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Acts 7

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Verses 1-53

Act 7:1-53

STEPHEN’S DEFENSE

Acts 7:1-53

1 And the high priest said,—Stephen’s defense, at first view, is a condensed outline of Jewish history from the call of Abraham to the temple. It will be observed that in all the prominent periods of their history God did not confine himself to the Holy Land, nor to the temple; he appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, to Joseph and Israel in Egypt, to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai; hence, God’s glorious appearings to their fathers were outside of the land of Canaan, and before the temple had an existence. “The high priest” presided over the Sanhedrin; the council had felt uneasy for some time, as the history of the church reveals; its members had felt for a while quite satisfied on the death of Jesus, but when his resurrection was preached and proved so conclusively by the testimony of the apostles, and when the church had multiplied in such great numbers, the Sanhedrin now was most uncomfortable. The high priest asked Stephen with regard to the charges that the council made against him: “Are these things so ?” This is mild language, more so than that addressed to Christ. (Matthew 26:62.) His question to Stephen was equivalent to the question: “Guilty or not guilty?” This gave Stephen the opportunity to make his defense.

2 Brethren and fathers, hearken:—Stephen addressed the council in a very respectful way; he included the bystanders as “brethren,” and the council as “fathers.” Paul made a similar address. (Acts 22:1.) “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham” before he dwelt in Haran. Stephen begins by calling Abraham “our Father,” and the narrative proceeds to set forth the successive steps of God’s dealing toward them under the Abra- hamic covenant. No vision is recorded in the Old Testament of God’s appearance to Abraham in Mesopotamia, but it is implied, as it is said that God brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees. (Genesis 11:31 Genesis 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7.) In Genesis 12:1, Abram is said to have been called after he dwelt in Haran. “Mesopotamia” is the region between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

3 and said unto him, Get thee out of thy land,—Stephen here gives the divine instruction which is given in Genesis 12:1. Abraham was called out of Ur with the special object of removing him away from the influence of his idolatrous surroundings. His people served other gods there. (Joshua 24:2.) He was to leave his native land and his kinspeople and go into a land which Jehovah would show him. He was not told where he should go; and “by faith Abraham . . . went out, not knowing whither he went.” (Hebrews 11:8.)

4 Then came he out of the land—Abraham left Mesopotamia and took with him his father Terah and Lot; they dwelt in Haran about five years. Terah was seventy years old when Abram was born (Genesis 11:26); and Abraham was seventy-five when he left Haran (Genesis 12:4). Then Terah would have been one hundred forty-five years old at that time; but Terah lived to be two hundred five. (Genesis 11:32.) Thus it is supposed that Terah must have lived about sixty years after Abraham started for Ca-naan. There are several explanations offered, as Stephen refers to Terah’s spiritual death by relaxing into idolatry. However, the most satisfactory explanation is that critics wrongly assume Abram to be the eldest son of Terah, whereas he may have been the youngest, and Haran, who died in Ur, may have been the eldest, or even Nahor.

5 and he gave him none inheritance in it,—Abraham did not get the land for a living possession; it was promised to him for his heirs; he bought a burial place for his wife Sarah. (Genesis 23:20 Genesis 50:13.) This gave him no right of possession to live there. He buried his wife in the cave of Machpelah; this was his only possession. This promise was made to Abraham that his seed should inherit the land even before Abraham had an heir. (Genesis 12:7 Genesis 13:15-16.)

6 And God spake on this wise,—These promises were made to Abraham while he had no child, that “his seed should sojourn in a strange land.” This sojourn should result in their bondage and evil treatment for “four hundred years.” It was God’s plan to delay the fulfillment of the promise. The four hundred years may be stated in round numbers as in Exodus 12:40-41. Paul says that the law came four hundred thirty years after the promise (Galatians 3:17); so that the four hundred thirty years of Exodus 12:40 probably included the patriarchs’ residence in Canaan (Genesis 15:13-14; Exodus 3:12).

7 And the nation to which they shall be in bondage—This nation was Egypt. God said that he would judge this nation, and this was done when he told Moses from the burning bush that Israel should come out of Egypt and serve him “in this place,” meaning Mount Horeb. Thus the council was reminded that Israel was to worship Jehovah in Sinai, and not alone in the temple, nor alone in Canaan.

8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision:—“The covenant of circumcision” was the covenant that God made with Abraham to give his posterity this land. The seal or sign of this covenant was circumcision; it was the covenant marked by circumcision. (Genesis 17:9-14; Romans 4:11.) The covenant of circumcision was given the year before Isaac was born. (Genesis 17:21.) “The eighth day”—each male child should be circumcised on the eighth day. Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs, or sons of Jacob, were circumcised.

9 And the patriarchs, moved with jealousy against Joseph,—“Jealousy” here comes from the original “zelosantes,” which means “to burn or boil with zeal, and then with envy.” (Acts 5:17.) The brothers of Joseph were excited to envy against him because of Jacob’s partiality toward him. (Genesis 37:3-4.) They sold him into Egypt. (Genesis 37:25-28.) However, God was with him. (Genesis 39:2 Genesis 39:21.) Stephen is merely giving an outline of the story which occupies much space in Genesis.

10 and delivered him out of all his afflictions,—For a record of this, see Genesis 41:38-45 Genesis 41:54. God was with him in all of his afflictions in Egypt, and finally elevated him “before Pharaoh king of Egypt.” He was finally made governor over Egypt and all of Pharaoh’s house. “Pharaoh” is not a name of a king, but a title, the Egyptian title meaning “a great house.”

