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The Defense of Stephen and His Death.
Stephen refers to the call of Abraham:
v. 1. Then said the high priest, Are these things so?
v. 2. And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken: the God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,
v. 3. and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee.
v. 4. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Charran; and from thence, when his father was dead, He removed him in to this land, wherein ye now dwell.
v. 5. And He gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on; ye the promised that He would give it to him for a possession and to his seed after him when as ye the had no child.
The charges having been preferred, the president of the Sanhedrin, the high priest, gave Stephen permission to answer upon them. And Stephen opens his speech of defense with a respectful address to the judges, some of whom were of his own age and station, and thus might well be called brethren, while others were venerable with age, and thus should be called fathers. The very first words of his speech make it clear that he intends to correct some prevalent notions. The glory of God in the cloud of the covenant, the so-called Shechinah, was not confined to the Tabernacle or to the Temple, but the God of glory, the Possessor of the unlimited divine majesty, revealed Himself also at other places, just as it suited His purposes. It was thus that He appeared to Abraham while the latter was still living in Mesopotamia, in Ur of the Chaldees, before the entire family moved to Charran, or Haran, Genesis 11:31; Genesis 12:1. In Charran, Abraham had received the command of the Lord to leave both his country and his kindred, and to move to the country which even Terah had had in mind before his death. So Abraham, at that time Abram, had completed the removal to the land of Canaan, where he lived as a stranger among the Canaanites, not having so much as where he could place his foot to call his own. It is true, indeed, that both Abraham and Jacob had small parcels of land in Canaan, but they had them by purchase, not by God's gift, and Abraham was even obliged to buy a burying-place for his wife, Genesis 23:1-Proverbs :. Thus the promise of God to Abraham that he, and his descendants after him, should have the land as their possession, at a time when he did not even have a child of his own, required a very strong faith.
The promise to Abraham:
v. 6. And God spake on this wise, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.
v. 7. And The nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God; and after that shall they come forth, and serve Me in this place.
v. 8. And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs.
For Abraham the promises of God provided one trial of faith after the other. Long before he had a son, the Lord told him that his descendants would be enslaved in a strange land, where they would be kept a matter of some four hundred years, Genesis 15:13-Nehemiah :, the exact number being given in other passages of Scriptures, Galatians 3:17. Incidentally, however, there was comfort for Abraham in the fact that God promised to judge, to speak the condemning sentence upon, the cruel masters, in order to bring His people out eventually to serve, to worship Him in this place, in Jerusalem, Exodus 3:12. Still later God gave to Abraham the covenant and the rite of circumcision, as the first sacrament of the Old Testament Church, and when finally Isaac was born, he was received into the covenant by this rite. And so, in due course, Jacob was begotten, and finally the twelve patriarchs, the sons of Israel.
The story of Jacob and Joseph:
v. 9. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him,
v. 10. and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
v. 11. Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Canaan and great affliction, and our fathers found no sustenance.
v. 12. But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first.
v. 13. And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.
v. 14. Then sent Joseph and called his father Jacob to him and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls.
v. 15. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he and our fathers,
v. 16. and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulcher that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor, the father of Sychem.
The account moves forward with the same interesting, graphic force as before, and is just as skillfully abridged. The brothers of Joseph were jealous of the favor in which his father held him, and in a fit of envy sold him to the Midianitea and thus, through them, into Egypt, Genesis 37:4; Genesis 11:28. But here again, as Stephen emphasizes, God was with Joseph, delivering him out of all his misfortunes and tribulations, which befell him also in the land of his bondage, and giving him both favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Hebrew slave, unknown a few hours before, was made the ruler of Egypt and the manager of the king's house as well. Then came the famine, striking not only Egypt, but Canaan as well, and causing great suffering, making not only the ordinary bread scarce, but all food made of corn. But the news having been brought that Egypt was provided with grain for food, Jacob sent his sons down there for the first time, Genesis 42:1. At their second coming Joseph made himself known to his brethren, a fact which also made the family and the origin of Joseph known to Pharaoh. It was then that Joseph sent to fetch his aged father to Egypt and his entire relationship. Stephen here does not speak in opposition to Genesis 46:27, where only seventy souls are mentioned, but follows the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the so-called Septuagint, which is thus substantiated by the Spirit of God. For by taking the number seventy-five, the text follows the manner of the Genesis account, and includes the two sons of Manasseh, the two sons of Ephraim, and the grandson of the latter. Jacob, having removed to Egypt, died there in due time, and all his sons died there as well. By a special request and promise which Jacob had taken from Joseph with an oath, his body was taken to Canaan and buried in the cave of the field of Machpelah, Genesis 50:13. This cave Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite, Genesis 23:16. Jacob had purchased a parcel of ground from Emmor, or Hamor, the father of Schechem, after whom the entire countryside was named, Genesis 33:19. There Joseph was buried, and very probably all the other sons of Jacob as well, Joshua 24:32, as Jerome, who lived in Palestine in the fourth century, reports. Thus the two accounts are contracted into one in the brief account of Stephen.
