About Jesus Steve Sweetman
This Section - Chapters 7
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.
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.
1 says, "Then the high priests asked him, (Stephen) ‘are these charges
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
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
in verse 2 the land known as Mesopotamia. This is the land that 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
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
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.
the Chaldeans in verse 4. They lived
in the eastern part of the
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
thing you might find interesting is that once Abraham got to
verse 6 Stephen says that Israelis would be slaves in a land that wasn't their
own for 400 years. The land was
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
verse 7 we note that Stephen said that God would punish
should note that prior to
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
that Joseph's other eleven brothers were jealous of Joseph.
It's just human nature.
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.
verse 11 we see that a famine struck all of
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.
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
verses 13 to 17 the story goes on. Jacob,
Joseph’s father, sends his sons into
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
verse 15 Stephen says that Jacob and the fathers of
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
Some suggest that Stephen is simply generalizing here.
Some suggest that Stephen is simply generalizing here.
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.
some who believe that the church has replaced
other aspect of possessing the Promised Land was that once
continues to tell the story of
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".
Egyptian history, there is no record of
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
verse 22 Stephen speaks of Moses being well educated 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
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.
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.
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.
verses 33 to 35 Stephen speaks of God rescuing His people from
verses 35 to 37 we see that the one the Jews rejected was God's choice to lead
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.
didn't really listen to Moses as
Stephen points out in verse 39. "They
rejected him (Moses) and in their hearts turned back to
verse 38 Stephen acknowledges that God was with Israel
in the desert.
verses 39 to 41 Stephen speaks of
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.
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.
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.
is saying that
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.
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)
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.
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.
prophetic quote goes on to say, "has not my hands made all things"?
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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The new believers were causing all sorts of problems for the Jewish
They were simply following in the steps of their Lord who had also
caused many problems for the same religious leaders.
verse 55 Luke goes on to say, "But Stephen full of the Holy
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
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
When one is truly filled with the Spirit it is for a specific
In this case, Stephen was filled with the Spirit in order to preach
the gospel of Jesus in front of a hostile audience.
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
We don't see Jesus standing much in heaven.
He's normally sitting at the right hand of God, but this time He's
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
We do know that at least with Paul, Stephen's prayer did have
Jesus helped Paul repent on the road to
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.