Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Stephen (4)

Martyrdom of Stephen— Acts 6:8-8:3     By Pastor Jim Gray

Part 4. The Stoning of Stephen continued. 7:51-8:3

Climax—the Indictment (7:51-53).

Now everything changes. What had been inferred now becomes direct. The accused become the accuser. He turns upon them without mercy, inflicting scorching truth that hits them squarely where they are. “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and [yet] did not keep it” (7:51-53). These where direct words that indicted them for they were committing the same sins of their fathers, but to a greater degree. There also is a change of relationship; Stephen refers to “your fathers,” instead of “our fathers” (cf. 7:19, 39, 44). He is indicating a divide between believing Israel (the remnant) and unbelieving Israel. The indictment is couched in Old Testament language.  There are five major indictments against them: One count of unremitting pride and self-will (cf. Exodus 33:5); one count of murder; one count of resisting the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 63:10); one count of disloyalty (cf. Lev. 26:41, Jer. 4:4; 9:25-26); and one count of Law breaking. Observe there is no mention of ignorance in this indictment. They are responsible.

The indictments end Stephen’s speech. In this speech we can detect certain themes:

· Their continued failure to recognize the working of God as a nation.  Their history shows it; and now they are doing the same.

· They have departed from the primary purpose of the nation and God’s by focusing on the secondary outward issues (The Land, Moses and the Law, and the Temple), but not inward issues of the heart and salvation. As the saying goes, “they majored in minors.” God help us from doing the same!

· Their rejection of the God’s anointed leaders and servants, and now they were rejecting the very Anointed, Jesus. Their rejection of Messiah is consistent with their historic pattern of resistance against the things of God. They truly would not have this man to reign over them. They killed him, and now they were resisting the Holy Spirit of God. Their reaction to this speech and Stephen indicates this resistance and rejection of the Holy Spirit. Stam observes: “Though Stephen had stood before them filled with the Holy Spirit and supernaturally transformed as he dealt with them, they would not listen. They had there and then resisted the Holy Spirit….[1]

The sermon itself reveals certain things:

· The sermon is not really a defense at all, rather a prosecuting speech leading to charges and to an indictment of the unbelieving Israel.

· The sermon is a historical review showing the listeners and the nation their problem—continued rejection of God and His servants.

· It is an Old Testament survey. Much of it is direct quotations from the Old Testament.

· The emphasis of the sermon is not evangelistic. There is no one saved as a result of the sermon. There is no reference to salvation or repentance in the sermon.

· It is a judicial sermon. The purpose of the sermon is to indict the leadership for repeating the sins of history. There is a progress of rejection within their history climaxing with the rejection of the Messiah, and now resisting the Holy Spirit. This resisting is an ongoing progressive process in Acts: First came a warning of words to the Apostles (Acts 4:17). Second came physical beating (Acts 5:40). Now, as we shall see, comes murder (7:58-56).

· The sermon clearly puts the death of Christ and the resisting of the Holy Spirit at their feet of the Jewish leadership.

The Stoning of Stephen—7:54-60.

Voices of rage (7:54)

The reaction of the leadership was swift and sure. “The convicting power of the truth of God either causes men to repent or to rebel, and rebel they did!”[2]Now when they heard this, there were cut to the quick, and they [began] gnashing their teeth at him” (7:54). The phrase cut to the quick is a figure of speech indicating a painful hurt. It speaks of conviction and also being offended. Many times the truth hurts. Gnashing their teeth pictures their antagonism and rage, often a reaction toward the righteous (Psa. 35:16; 27:12; 112:10; Lam 2:16). In the Gospels it is used of rejecters of the Kingdom and their judgment (Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).  In this context the rage is directed at Stephen. They were so infuriated that Stephen never really got to finish his sermon. Their anger and outburst interrupted the sermon, (indicated by the now when they heard this), and never came to a conclusion. Only God knows what would have been said, if Stephen was able to finish. Would salvation and repentance have been offered? Did their interruption seal their fate? They clearly sealed their own destiny and that of the nation with this reaction.

The Vision (7:55-56)

In the midst of crisis, stands cool, claim and collected Stephen. Luke clearly is pointing to a contrast between him and the leadership of Israel, as indicated by the word But, a word of contrast. “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (7:55-56). His source of strength and empowerment in such a time was “being full of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 6:5, 10). 

This filling enabled Stephen to look into heaven (no doubt a vision). Stephen gazed intently (see comments on Acts 1:10) into heaven (7:55-56). Here we have ascension language (cf. 1:9-10). Bock calls the event “a revelatory experience.”[3] Larkin observes that it “positively culminates the climactic thesis of Stephen’s sermon: God dwells in heaven, not in temples made with hand (7:48-50).”[4] Two elements of the vision are revealed: First, the glory of God. This is the same glory as appeared to Abraham (cf. 7:2). Glory is the manifestation of the divine nature. It given is association with Jesus, indicating Jesus is in the presence of God, and in fact co-equal in his essence.  It should be noted, however, when Stephen speaks of the vision in verse 56 he does not mention the glory. There may be two possibilities as to why. First, simply he sees the emphasis of the vision on the person of Christ, and does not mention the glory. Second, he considers the glory of God as Jesus.

