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ch. 7:1-54    ch. 7:54 - 8:1   

Stephen’s Speech To The Sanhedrin (ch. 7:1 - 53)

If you are just starting out reading the Bible and you want a brief history of the Old Testament concerning Israel, what Stephen says in this chapter is a good starting point to read.


Before we dig our way into this chapter I should point out that Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to distribute food to the poor widows, was just as educated and full of faith and power as the apostles.  What we see in Stephen here looks no different that what we've seen in Peter in the last few chapters.  It just goes to show that in church, those who have ministry in social matters are just as capable of teaching the Word as those who are called to teach the Word of God.  


Verse 1 says, "Then the high priests asked him, (Stephen) ‘are these charges true'"?  


In verse 2 Stephen begins his defense of the gospel by addressing those in the Sanhedrin as "men and fathers".  Stephen is respectful.  He calls those listening to him "men and brothers".  We should understand that these men are brother Israelis, not brothers in Christ.  Stephen does not respond to the specific accusation by saying "yes" or "no".  He is very much like Paul.  He starts from the beginning, with Abraham, and begins to build a case.  His defense begins with something the Sanhedrin would hold dear to its heart.  He speaks to these men as a fellow Jew about their common Jewish history and traditions of the fathers of   Israel. 


In verse 2 Stephen reminds the Sanhedrin of the "God of glory" speaking to their father Abraham.  Right away Stephen is associating himself with the Jewish leadership by speaking of their father Abraham.  In one sense of the word he is saying, "I am one of you" because we have the same fathers.  The fathers of Israel were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  


Note in verse 2 the land known as Mesopotamia. This is the land that the Tigris Euphrates River system encompasses.  This would include Iraq, Kuwait, parts of Syria, Turkey and parts of Iran.    


The event Stephen is speaking of in verse 3 is when God told Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a place where He would give him, that place being Canaan .   By this statement Stephen is honouring the God of Israel and Abraham, the father of Israel.  Surely those in attendance would be listening even more carefully with this introduction; possibly wondering where he might be going in his defense.  Right up front, Stephen is esteeming both the God of Israel and the father of Israel.  This is important because those who are opposing him believe that Stephen has forsaken the God of Israel, but that was not so, and Stephen was pointing this out.   


God told Abraham to leave his country and go to the place where God was leading him and his descendents.  This tells us something of the nature of God's people.  They are to be set apart as a people distinct and different from the world.  They belong to the Kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of the world.  It's this separation that Israel was to demonstrate in their national life, but seldom did.  God specifically on many occasions told Israel not to get involved with her pagan neighbours.  Israel often did just the opposite and for this reason was judged for doing so. 


The New Testament people of God, that is the church, should be as Israel was meant to be and that was a distinct society of people who are in stark contrast to the world.  If there is no contrast I question if there is a legitimate church.  When I use the word "contrast", I'm not speaking legalism, like the way one dresses or the style of music one plays.  I'm talking about how we think, the way we live, our stand for Biblical issues, our witness for Jesus, and so on.    


Note the Chaldeans in verse 4.  They lived in the eastern part of the Mesopotamia region.  This would be eastern Iraq and a part of Iran today.   


In verse 4 Stephen tells his listeners that once Abraham’s father died, he entered the land where the Sanhedrin and the rest of the Jews were now living in.   One thing you might want to note is that God told Abraham to leave his homeland and go to Canaan , but Abraham did not really do as God said.  Yes, he left his homeland, but he did not go to Canaan right away. He stayed in Haran until his father died, and after that, he went to Canaan.  There's been much discussion just why Abraham did this, but there is no common understanding on this point. 


Haran is in the northern Mesopotamia valley.


While in Haran , verse 5 tells us that God gave Abraham no land.  The verse seems to imply that once Abraham became a nation, then Israel would possess the land around Haran.  This has not yet been fully realized, but it will be when Jesus returns to earth.      


Another thing you might find interesting is that once Abraham got to Canaan, he did not stay.  There was a famine in the land and so Abraham left for Egypt.  Some suggest that Abraham could not trust God to keep him and his family through the famine.   


In verse 6 Stephen says that Israelis would be slaves in a land that wasn't their own for 400 years.  The land was Egypt.  Genesis 15:13 agrees with 400 years.  If you read Exodus 12:40 you will note that verse says that Israel would be enslaved 430 years, not 400 years.  Paul, in Galatians 3:17 also says 430 years.  Some suggest that the 400 years is a simple summery and not to be taken literally, but I question that.  Some suggest that only the last 400 of the 430 years were the Israelis ill treated.  Some people suggest that if you date the time when God speaks of Isaac in Genesis 21:12, they say it works out to be 400 years. We should note that Stephen most likely read from the Septuagint and apparently it says 400 years in the Septuagint.


Concerning the land that God promised Abraham, we should note that Stephen viewed this land as literal land.  He did not spiritualize it or interpret it to be anything else but literal land.  Stephen was not a Replacement Theologian who believed the literal  land of Israel was of no significance after the ascension of Jesus.  God promised land to Israel that would last forever. In the end, God will fulfill this promise to Israel.     


In verse 7 we note that Stephen said that God would punish Egypt for their mistreatment of Israel.  This punishment is all about the Abrahamic Covenant as seen in Genesis 12:1 – 3.  He that blesses Abraham, or Israel, will be blessed and he that curses Abraham, or Israel, will be cursed.  Egypt would be cursed when God punished them. 


We should note that prior to Egypt enslaving Israelis, when Pharaoh made Joseph second in command only to him, Egypt was greatly blessed in the midst of the famine.  This too relates to the Abrahamic Covenant.  Egypt blessed Israel, or, Pharaoh blessed Joseph.  Therefore, Egypt was blessed.    


In verse 8 Luke continues by saying that after God spoke these promises He explained to Abraham the necessity of circumcision. Then, finally Abraham had a son name Isaac.  Isaac in turn had a son name Jacob, who had twelve sons.  These twelve sons became fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. 


All of what Stephen is saying here was a history lesson that was well understood by those in the Sanhedrin.   Nevertheless the members of the Sanhedrin continued to listen to Stephen.  Maybe they wondered where he was going with this history lesson.


Getting back to circumcision in verse 8; it was meant to be an outward sign of God’s covenant.  It was a confirmation that one was a covenant person.  Some have compared it to water baptism as seen in the New Testament.  I'm not sure such a comparison is Biblical.  Some go to the extreme by using circumcision as proof of infant baptism. Because an infant was circumcised, and because they link circumcision to baptism, they feel infant baptism is valid.  That's a faulty connection.  Besides, only male babies were circumcised.  If you followed the same reasoning, only male babies should be water baptized, and, those who believe in infant baptism do baptize girl babies.  That makes no sense.  


Concerning the covenant found in Genesis 15, it is important to know that God did not make a covenant between Himself and Abraham.  He actually made the covenant with Himself.  Abraham was asleep during the covenant ceremony.  Therefore, since God made the covenant with Himself, it did not depend on Abraham or any human ability to fulfill the promises made in the covenant.  What God had promised in the Abrahamic Covenant would be fulfilled because it did not depend on man's faithfulness but God's faithfulness.  Thus, Replacement Theology is faulty at its roots.  God will fulfill his promise to Abraham and Israel as He promised.  These promises haven't been taken from Israel and given to the church.  If that were the case God would have been deceptive when he promised Abraham and his descendents certain things that He had no thought of giving Abraham.  


We now return back to Stephen.  Remember that his accusers were charging him with blaspheming the temple and the Law.  Here Stephen is pointing out his deep commitment to his Jewish heritage, so how could one call his actions blasphemy.


In verses 9 and 10 Stephen shifts his history lessen to the twelve patriarchs, and especially Joseph.  He tells the story of Joseph being sold as a slave to Pharaoh. Yet God gave Joseph much wisdom and Pharaoh took note of this and made him ruler of Egypt. 


Note that Joseph's other eleven brothers were jealous of Joseph.  It's just human nature.


Just in case you don't know, Pharaoh is not the name of the king of Egypt.  Pharaoh is a title.  It was just what Egyptians called their king. 


In verse 11 we see that a famine struck all of Egypt and Canaan.  This was a huge and massive famine.  It had to have been because if you look at a map, Egypt and Canaan take up much territory. 


Note that God's people suffered along with the pagans by this famine.  When God judges a nation, that doesn't mean his people won't suffer because they most likely will. 

Note in verse 12 there was grain in Egypt.  The reason for this was due to Joseph's fine leadership in Egypt.  He had saved up for a rainy day, and now it was pouring rain.  I see this storehouse of grain as being God's provision for Israel.  God placed Joseph into a position of power.  God blessed Egypt as a result, but now, God was beginning to judge Egypt.  God would spare Israel from the harshest of judgments.  Again, as I pointed out earlier, the good times Egypt experienced were in direct relation to Pharaoh making Joseph second in command.  It's the Abrahamic Covenant.  He that blesses Israel will be blessed.  Then, when Egypt began to persecute and enslave Israelis, Egypt lost her blessing and was cursed.  The same Abrahamic Covenant states that he who curses Israel will be curse.  


In verses 13 to 17 the story goes on.  Jacob, Joseph’s father, sends his sons into Egypt to see if they could buy food.  After a couple of trips to Egypt finally Joseph reveals who he really is and gives shelter and food to his family.


In verse 14 we have a bit of a problem.  Stephen says that there were seventy five members in Jacob's family.  The account that Stephen describes here is found in Genesis 46.  In Genesis 46:27 the text states that seventy people went to Egypt with Jacob, not seventy five as Stephen says here.  One thing we should note is the most of the disciples of Jesus read from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The Septuagint uses the number seventy five in Genesis 46:27, not the number seventy.  Stephen most likely read the Septuagint.  This may not solve your problem of how this discrepancy fits into the inspiration of Scripture, but it would explain why Stephen's numbers differ from our English text.              


In verse 15 Stephen says that Jacob and the fathers of Israel died in that country.  Their bodies were brought back to Shechem where Abraham had purchased a burial plot for his family. Shechem was in what we would call today northern Israel.


In verse 16 there is another problem.  Stephen says that Jacob was buried in Shechem alongside Abraham.  The problem is that Abraham, according to Genesis 23, was buried in Hebron, not Shechem. Some suggest that Stephen is simply generalizing here.


Note that verse 17 states that "as the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham …"  From this we learn that God does have a time table of events and He acts according to this time table.  The specific time table here is the 430 years spoken of earlier in this chapter.  See verses 6 and 7. 


For some who believe that the church has replaced Israel in God's prophetic history, they refer in part to verse 17 to back their point.  Stephen speaks of God fulfilling His promise to Abraham.  The promise was that Abraham and his descendents would return to possess the Promised Land.  We need to understand that Israel didn't get to possess all of the land promised at this time.  So, the promise wasn't fully realized. It has yet to be realized.  Therefore, Israel and her Promised Land is yet to come.   


The other aspect of possessing the Promised Land was that once Israel got their land, they'd keep it forever, and of course, forever hasn't happened yet, but it will. 


Stephen continues to tell the story of Israel ’s history by saying in verses 18 and 19 that a new leader of Egypt came along and "dealt treacherously" with God’s people.  Stephen therefore tells the story of Israel ’s escape from Egypt.  He tells the story of Moses, the man behind the Law.  The Law was commonly known as the Law of Moses, something extremely important to the Sanhedrin.  Here again, Stephen shows his respect for the Law of Moses and at the same time shows the Sanhedrin that he knows what he is talking about.


In verse 18 we see the term "another king".  For some Bible teachers this is significant.   There are two Greek words that can be translated as "another".  One means, "another of the same kind".  The other means, "another of a different kind".  The Greek word used here means "another of a different kind". 


In Egyptian history, there is no record of Israel being in Egypt.  Some liberal scholars then say that the Biblical account is not accurate.  In recent times archeologists have discovered a couple hundred year gap in Egyptian history when Egyptian records seemly were purposely destroyed.  History does tell us that for a period of time Semitic shepherd kings attacked and rule Egypt.  It was during this period that we have little record of Egyptian history.  Therefore, some say that when Stephen said "another king of a different kind" came to rule this was the first of the Semitic shepherd king.  He was therefore threatened by the large population of Jews in Egypt, roughly two million most likely.  He would have felt threatened because Jews were Semitic as well.        


In verse 20 Stephen speaks of Moses birth, his mother leaving him by the riverside, and his life in Pharaoh’s home.  He speaks of the time Moses killed an Egyptian and the time when he tried to reconcile two men of Israel over a dispute they had.  They told Moses, "Who made you ruler and judge over us"?   Little did these men know that God Himself would soon make Moses ruler and judge over them.  This is often the case in Jewish and Christian circles.  God raises up someone new, and the old guard rejects the new leader.  This is what was happening in Israel as Stephen was speaking.  God was in the process of raising up new Christian leaders.  They were the apostles that Jesus appointed.  The Jewish leadership would not recognize these new leaders. They viewed the apostles as a threat to their position of authority among Israelis. 


In verse 22 Stephen speaks of Moses being well educated in Egypt.  Egypt is often a symbol of the world in the Bible.  Moses was well educated in the ways of the world and God chose him to be one of the most important men in the Old Testament.  We cannot underestimate education, even if it's secular education.  In today's modern church we do underestimate good education, especially Biblical education. This has made for a very Biblically illiterate church.   


In verses 22 to 27 Stephen relates the incident where Moses rescued a fellow Israeli by killing an Egyptian who was trying to kill the Israeli.  Moses thought that people would then see that God was making him a leader among the Jews, but they didn't see this at all.  Again, that's often the case.  It doesn't matter what the new leader does, in the eyes of the old folk he's not their leader.


In verses 27 to 29 we see that the Jews actually thought that Moses was against them.  This resulted in Moses leaving his people.  This too is often the case. In Christian circles, the older Christians often drive the young enthusiastic Christians away, who by the way are the next generation leaders.  I've seen if happen.


In verses 30 to 32 Stephen recounts the story of Moses and the burning bush.  Over and over again in Old Testament times God reaches down to speak in dramatic ways to certain people whom He chooses.  Moses is yet another one of these men. This was an awesome event in the life of Moses.  


In verse 31 we note that Stephen understood the voice of the one speaking in the burning bush to be "the Lord".  In Jewish terms, "the Lord" was Yahweh.  In Christian terms "the Lord" is Jesus.  So, according to Stephen the One speaking to Moses was Yahweh who he believes is Jesus.  If those in the Sanhedrin caught this, they would have been furious.  Equating Jesus with Yahweh would have been punishable by death.


In verses 33 to 35 Stephen speaks of God rescuing His people from Egypt.  Israel 's time in Egypt was a time of testing, but testing has an end, and the end is God coming to His people.  This reminds me of the Great Tribulation that will take place at the end of this age.  This time of tribulation is meant to drive Israel to her knees in repentance, and when she finally does repent, as in the days of Moses, God will rescue His people.


In verses 35 to 37 we see that the one the Jews rejected was God's choice to lead Israel to freedom.  How often do we see this in what we call church.  The person who man rejects turns out to be the one God has chosen.  We see this clearly in the life of Jesus Himself. Note the word "angel" in verse 35.  Stephen says that the Lord spoke to Moses and here he suggests the voice was the voice of an angel.  What is happening here is that often you see the term "the angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament.  This term is understood by most scholars as pre-incarnate Jesus.  Therefore, the voice did come from the Lord.                     

In verse 37 Stephen quotes what Moses told Israel, "God will send you a prophet like me from among your own people".  Stephen doesn’t say it here at this point in his talk, but the prophet that Moses spoke about was Jesus.  Stephen is now subtly getting around to the climax of his talk and that is Jesus. 


Israel didn't really listen to Moses as Stephen points out in verse 39.  "They rejected him (Moses) and in their hearts turned back to Egypt”.  Many sermons have been preached on this phrase.  It is the tendency of man to always pull backwards to the life they once left for the sake of the gospel.  The world, as symbolized in Egypt, is always very tempting for God's people.  It certainly is today in our modern church.  The church today in many respects looks more like an organization of the world than what it should be as seen in Biblical terms.   


In verse 38 Stephen acknowledges that God was with Israel in the desert. 


In verses 39 to 41 Stephen speaks of Israel telling Aaron to make god’s for them to worship because they were tired of listening to Moses.  Israel preferred to create its own religion at that point, not unlike us today.  They made an idol and brought sacrifices to it instead of the living God.  As a result "God turned away and gave them over to the worship of heavenly bodies".  What Stephen says here sounds very much like what Paul says in Romans 1 and 2.  God will give us over to the lifestyle we want to live if we continue to reject Him.  He will turn His back on those who refuse to listen to the truth.


Israel was fed up with Moses and his leadership because things weren't going as they thought they'd go in the desert.  How typical this is.  We as Christians get saved and then things go wrong.  Many turn from Jesus at this point.  It's like the parable of seeds planted in different soils that Jesus spoke about.  The seed of the gospel gets planted but when hard times come, the seed is choked and the person falls from faith. 


Verse 42 speaks of God turning from the Israelis and handing them over to the gods of their own hands. The Apostle Paul speaks of this kind of thing in Romans 1.  We are bent on doing our own thing, worshipping the gods of our own hands, whatever they may be, God will hand us over to the way of life we have chosen.  The example that Paul gives in Romans 1 is the homosexual lifestyle, something that is very relevant today.   I believe the reason why homosexuality is on the rise is that God has given us over to homosexuality.  We've become what we've wanted.  Of course, we as a society will pay the price for our sin.   


In verses 42 and 43 we have another bit of a discrepancy between what Stephen says and Amos 5:25 – 27 that he quotes.  The problem arises over the names of certain Babylonian gods that vary from place to place.  Therefore, Stephen would have called them by one set of names while others would have used other names.  


Stephen is saying that Israel had become unfaithful to their God, even though they had every advantage.  The next advantage that Stephen mentions is seen in verses 44 to 47 and that is the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.  The ark was in the midst of Israel and although David wanted to build a permanent home for it, he didn’t get the chance.  Solomon, his son, was the one who built a solid structure for the ark. 


It is interesting that in verse 47 Stephen points out that it was David's idea to build a permanent house, a permanent structure, for the Lord, which took place in Solomon's time.  The tendency of man to build such a permanent structure is always with us, whether it be a building or a denomination.  The original intent might be noble; to glorify God, but usually it ends up glorifying the men or the organization who built the structure.    


In verses 48 to 50 Stephen comments on the temple.  For the most part so far he has been commentary free.  He has been simply stating the facts.  He now makes a comment by saying that "the Most High does not live in houses made by men".  As usual he quotes from the Old Testament to back up his point.  "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me"? (Isaiah 66:1-2) 


You might remember that Stephen had been accused of two main things.  One was speaking against the Law of Moses and the other was speaking against the temple.  What he just said could easily been interpreted as speaking against the temple.


While growing up in the Evangelical church I often got the feeling that my parents' generation believed that God lived in their church building.  One reason for this was because they called the building "the house of God".  The other reason was that they reverenced the building so much that you had to whisper in the main auditorium that they called the sanctuary.  This mentality for the most part faded away with my generation of Evangelicals.  Buildings that were once called "the house of God" have now become multi-functional buildings where we eat, play basketball, along with a variety of other activities. 


The prophetic quote goes on to say, "has not my hands made all things"?  Of course, God doesn't have hands as we know hands in human terms.  He is spirit.  That being said, this should be the stance of all Christians.  We do not believe in evolution as Darwin taught it.  We believe that God has created all things, thus, all things belong to Him and He can do what He wishes with all things.   


The history lesson ends in verse 50.  Stephen now shifts gears and begins to direct specific comments to those in the Sanhedrin.   In verse 51 he says, "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears.  You are just like your fathers. You always resist the Holy Spirit".


Stephen had just shown the Sanhedrin that all through Jewish history their fathers wandered from the truth.  They could never continue to follow their God, and now these men who sat before Stephen were no different than their forefathers, and Stephen in no uncertain words let them know just that.  Remember, Stephen was called to distribute food to the poor Christian widows, but look at him now.  He's being a teacher of the gospel, a teacher of Jewish history, and now, he's being a prophet of God.  What he is saying here is no different that all the Old Testament prophets spoke in days gone by.  This goes to show us that despite your number one ministry, we all have the ministry to teach the gospel and speak prophetically.    


The words that Stephen spoke to the Sanhedrin were harsh words.  He did not hold back.  The Sanhedrin "was resisting the Holy Spirit".  They were also very upset with Stephen. 


Note that Stephen spoke of the Holy Spirit, not of God or not even of Jesus.  He is technically right, for it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to the hearts of men.  When you refuse to listen to God, you resist the Spirit of God.  The Jewish leadership at this time would certainly not believe that a man like Stephen would be speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Those in the Sanhedrin would not also believe that the Holy Spirit Stephen was speaking about really was the Holy Spirit. 


The Holy Spirit’s presence in the believer’s life is something new to them.  That is to say, an ordinary person could not have had the Holy Spirit living inside of him prior to Acts 2.  This too would be a reason why Stephen would mention the Holy Spirit. 


In verse 52 Stephen goes on to say that the Jews killed the prophets of old, who prophesied about the "Righteous One", and when the Righteous One actually came to earth, the Jews killed Him as well.  Stephen is like Peter.  Both men, and probably the rest of the believers, kept on stating that the Jews killed Jesus.  They would not let this die.  They were not being politically or culturally correct.  They didn't care about such correctness.  They only cared about speaking the truth of the gospel.    


In verse 53 we see the last thing that Stephen said to the Sanhedrin.  He said, "You who received the Law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it". This was it, the end of Stephen's message.  The Sanhedrin would not let him continue any farther. 


You might remember that at the beginning of this session of the Sanhedrin Stephen was accused of two things.  They were that he spoke against the temple and the Law of Moses, and, in one sense of the word, at least from the viewpoint of the Sanhedrin he did.  He ends his message with stating that God doesn't live in temples made by men.  He was telling those before him that God did not live in their temple.  Then here at the very end of his message he speaks of the Law of Moses that he says those in the Sanhedrin never obeyed.  These were fighting words.  It's no wonder what we see happening in the next few verses took place.   




The Stoning Of Stephen (ch. 7:54 – 8:1)  

Verse 54 says that the Sanhedrin was furious and gnashed their teeth at Stephen.  This was not the first time we have seen the word "furious" used in connection with the Sanhedrin's approach towards Christians.  The new believers were causing all sorts of problems for the Jewish establishment.  They were simply following in the steps of their Lord who had also caused many problems for the same religious leaders.       


In verse 55 Luke goes on to say, "But Stephen full of the Holy Spirit…"  Here is another time in the book of Acts where the expression "being full of the Holy Spirit" is used.  As in every other case when this phrase is used, something dramatic happens.  This case is no exception.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn't a spiritual drug to make us feel high.  When one is truly filled with the Spirit it is for a specific purpose.  In this case, Stephen was filled with the Spirit in order to preach the gospel of Jesus in front of a hostile audience.   


Luke says that when Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit he looked up into Heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  This is miraculous.  We don't see Jesus standing much in heaven.  He's normally sitting at the right hand of God, but this time He's standing.  He's waiting for Stephen to come up to be with Him.  Stephen must have been totally overwhelmed at this point.  I can't begin to imagine what went through Stephen's heart and mind.  In front of him was and angry, hostile group of men who was ready to kill him, and, just above him is Jesus, getting ready to receive him into His presence.


In verse 56 Stephen says, "Look, I see Heaven open and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God".  I doubt if the Sanhedrin saw what Stephen saw, but I can say for sure that Stephen saw Jesus, and because Stephen uses the word "look", I wonder if he thought that others saw what he saw.  I don't believe that those in the Sanhedrin saw Jesus standing or else they would have responded differently. Again I note that Jesus was standing at the right hand of God.  He was not sitting as we usually see Him.  He was eagerly waiting for Stephen to arrive in heaven.    


This totally drove the Sanhedrin crazy.  They could not take this nonsense any longer.  In verse 57 we seem them covering their ears and yelling at the top of their voices at Stephen.  They all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.  Stoning was the lawful method of execution for such sins.  The Sanhedrin, a highly respectable and educated group of men have now turned into an angry mob.


In verse 58 Luke says that "the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul".  This is probably in reference to the Old Testament Law that stated if a man is accused of a crime, there needs to be two or three witnesses come forth with evidence.  If it is proved that the man is guilty, these witnesses are the first ones to start stoning the accused.  This is probably the case here.


We now have the first mention of the Apostle Paul, or Saul as he was known at this point in time.  Soon his name would become the predominant name in the book of Acts, taking over from Peter. 


Luke simply says that Paul was a young man.  I gather from this that Luke was older than Paul.  He was a doctor, so I believe that would make him older as well.  Just how young Paul was, we don't know.  One thing we do know is that Paul saw the first Christian martyr being murdered.  I just wonder what kind of affect that had on him.  From his standpoint, Paul might well have been proud to see this take place, or so I think.  Remember, soon after Stephen's execution Paul had received permission to go out and arrest with the intent to execute Christians far and wide.     


Verses 59 and 60 say, "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’.  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them'".


Stephen died in the presence of Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit. What a way to die.  His graciousness can be seen in his prayer for his murderers. 


At this point we should take note that Stephen's stoning by the Jews was clearly against Roman law.  Jews could legally punish people for disregard for their laws, but execution was not permitted.  Only the Romans could execute someone.  Therefore, what the Jews did here was illegal.  You might wonder how they got away with this.  I'm can't say for sure, but from time to time the Jews did execute those who broke their laws.  They might well have gotten away with this because the capital Roman city for Judea was in Caesarea.  Caesarea, and the governor, was far enough away that he might not have heard of the execution or didn't want to come to  Jerusalem to deal with the problem.  All we know for sure is that the Jewish leaders were so infuriated that they risked Roman reprisal by breaking Roman law.          


A question should be asked at this point.  Since Stephen prayed that his murderers that their sin shouldn't be held against them, was this sin forgiven?  That was Stephen's prayer, but I don't believe God forgave his killer's sin that they committed against Stephen that day.  True forgiveness only comes about when one truly repents of sin.  Stephen's prayer could be answered when God would help his murders come to genuine repentance.  If Stephen's murderers refused such help, their sin wasn't forgiven.  We do know that at least with Paul, Stephen's prayer did have results.  Jesus helped Paul repent on the road to Damascus and Paul's sin of aiding in Stephen's death, along with all of his sins, were forgiven.  Beyond Paul's conversion to Jesus we don't know if there were any other witnesses who came to Jesus, but there might well have been some.  It's my thinking that there were others, maybe many others, who came to Jesus because of Stephen's death.  I can't see God wasting a good opportunity to bring people to Jesus, and, this was a good opportunity.  History often shows us that the martyrdom of the saints brings salvation to many.     


Does God always deliver people from bad situations into a place of safety?  Some people say that if you are living right and have faith nothing bad will come to you , and that God will deliver you at all times.  Well, in one sense of the word God did not deliver Stephen.  Stephen was killed.  In another sense of the word God did deliver Stephen.  He sent him to heaven.  Jesus is with those who have handed their lives over to Him.  He's with them every step of the way, yet the outcome of one's steps isn't always as nice as we'd like.  Jesus does allow us to go through some very tough times in our lives.  Experiencing a painful death from rocks being hurled at his head was not a pleasant experience; was not a nice way to die, even if he did end up in the arms of Jesus. 


In chapter 8, verse 1; we note that Saul "approved" the stoning of Stephen.  Over the years I've heard some say that the stoning of Stephen touched the heart strings of Saul and would eventually lead him to Jesus.  I don't see this as being the case and I believe the word "approved" proves this.  I believe that the stoning of Stephen drove Saul on to action.  It motivated him to arrest all of the Christians he could find.  I'm sure that after Saul, or Paul, met Jesus, Stephen's stoning took on a much different meaning for him.  He would have felt so bad about his approval of Stephen's death.    

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