Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

(Acts 8:14-16, ESV)

A fascinating pair of thoughts occurred to me once while considering the Samaritans’ reception of the baptism of the Spirit in Acts 8. They came to me by recalling the fact that the Jewish church was recognizing the validity of the faith of a group of people who were the Jews’ frequent rivals when they laid hands on them for reception of the Spirit, set alongside something that Jesus once said.

My initial thought was that the event in Acts 8:17 firstly hearkens back to the very discussion that Jesus had with the woman at the well in the Samaritan village, not many years before, about worshiping God through the Holy Spirit and drinking of living water (John 4:11). Jesus elsewhere associated imagery of drinking water with the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39) when he similarly invited his audience, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink(7:37, ESV). Drinking the water that Jesus supplies would result in living water flowing out of them by the Holy Spirit (7:38-39). In his discussion with the Samaritan woman, Jesus was inviting her to not depend on H₂O but rather upon the Holy Spirit, who would quench a deeper thirst for an everlasting kind of life within her. Jesus had also prophesied that such life, exemplified through worship in the Spirit and in truth, would become a reality for the Samaritans:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

(John 4:21-24, ESV)

The verb in verse 21 for worship is plural (προσκυνήσετε) indicating that the ‘you’ Jesus is speaking to is more generally the Samaritans, who he says will no longer worship in a specific place. Even so, quite possibly the same woman was among those who were baptized with the Spirit by the apostles in Acts 8, since it was not long after the events of the Gospels. Thus the reality Jesus spoke of was experienced by the Samaritans as he said.

Not only that, but secondly it is quite ironic how Luke in his previous account to Theophilus recorded that the same disciples/apostles who wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven to destroy some of the Samaritans (Luke 9:54) later ended up instead laying hands on them to in a sense “call down” (via petition) the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them (Acts 8:17; cf. 2:17-18, 33; 10:45) as evidence of their gracious acceptance by God. Luke shows quite a progression of the work of God in the hearts of the disciples over time to become agents of God’s will and desires and not merely of his raw power (fire). The Holy Spirit perfectly expresses the will and the power of God combined. The will of God is that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and the apostles had to overcome their prejudice to preach the gospel to them and lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. This must have been an amazing occasion of recognition and acknowledgement for the Jewish apostles of the power of God’s grace to give his Spirit even to the Jews’ enemies, because it was indeed the will of God and an experience that was part of the “good news about the kingdom of God” (8:12, ESV) that Philip preached to them. God’s kingdom is a pneumatological kingdom, and his people worship pneumatologically (by means of the Holy Spirit).

That is something which the early Jewish Christians were to be reminded of again in a major way in Acts 10 and 11 when they came to see how God extended the gift of his Spirit to even the Gentiles to graft them in to his New Covenant people for His name’s sake. As for the Samaritans though, because of the faithful work of the apostles who were themselves filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, the Samaritans were able to experience the reality that Jesus spoke about with the woman at the well: they were finally able to worship God in Spirit and in truth!