Second, He sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God and that is what he reports. The fact that it is repeated twice, in vv. 55-56, indicates emphasis and importance. However, the significance has been taken in various ways, although some do not attach any significance to it.[5] Since this is the only time Jesus is seen standing at the right hand of God, the significance is hard to pin down. The views include:

· Ready to Return View. Ike Sidebottom seems to hold this view. He says concerning Jesus standing:

It seems that when Stephen sealed his testimony with his own blood, Israel’s Savior was standing in the heavenlies ready to return the moment His chosen people believed the Kingdom message. Upon their rejection of this message, he took His seat as the Head of the church, which is His body.”[6]

      I see three problems with this view. First, there is no indication of Israel accepting the offered kingdom. The tone of the sermon concerns the continued and progressive rejection by the nation and its leadership. Second, there is no indication in Scripture that Christ sitting at the right hand of God is exclusively related to the Church, the body of Christ. Did not Jesus tell Israel and the Kingdom saints that he would sit at the right hand of God? (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69). The sitting at the right hand of God is the result of the accomplishing of salvation by paying the price for sin (Heb. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2), and His High Priestly work (Heb. 8:1-2). Third, the term Son of Man, has special reference to His Incarnation and Messiahship.

· The Welcome View. The most take the that he is standing to welcome the martyred. A variation of this view seems to be that every believer at death sees Christ standing to welcome him. However, this does away with the status of this being a onetime event. Overall this view, while it has some merit, does not completely satisfy.

· The Witness View. Bruce holds this, stating: “Jesus stands up as witness or advocate in Stephen’s defense.[7] This view sees Jesus as judge and witness. Bock says, “Stephen’s vindication by the standing Son of Man implies Jesus’ vindication as well because Jesus is functioning in a manner that assumes the previous divine exaltation and vindication of Jesus.[8] There is some merit to this position.

· Judgment View. Stam connects the statement of Mark 16:19 and Psa. 110:1 which emphasizes that Christ is at the right hand of God “until I make Thine enemies thy footstool” (KJV). He states that “He is to remain seated with His Father as a royal Exile only ‘until’ the time when His enemies shall be made His footstool.[9] Standing with Old Testament prophecies about God rising up in judgment against his enemies (cf. Psa. 7:6; 9:19; Isa. 3:13). Now with Israel being like the heathen in rejection; the conditions were ripe for God’s execution of wrath. Stam notes that God in His grace postponed the judgment with the present dispensation of grace.[10] Peterson holds to a judgment view as well, saying that in this context, “it is more likely to be a way of asserting the readiness of the Son of Man to act in judgment against those who deny him (cf. Isa. 3:13, where standing is the posture for judgment).[11]

      This last view has the most merit. However, I look upon this as a dispensational judgment. While the final judgment may have been postponed, the spiritual judgment of the nation was not. They were blinded and set aside. Jesus is standing to dispense this judgment. Baxter notes that “in the miracles, message, and martyrdom of Stephen we see a final indictment of the nation.”[12] I agree with his conclusion: “The emergent primary significance of this first part of the Acts is: THE RENEWED REJECTION OF THE KINGDOM OFFICIALLY AT THE JEWISH CAPITAL.”[13] This is the major pivotal points in the books of Acts. From this point, everything moves outside of Jerusalem and the nation. The swing is clearly seen in the next four chapters: Samaria (Acts 9), Damascus (Acts 9), Caesarea (Acts 10), and Antioch (11), with Antioch becoming the new headquarters for the spreading of the Gospel. Acts records the fall of Israel and the rise of the Gentiles. This all started with Jesus standing executing spiritual judgment upon the nation for their continued rejection of their Messiah and the Holy Spirit. It was the start of Israel being set aside, making it possible for the Gentiles to be brought in apart from the nation. The hardening of Israel was beginning and will not ease “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25). This event will open the way for a new apostle—Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), and the building of Jew and Gentile into one new organism (Eph. 3:1-10). The nation was being set aside, so a new dispensation could begin, that which Paul calls the dispensation of the Mystery (Eph. 3:1-10). That this judgment pertains to Israel is reinforced by the title Son of Man. This is a Messianic title. It is used in the Old Testament to refer to a man (Ezekiel 2:1; Psa. 8:4). However, it came to be used of the divine personage of the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14, Psa. 110:1). Jesus uses the title of Himself in the Gospels. The title is not used outside the relationship of the Messiah to Israel.