11 Now there came a famine over all Egypt—Here another stage in the history is noted as part of the same plan of providential development in the case of the covenant people. The famine is recorded in Genesis 41:54; it was very severe. Stephen reaches the climax by saying, “Our fathers found no sustenance.” Notice that Stephen continues to speak of “our fathers,” which identifies him with the council and all who were present. “Sustenance” is from the original “chortasmata,” and means “to feed with grass or herbs.” In the New Testament it includes food for men and animals, but in Genesis 24:25 Genesis 24:32 it is fodder for the cattle, a first necessity for owners of herds of cattle.

12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt,— Jacob heard that there was “grain” in Egypt. The Greek for corn or grain is “sitia,” and means grain, such as wheat and barley, but not our maize or Indian corn; it is an old word for provisions, victuals. Jacob remained in Canaan while ten of his sons went into Egypt the first time.

13 And at the second time Joseph was made known—While Joseph was ruler over Egypt the famine occurred; he controlled the distribution of the grain; he had been in Egypt many years and his brothers did not recognize him and he did not make himself known unto them the first time. The second time Joseph was made known to his brethren, and Pharaoh assisted Joseph in making arrangements to bring his father into Egypt.

14 And Joseph sent, and called to him Jacob—Genesis 45:17-21 gives an account of Joseph’s sending for his father; Jacob, with all of his kindred, “threescore and fifteen souls,” went down into Egypt. Stephen counts some grandchildren of Joseph and so makes it seventy-five, whereas Genesis 46:26 has sixty-six, and then the next verse makes it seventy, including Jacob and Joseph with his two sons.

15-16 And Jacob went down into Egypt;—Jacob went into Egypt and lived there seventeen years and died; his body was brought out of Egypt and buried in the cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried, and where he had buried Leah. Abraham had bought the cave of Machpelah as a burying place from Ephron the Hittite at Hebron (Genesis 23:16); while Jacob bought a field from the sons of Hamor at Shechem (Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32). Abraham had built an altar at Shechem when he entered Canaan. (Genesis 12:6-7.)

17-18 But as the time of the promise drew nigh—The promise here referred to may be that made to Abraham in Genesis 12:7, “Unto thy seed will I give this land”; or it may refer to the one recorded in Genesis 15:16, “And in the fourth generation they shall come hither again.” “The people grew and multiplied in Egypt,” and prospered until “there arose another king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.” This “Pharaoh” did not remember with gratitude nor acknowledge Egypt’s obligation to Joseph. Stephen may have quoted from Exodus 1:8 at this point.

19 The same dealt craftily with our race,—“Dealt craftily” is from the Greek “katasophizomai,” which means “to make wise, to become wise, then to play the sophist”; however, in the New Testament it is used to mean “to use fraud, craft, deceit.” Pharaoh required the children of Israel to “cast out their babes to the end they might not live.” It seems that Pharaoh, besides the command to cast every infant son into the river Nile, treated the Hebrews with such rigor that, through dread of training up any children to endure their own hard lot, they in some instances abandoned their daughters also to death. The purpose and plan of this king was to keep the nation of Israel from multiplying and growing stronger; hence, he required the parents to abandon their children and let them die. (Exodus 2:2-3.) Pharaoh was afraid that the Israelites would multiply so fast and become so strong that they would rebel against the Egyptian king.

20 At which season Moses was born,—Amram of the tribe of Levi and the family of Kohath married Jochebed and had at least two children before Moses was born, Miriam and Aaron. It is not known whether these children were born before the king’s decree was issued; but it is known that Moses was born while this decree was in force and his mother, Jochebed, refused to obey the king’s orders and preserved Moses because he “was exceeding fair.” He was nourished at home for three months in defiance of the new Pharaoh’s orders.

21 and when he was cast out,—Jochebed, after nourishing him for three months in her own house, made preparations for him to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter with the hope that she would spare the child. Pharaoh’s daughter came down and found the child and “nourished him for her own son.” Stephen had been accused of blaspheming Moses; he refutes the charge by reverently rehearsing the history of Moses, and also shows how God guarded all these changes; this emphasized the proof that his providential care would now, as in the past, overrule all the changes to advance his kingdom.

22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom—Moses was “mighty in his words and works,” which refers to his later life; he said of himself: “Oh, Lord, I am not eloquent, ... I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (Exodus 4:10.) The priestly caste in Egypt was noted for its knowledge of science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics; this reputation was proverbial. (1 Kings 4:30.) It was said of Jesus that he “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (Luke 24:19.) Jesus was a prophet like unto Moses. (Acts 3:22.)

23 But when he was well-nigh forty years old,—Moses was forty years old at this time; Exodus 2:11 says that “when Moses was grown up,” and Hebrews 11:24 says “when he was grown up.” The Jews understood this to mean forty years which he had spent as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; then he was in Midian forty years; then forty years in the wilderness, making his age one hundred twenty years. “It came into his heart” to visit his brethren at this time when he was forty years of age; we are not told how he was impressed with the thought of delivering his brethren from Egyptian bondage at this time.

24-25 And seeing one of them suffer wrong,—While down in the land of Goshen visiting his brethren he saw an Egyptian, presumably a taskmaster, smiting one of his brethren, and Moses slew the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. (Exodus 2:12.) He may not have intended to kill the Egyptian, but having done so, he concealed his body in the sand. He “went out the second day” and “two men of the Hebrews . . . striving together” (Exodus 2:13), and rebuked the one that was in the wrong. He thought that his brethren “understood that God by his hand was giving . . . deliverance” to the children of Israel. They did not understand; neither is there anything said in Exodus about his intentions at this time. God intended to deliver them by the hand of Moses, but Moses was not prepared at this time to become their deliverer; neither was this the way that God would deliver them.

26 And the day following he appeared unto them as they strove,—Here Moses attempted to establish peace between two of his brethren, but they did not understand his intentions. Stephen knew that they were familiar with the history. As they were of the same race, and both under oppression, it was not in harmony with the relationship for them to be fighting among themselves; some think that there is implied here the fact that they should reserve their strength to contend together against the common enemy.

27-28 But he that did his neighbor wrong—The one that was in the wrong resented the correction and reminded him what he had done to the Egyptian. A record of this is found in Exodus 2:14. It does not appear that Moses assumed any authority over them; it seems that they should have understood what Moses was doing and should have been in sympathy with him. However, Moses saw that what he had done to the Egyptian was known, and that his brethren would not accept him as their deliverer.

29 And Moses fled at this saying,—When Pharaoh heard what Moses had done, “he sought to slay Moses.” (Exodus 2:15.) Moses became a sojourner in the land of Midian. “Midian” was a son of Abraham by Keturah. (Genesis 25:2.) His descendants occupied the region extending from the eastern shore of the Gulf of Akabah to the borders of Moab on the one side, and to the vicinity of Sinai on the other. Here he married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian. (Exodus 2:16-22.) He had two sons by Zipporah, born while he was in Midian.

30 And when forty years were fulfilled,—Moses sojourned in Midian in the region about Mount Sinai forty years. While there, an angel appeared to him and summoned him by the signal of “a flame of fire in a bush.” This corresponds with the statement in Exodus 7:7 that Moses was eighty years old when he appeared before Pharaoh, and one hundred twenty years old when he died. (Deuteronomy 29:5 Deuteronomy 31:2 Deuteronomy 34:7.) The angel appeared to Moses at the end of the forty years’ sojourn in the land of Midian.

31-32 And when Moses saw it,—A flame of fire in a bush would not excite wonder; but if the flame kept on burning and the bush was not consumed, it would excite attention. (Exodus 3:2.) Moses approached the bush to discover the cause of this wonder. When he did so, a voice was heard, saying, “I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.” This is the way that God called him; Moses thus further becomes acquainted with God. When Moses heard the voice, he “trembled, and durst not behold.” It was a fearful thing to stand in the presence of God. The angel here is termed Jehovah himself; the angel was a messenger of Jehovah.

33 And the Lord said unto him,—Jehovah told Moses to take off his shoes as he was standing on holy ground; Jehovah was represented there by the angel and the bush that was aflame. Moses was in the presence of God; hence, he should remove his sandals. It was considered an act of reverence to remove the shoes; this is still considered an act of reverence in the eastern country. We remove the hat as an act of respect and reverence. They removed their sandals.

34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people—This is what Jehovah said to Moses as Moses stood there in reverence for the presence of Jehovah. (Exodus 3:7.) God had seen the affliction of his people; he saw how they were treated by the Egyptians. He had foretold this suffering. (Genesis 17; Nehemiah 9:9; Psalms 106:44-45; Isaiah 63:7-14.) Here Moses is directed as a leader to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. Stephen is honoring Moses in all of the history that he recites.

35 This Moses whom they refused, saying,—Here Stephen emphasizes that this Moses who was rejected forty years previous to this time now has the command to go back to Egypt and deliver Israel from bondage. Many think that he was not commissioned the first time to deliver Israel. The council must have seen the parallel suggested in Stephen’s words; their fathers had rejected Moses, yet God sent him; so they rejected Jesus, but God sent him to deliver them. Moses is called here a “deliverer”; he is also called a “ruler.” There is a deadly parallel between Moses and Christ that the Sanhedrin must see; they must also see that they are doing to Christ and his disciples just what was done to Moses. Moses was ruler, lawgiver, deliverer, and prophet; Christ was all this to the people, but they rejected him. Moses was encouraged and supported by the angel which represented the presence of God.

36 This man led them forth, having wrought wonders—Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh and wrought miracles; the ten plagues brought on Egypt were among the “wonders and signs” which Moses wrought in Egypt; but not all of these “wonders and signs” were done in Egypt. Some of them were “in the Red sea,” and for forty years in the wilderness. Though rejected, Moses delivered the afflicted Israelites; so Christ wrought many “wonders and signs” among the people, yet he was rejected and crucified. Again, they must see the point in Stephen’s recital of this history.

37 This is that Moses, who said—After reciting the history of Moses up to this point, Stephen now tells the council that Moses said: “A prophet shall God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me.” Peter had quoted this same prophecy (Acts 3:22-23) when speaking in the temple, and applied it to Christ. The Sanhedrin must have been familiar with the application of this prophecy to Christ. Stephen now reminds the council that Moses himself declared that at some future time God would raise up a great prophet like unto Moses. “This” Moses is used five times here in Stephen’s speech. (Verses 35, 36, 37, 38, 40.) Stephen’s purpose is to show that “this Moses” whom he honored had predicted the Messiah as a prophet like himself, and that this fulfillment was to be found in Jesus of Nazareth. Hence, they are opposing Moses, and he is loyal to Moses; but they, in rebellion to Moses, were falsely accusing Stephen.

38 This is he that was in the church in the wilderness—This prophecy is found in Psalms 22:22; there it is “assembly”; it is also quoted in Hebrews 2:12, and is there translated “congregation”; here in Stephen’s speech it is translated “church.” It is the same Greek word, “ekklesiai,” and is better translated “congregation.” Moses is here represented as receiving the law from an angel, as in Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19, and so was a mediator between the angel and the people; but Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant. (Hebrews 8:6.) Exodus does not speak of an angel; there Moses received the law from Jehovah. “Living oracles” means life-giving oracles, divine utterances. (Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11.) Moses was with the congregation and with the angel on Mount Sinai, where the law, called “lively” or “living oracles,” literally “living words,” was given.

39-40 to whom our fathers would not be obedient,—At Mount Sinai, while Moses was up in the mountain for forty days, the people asked Aaron to make a calf of gold for them to worship ; they did not know what had become of Moses. They acknowledged that he had brought them out of Egypt. Here again is a contrast between the way Israel treated Moses and the honor God placed upon him; Israel refused Moses as a deliverer, and wanted to go back to the bondage of Egypt. They “turned back in their hearts unto Egypt,” but did not really go back into Egypt. They did go back to the idolatry of Egypt in calling for Aaron to make them “gods.” (Exodus 16:3 Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:4; Ezekiel 20:8.) The pillar of cloud and of fire went before the Israelites as a symbol of God’s presence (Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 10:34 Numbers 10:36; Nehemiah 9:12), but they wished a symbolic representation of Jehovah more striking to their sensual hearts, so long accustomed as they had been to the image worship of the Egyptians. They spoke language of contempt about Moses. They did not know what had become of him, and perhaps did not care.

41 And they made a calf in those days,—This verse describes their idolatrous worship. Aaron made the calf and also the people made it. (Exodus 32:3 Exodus 32:35.) Stephen calls it “the idol.” The people said it was their way of worshiping Jehovah. It is thought that they made “a calf” of gold because they were accustomed to seeing the Egyptians worship the bull Apis at Memphis as the symbol of Osiris, the sun. The Egyptians had another sacred bull, Mnevis, at Heliopolis. The Israelites “rejoiced in the works of their hands.” They rejoiced in the calf they had made, as if it were Jehovah whom they professed to worship. Idolatry is so foolish! (Isaiah 44:9-20.)

42-43 But God turned, and gave them up—The Israelites forsook God, and he gave them up to their idolatrous ways after pleading with them and warning them for many long years. “Gave them up” is from the original “paredoken”; this same form occurs three times like clods on a coffin in a grave in Romans 1:24 Romans 1:26 Romans 1:28, where Paul speaks of God giving the heathen up to their lusts. They worshiped the host of heaven (Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Chronicles 33:3 2 Chronicles 33:5 ; Jeremiah 8:2 Jeremiah 19:13); which means the sun, moon, and stars. This quotation is from Amos 5:25-27. Stephen makes application here in such a way as to impress upon the Sanhedrin the wickedness of the people and God’s giving them up to follow their own idolatrous hearts. “Tabernacle of Moloch” is the place of worshiping Moloch; Moloch was the god of the Amorites, to whom children were offered as live sacrifices; it was an image with a head of an ox with arms outstretched in which children were placed, and underneath fire was placed so as to consume the offering. “The star of the god Rephan” is supposed to be the star Saturn to which the Egyptians and others gave worship. Israel turned away from Jehovah and turned to these idols. For these sins the Israelites were to be carried beyond Babylon, or as some versions read, “beyond Damascus”; however, “beyond Damascus” to the Jewish mind meant Babylon.

44 Our fathers had the tabernacle of the testimony—“The tabernacle of the testimony” has reference to the tabernacle in the wilderness. (Exodus 25:22 Exodus 38:21.) The Ten Commandments were placed in the ark of the covenant, and the ark was kept in the most holy place. Stephen seems to pass on from the conduct of Israel to his other argument that God is not necessarily worshiped in a particular spot. Moses had been called up in the mountain and had been given a pattern of the tabernacle, and even warned: “See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount.” (Hebrews 8:5.) So the place of worship was at the tabernacle, but as the tabernacle was moved around, the place of worship changed. Stephen is preparing to show that they have changed from the religious customs of Moses themselves.

45-46 Which also our fathers, in their turn,—The tabernacle with all of its equipment was built in the wilderness, and at the death of Moses, after their sojourn of forty years in the wilderness, Joshua became the leader and led the Israelites across the river Jordan into the promised land. The tabernacle was brought across the river Jordan and used in the land of Canaan for a long period. They continued to use the tabernacle until the days of David; King David made preparation to build a permanent house for Jehovah. He was not permitted to build this house.

47 But Solomon built him a house.—David had found favor with Jehovah; he was raised to sit on the throne and made king over Israel; God established David’s kingdom (1 Samuel 13:14; Psalms 89:20-37); but he would not permit David to build the temple (2 Samuel 7:2 ff). David’s son Solomon was permitted to build the temple; David gave to Solomon material that he had collected for the temple, and also the pattern. Solomon then built the temple (2 Samuel 7:2 ff.). David’s son Solomon was permitted to built and ready for use.

48-50 Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in houses—Though Solomon built a magnificent house, yet he did not suppose that Jehovah could be circumscribed within the walls of the temple. Jehovah God “dwelleth not in houses made with hands.” These were the words of Solomon when the temple was dedicated. (1 Kings 8:26-27 1 Kings 8:43; 2 Chronicles 6:18 2 Chronicles 6:39.) Stephen here quoted from Isaiah 66:1-2, which emphasizes that Jehovah cannot be confined to a material building, but his throne is in heaven and the earth is his footstool; hence, no house could contain him. No house could be large enough and magnificent enough to contain him who made the universe. The argument seems to be that if the universe which God made could not contain him, how much less this temple which had been made by the hands of man. This is what Solomon said in his prayer at the dedication of the temple. (2 Chronicles 6:18.)

51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart—It is thought that Stephen was interrupted at this point; hence, the turn that his address takes. “Stiffnecked” is from “sklerotracheloi,” which is a compound word and means that they were hard in neck; that they would not bow the neck to Jehovah; they were stubborn. “Uncircumcised in heart and ears” means that they were not willing to believe or obey in their hearts; neither were they willing to hear with their ears. Circumcision was a sign that they submitted to God; hence, uncircumcised in heart would mean that in heart they would not submit to God, and therefore were not God’s people. “Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit”; they resisted the Holy Spirit by rejecting the words that the Holy Spirit spoke through Stephen to them. “Resist” is from the Greek “antipiptete,” which means “to fall against, to rush against.” This is the only place that it is used in the New Testament, but it is used in the Old Testament which is here quoted. (Numbers 27:14.) Hence, the meaning is that they had fallen against the Holy Spirit as one would against an enemy. Stephen had completed his historical argument and he now makes an application of it.

52-53 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?—There is an implied charge here that they had persecuted all of the prophets, and that they were still persecuting the disciples of Jesus. This was the same spirit that their fathers had in persecuting the prophets. He simply charges them as possessing the same evil spirit that the fathers had when they persecuted the prophets and “killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One.” The prophets that foretold of Christ were persecuted and killed; hence, when the “Righteous One” came as a fulfillment of those prophecies, they continued to exercise the spirit of persecution and destroyed him. Stephen becomes more pointed in his application and says: “Of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers.” This was a fearful indictment against the council and all who sympathized with the council. Stephen’s accusation here is so fearful that the Sanhedrin will not let it pass. He further states that they had “received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not.” This has reference to the law of Moses; the one whom they had charged Stephen with blaspheming. Yet they were blaspheming Moses and the law by persecuting the disciples of Christ. Instead of trying Stephen, Stephen put the Sanhedrin on trial. Four thoughts stand out in this address of Stephen; it is well to note the lines of argument that he has presented before leaving his address. The first thought is that God’s dealings with his people showed continual progress; the end was not reached by a single leap, but by development. As proof of this he recited the story of Abraham, to.whom the land was promised; he did not reach the promised land until some years after he was called, and he did not get the covenant of circumcision till later. The second thought is that the temple is not exclusively holy; he makes this stand out so clearly that his hearers could not fail to get it. God had appeared to Abraham in a heathen land, in Mesopotamia; Joseph had his entire glorious career in Egypt; Jacob, because of the famine, had gone down into Egypt. In another heathen land Moses found God. The signs and wonders were done in Egypt, in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. The law was given from Mount Sinai, another foreign country. The third thought showed the long-suffering of God and his many mercies, though the people had gone into idolatry. Joseph was ill-treated by his brethren; their rejection of Joseph was a parallel to the rejection of Christ by the Jews. They rebelled against Moses, and in the same way they had rebelled against Christ who was the Messiah and the one who fulfilled the prophecies. The fourth point was that he showed the falsity of the charge that they had made against him by quoting so frequently from Moses and the prophets. In a burst of impassioned words he charges the council and the race of Jews with its long-continued crime, its murder of the “Righteous One,” and its outrage of the law given by angels.

Verses 1-60

Act 7:1-60

THE PROMISE IS FOR ALL:

LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS

Notes For Lesson Seven: Understanding History Through Jesus

(Acts 7:1-60)

This chapter presents the lengthy discourse made by Stephen when he was brought before the Sanhedrin on the false charge of blasphemy. While the chapter is most remembered for the climax - the first martyrdom of a Christian recorded in the New Testament - it is even more significant for the lesson. While similar in some respects to the other gospel proclamations we have already seen, it also establishes several deeper themes.

History Lesson (Acts 7:1-43)

Stephen begins his answer with a detailed historical review of the age of the patriarchs and the events of the Exodus. He thus answers the charges against him (see Acts 6:11-14) by identifying his ministry in Christ as the true fulfillment of Moses and the law. He shows that, understood properly, there is no conflict between Jesus and Moses. His discourse also establishes some important themes from Israel’s history that have often defined God’s relationship with his people.

The speech begins with the age of the patriarchs (Acts 7:1-16). Stephen starts with God’s appearance to Abraham for some very good reasons, not least of which was the Jews’ view of him as the founder of their people. Stephen reminds them of the inheritance that Abraham was promised, noting that Abraham saw the fulfillment of only a tiny fraction of the promises God made to him*. The Jews had historically been fixated on the geographic aspects of their inheritance, but God’s promises to Abraham went far beyond the Promised Land. Looking ahead to the era of Joseph and his brothers, Stephen demonstrates that Israel remained God’s people even when none of them lived in the land of "Israel". Amongst other implications, this demonstrates that physical locations (such as the temple) are of lesser importance to God than are spiritual relationships.

Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:5 that Abraham received "no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground" may seem to be something of an exaggeration in one sense, in that Abraham did live much of his life in Canaan, the Promised Land. Yet, as Hebrews 11:9 tells us, "he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country", that is, he never took permanent possession of any part of the land. And his descendants would have to wait many generations before taking lasting possession of Canaan.

Stephen next refers to the period of oppression in Egypt (Acts 7:17-29). For many years, the Jews had to endure hardship and slavery. Persecution is one of the constant themes in the history of God’s people. Note that God’s true people have always been the ones patiently enduring, never the ones doing the persecuting. To this theme, Stephen adds the account of the birth and youth of Moses, against whom Stephen is charged with blaspheming. The story of God’s raising up of Moses to lead his people out of bondage combines several important ideas. Those Jews who trusted that God would deliver them would have expected the deliverer to come from within, not from the royal house of Egypt. In fact, when Moses made his first efforts to help his own people, he was rejected and despised. Stephen shows that he understands Moses and his call better than do these Jews who claim to honor Moses. Their reasons for rejecting Jesus would most likely have led them to reject Moses, had they been part of that generation. Stephen is establishing an important and unpopular theme, by demonstrating how often God’s people have rejected the leaders God has chosen for them because those leaders do not fulfill the people’s worldly expectations.

Eventually, of course, Moses led the people in the Exodus from Egypt (Acts 7:30-38), and this is the next topic in the speech. Moses was not made the leader because of popular will or because of his own decision or his own talents, but because he was called by God. Moses himself was most reluctant to accept this responsibility, but the true leaders of God’s people are always those whom God has chosen, not those who have chosen themselves. The leadership and legacy of Moses were very often thought little of in his own lifetime, but later generations of Jews revered his memory. Yet they were no better, and Stephen is in fact warning his listeners that they are about to reject Jesus, who is worthy of even greater honor and obedience than Moses was.

Even the Jews who accepted the leadership of Moses in the Exodus soon launched a rebellion in the desert (Acts 7:39-43), rejecting not only Moses but God himself. Spoiled by the very blessings God had given them, that generation could never enter the Promised Land. And though their descendants did obey and enter Canaan under Joshua, in time they would make their own mistakes. Eventually the time came when God had to send his people into exile, to discipline them. Since they would not accept the teachings of the prophets, instead rejecting and even persecuting them, God had to take more drastic steps. This too is a theme in the history of God’s people. God gives us every chance to listen to his gentle whispers, but should we prove hard-hearted, his love for us dictates that he must discipline us firmly enough to get our attention.

For Discussion or Study: How does this account of Israel’s history answer the charges against Stephen? If any of his hearers had been truly interested in hearing the truth, what would they have gotten out of Stephen’s lesson? What lessons are we meant to get from it?

A Call to Understand (Acts 7:44-53)

Stephen concludes his lesson with a ringing challenge, calling the Jewish leaders to understand the implications of their own history, rather then being blind and short-sighted by rejecting Jesus. It was not too late for them to repent, if they could only have humbled themselves. Stephen’s tone, though, suggests that their hearts may already be too hardened for them to reconsider their ways.

Referring to another important theme from Israel’s history, Stephen calls them to reconsider their perspectives on God’s House (Acts 7:44-50). From the tabernacle in the desert to Solomon’s temple, to the rebuilding of the temple after the exile and the renovation done shortly before Jesus’ lifetime, much of Jewish life and worship centered on a physical place of worship. Part of this was at God’s command, since only there could acceptable sacrifices be made. And yet the Jews had added to its function an unhealthy focus on the temple as a physical site, rather than emphasizing its more important function as a symbol of God’s presence. Stephen quotes from Isaiah 66, where God points out the folly of thinking that God is constrained to a physical site of human making. God’s true house is not made by human hands, but rather is found in the temple of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of all those who believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Having answered the charges against himself, by showing that the gospel of Jesus is the true fulfillment of all that Moses taught and did, Stephen then makes a counter-charge against his accusers (Acts 7:51-53). They were the ones who were rebelling against God, or as Stephen refers to it, resisting the Holy Spirit. Because they had allowed their emotions to cloud their judgment, because their traditional practices were more important to them than obeying God himself, because they were jealous of their own worldly influence and position, they could not hear what the Spirit was saying to them. Indeed, most of them did not even want to hear it. This is an unfortunate trend in the history of God’s people, both in the Bible and ever since. Those people who consider themselves "religious" are often the most resistant to the Spirit’s guidance, because it is such a temptation for them to feel that they already know everything. These Jews clung to the law, not realizing that rejecting Jesus meant rejecting the law, because Jesus was the fulfillment of the law. So too, we must always be ready to acknowledge that the habits and customs that are familiar or comfortable to us are not in themselves the essence of the gospel.

For Discussion or Study: What was wrong with the Jews’ focus on the temple and other historical places and practices? If these things caused a problem, why did God institute them in the first place? How could they have used these things in a more appropriate way in their relationship with God? Consider what lessons these ideas hold for us.

An Inevitable Conclusion (Acts 7:54-60)

It comes as no real surprise that Stephen’s audience does not appreciate his lesson. To accept the truths he is revealing, even from their own law, would mean turning from years of pretense and phony religion. While this would have been spiritually healthy, their pride and insecurity made it impossible. They literally refuse to listen to Stephen speak any more, and the confrontation ends in violence. For the first time in the book of Acts, a believer is actually killed for teaching the gospel.

At the end of Stephen’s lesson, he sees a vision that will sustain him in what is about to happen (Acts 7:54-56). There is a remarkable contrast in this scene that bears thinking about. The audience has now become restless, hostile, and angry. Acts describes them as "gnashing their teeth", a graphic way of illustrating the intense agitation they are feeling. And yet Stephen himself - though he is the one in grave danger, while the crowd can take safety in its numbers - is calm and joyful, looking into the sky and seeing the glory of God. He quite literally sees what they cannot see. His vision is clear in every respect, whereas their vision is completely faulty.

The confrontation ends with Stephen’s death (Acts 7:57-60). The crowd’s rage leads them to abandon all rational behavior, along with any pretense of listening to another point of view. Luke’s description of them would be quite amusing if it had not led to such a violent result. Their insecurity is so deep that they cannot listen to another word of Stephen’s convicting message, so they make noise and cover their ears like immature children. Without responding to any of Stephen’s carefully developed points, they drag him outside the town and stone him without further delay. Yet, far from retaliating or demonstrating anger or even self-righteousness, Stephen’s calm last words echo Jesus’ words at his own death. While a painful and fearful outcome, this is yet a victory for the believers, who have now shown their willingness to teach the truth regardless of the response. They have also seen an example of truth, security, and love in the face of mindless hatred and violence.

For Discussion or Study: What enabled Stephen to face a painful death? What can we learn from him to enable us to endure our own comparatively minor trials? What has happened to the crowd to cause them to lose control of themselves so badly? What dangers do we learn from them, against which we should guard ourselves?

- Mark W. Garner, April 2002

Verses 54-60

Act 7:54-60

STEPHEN’S DEATH

Acts 7:54-60 and Acts 8:1-2

54 Now when they heard these things,—“These things” refer to what Stephen had said in his defense, and especially to the things that he had said in verses 51-53. “They were cut to the heart,” which literally means “sawn through,” as in Acts 5:33. They were not convicted of their sin; they hardened their heart and turned from the truth. This was the effect that Stephen’s speech had on them; he became the occasion for their hardening their hearts. “They gnashed on him with their teeth.” This was an expression of the frenzy of rage, only restrained by a brute-like grinding of the teeth. Stephen’s address had the same effect on his auditors that Peter’s address had on the Sadducees. Stephen had sent a saw through the hearts of the Pharisees, and they with a loud noise, and a grinding and gnashing of their teeth, like a pack of hungry, snarling wolves, rushed upon Stephen. No uglier sight could be pictured than we have here of these frenzied, religious people.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit,—There is a wide contrast in the spirit manifested by Stephen and that of the members of the Sanhedrin. Again it is stated that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit,” and what he said and did was guided by the Holy Spirit. Stephen “looked up stedfastly into heaven.” He turned his face heavenward and away from such ugly expressions as could be seen on the faces of these frenzied people. As he looked into heaven he “saw the glory of God,” which was a vision of God and his glory. Stephen also saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” At this time Jesus was “standing” as if he had arisen to encourage Stephen in his contention for Christ. This is the only reference to the attitude of Jesus as “standing” after he ascended to heaven. Jesus is usually represented as “sit-ting” in the majesty and sovereignty of his glory. No one else saw the vision but Stephen, and there is no use to speculate as to the reality of it.

56 Behold, I see the heavens opened,—Stephen described his vision there to this frenzied people. Some think that Stephen here referred to the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 26:64. Stephen here refers to Christ as “the Son of man”; this was a name frequently used by Christ when speaking of himself, but never by any other speaker or writer, save Stephen. Such a vision must have comforted Stephen and enabled him to receive with meekness the affliction of stoning.

57-58 But they cried out with a loud voice,—The charge that Stephen had made against them, that they had killed Jesus, was made very irritating now by the declaration that Stephen saw Jesus so exalted. It was an offensive proclamation of the doctrine of the resurrection, which the Sadducees denied; it was also reasserting that the crucified Jesus was coequal with God. They must have regarded this statement of Stephen as one of the strongest examples of blasphemy, spoken here in the presence of the Sanhedrin; hence, they “stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord.” The word for “stopped” literally means to hold their ears together with their hands, as if to say that they would not listen to such blasphemous words. No trial was had; no vote was taken; no question was raised about what was the right thing to do; they rushed upon him as the hogs did down the cliff when the demons entered them. (Luke 8:33.) They rushed him out of the city with their wild violence “and stoned him.” They were scrupulous to observe the letter of the law with murder in their hearts. (Leviticus 24:10-16; Numbers 15:35-36; 1 Kings 21:13; Hebrews 13:12.) “Witnesses” laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. This is the first mention that we have of Saul. The witnesses had to cast the first stone. (Deuteronomy 17:7; John 8:7.) They laid aside the outer garments to have free access with their arms.

59 And they stoned Stephen,—As Stephen prayed, he was stoned; the witnesses against him had taken off their outer garments and Saul had kept the clothes of those who did the preliminary stoning. (Deuteronomy 17:7.) It has been discussed frequently as to whether the Sanhedrin passed sentence on Stephen; some think that there was no decision or judgment rendered, and that the Sanhedrin with others became infuriated at Stephen’s speech and rushed upon him, took him out of the city, and stoned him without any formal trial or decision. Others think that a decision was rendered hastily and the execution as hastily carried out. Another difficulty has been discussed, and that is that the Jews could not put to death anyone they tried; the Sanhedrin could pass the judicial sentence of death, but could not carry it out. (John 18:31.) They could pass the sentence of death (Matthew 26:66; Mark 14:64), and were as guilty as if they had executed their sentence. Stephen’s prayer was made to Jesus to receive his spirit. The prayer to Jesus was equivalent to calling on the Lord. (Acts 9:21 Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2.) Jesus had encouraged his disciples to expect mansions of rest. (John 14:2.) He had also spoken of everlasting habitations (Luke 16:9), or “eternal tabernacles.” This is similar to Jesus, as he expired on the cross. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46.)

60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice,—Again Stephen’s prayer is similar to that of his Lord’s (Luke 23:34), “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The spirit of Christ is a spirit of forgiveness; it leads us to love our enemies and to bless them that curse us, and to pray for them who despitefully use us. (Matthew 5:44.) As they pelted his body with stones, Stephen took the posture of kneeling in prayer. His last moments were spent in prayer; “and when he had said this, he fell asleep.” “Fell asleep” is from the Greek “ekoimethe,” which is used to denote “to put to sleep”; our English word “cemetery” comes from this Greek word, and means “the sleeping place of the dead.” This is an appropriate figure for the death of the saints. Jesus used the term “sleep” for “death.” (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; John 11:11-12.) Paul also used the term “sleep” for death. (1 Corinthians 15:18 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.)

Questions on Acts

By E.M. Zerr

Acts Chapter 7

  • · Who questioned Stephen?

  • · What is referred to by "these things"?

  • · By what titles does Stephen address the hearers?

  • · To whom did God appear?

  • · Where was he living at this time?

  • · In what place did he dwell next?

  • · State what caused him to move.

  • · To what country did he next go?

  • · After what event did he make his move?

  • · How much of the land did Abraham possess?

  • · What did God give him?

  • · How many children did he have at this time?

  • · Tell what sojourning was then predicted.

  • · For how long would this sojourn last?

  • · Name the country referred to.

  • · While there what was to be their treatment?

  • · What would happen to this country?

  • · After that, what?

  • · What covenant was given Abraham?

  • · Who are meant by "twelve patriarchs in the " 8th verse?

  • · How did they fulfill prediction made to Abraham?

  • · What support did Joseph have in his trials?

  • · State the favor shown him at this time.

  • · What condition arose now?

  • · Tell what countries were affected.

  • · Hearing of food in Egypt what did Jacob do?

  • · When was Joseph identified?

  • · What further introduction was made?

  • · Next, what did Joseph do?

  • · According to this account how many came into Egypt?

  • · Where did Jacob die?

  • · What was !Ione with his body?

  • · From whom was this burying place obtained?

  • · Did all the Israelites leave Egypt at this time?

  • · What promise was made to draw nigh?

  • · As it did what occurred among the people?

  • · State what sort of new king arose.

  • · How did he deal with the servant nation?

  • · In what way did he attempt to reduce their number?

  • · Who was born about this time?

  • · Describe his appearance.

  • · Where was his first nursery?

  • · And where was the next?

  • · Tell something of his training.

  • · What accomplishments did he come to have?

  • · What idea came into his heart?

  • · At what age had he arrived?

  • · Did God tell him to take this action?

  • · What defense did he volunteer?

  • · How far did he carry his defense?

  • · What supposition was Moses acting upon?

  • · Was it correct?

  • · What did he see next day?

  • · How did this case differ from the day before?

  • · How was his action here received?

  • · Which of the two men objected to Moses?

  • · Of what act did he accuse Moses?

  • · At this what did Moses do?

  • · How many sons did he beget?

  • · How long was it until the next call?

  • · Name the site of this experience.

  • · How did God identify himself at this time?

  • · Describe the effect on Moses’ emotions.

  • · What was he commanded to do here and why?

  • · Tell what subject was then introduced?

  • · What was God coming to do about it?

  • · Who was to be his agent in the work?

  • · Was he the same who had been previously refused?

  • · How long required to get them into Canaan?

  • · What prophecy of Moses did Stephen quote?

  • · What other facts showed Moses’ importance here?

  • · Did Stephen’s hearers profess to believe Moses?

  • · Should this have affected their faith in Christ?

  • · How did ancient Israel feel about Egypt?

  • · What did they do as result?

  • · To what did God then abandon them?

  • · To what final threat does Stephen then refer?

  • · What institution is meant in the 44th verse?

  • · To what country did they carry this building?

  • · State what building took place of this one.

  • · Was this the real dwelling place of God?

  • · How does Stephen now describe his hearers?

  • · Of whose death does he accuse them?

  • · How had the law been given to them?

  • · What had been their use of it?

  • · How did all this speech affect them?

  • · How did their rage affect Stephen?

  • · What was he permitted to see?

  • · Tell what he said to the people there.

  • · Did they try to disprove it?

  • · How did they manage to hear no more?

  • · To what place did they take Stephen?

  • · When there what did they do?

  • · Who took charge of the clothes?

  • · While being stoned what was Stephen doing?

  • · Repeat his last words.

Acts Chapter Seven

Ralph Starling

The high priest asked Stephen, “Are these things so?”

Stephen replied, “This is what our history shows.”

He began with Abraham, considered number one,

Joseph, Moses and Solomon, David’s own son.

God moved Abraham to where we now stand,

To you, his seed, the “promised land.”

To your fathers the covenant of circumcision

To be a sign of a special relation.

Later the 12 Patriarchs moved with envy

Sold Joseph into Egyptian bondage.

400 years his descendants suffered ill treatment,

Then God sent Moses to relieve them.

This Moses was their leader for 40 years,

Until a new generation could appear.

Moses was the prophet Christ would be like,

But the people refused Moses and turned back.

In like manner you refused the prophesied Christ,

You have betrayed and murdered Him outright.

You had a heart and ears but wouldn’t listen,

And had the Law by Angel’s disposition.

When they heard these things they gnashed with their teeth,

They stoned him, laying his clothes at a young man’s feet.

Stephen prayed the Lord his spirit to keep,

When he had prayed he fell asleep.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 7". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/acts-7.html.
 
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