The birth and youth of Moses:
v. 17. But when the time of the promise drew nigh which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt,
v. 18. till another king arose which knew not Joseph.
v. 19. The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.
v. 20. In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father's house three months;
v. 21. and when he was cast out, Pharaoh's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son.
v. 22. And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.
After the death of Jacob, of Joseph, and the patriarchs, the sojourn of the children of Israel in Egypt was pleasant enough for several centuries. But even as, in the same degree that, the time of their stay according to God's promise was drawing to a close, the people grew and became plentiful in Egypt. Their rapid increase corresponded to the rapid approach of the time set by God. This remarkable growth was in accordance with the promise given to Abraham by God. This continued until a different king arose in Egypt; a new dynasty was established by conquest. The new Pharaoh very naturally neither knew of, nor cared about, Joseph and the blessing which he had brought to the land of Egypt, being concerned far more about the rapid multiplying of the strange people occupying a very desirable part of the country. So he hit upon a scheme which was certainly a wise stratagem from the standpoint of the Egyptians, although it resulted in an evil treatment of the children of Israel, in afflictions of all kinds, whose culmination, in a way, was the order to cast into the Nile the children, all the boys that were born to the Israelites, in order that they might not be preserved alive. It was when matters had come to this point that Moses was born, in conformity with God's plan of deliverance for the Jews, as the words of Stephen indicate, for he was exceeding fair, fair to God, in the judgment of God; his was not only an extraordinary bodily beauty, but the indications of unusual mental endowment were very favorable. For three months his mother kept him hid and nourished him, gave him all the care that a child should have. And when she finally did expose him, it was, by the direction of God, at a place where Thermuthis, the daughter of Pharaoh, found the child, took him up out of his little vessel, and nourished him to be her own son. She practically, if not actually, adopted him. And in his capacity as the foster son of the princess, Moses enjoyed unusual advantages, and Stephen here supplements the Old Testament account. Moses was brought up, taught, educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, very probably attending their great schools of learning corresponding to our modern universities, thus receiving a mental training which was second to none in the world of those days. Note: This thorough training afterwards stood Moses in good stead, for it was true then as it is now that all the arts and sciences in the world shall serve the one greatest science, theology, and the preaching of the Gospel. The result, in the case of Moses, certainly justified all efforts made in his behalf, for he was mighty in words and deeds. He was full of vigor and energy in carrying forward any project, even if he may have been lacking in facility of expression, Exodus 4:10. What he lacked in grace and polish he more than compensated for by depth and power. Herein Moses is a model for all men whom God has placed in positions of leadership in His Church.
Moses attempts to deliver his people:
v. 23. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.
v. 24. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian;
v. 25. for he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them; but they understood not.
v. 26. And the next day he showed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?
v. 27. But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?
v. 28. Wilt thou kill me as thou didest the Egyptian yesterday?
v. 29. Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Midian, where he begat two sons.