The Dying Victim (7:57-60).

After declaring the vision, “They cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stone him; and the witness laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, received my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried of out with a loud voice, “Lord do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep” (7:57-60). In all likelihood, when Stephen told them of the vision, the crowd considered Stephen was blaspheming by asserting Jesus was the Son of Man. They in a hysteric rush chased Stephen outside the city, and stoned him according to the law (Lev. 24:14-16; Deut. 13:9; 17:7). The method of stoning is described by Barclay:  The criminal was taken to a height and thrown down. The witnesses had to do the actual throwing down. If the fall killed the man good and well; if not, great boulders were hurled down upon him until finally he died.[14]

How organized this action was is hard to say. The legality of this event has been debated, but some type of formality seems to be held. The text does say that the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of Saul. This is our first introduction to Saul, who will become the great Apostle Paul.[15] He is called a “young man,” however “in Jewish circles, one was considered young up to age 40.[16] Saul (i.e. Paul) indicates that his present and act indicates he was already an accepted leader in antagonism toward believers. The event was not interfered with by the Romans. There were some executions that were under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin.

Like the death of Jesus who prayed on the cross, Stephen gives audible prayers that echo the prayers of Jesus on the cross: First, he prays for the acceptableness of His sacrifice by His spirit to the Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 23:46). In this prayer, Stephen again is stating the deity of Christ. And like Jesus, he prays for the sin not be held against them (cf. Luke 23:34). Stephen in these prayers is showing his innocence and his grace.[17] Second, these prayers are similarities that is carried throughout the text: Stephen, like Jesus, ministered by signs and wonders, spoke with wisdom that could not be refuted, was filled with the Spirit, and was charged with blasphemy for which he died. Third, in the person of Stephen, the nation is rejecting the Holy Spirit just like they rejected God the Son. Stam points out the progression of three important deaths during this period around which change their course in history: John the Baptist, which they permitted; Christ, which they demanded; and Stephen which they committed.[18] Baxter says in this event “was willful, knowing, blatant refusal of divine testimony. The nation was publicly tried and found guilty.”[19] Baker observes: “Whether or not his prayer was answered, we know that Jerusalem was spared for the time being, and that the other Jews who were dispersed throughout the Roman world were given the opportunity to hear the gospel and to repent.”[20]

As frantic as the tone of the text is, it ends with a picture of peace and solitude— “he fell asleep” (7:60). He died in the peaceful assurance of the life to come. Sleep is a common metaphor for death of the believer in Scripture (cf. Gen. 47:30; Deut. 31:6; I Kings 2:10; Isa. 14:18; John 11:11; Acts 13:36; I Cor. 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 2 Peter 3:4).

In conclusion of this great event we see:

· Stephen spoke for Jesus, not simply about Jesus. We see Jesus words reflected in the last verses of the chapter.

· This sermon and event had a great impact on its listeners, including Saul. Stephen’s preaching was powerful and persuasive it impacted everyone present.

· We see the powerful used of the Word of God in preaching. Stephen used the Word to confront people with the truth. Stephen’s review was an indictment to demonstrate Israel’s need for repentance.

· The act of rejection that sealed the fate of Israel and the turning to the Gentiles.


Mark 14:53
Tried before Sanhedrin and the High Priest
Acts 6:12, 7:1
Mark 14:56-57; Matt. 26:60-61
False Witnesses
Acts 6:13
Mark 14:53; Acts 6:12, 7:1
Testimony of the destruction of the Temple
Acts 6:14
Mark 15:58
Temple “made with hands”
Acts 7:48
Mark 24:62
The Son of Man saying
Acts 7:56
Mark 16:64; Matt. 26:63
Blasphemy charged
Acts 6:11
Mark 14:61; Matt. 26:61
The question of the High Priest Caiaphas
Acts 7:1
Luke 23:46
Committal of spirit
Acts 7:59
Mark 15:34, 37
Cry out with a loud voice
Acts 7:60
Luke 23:34
Intercession for enemies forgiveness
Acts 7:60

Result of Stephen’s Martyrdom—8:1-3.

With Stephen, the persecution of believers by the Jewish leadership began in earnest. Persecution is the climax of progressive actions by the leadership in Acts (warning, jailing, flogging, and death). Being a believer will now lead to paying the ultimate price by believers for that belief. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 are linked by through the subject of persecution. The first 3 verses of this chapter bring the stoning of Stephen to an end, while at the same time it begins the activity of Saul. Immediately, Luke shows that “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (8:1a). This is a concluding statement to the events of chapter 7. It speaks of the attitude of positive accord with, not just passive consent to death of Stephen. In doing so, he was following not only the stream of opinion, but his religious loyalty. He saw Stephen as a rebel to religious authority. Some relate this passage to Acts 26:10 to indicate Paul voted in the Sanhedrin. However, that connection is questionable at best. Whatever the case, it is clear Saul steps up the persecution “beyond measure” (Gal. 1:13).

What the stoning of Stephen does is unleash the hostility of the leadership of Israel against the remnant of believers found in the city of Jerusalem. It was the starting point: “And on that day a great persecution initiated against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (8:1). Luke makes clear that this event initiated the greet persecution of the church. It was their answer to the offer of the kingdom. “Israel was in the process of confirming its tragic choice to reject Jesus as her Messiah.”[22] They will not repent nor listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This was the first great persecution of believers by Israelites. It is also a fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction (Luke 11:49, 21:12). The martyrdom of Stephen and continued persecution starts the push of evangelism away from the Jewish capital. They scattered from the city into the country (cf. Acts 11:19). It is also clear that the word all does not mean all without exception, but indicates many of them scattered. This is clear because there were still believers in the city who were being hunted down and imprisoned.

Some maintain that this persecution was against Hellenistic Jews only.[23] There seems to be two points in its favor: First, Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew. Second, the Apostles could stay in the city because the persecution was against the Hellenistic Jews and devout Gentiles who believed in the God of Israel, not the true Hebrews. (If that is the case, the word all could refer to all the Hellenistic Jews which fled). The Twelve being Hebrews did not need to leave the city. However, the text does not put that type of limitation on the persecution. It rather seems to indicate an unlimited persecution within the city (cf. 8:3). The text does not distinguish between Hellenistic and homeland Jews. Also, Paul later says he was out to destroy the church (Gal. 1:13), in a context that indicates the whole believing assembly, not just a portion of it. He also says he punished believers in every synagogue, not just the Hellenistic synagogues (Acts 26:11).

In light of this persecution, why did the Apostles stay in Jerusalem? Was it because they were homeland Jews, not Hellenistic Jews? Such a view is highly questionable and unlikely. Harrison suggests the Apostles were not the subject of persecution because of their popularity and respect of many in Jerusalem.[24] Others say because of their duty to the believers in Jerusalem. This has some merit. They were commissioned to start at Jerusalem and then to the rest of the world. Their duty to reach Jerusalem had not been accomplished. The apostles knew their future and hope was tied to the city (cf. Luke 12:32; Matt. 19:28 cf. 21:43). While they may be coming to realize that the nation was rejecting the offer of the kingdom, their duty was clearly to stay in the city and continue with their mission. They knew that the Lord had told them that they were to preach repentance to all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). No doubt they felt it was still their duty to reach Jerusalem. They saw no reason to change their task, but to remain faithful to preach at Jerusalem.

This section of the text, while centering on persecution, alternates between the persecution and Stephen murder. Note the pattern:

                  Approval of Stephen’s murder (8:1a)

                              Beginning of Persecution (8:1b)

                  Burial of Stephen (8:2)

                              Saul ravaging the church (8:3)

From this pattern we notice how Luke ties in the death of Stephen with the beginning of the persecution of believers. This section becomes both transitional in character as well as a summary of events connected with Stephen. It makes the transition to why Phillip is ministering in Samaria and sums up the effect of Stephen’s murder.

The burial record (8:2) almost seems out of place in light of the second half of verse 1. However, it is given to reinforce the connection of persecution with the events of Stephen’s murder. Luke states: “[Some] devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him” (8:2). It may well be that Luke is not only trying to reinforce the connection of persecution with the Stephen event, but also to complete the similarity to Christ life and death (cf. Luke 23:50-53). It was done by devout men, a term that is also used of believing men of other races. The lamentation reminds us of the ladies in Luke 23:27. It has been pointed out that, “The Mishnah considered open lamentation for someone who had suffered death by stoning as inappropriate.”[25] The Greek word for lamentation is only here in the NT, and means a beating of the breast, thus a wailing or lamentation, not simply mourning. This could indicate a defiant act or a belief that this was not a legal execution.[26] It has been a long tradition, dating back to Augustine’s endorsement, that places Gamaliel and Nicodemus (Sanhedrin’s believing members) at the burial, and later was buried in the same spot.[27]

But Saul [began] ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (8:3). While the Sadducees made up most of the Sanhedrin, now Saul the Pharisee steps in. Stephen’s execution invigorated Saul’s retaliation against the church. The word ravaging is found only here in the NT, meaning to make havoc of, or ravage. Knowling says the classical meaning is used of scourging and torturing, of armies causing waste and destruction, and in the medical field the word speaks of the ravages of disease.[28] It examples ruthless and vicious cruelty. The severity of the persecution by Saul is reinforced in the text showing this included a house to house search, for house meetings were common among the remnant (Acts 2:46; 5:42). Saul was on a search and destroy mission.

It must be noted the word church has its normal meaning of assembly (O.T., congregation—Isa. 7:38), and should not be taken in the universal since. Peterson explains, “At this critical point in the narrative, that significant title for the people of God in the OT is applied again to Jewish believers in Jesus (5:11; 11:22; 12:1-5).”[29] In Acts, the word church always denotes a local congregation or assembly. In this case the impetus of the persecution was against the Jewish local church in Jerusalem.

[1]  Stam, ACTS, 229. Stam goes on to call this act of resisting is the unpardonable sin. However, this is questionable since the unpardonable sin is identified with blasphemy (Matt. 12:31-32), not with resisting.  I view this blasphemy taking place in Acts 13:46, which is associated with the first official declaration of turning to the Gentiles.
[2]  Baker, ACTS, 42.
[3]  Bock, BECNT: ACTS, 310-311.
[4]  Larkin, TCNT: ACTS, 121.
[5]  Larkin is one, Ibid, 121-122. Phillips also does not attribute significance to the standing, EXPLORING ACTS, 143.
[6]  Ike Sidebottom, A DISPENSATIONAL STUDY OF THE BOOK OF ACTS, Grace Bible Church, Ft. Worth, TX, 63-64.
[7]  Bruce, NICNT: ACTS, 156.
[8]  Bock, BECNT: ACTS, 313.
[9]  Stam, ACTS, 1:233; Jordan, Richard, “Three Pivotal Points in the Book of Acts,” THE GRACE JOURNAL, September 2005, 3.
[10]  Stam, ACTS, 1:234.
[11]  Peterson, PNTC: ACTS, 267.
[12]  Baxter, STRATEGIC GRASP, 312.
[13]  Ibid, 315. The emphasis is his.
[14]  Barclay, ACTS, 62.
[15]  Paul’s recollection is found in Acts 22:20.
[16]  Peterson, PNTC: ACTS 268.
[17]  Larkin, TNTC: ACTS, 122-123.
[18]  Stam, ACTS, 240.
[19]  Baxter, STRATEGIC GRASP, 314.
[20]  Baker, ACTS, 43.
[21]  Listed in Witherington, ACTS, 253.
[22]  Toussaint, BKC: ACTS, 371.
[23]  Bruce, NICNT: ACTS, 162-163; Constable, ACTS, 119.
[24]  Harrison, ACTS, 139. Also, Witherington, ACTS, 278 fn 330.
[25]  Constable, ACTS, 119.
[26]  Peterson, PNTC: ACTS, 276; Bock, BECNT: ACTS, 319.
[27]  Knowling, EGK, ACTS, 210.
[28]  Ibid, 210.
[29]  Peterson, PNTC: ACTS, 277.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Stephen - Part 3

Martyrdom of Stephen— Acts 6:8-8:3     By Pastor Jim Gray

Part 3. The Speech of Stephen continued. 7:17-50


God Provided a Savior: Moses—7:17-43

Stephen now proceeds to Moses. The major emphases in this section of his speech are: (1) God raise a deliverer for His people.  (2) God works outside the land. (3) To set up the idea of rejection by God’s people of His deliverer. He sees Jesus as the new Moses. Stephen spends more time on Moses than anyone else. The pattern of the life of Jesus with the presentation of Moses by Stephen is parallel:[1]

MOSES                                                                 JESUS

Powerful in words and works (Acts 7:22)
Powerful in words and works (Luke 24:19)
Educated in wisdom (Acts 7:22)
Educated in wisdom (Luke 24:19, 52)
Denied (7:35)
Denied (Acts 3:14, 17, 26)
Leader (7:35)
Leader (Acts 3:13)
Ascends to Mt Sinai (7:38)
Jesus ascends to heaven (Acts 2:33)
The life of Moses can be divided into three 40-year periods:

The 40 years in Egypt—7:17-28

Time of Bondage. “But as the time the promise was approaching which God assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose another king over Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive” (7:17-19). God blessed the people in Egypt as the promise was approaching. The exodus is viewed in the light of the Abrahamic Covenant, not the Mosaic. Note that it was an appointed time (the time of the promise was approaching)—fulfillment language. Just like the death of Christ (Gal 4:4) and Pentecost (Acts 2:16), all were appointed times of fulfillment. At the time in Egypt, God’s people were increasing in numbers (Exodus 1:8-16). The increase brought fear to the Egyptians. When a new king arose, he plotted to decrease the population. The word another means another of a different kind. It suggests that a new dynasty in Egypt came into power. This new king ordered the male children killed. Infanticide was a common method of limiting population in the ancient world, even during the New Testament times (cf. Matt. 2:16-23). Like their forefathers, Israel was living in appointed times. 

