1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Chapter 8 begins with Saul’s (Saul who became Paul, Acts 13:9) persecution of the church. Verses 1-3 transition from Stephen’s death to the spread of the gospel to other regions.
Now Saul was consenting to his [Stephen’s] death.
Saul supported the council’s action to put Stephen to death and became a fierce enemy of the church. Later, this man became a flaming missionary for the cause of Christ.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem;
The phrase “At that time” (that is, the death of Stephen) shows the formal timing of persecution in Jerusalem of the church.
and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria,
With the persecution of believers in Jerusalem, the church was “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria,” where they spread the gospel. The word “scattered” is the Greek word diesparesan, which means to disperse. The root idea of this word is to sow seed (Mt 6:26; 13:3-4, 18; 25:24, 26; Lu 8:5). The dispersal of believers to other regions was like sowing seeds of the gospel to other regions.
The word “all” probably refers to the idea that all the leaders of the church fled Jerusalem except for the 12 apostles.
except the apostles.
The 12 apostles remained in Jerusalem.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial,
Although the church was under great persecution, believers gave Stephen a traditional and proper burial.
and made great lamentation over him.
The “great lamentation” may have been a public protest by believers over Stephen’s death.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church,
Saul aggressively persecuted the Jerusalem church. The word “havoc” means to lay waste. Saul attempted to destroy the church by laying it waste; he did not desire simply to disturb the church but to kill its effectiveness (Acts 22:4f; 26:10f; 1 Co 15:9; Ga 1:13, 23; Php 3:6; 1 Ti 1:13). This Saul, who later became Paul, would suffer for Christ extensively (2 Co 4:8-12).
entering every house,
Saul went from house to house to arrest those who worshiped Jesus the Savior. He was systematic in his destruction of the church.
and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Saul targeted both men and women, putting them in prison (Php 3:6).
God uses persecution to spread the gospel.
God’s sovereign spread of the church to different geographical regions was His way of fulfilling the great commission to other areas of the world. There was no formal plan to reach the Samaritans; it was the burning conviction of believers to share their faith. A “movement” in missions occurs when people share their faith person-to-person without direction from a hierarchy supervising them. A movement philosophy in missions does not preclude organization and planning but manifests genuine Christianity in action.
The great early church father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.”