades