Acts 8:32‐Isaiah 53:7‐8


In the opening chapters of Acts, Luke is establishing the fact that the Name has
power and authority to save. This salvation does not only reach the Jews but it is being held
out to the Gentiles. The Ethiopian eunuch is an example of this reality. The Spirit uses the
Old Testament prophesies to stir questions in the heart of the Gentile, that cause him to
face the reality of the Messiah.

Context of the passage in Isaiah

The question continually arises in Isaiah: How can God’s promises to Israel come
true if they are so guilty of disobedience? Beginning in chapter 42 and spanning
through to 53, Isaiah declares that the suffering servant is the answer. All the guilt of
the people of Israel is laid on the Messiah (53:4‐6). The promises will be realized for
the Israelites because of the reality of the suffering servant and his redemptive
work. Isaiah describes who this suffering servant is and what he will do to become
the promise for the people of Israel and through them the world.
The final servant song in Isaiah 52:13‐53:12 discuss the nature of the
suffering servant. This last song is structured in a chiasm, with 53:4‐6 as the center
declaring that this servant is the sin bearer. Verses 7‐9 go on to clarify the nature of
this sin bearer.
The Servant is submissive. Isaiah uses the picture of a lamb being led to
slaughter and a sheep that is silent when sheared to describe the submission of
Christ. In contrast to the animal, the suffering servant knows what he is being led to
and is aware of what the outcome will be. “The servant maintains his self‐imposed
silence both as he goes and as he endures.” 9 As Paul writes in Philippians, “He
humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). Isaiah is
driving home the reality that “though he did not deserve to die he was willing to do
so.”10 This is ultimate submission.
The Servant is innocent. The servant’s innocence is captured in contrast to
the treatment he endured. Verse 8 states “from oppression and from judgment he
was taken.” Though there is debate on the exact meaning of this statement, the point
is that “his treatment was unjust from start to finish.”11
The Servant suffers injustice. Finally, because of this innocence, and the trial
and death that ensued, the outcome was completely unjust. Isaiah declares, “he had
done no violence” (53:9). Verse 8 begins this idea stating that “he was cut off from
the land of the living.” This cut off is a verb with an unbroken record of violence.12
Furthermore, the servant is cut off because of the transgressions of my people. Thus,
“the injustice is not that something has been done to him by a corrupt legal system,
but that he is suffering in the place of those who should be suffering.”13
The reality of the submission, innocence and injustice of the suffering servant
renders the death of this suffering servant a tragedy if it ends here.

Context of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch‐

Supernatural motivation (vs.26)

The scene opens upon Philip in chapter 8 and he is supernaturally directed
by God to “go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to
Gaza.” Luke uses the expression “the angel of the Lord” to stress the special
presence and activity of God.14 He uses this phrase in Acts 12:7 when Peter is
rescued from prison. In the Septuagint the phrase was used to describe a
supernatural messenger who manifested the divine presence to human
beings. 15

Ethiopian’s spiritual background (vs. 27)

The Ethiopian had been in Jerusalem to worship so it is evident that he was a
proselyte to Judaism. By making the journey to Jerusalem from Ethiopia he is
showing his dedication to the faith. Though his understanding of the faith is
minimal, he places weight on traveling to the land of this God he worships.
His questions to Philip in verses 32 and 34 also indicate that he was not well
versed in Judaism. He had many unanswered questions and had no instant,
easy answers. Though he is materially stable (8:27), he is spiritually hungry
as he reads through the book of Isaiah. Calvin also points out that his faith
was an open profession, as such a high ranking officer could not have
traveled so far in secret. 16

Ethiopian’s physical background (Isaiah 56:3‐4)

More than simply being a Gentile, the Ethiopian was a eunuch. Because of this
he would not have been able to enter into the temple to worship (Deut. 23:1).
His worship would have taken place in the court of the Gentiles (John 12:20).
He was unacceptable on a number of levels and his visit to Jerusalem must
have impressed this reality upon his hungry heart.

Isaiah 53 in Acts

Centrality of Christ’s suffering/humiliation to the gospel

In the context of Isaiah, this passage is solving a problem and answering a
question. In Acts, the passage leads up to an important question. The
Ethiopian eunuch is an outcast. He cannot worship fully. Even his trek to
Jerusalem does not render him pure enough to enter into the temple. His
questions no doubt continually abounded as he read through the book of
Isaiah. The Eunuch recognizes that the identity of the character described in
Acts is of utter importance. The final phrase “taken away” is also used in Acts
1:9‐11 to describe Christ’s exaltation. Therefore, it is implied that the
humiliation of the servant may lead to a hope for a different future. 17 The
Isaiah passage uses the phrase taken away which denotes a removal or
separation from in a final sense. It is first used in Genesis 3:23 when the Lord
sends Adam out to work the ground from which he was taken. However, the
New Testament realities add to this prophecy in a sense, creating an
undertone of hope in an otherwise tragic situation. Taken away does not have
to be final because in an ultimate sense it leads to exaltation (Acts 1:9‐11).
This is what the eunuch is hoping for.
The fact that Philip was able to use this Isaiah passage shows that he had an
understanding of the interpretation of the suffering servant. Philip can move
through Christ’s teaching about himself. Jesus had clearly identified himself
and his mission with the Servant of Isaiah 53. Mark 10:45 and Luke 22:37
declare this. 18

Parallel of Jesus’ use of Isaiah in Luke and Philip’s use in Acts

Luke creates a parallel between Jesus’ use of Isaiah in 22:37 and the
quotation in this chapter. In both Matthew and John, Isaiah is referred to in
accordance with Christ’s ministry of healing (Matthew 8:17 on 53:4, John
12:38 on 53:1). But Luke points out that this prophecy was fulfilled in the
passion of Christ. 19 Christ is indeed “taken away” but this results in ultimate

The Ethiopian’s ultimate question

This whole passage is structured in a chiasm and at the center we find the
ultimate question of the eunuch: “About whom is the prophet talking?” There is much
that he doesn’t understand, but he seems to know that all answers trickle down from
here. An understanding of this suffering and yet exalted one is central. Therefore the
Isaiah’s quote leads to this question. In Isaiah, words about the suffering servant
prophetically solved the plight of the Israelites. There were some who thought Isaiah
was pointing to his own suffering in the passage. However, the eunuch is hoping that it
is someone else, someone that more closely identifies with him. 20 The Ethiopian now
has the opportunity to understand more fully than Isaiah’s listeners ever could have
because the suffering servant had come.

Philip’s response

Philip tells the Ethiopian of Jesus. His speech is described by an “opening of his mouth”
which is parallel to Exodus 4:12 and Ezekiel 3:27. It is a divine opening. Just as Philip was
supernaturally prodded, he supernaturally answers. Jesus is the answer to the ultimate
question. Jesus is central to the passage. The good news is truly good to the Ethiopian. He is
not an outcast to Christ (Isaiah 56:4‐6). All things have been made new.

Conversion of the Ethiopian

The baptism of the Ethiopian externally declares what has internally taken place. It
identifies the eunuch with the body of believers. In Acts 2:38, conversion and baptism
occur consecutively. In doing so, the Ethiopian is both confessing his faith and repenting of
his sins.21 “To be baptized “in his name” means to be baptized “in connection with the
revelation he has made of himself,” the application of water (as instituted by him) placing
us into union with him by means of his name or revelation.”22 In accordance with
Ephesians 2:13‐14, “All the barriers are down, and so a eunuch, a black, God‐fearing
Gentile, is baptized.”23


As discussed above, this passage is making a major statement concerning the reality of
Christ’s work and how it impacts the Gentiles. First of all, it undeniably connects Christ to
the suffering servant of Isaiah. He is the Messiah. He is the ultimate answer. Furthermore, it
creates a link between the Old Testament Jewish prophecies and Gentile conversion. The
suffering servant is not only for the Jews but also for an Ethiopian and an eunuch.
9 Motyer, The prophecy of Isaiah.
11 Oswalt, The book of Isaiah.
12 Motyer, The prophecy of Isaiah.
13 Oswalt, The book of Isaiah.
14 The Expositor's Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1976).
15 Bruce, The book of the Acts.
16 Jean Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).
17 Abingdon Press, The New Interpreter's Bible.
18 Everett Harrison, Acts : the expanding church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975).
19 The Expositor's Bible Commentary.
20 Abingdon Press, The New Interpreter's Bible.
21 Harrison, Acts.
22 R Lenski, The interpretation of the Acts of the apostles (Minneapolis Minn.: Augsburg,
23 Darrell Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007).