The events narrated in Exodus 2:1-Lamentations : are here briefly reviewed. The entire training of Moses under the direction of his foster-mother may well have taken until he was almost forty years old, since many years were devoted to the study of mathematics, natural philosophy, and medicine, in all of which branches the advance made by the Egyptians is little short of remarkable. But he must have been fully aware of his parentage during this whole time, for his own mother had been his nurse and had undoubtedly imparted to him the promises of the Lord and the prophecy concerning the deliverance of His people from the bondage of Egypt. When Moses therefore had turned forty, the thought arose in his, heart to look upon, to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. It can hardly be assumed that he had at that time received any revelation from the Lord as to his future position among his enslaved brethren, although there was a Jewish tradition which stated that Amram, the father of Moses, had received some intimation from God that his son would be the leader in the deliverance of the Jews. Upon this occasion, Moses saw that one of his brethren was being ill-treated, and he promptly sprang to his defense. He wrought speedy justice and revenge for the oppressed by killing the Egyptian that had transgressed his authority. Note: The act of Moses in this instance was not a murder, for he was an Egyptian prince with absolute power over life and death, and he is nowhere in Scriptures censured for it, but it was a rash act, since he had no right to anticipate the providence of God simply because of his personal belief in the divine destiny of Israel. The effort of Moses was premature and unauthorized. He supposed that his brethren understood that God was giving them salvation, deliverance through his hand, but they did not understand; they resented the interference of the prince of Egypt as unwarranted officiousness. When he therefore tried to reconcile two quarreling Israelites the next day and attempted to establish peace by gently rebuking them: Men, you are brethren, why do you wrong each other? he was met by a decided rebuff: Who has established thee as a ruler and judge over us? Far from rising under his leadership and striking for liberty, his countrymen rejected all his offers with vehemence and even aided in making public his effort in their behalf. So Moses fled and became a stranger in the land of Midian, out in the wilderness, where he was married to a native girl and became the father of two sons, Exodus 2:22; Exodus 4:25; Exodus 18:3-Deuteronomy :. Moses fled from Egypt because he had nothing to hope for from his own people and also because his life was no longer safe. Many a matter which in itself is altogether praiseworthy is undertaken upon man's own initiative without success, but the same thing is afterward, at God's time, carried to a successful conclusion. Zeal not according to knowledge may do almost as much harm as dilatoriness and procrastination.
The call of Moses:
v. 30. And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.
v. 31. When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,
v. 32. saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.
v. 33. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet; for the place where thou standest is holy ground.
v. 34. I have seen, I have seen the affliction of My people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.
When forty years were fulfilled, after Moses had lived forty years in the wilderness near Mount Sinai, known then also as Horeb, a strange experience befell him. The angel of the Lord, Exodus 3:2, the angel in the special meaning of the word, indicating the revelation of the Son of God in the Old Testament, appeared to him in a flame of fire of a bush, in a thorn bush that seemed all aflame. The phenomenon caused Moses to wonder and to draw nearer to consider the matter closely. And then the voice of the Lord came to him out of the bush, designating Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Moses, now thoroughly terrified, did not so much as dare to look closely or to investigate the miracle. But the Lord immediately gave him his charge, bidding him first of all to unlace his sandals, since the place where he was standing was holy ground. And then, with all solemnity and impressiveness, came the call of the Lord itself: Seeing I have seen (I have had more than sufficient evidence of) the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have heard their sighing, and I have come down to set them free; and now, come here, I shall send thee into Egypt. What Moses had hoped for and had attempted to carry out without success in his own power, was now to become a fact by God's will, according to His promise. It was now a matter of God's appointment, not of man's choice, and therefore of God's almighty power to back up the call. With God's call to rely upon, with God's command and promise clear, every servant of the Lord may set out with cheerful trust in the assured success of his venture.
Moses the deliverer:
v. 35. This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.
v. 36. He brought them out after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness forty years.
For the sake of characterizing the Jews and emphasizing his point that they had always been a disobedient and obstinate people, Stephen here represents the whole nation as being involved in the first rejection of Moses. They had denied, had refused to acknowledge him as much as a ruler and a judge; but God, in taking the matter in hand, had made him not only the leader, or ruler, but in addition had given him more than the functions of a mere judge: He had sent him as their deliverer, with the helping and protecting hand of that Angel to assist him that had appeared to him in the bush. And Moses had performed his work as deliverer well. He had led the Israelites forth out of Egypt, after having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, as a judgment upon Pharaoh, just as he continued performing them at the Red Sea and during the entire journey through the wilderness which lasted forty years. The very person whom the Israelites had rejected and practically delivered up into the hands of Pharaoh to be slain was the one person by whom they were redeemed from their Egyptian bondage. The application to the parallel case of Jesus, which Stephen probably had in mind, may readily be made.
The disobedience of the Jews:
v. 37. This is that Moses which said unto the children of Israel, A Prophet shall the Lord, your God, raise up unto you of your brethren like unto me; Him shall ye hear.
v. 38. This is he that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the Mount Sina and with our fathers; who received the lively oracles to give unto us;
v. 39. to whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,
v. 40. saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us; for as for this Moses which brought us out of the land of Egypt we wot not what is become of him.
v. 41. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands.
With the progress of his speech of defense, the impassioned fervor of Stephen's arguments increases. He is preaching the Law, and he does not intend to soften its sledge-hammer blows by any alleviating circumstances until he has brought out his point properly. It was Moses, he once more reminds his judges, that referred to, prophesied, concerning another prophet, like unto himself, chap. 3:22, demanding that they should yield obedience to Him, Moses thus being a supporter of the claims of Christ. It was Moses, again, who, in the midst of the congregation or assembly of the children of Israel in the wilderness, alone enjoyed the personal acquaintance and intimacy of the great Angel of the Lord that had spoken with him at Mount Sinai before, and who now, as the almighty God, spoke to the entire assembled nation. It was Moses, once more, that received the living words, the lively oracles or sayings from the mouth of God to give to the people. The laws of the Jews were not intended to be a dead letter, like the communications which the heathen priests claim to receive from their gods, but they possess vital power and efficacy. But in spite of all these express manifestations and witnesses of God to confirm the call of Moses and establish his position among the people, the Israelites, the fathers of the present race, as Stephen remarks, did not want to be obedient to Moses, but repelled, rejected him, and turned their hearts toward Egypt. They demanded of Aaron that he make them some sort of gods who might hereafter be considered their rulers and leaders through the wilderness, for Moses tarried so long on the mountain that they did not know what fate might have overtaken him, as they flippantly remark. And so they, through the hands of Aaron, who proved their willing tool, in those days made the figure of a calf, and brought burnt offerings before their idol and rejoiced, found their great pleasure and happiness, in the works of their own hands. The irony of Stephen is intentional, since one of his charges is that the Jews of his day also placed their trust in externals and expected to be saved by an outward observance of customs and ceremonies, many of which they had invented themselves. There is always danger, especially in a church that has been established for some time, of a dead orthodoxy, of a clinging to external forms although life has departed.
God's rejection of His people:
v. 42. Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, 0 ye house of Israel, have ye offered to Me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness?
v. 43. Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
Stephen here supplements the account of the Pentateuch, of the books of Moses, with a passage from the Prophet Amos, chap. 5:25-26. After this flagrant exhibition of disobedience, God turned from His people. It was a form of His judgment that He permitted them to go on in the way of idolatry; it was a curse upon their hardness of heart that He gave them up, abandoned them; to the worship of the host of heaven, to star-worship as it was practiced in Egypt, Chaldea, and Phoenicia. Of this Amos had written: Did you really offer slain beasts and sacrifices to Me for the forty years in the wilderness? As though He would say: How could they possibly have been real and effectual and acceptable, as long as the people's affections were far from the Lord, bound up in the worship of idols? And therefore the Lord answers His question Himself. While the Israelites were pretending to be interested in the true worship only, the very Tabernacle of God, as a matter of fact, became to them a tabernacle of Moloch, of the Babylonian deity that was worshiped by many heathen nations, and with Revolting customs, Jeremiah 32:35; Leviticus 18:21. And thus also the Israelites had carried along with them a figure of their star-god Remphan, which seems to have been the Assyrian name for the planet Saturn. Such figures they served, giving to them the worship which was due to God only. And therefore the punishment of God's rejection came upon them, who had them carried away, taken into exile, not only beyond Damascus, as the prophet had written, but even beyond Babylon, as Stephen here adds from the evidence of history. It was God's condemnation upon an idolatrous nation, a lesson for all ages of the world.
The Tabernacle and the Temple:
v. 44. Our fathers had the Tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He had appointed, speaking unto Moses that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.
v. 45. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;
v. 46. who found favor before God, and desired to and a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
v. 47. But Solomon built Him an house.
v. 48. Howbeit, the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, as saith the prophet,
v. 49. Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool; what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord; or what is the place of My rest?
v. 50. Hath not My hand made all these things?
Stephen takes up the recital of the various houses of worship among the Jews with a purpose, since he wants to show that the dependence upon the forms of external worship are vain without true faith of the heart. That advantage the children of Israel in the wilderness had: they had the Tabernacle of the witness, where God Himself appeared and witnessed unto Himself. They had made it just as God, in His long conversation with Moses, Exodus 25:40, had shown and commanded him. Moses had seen the pattern and plan of the entire tent and of all its appointments, and so it was made. And this same Tabernacle, the charge of which had been given to the people by Moses, they brought along with them as they entered into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua, when they occupied the former possession of the Gentiles. For the latter the Lord gradually drove out, expelled, before the children of Israel during a number of centuries, at the time of the judges and of Saul, until the time of David, the beloved of the Lord. At his time the conquest of the country was practically completed, the nations that had not been destroyed having been brought into subjection. David then, since he had found favor with God and was regarded very highly before Him, not only earnestly desired, but even asked to find, to build a lasting tabernacle to the Lord; and if the Temple had actually been of the value placed upon it by the later Jews, it might have been expected that God would have given His consent. But the Temple was not built by David, but by Solomon, 2 Chronicles 6:7-1 Samuel :, But Stephen wants his hearers to remember that the presence of the highest God is not confined to any building, even though it were of the size and beauty of Solomon's Temple. The builder of the first Temple had himself confessed as much, 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18. And the Prophet Isaiah had written in the same strain, ( Isaiah 66:1 -. Heaven is to Me a throne and the earth a stool for My feet; what manner of house will ye build to Me, saith the Lord, or what place for My resting? Has not My hand made all this? The absolute foolishness of the Jews in pinning their faith to the Temple which had taken the place of Solomon's, and upon the city in which it had been placed, could not have been brought out with greater force than in these words. The entire worship of the Jews had degenerated to become a mere observance of forms and customs, without life and true power. And Stephen had sketched the situation with a few strong, but fitting words, in order to present it to the eyes of his judges as it actually existed.
v. 51. Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.
v. 52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers;
v. 53. who have received the Law by the disposition of angels; and have not kept it.
Stephen had now reviewed the whole history of the Jews, showing in what manner they had at all times acted toward the Lord and the leader whom the Lord had given them, relying rather upon outward forms and ceremonies, connected with a visible sanctuary, for a justification before God. Stephen's just indignation therefore reaches its culmination at this point of his recital. Boldly he tells his judges that they are stiff-necked, obstinate, refractory, unwilling to listen to reason, Exodus 33:3-Deuteronomy :; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6. And in addition to that, they are uncircumcised both as regards heart and ears, Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 6:10; Ezekiel 44:7-1 Samuel :. These were severe terms of reproach and contempt, placing the leaders of the Jews in a class with the heathen nations and with the apostate Jews. This severe denunciation Stephen corroborates by the charge that they were always, continually, resisting the Holy Ghost, literally throwing themselves in His way, against Him, thus shutting off the working of His grace in their hearts. The Holy Spirit wanted to convert also these enemies of Christ, He was giving them every evidence of His gracious will toward them by having the Gospel preached before them for such a long time; but they deliberately, willfully, refused to listen to His call. And herein they were following their fathers, of whose disobedience and obstinacy Stephen cited a number of cases. Every one of the ancient prophets the Jews had persecuted in one way or the other, and those that proclaimed in advance concerning the coming of the Righteous One they had killed. The prophets foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, the Just and Holy One, and their reward, at the hand of their countrymen, was death. And the spirit of these ancestors was yet alive, for those that were sitting in the Council to judge the present case had become the betrayers and murderers of this same just and holy Christ. And not only that, but Stephen declared that the very Law which was their boast, which they had received by the disposition of angels, probably in this manner, that the Lord spoke through the mouths of angels in proclaiming the Law on Mount Sinai, this Law they had not kept. Thus Stephen, in a burst of magnificent eloquence, preached the Law to these hardened hypocrites of the Sanhedrin, in order to work in them a true knowledge of their sin which might lead to repentance and faith. Note: The sermon of Stephen admonishes us Christians to be mindful of the great blessings of God under the new dispensation, lest we also become indifferent and then callous, and finally resist the work of the Holy Ghost.