Birth of Moses. “It was at this time that Moses was born, and he was lovely in the sight of God and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home. And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son” (7:20-21).  Again, God works in His time, and when His appointed time had come, Moses was (Ex. 2:2-10). described as being “lovely in the sight of God.” This is a Hebrew idiom of beauty. Bock says it deals more with breeding than looks.[2] It signifies grace. Moses from the very start was an object of God’s grace and favored for special work in the plan and purpose of God. At the age of three months, Moses was hidden in a basket on the river Nile, where the daughter of Pharaoh found and took him. Phillips identifies her as Hatshepsut, the daughter of Thutmose I (1528-1508 BC).[3] The term for took him away[4] (took him up--KJV) can mean either to lift up or to kill. Here in the middle voice, it indicates that Moses was lifted up out of the river for one’s self. It has the idea of lifting up to nurture him as her child. In the LXX it is the word indicating the origin and meaning of Moses name. He was drawn up out of the water. Could it be that the word is used to indicate that not only was he lifted out of the water, but that murder would be a part of his life as well (7:24,28)?

Education of Moses. “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds” (7:22). Moses had a high degree of learning. He was educated in one of the highest and best education systems at that time. Every indication is that he was an honor student. Some have taken the words man of power in words and deeds as a summary statement of all of Moses life, stating that Moses said he was not a good speaker (Ex. 4:10-17).[5] This is an unnecessary conclusion; it speaks of his words as a ruler. As the second in command his words and deeds where powerful. It should not be taken as to the manner of Moses speech but the authority of his words and deeds. His word would be law.

Moses and His Brethren. After giving a brief background of Moses in Egypt, Stephen now jumps to the end of his stay in Egypt. It was the event that made Moses leave Egypt and give up his seat of power and privilege. Acts 7:23-28 makes three points:
·The Visit of Moses. “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel” (7:23). At this point in his life, he began thinking about His own people—his heritage. While he was raised in a pagan court, Moses was still uneasy in his heart and soul. Even in this pagan environment, Moses was able to sustain and act in faith (Heb. 11:24-26). He made a decision to visit his people, the sons of Israel. There is a number of terms used to confirm that Stephen saw these events in a fulfillment motif[6]approaching the age of forty, entered his mind (lit. arose in Moses’ heart), God was granting, etc. Stephen sees and emphasizes the outworking of the plan of God in the life of Moses. The word visit is an interesting word, for it is important to Luke who uses it in a divine sense of Godly visits or the visitation of God (Luke 1:68; 7:16; 19:44)[7] No doubt, Stephen is using the word as a parallel to Jesus’ life and visitation. Moses, like Jesus, leaves his royal surroundings to go to the slave camps to visit his people and to help them. The passage takes on the feel of identification as well as visitation.
· The Intervention of Moses. “And when he saw one [of the] being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the suppressed by striking down the Egyptian” (7:24). Slavery breeds social and physical mistreatment and injustice. On his visit to his brethren, Moses observes one of his brethren being physically abused. This led Moses to come to the Israelite’s defense by exacting vengeance and fatally hitting the Egyptian.
· The Misreading of Moses. It is clear that the Israelites of Moses day misread the motive of Moses. “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (7:25). This verse reveals the thoughts of Moses. Inherent in this statement are several factors: (1) It indicates Moses religious and spiritual condition while at the same time a ruler of Egypt. (2) He sees himself as carrying out the will of God. (3) He understands His calling or mission in life. (4) He was an agent or instrument of God. The phrase “was granting them” indicates Moses saw his action as the first step of deliverance.[8] Lenski, however, is right when he observes that much here is veiled,[9] and there are unanswered questions. While Moses had some insight into these things, the people did not. They did not understand. Stephen centers upon their misreading and misunderstanding Moses. “On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ (7:26-28). Moses is confronted with his act. It must have been a shock to him. He thought no one knew of the event. But be sure your sin will find you out. Israel would not have this man to rule over them. Constable observes, “Moses’ brethren feared that he might use his power to destroy them rather than help them. Similarly, the Jewish leaders feared that Jesus with His supernatural abilities might bring them harm rather than deliverance and blessing (cf. John 11:47-48).[10] One cannot miss the parallel here between Israel of history, and Israel’s present leadership. The theme of rejection is seen. It is a rejection of ignorance (cf. 3:17). Stephen is setting them up his accusation of their rejection of the present leadership.

Upon realization that his secret is out, “Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons” (7:28). Cf. Exodus 2:11-12; Hebrews 11:27. Moses is not only in exile, but a fugitive from justice. Moses departing was also part of God’s plan. Like his forefathers, he becomes a sojourner in a foreign land.

40 Years in Midian (7:29-34)

Stephen now deals with the call of Moses. He skips all of the forty years leading to this event at the end of this time. For 40 years he was shepherding his flock in the wilderness of Midian. Then, “After forty years had passed…” (7:30). (Again, the fulfillment motif is used.)  It was a time Moses’ world is turned upside down. “An angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he approached to look [more] closely, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I AM the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look. But the Lord said to Him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is Holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them; come now, and I will send you to Egypt’” (7:30-34).  God appears to Moses. The angel here is none other than the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ (cf. Exodus 3:2, 6; 4:2; John 12:41; 1 Cor. 10:1-4; Heb. 11:26). The angel is mentioned again in 7:35, 38, 53. I draw our attention to two aspects that can be seen in the context of Stephens’s circumstances:
· The event bestows God’s endorsement to the rejected one. Moses was rejected by the nation 40 years before. Stephen is reinforcing the motif of God’s leadership and their rejection of those leaders and leads to the climax of the sermon where rejection is made more explicit.
· For a second time, Stephen is showing that God’s revelation is not confined to the temple or the land. Both Moses commission and later the Law is given at Mt Sinai. Bock notes: “The important revelation came in the desert. The rabbis taught that this locale showed that no place was too desolate for God’s presence…. Given the debate about the sacredness of the temple, Stephen appears to make a similar point. Holy Ground is where God is.”[11]

40 Years in the wilderness (7:35-43)

At this point, Stephen’s speech becomes more dramatic and explicit by a series of emphatic statements. These emphatic statements emphasize Moses’ success as a deliverer through the power of God. These statements are marked off by the demonstrative pronouns normally translated with the word “this” in our text, but not exclusively.[12] These statements are:

· This (touton) Moses whom they disowned, saying ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ (7:35).
· The one (touton) whom God sent to be both a ruler and a delivered with the heap of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush. (7:35).
· This (houtos) man led them out performing wonders and signs in the land` of Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. (7:36).
· This (houtos) is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’ (7:37).
· This (houtos)is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers, and he received living oracles to pass on to you. (7:38).

Clearly, Stephen is setting up Moses as a type of Christ. Stephen sees Jesus as the promised prophet that Moses foretold (7:37). Moses was a deliverer, prophet, working signs and wonders, and giver of the words of life. In giving these emphatic statements about the greatness of Moses as the agent of God now turns to the reaction by the people of Israel. In Acts 7:39-42 he reinforces and enhances the rejection by the nation of God’s ruler. “Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (7:39). They did this of their own volition. The word has the meaning to exercise the will, indicating a choice exercised or intent fulfilled for one’s own pleasure or purpose. In this context it appears to be much stronger than simply unwilling, rather it has the idea of refusal.[13] They refused to be obedient. The context of this section is clothed in contemptuous and derogatory tone toward Moses and God.[14] This disobedience was marked by three things; (1) Worldliness— “in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (7:39). While they may have left Egypt, Egypt did not leave them. (2) Idolatry— “Saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us, for this Moses who led us out of the land of Egypt—we do not know what happened to him.At that time they made a calf and brought a sacrifice to the idol, and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.” (7:40-41). Interestingly they did not ask Aaron to take the place of Moses, but for idols to take the place of God. Idolatry is apostasy (cf. Exodus 20:3-4). It appeals to the senses—it can be seen, felt, and touch—and removes the purely spiritual unreality of the presence of the Divine. (3) Imprudence— “and were rejoicing in the works of their hands” (7:41). Man always wants to add his works to the worship of God. In this case, as always, they rejoiced in adding to the work of God. The Greek tense (imperfect) indicates that of a continuous rejoicing or celebration. The folly of this! We have nothing to add. Yet idolatry gives the gratification of the works of their hands, as well as something visible to worship. To try to do so is imprudence on our part and constitutes rebellion.

The result of such actions was God’s denial and judgment. “But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? You also took along the tabernacle of Molach and the star of the God Rompha, the images which you made to worship, I also will remove you beyond Babylon” (7:41-43). Transgression is always costly. The action of God is two-fold:
· He turned away from them. The word means to change or turn one’s course of dealing, in the middle voice, indicating the turning of oneself about. 
· He gave them over to their desire. Paul uses the same language in Romans 1:24, 26, 28, of the Gentiles. Stephen is here using it in reference to Israel. Israel became the same as Gentiles by their actions. Thus, God gave them over to their desires. Bruce remarks that “These are terrible words, but the principle that men and women are given up to the due consequences of their own settle choice is well established in scripture and experience.[15] What he gave them over too was to serve the host of heaven.  This phrase is not referring to the God of creation, but to the heavenly creation—the sun, moon, and stars. It is a rebuke of their disobedience by such worship through rejection and unfaithfulness to the Word of God This type of worship by the Jews is well documented throughout the Old Testament (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 4:19; Ezek. 20:10-26; Hos. 9:10). Stephen cites Amos 5:25-27 (LXX) as evidence of the accusation. The prophets’ prophecies also testify to the condition of Israel. In that passage, we see two references to these gods: the tabernacle of Molach and the star of the God Rompha. Molach is the English form of Molech.[16] Molech was the national god of Ammon (1 Kings 11:7) and is connected with child sacrifice. Molech may be identified with Muluk who was worshipped at Mari around 1800 B.C.[17] He was known as the Venus’ star.[18] Rampha is believed to be a reference to Repa, a name for Saturn, a god of Egypt.[19] Both gods mentioned are connected to heavenly bodies and their worship.

What is clear from this section on Moses is the idea of repeated rejection of God’s appointed leader and his message. Far from speaking against Moses, Stephen upheld the honor of the great prophet and leader.

The truth about the Tabernacle/Temple (7:44-50).

Stephen picks up on the idea of the tabernacle of Moloch contrasted to the tabernacle to transition into their view of the Temple. The religious leadership would not stand to hear anything about the destruction of the temple. In short, it had become an idol, thus the section on idolatry and the temple are closely connected. It truth the temple had become a granite idol in their midst. In this short section, he takes up the charge of blasphemy against the Temple. Stephen gives a brief history of the tabernacle and temple. “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed [him] to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. [David] found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him” (7:44-47).  Observe the following points:

· The tabernacle was made according to a divine pattern, and preserved and used “until the time of David.”

·The verses are designed to bring our focus on David, who found grace in God’s sight.[20]

· It was David’s desire to build the temple, not God’s, but God granted his request for the temple. However, David was not to build it, it was to be built by Solomon.[21]

God is not limited to the temple. “However, the Most High does not dwell in [houses] made by [human] hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?’’ (7:48-50). The word “However” is a transition word. It shifts the focus to the God. The principle is clear—God does not dwell in houses made with human hands. He cannot be confined to a place. How can the creator be confined to the creation? Even Solomon the builder of the temple recognized this—1 Kings 8:27-30. However, the quote Stephen uses is from Isa.66:1. It stresses God’s sovereignty and imminence.  Longenecker points out,

Judaism never taught that God actually lived in the temple or was confined to its environs to spoke of his ‘Name’ and presence as being there. In practice, however, this concept was often denied. This would especially appear so to Stephen when further divine activity was refused out-of-hand by the people in their preference for God’s past revelation and redemption as symbolized in the existence of the temple.”[22]

Stephen is reminding them that the temple was not the primary site of God and His work. In this speech, he is emphasizing that many of the great revelations taken place outside the land and before the temple. God’s work and person are above it and not confined to it. Their history does not bear out their disproportionate sense of devotion or reverence for this location of granite stones. The words of Jesus about the temple being desolate can almost be heard in Stephens words (cf. Matt. 23:37-39). They worshiped the temple, not the God of the temple is the point that Stephen is making (cf. 7:43). They put the place before the person.

To be continued…

[1]  Keener, ACTS, 1373, slighted edited.
[2] Bock, BECNT: ACTS, 290.
[3] John Phillips, EXPLORING ACTS, [Kregel, Grand Rapids, 1986], 150
[4]  Aveilato means to lift up or to murder.
[5] Utley, ACTS, 103.
[6]  Larkin, ACTS, 112.
[7]  Bock, BECNT, ACTS, 291; Knowling, EBC: ACTS, 183.
[8]  Knowling, EBC: ACTS, 189.
[9]  Lenski, ACTS, 277.
[10]  Constable, ACTS, 108.
[11]  Ibid, 294.
[12]  Peterson, PNTC: ACTS,  257, fn 49; Lenski, ACTS, 284. Wallace remarks that these types of pronouns would normally be deleted in translation, but “at times, it has great rhetorical power and the English should reflect this,” BEYOND THE BASICS, 329-330. This is the case here.
[13]  Schrenk, “Qelw,” (Kittle) THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, 3:52.
[14]  Lenski, ACTS, 288.
[15]  Bruce, NICNT: ACTS, 144.
[16]  Unger, “Moloch,” THE NEW UNGER’S BIBLE DICTIONARY, 488.
[17]  Thompson, J. A., “Molech,” THE ILLUSTRATED BIBLE DICTIONARY, 2:1018.
[18]  Larkin, ACTS 117.
[19]  Bruce, NICNT: 145, fn 70.
[20]  Bock, BECNT: ACTS, 301 points out that many see verses 44-45 as a transition into the time of David.
[21]  Bruce, NICNT: ACTS, `50-151 seems to take the view that the argument of Stephen is the temple was inferior tor the tabernacle; that the Temple’s permanence halted the advance of the divine plan for Israel. This view is not the point of Stephen’s speech.
[22]  Longenecker, EBC: ACTS, 9:346.