The glory of God revealed to Stephen:
v. 54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
v. 55. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
v. 56. and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
Stephen's speech was probably not finished as he had intended, but the increasing impatience and the murmuring of his hearers did not permit him to conclude in such a way as to bring Jesus into greater prominence. For the indignant words of the accused cut the judges to the heart, literally, sawed asunder in or to their hearts. In uncontrollable anger they gnashed on him with their teeth, thus cutting off every further attempt to deliver his speech properly. But Stephen was here given a special grace, a manifestation of the Holy Ghost's power, which caused him to disregard and forget his surroundings altogether, and a revelation of God's glory such as has been vouchsafed to but few people. He firmly fixed his eyes upward to heaven and there saw the glory and majesty of God and Jesus standing at God's right hand, as though He were making ready to assist and to receive His servant, as one commentator has it. In a burst of ecstasy, Stephen testified to that which his eyes beheld by special grace of God. The Son of Man he called Jesus, the Redeemer, who, according to both natures, has gained a perfect redemption for all men. Note: Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, is ready to receive with open arms of love all those that rely upon the salvation earned by Him. Where He is, there shall also His servants be. He wants to receive them into His kingdom that they may see His glory and the glory and majesty of the Father. Thus the believers are, through the merits of Christ, taken from this vale of tears to their heavenly home.
The stoning of Stephen:
v. 57. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
v. 58. and cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet whose name was Saul.
v. 59. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
v. 60. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
The last announcement of Stephen, concerning the vision which was granted to him, raised the anger of the judges to a perfect storm of fury. That this man should receive such bliss before their very eyes caused them to forget dignity, justice, humanity, all the virtues of which they usually made their boast. They cried out with a loud voice, in order to drown out any attempt of Stephen to make himself heard in the resulting din and confusion. They held their ears shut tightly lest another word from his hated lips find entrance there. They rushed upon him with one accord, like a maddened herd of cattle over which all control has been lost. They cast him forth out of the city and there stoned him. This proceeding did not have even a show of right. It was against all the rules of the Jewish criminal law, It can in no way even be called an execution; it can be described only by the word "murder," committed by an infuriated mob, in violation of all law. And yet the mob retained enough sanity to observe some forms of the Law, such as taking the prisoner out of the city and also requiring the witnesses to begin the stoning. It is expressly stated that the witnesses, in making ready for their murderous attack, laid down their outer clothes at the feet of a young man by the name of Saul. As for Stephen, he died the death of a true Christian martyr. While the stones were flying around him, and after he had been struck, he called loudly upon his Lord and God, in the person of Jesus, the Savior. His first prayer was that the Lord Jesus, the exalted Christ, would receive his spirit. And having thus committed his soul into the best safekeeping, he let his last sigh be an intercession for his murderers. Sinking down upon his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, which may, at least to one of those present, have sounded in his ears for years afterward: Lord, do not charge to them this sin. And then he calmly fell asleep in his Savior. Thus Stephen became the first martyr of the Christian Church. Since his time thousands of Christians have been martyred for the sake of the name of Jesus. And their death teaches a lesson, namely, that of cheerfully sacrificing temporal possessions and fortune for the sake of the Lord. In the end we gain everything that a reward of mercy can bestow upon us, heaven itself with all its glories. "Lastly, there is here a fine comfort that St. Stephen here sees the heavens standing open, and that he fell asleep. Here we should mark that our Lord God stands by us if we believe, and that death is not death to them that believe. Thus you have pictured here in this story the entire Gospel faith, love, cross, death, and life."
Stephen delivers an eloquent speech of defense, which angers the members of the Sanhedrin so that they cast him out of the city and stone him.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Acts 7". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent